How may this text be overheard?

There are dozens (if not hundreds) of questions that might be asked of a text when considering a mission hermeneutic. The question, How may this text be overheard? is deliberately ambiguous in order to suggest two themes, both of which are focused on a person or community who do not (yet) believe in Jesus Christ and, so, would not hold that the text in from of them is inspired, authoritative or authentic. The two themes are these:

1. How might this text be overheard? asks the believing community to consider how the unbelieving community can gain an opportunity to encounter this particular text of the Bible. There may well be different approaches for different texts. This question is being answered in a variety of ways this year in the UK because of the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible. The best place to look for more on this is the Biblefresh website

And perhaps our main question is not just one of exposure to ‘unbelieving communities’. Maybe it should be broadened to ask, How could this text be engaged with in fresh ways by believers?

2. How might this text be overheard? asks the believing community to consider the ways in which a text may be understood or misunderstood if ‘overheard’ by an unbelieving individual or community. This will certainly evoke different responses for different texts but, of course, the answer will be different even for a single text because different people will respond in different ways according to their own contexts and life experiences.
This is in part a prelude to apologetics but I think it is deeper that that. It asks us to consider what obstacles there might be (humanly speaking) to a clear understanding of a text. What technical words or jargon would need to be explained (e.g., with a text like Romans 4)? What background would they need to know to make sense of it in context (e.g., if it were part-way through a narrative)? What if their worldview radically misinterpreted a key term (e.g., a Muslim reading that Jesus is the Son of God)?
In conclusion, at the very least asking the question, How might this text be overheard? forces us to consider ‘the other’. While we are before God, reading and listening to the text, we are reminded that we do so as God’s missional people, tasked with participating in God’s mission to bring to him those for whom the Bible is not yet seen as the words of life.

And, of course, this brings us back (once again!) to the question of Bible Translation. For 340 million people, the first step to answering the question, How may this text be overheard? is, ‘Begin translating the Bible into their heart language’.

Redcliffe’s 2011 Lecture in Bible and Mission

Reading the Bible with the Global ChurchThis year’s Annual Lecture in Bible and Mission will be held on Wed 30 March, 7pm to 9pm. It is the key public event of the year for the Centre for the Study of Bible and Mission, with previous speakers being Chris Wright on The Bible and Mission and Gordon Wenham on The Nations in the Psalms.

Our lecturer this year is Eddie Arthur, Executive Director of Wycliffe Bible Translators, who will be speaking on the subject, ‘Reading the Bible with the Global Church: Opening our eyes to see how God speaks worldwide’.

It is being put on in partnership with Bible Society, Wycliffe Bible Translators and Biblefresh.

Here are the details from Redcliffe’s website:

We all come to the Bible with our own perspectives, insights and blind spots, which is why reading it with others is vital. But often the groups we are part of come from similar cultural backgrounds. Are there things we could be missing?

Imagine being part of a Bible Study group made up of believers from Britain, Bangladesh, Brazil, Burkina Faso and Bulgaria. How might this open our eyes to read God’s Word afresh?
At this year’s lecture in Bible and Mission Eddie Arthur will explore what it means to read the Bible alongside believers around the world. There will also be discussion groups led by church leaders to unpack what this might look like in a local congregation context.

About Eddie Arthur
Eddie Arthur is the Executive Director of Wycliffe Bible Translators. Previously he has worked as part of the translation team for the Kouya NewTestament in Ivory Coast and as the National Director for a Wycliffe partner organization in Ivory Coast and Mali. You can read more of Eddie’s thoughts on Bible translation and life on his website, or follow him on Twitter @kouya

The evening is free, but prebooking is required.

To book
Please complete the online form or call 01452 308 097.

Please see our directions page for details on how to find us.


Suffice it to say that it should be an excellent evening! Eddie is a clear and deep thinker, a great communicator, and someone with a wealth of experience in the thinking and practice of Bible and mission.

More reflections to follow in the run up to the event…

#Biblefresh training and three transformative moments in my Bible reading

This Saturday 5 March, 9.30 – 12.30 at Redcliffe we are holding the first of our Biblefresh training events. To kick off we will be doing an overview of the Bible called, Grasping the big picture – a journey from Genesis to Revelation. Here’s the blurb:

Just as the picture on the box helps us to see how a jigsaw puzzle fits together, knowing the big story of the Bible can transform our reading of God’s word. Join us for a fun, interactive guided tour as we weave our way through God’s amazing story from Genesis to Revelation.

