Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Star Trek and the Perspicuity of Scripture

Star Trek and the Perspicuity of Scripture

Do you have to be a great scholar to understand the Bible?

We were serious Star Trekkers. We’d adjust the aerial antenna to catch whatever weak signal we could from Cincinnati, 90 miles away. Our black and white TV would give us just the faintest picture, in a blizzard of static and sound. Still, 20 years later, we were watching the same reruns.

In 1989, we moved to the North Cascades for grad school, taking only my books and a couple of cats. We heard rumors that a new Star Trek series had come to television. Having no tv ourselves, we soon discovered that if we scrolled the FM dial to the extreme left, we could catch audio of the new show Star Trek: The Next Generation. So, my wife and I would drive down to Lake Paddon where we had our best radio reception, and parked the car and listened to the show.

About three months later, my parents drove across the US to visit us. They brought our old 13” black and white tv. We extended the telescoping antenna and fitted it with the obligatory aluminum foil, and if we tapped the tuner just right, we could add a snowy image to the audio of the show. It was like Plato’s cave—we could see shadowy images of people acting while they spoke.

When we returned to visit relatives, we saw Star Trek: TNG for the first time on cable tv. We were surprised to see that Data the android had white skin. We were surprised to discover that Klingons looked much different in TNG than in the original series. And we were surprised at how the ship looked so real in comparison with the original.

As good as the picture was on cable, it was not until we saw the show in high definition that we discovered that Ferengi have a faint tattoo on their forehead.

Now, back to the question: do you have to be a great scholar to understand the Bible? Well, if you are capable of reading the Bible in your own language, you have the advantage over those who cannot read or who do not have the Bible translated in their own language. Still, having one’s own Bible was hardly possible prior to the 19th century; for most of the Church’s history, access to the Bible had to be mediated by someone who read the Bible aloud to an audience. So, most 21st century English speaking Christians have the advantage over most Christians of prior centuries. These realities, however, do not prove the notion that one must be a great scholar to understand the Bible any more than one must watch Star Trek: TNG in high definition in order to appreciate the show.

Even though for many months we only had access to the audio, we still understood what was happening in each episode. We still perceived the story line and the characters. Of course, acquiring the show’s video enhanced our appreciation, and we picked up on more and more of the nuances. Still, it was, all in all, the same show whether we only heard it on radio, or watched it through snowy static, or got the full effects in high definition. And thus it is with the Bible.

Let’s do the hard work of fine tuning the details.