Whatever your heart clings to and confides in, that is really your God.
- Abraham, the patriarchal figure of ancient times, was not Jewish. He was Chaldean. Jesus was a Jewish teacher and Rabbi, but it was years after his death before his followers were first called Christians. Martin Luther, a devout 16th Century Roman Catholic monk, became the seminal figure of the 17th Century Protestant Reformation. John Wesley, though a founder of the Methodist movement, was actually an Anglican (Episcopal) priest. The mission of these men and others was not to create new religious denominations; they were reforming the doctrines of their already existing life-long religion. In the early 16th Century Martin Luther translated the Holy Bible from St. Jerome’s 4th Century Latin Vulgate into a vernacular German language which was more readable for the public. The first complete Bible translation into English was the Coverdale Bible published in Belgium in 1537, exactly 100 years before the Fairbanks House in Dedham, Massachusetts was built. Currently a museum, the oldest wood frame house in the US still standing, The Fairbanks House, was built by Jonathan Fairbanks as his farm house located a few miles from Boston. Open to the public, you can visit this historic treasure today.
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It is no exaggeration to predict large amounts of conflict will result for one who takes a position on the topic of Bible translation accuracy. There is so much controversy over translation authenticity, the best course of action is to study the subject yourself, then follow your own heart. In any serious topic, the subject of Bible translation included, the word heart gets my attention. The writers of religious texts curiously use that word heart in many different ways. Translators see it in one language, then struggle to discern the authors’ intent as they choose the word to use in the second language.
For example, quoting Abraham in the King James Version (KJV) of Genesis (verse 17:17) he is said to have… “laughed, and said in his heart, ‘Shall a child be born unto him that is an hundred years old?’”
The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) and the New International Version (NIV) both have that same verse as, “…laughed, and said to himself, ‘Can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old?’”
More comparisons from the King James (left) to the NIV or NRSV (right) follow:
Ge v 20:5 integrity of the heart => clear conscience
Ex v 35:35 filled with wisdom of heart => filled them with skill
Pr v 8:5 be ye of an understanding heart => acquire intelligence
Pr v 14:30 a sound heart is the life => a heart at peace gives life
Pr v 14:30 a sound heart is the life => tranquil mind gives life
Ec v 1:17 gave my heart to know wisdom =>
. applied myself to the understanding of wisdom
Ec v 1:17 gave my heart to know wisdom =>
. applied my mind to know wisdom
Ec v 8:16 applied my heart to know wisdom =>
. applied my mind to know wisdom
Are the words myself, heart and mind synonyms? The words are different. From the examples above, “integrity of the heart” in one version is translated “clear conscience” in another; “wisdom of heart” is translated “skill.” Does wisdom of the heart mean the same as skill to you? Sure, one can see the contextual connection, but a reader might also perceive the authors’ intentions quite differently based upon the translator’s choices. The meaning often does depend on context, and on the perception and life experience of both the translator and the reader. How did someone who “gave my heart to know wisdom” actually do that? “Did they “apply their mind…” in some reasonable way? Probably so, but two people who are attempting to document firm dogmatic rules from a verse that varies from translation to translation could write those rules such that they could be read and understood (or misunderstood) quite differently. The best advice? Be aware of the way words can work; it is a concept worth thinking about before committing strong opinions.
The word heart is often used to represent many different concepts. To name a few: wisdom, compassion, intuition, creativity, conscience, motive, emotion, instinct, integrity, intelligence, memory, knowledge, mind and soul, etc. There are almost one thousand appearances of the word heart in the Bible, most of which were represented ‘as is’ by English translators, but many of which were not. Those differences reflect the complexity of the translators’ responsibility to represent what they believe the author’s intention was in one language, and what it means to them in the other.
The common ground for these seemingly diverse meanings of the single word heart seems to be a consistent reference to a type of unique core source of wisdom found in the human person.
During a visit to central India in 2017, I met or observed countless people. I was pleasantly surprised to learn how respectfully they treated each other. Although the roads were noisy and crowded with vehicles, camels, oxen, sheep and school children in uniform, everyone I observed was polite and patient with everyone else. It was the same story on the sidewalks and in the shops. I have been in crowded cities in Haiti, the Philippines and Europe. I’ve lived in Boston and New York City – need I say more? The Indian culture, ethos and moods were noticeably different. Yes, as an elderly foreigner with white hair and fair skin it was be hard to be unnoticed, but I had many opportunities to observe local people from a distance. Despite the age group or economic level, they demonstrated obvious mutual respect as they interacted with each other. I wondered what gave their society such pleasing and public maturity. Was the fact that the vast majority of people there were Hindu a factor?
Christian, Hindu, Buddhist
Raimon Panikkar was a holy man of our time who, as his name reveals, was born to a Spanish mother and Indian father. It’s not surprising to learn that Raimon has a heart for understanding the Christian and Hindu theological philosophies of each of his parents. Growing up north of Barcelona, he then earned a doctorate in chemistry, studied at seminary, became a Jesuit priest and after a trip to India at age 35 is reported to have said, “I left as a Christian, discovered I was a Hindu and returned as a Buddhist, without ever having ceased being a Christian.” A statement like that from any serious person gets my attention. I became further attracted to his work by the title of one of his books, The Unknown Christ of Hinduism, written way back in the ’1960’s.
Jesus is the most impressive human being I have studied. I would have loved being with him during those few years of his earthly ministry because I have come to believe he would have been not only an astounding mentor and first-hand source of wisdom, but also a most enjoyable and genuine friend. He was more than just a religious teacher; he understood people. Writers from that era lacked adequate vocabulary to describe his deep understanding of human psychology, and Jesus himself used parable stories to communicate new, yet universal concepts to those historic, dogmatic minds. Folks seem to forget that Christ is not his last name. Jesus’ grasp of the cosmic, universal and eternal Christ became his earthly life and our model for living beyond selfish fear, greed or cunning manipulation as well. His example was to demonstrate a life of connecting unselfishly and genuinely to others, and for living to the fullest. The “Unknown Christ” of Dr. Panikkar’s book represents the heart level transformation of human consciousness available to all people, irrespective of and often unrelated to religious backgrounds.
The ancient word for heart is cor from which we get our word, core. An ocean of wisdom is available to humans, to be found more at the level of heart than mind. I think that’s what the phrase “made in the image of God” refers to. We have access to a deeper mind by quieting the conscious mind once in a while with meditation breaks. Meditation does not refer to some kind of extra-intense prayer effort; it doesn’t imply effort at all. Nor does meditation necessarily refer to any Eastern religious practice. Meditation trains the busy mind to relax its constant train of thoughts for a few minutes several times each day, which eventually opens the path to deeper wisdom. The cumulative effect of a daily meditation practice makes that access easier over time, the way repeated exercise eases the lifting tasks of our physical muscles. There, in the heart, lies the wellspring of creativity, compassion, patience, justice. Once we have access to this universal wisdom, we experience these and other original heart concepts such as forgiveness, overt generosity, and freedom from resentments, righteous anger, etc., etc., Though seeming illogical due to cultural habit, these renewed heart characteristics are nonetheless beneficial to finding the more abundant life. We learn from wisdom to make wise decisions.
As Blaise Pascal said, The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.