Come along!

I first attended a Bible overview as a student. Vaughan Roberts spent a day with us showing how the whole Bible fits together. It totally transformed the way I read the Bible.

Reflecting on that experience now I can pinpoint three major points of transformation in my reading of the Bible:

1. The coherent story of the Bible
Realising that the Bible is a single, coherent narrative (though made up of a rich variety of mini narratives, to say nothing of the the non-narrative elements of Scripture);

2. The literary variety of the Bible
Realising that different literary genres require different ways of reading in order to understand and apply the text;

3. The missional nature of the Bible
Realising that mission is not just a theme the Bible talks about in places but actually defines the origins, content and purpose of Scripture.

If you made a similar list of defining moments in your Bible reading, what would you include?


English Translations of the Bible – An Uncomfortable Privilege?

I’ve just written an article that will appear later this year in Inspires, the magazine of the Diocese of Gloucester. It touches on subjects like the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, the Biblefresh initiative, Redcliffe College, and the work of Wycliffe Bible Translators.

It is fantastic to have access to so many different versions of the Bible in English; I love being able to refer to different translations for different purposes. It is a real privilege; but it is one that I’m finding increasingly uncomfortable.

Consider the following statistics from Wycliffe Bible Translators. The previous century saw more translations of the Bible produced than the rest of the history of the church put together. Yet there are still around 340 million people (representing over 2000 languages) who do not have a single word of the Bible in their ‘heart language’.

Perhaps it is time for us English speakers to say, ‘You know what, we have enough versions of the Bible now. Let’s turn our attention more fully to those that have none.’

Tom Wright on Biblefresh, the Bible and mission

At a recent event in Durham to launch the Biblefresh initiative, Tom Wright gave a talk on ‘World-changing Bible readers’. It is available on Slipstream’s website.

Here’s a quote:

The Bible is the book that reminds us who we are and what we’re here for. We are the people of God for the world. We are the people charged with taking forward the mission of God, the work of Christ, in the power of the Spirit for the world. This is a mission-shaped Bible reading, if you like. The mission of the Church grows directly out of the narrative of Scripture and the narrative of Scripture which runs from creation to new creation is a narrative which catches us up, shows us where we are within it and tells us what we are there for.


Biblefresh is an exciting new initiative that is just being launched around the UK to encourage Bible reading and engagement. Here’s some info about it from the EA/Slipstream website

What is Biblefresh?
Biblefresh is a joint initiative which aims to encourage and inspire churches across the UK to make the most of the year 2011, empowering Christians to a deeper level of engagement with the Bible. The initiative brings together nearly a hundred agencies to raise the level of biblical literacy across the UK, through the following four tracks:

1. Bible reading

According to recent research only 1 in 7 Christians are likely to read the Bible outside of a church meeting. Making use of developments in digital technology and creative publishing, this track seeks to inspire Christians to read the Bible afresh, individually, in groups and as whole churches. Watch out for the Biblefresh handbook, packed full of creative suggestions and inspirational material arriving in May 2010.

2. Bible training

Our research tells us that only half of church leaders are confident in their Bible knowledge. Forty percent of Christians even feel undermined in their confidence in Scripture particularly after the recent militant atheism onslaught. Many Christianswho teach the Bible, such as Sunday school teachers and house-group leaders, have received no training in interpreting and applying the Bible. This Biblefresh track aims to equip Christians with improved Bible handling skills. Initiatives include:

– opportunities to learn at the major Christian festivals including: Keswick, Soul Survivor, Spring Harvest, CRE

– special courses and seminars at Bible colleges, churches and institutes around the UK

3. Bible translation

With over 200 million people without the Scriptures in their own language and 2393 language groups yet to have their own Bible, Biblefresh will be asking churches during 2011 to give financial support to a translation project facilitated jointly by Bible Society and Wycliffe Bible Translators, enabling more people worldwide to access the Bible. However we also recognise that the Bible is ‘foreign’ to many people in our own communities. This track also seeks to make the Bible more accessible to those outside the church.

4. Bible experiences

This track seeks to provide fresh experiences of the Bible to draw people back to reading and living it. Through the arts; particularly film, music and painting this track seeks to whet the appetite for biblical engagement. During 2011 the Biblefresh tour and resources will highlight some of the ways this can be achieved by local churches.

Download the Biblefresh Leaders Guide for more helpful information.