Time-Travelling is Best

November 10, 2008

‘Relating’ the ancient text to contemporary people is one thing. ‘Updating’ the ancient text is another. There’s a lot to be said for Sidney Greidanus’ counsel:

“Sometimes preachers try to overcome the historical-cultural distance by retelling the story in modern dress. RT Brooks makes the valid point, however, that it is easier to get back into ancient times than to ‘update’ the story for modern times. ‘It should be possible, for instance, to describe the Old Testament character of Naaman the Syrian in such a way that in spite of his alien culture and his leprosy we feel for ourselves the naturalness of his disappointment when the prophet Elisha merely sends a messenger to tell him to wash in the river Jordan.’ We should not have to ‘substitute the Thames and the Mersey for the original rivers of his derisive comparison…Modernize the story too much and it loses its plausibility…It is easier to get back to Naaman’s time (or rather, that of his narrator).’

(Sidney Greidanus, The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text, p 226)



  1. Great point. This is something that I struggle with myself trying to teach Sunday School to young kids.

  2. Is it really an either/or situation?

  3. One can believe that the miracles of the bible took place literally yet be skeptical to believe miracles of today.

  4. “Is it really an either/or situation?”

    Preaching at our church a few weeks ago, Alistair Begg compared the Areopagus to a “giant Starbucks” – ie. the place where people meet to discuss their philosophy of life and the latest ideas. I didn’t have a problem with the comparison, in that it was an attempt to take something unfamiliar (the Areopagus) and help us visualise it by comparing it with something familiar (Starbucks). But making a comparison is different from recasting the story altogether (ie. retelling Acts 17 as if Paul actually preached inside a first century Starbucks). I’ve read bibles where the oxen in Jesus parable are replaced by the Ferrari sportscar a man had recently purchased!

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