I’m not a biblical scholar. 

   I’m not even a toaster pastry.

   But I grew up around people who used to quote the Bible all the time, and while I didn’t read it that much myself, I learned that you can use scripture to prove absolutely anything, no matter which side of an argument you’re on. 

   Other than “On the first day” and passages about who begat whom and census-taking, there’s hardly a statement in the Bible that isn’t wholly contradicted by at least one other statement somewhere else in the Bible, and that goes for Testaments both Old and New.

   So you can take any side of an issue and the Bible is always there to help. 

   The only other publication to attain that lofty status is The Daily Racing Form.

   And thanks to the Internet, even if you’ve never read the Bible at all it’s easy to find Biblical quotations to support your position, no matter what lies you need to tell or which friend, relative or politician you want to slander.

   For example: If you’re against capital punishment you can quote “Thou shalt not kill,” which everyone knows.

   But if you’re for it, a little web sleuthing will lead you to Deuteronomy 13:9-10, in which God says you must stone to death anyone who even promotes idolatry.

   And they say He doesn’t have a sense of humor.

   By the way, the capital punishment appeals process in those days consisted of, “Can you put the first stone right between my eyes so I don’t have to listen to my sister-in-law repeating ‘I told you so’ while I’m dying?”

   The first Bible was written in Aramaic, and even though almost no one could read back then, it was translated into several versions of Greek, then into Hebrew and plenty of other languages no one was interested in reading, long before it ever made it into English. 

   And within each language, there was always someone creating a new translation that was better than the others, if by “better” you mean “this is my interpretation.”

   Even today, in English alone there are at least three dozen different translations readily available, and that doesn’t include condensed versions for people who lack the mental concentration to follow “Dancing With The Stars” without a scorecard.

   Genuine biblical scholars have written thousands of essays that disagree with each other on the interpretation of pretty much every biblical verse, even when they’re using the same translation, let alone when comparing King James to La Nuova Diodati or Hoffnung fur Alle.

   So it’s always a wonder to me when people insist that the specific English-language version of the Bible they’re reading must be accepted as a literal translation of God’s intended word.

   That contention might be easier to accept if the version in question was the original, but you don’t hear a lot of Aramaic these days in Kansas or South Carolina or Alaska.

   Remember that old game “telephone”?  One person is given a phrase to whisper to the next person, and each person keeps whispering to the next until, about ten people later, the last person says out loud what he heard, and then the person who started it all says what the phrase started out as, which is always completely different from what turns up at the end.

   “Thank you for your support” tends to become “A tank crew sawed off Sue’s fort.”

   English translations of the Bible enjoy the literal accuracy of playing telephone with a group of about 100,000 people speaking no less than four languages over three thousand years, all spread across five continents and interrupted by a crusade or two.  And remember, those folks haven’t just been trying to literally translate--repeat--the words themselves: they’ve been reinterpreting the meaning of what’s been written, then passing the message along. 

   Which makes it even sillier to use any one Biblical reference to prove a point, let alone insist that you know exactly what God meant just because you read it in a particular English edition. 

   It’s like counting on a teenager’s explanation as the only possible true reason why she got a D on her homework (and, by the way, imagine that she only speaks Medieval Gaelic while you only understand American in the pre-“like” days).

   I used to resent getting homework from religious school. 

   It seemed like piling on to me.

   God seems to like piling on.

   In at least one English translation, that Deuteronomy 13:9-10 passage says in part, “But you shall surely kill him; your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people.”

   If it’s worth killing once, it’s worth killing again and again.

   There’s that same great sense of humor He has.

   You don’t like my interpretation of the passage?

   Go do your homework, then don’t tell me what you find.

   For religious school homework, we usually had to read a bible passage and then try to explain what it meant.

   I wrote all of my essays in terms of baseball, because that’s where I thought God’s greatest effort was manifest, and my opinion hasn’t changed since then, the efforts of current MLB ownership to destroy our National Pastime notwithstanding.

   I even included scores from games to identify the source of my remarks.

   The assignment might be “discuss Genesis 6:3” and I’d answer by referencing “Dodgers 7:Giants 4” and take it from there.

   I didn’t get very good grades in religious school, but after class I had some great baseball talks with my teachers, and I think that’s about as close to God as you can get, no matter what bible you use.


Dear Major Ashpole,

  I’m afraid you’ve demonstrated your limits in this essay.

  There have been question and controversy over translations, and consideration of apparent contradictions within the Bible itself, for centuries, and much of it quite well documented at that. 

  From before Celsus to Martin Luther to the Second Vatican Council, many have argued as to what extent the Bible is indeed the word of God and how it is to be considered such by we, God’s creations.

  And yet, there can be no doubt that the Bible should always be consulted in life for Blessed guidance. 

  No other source on earth can lay claim to God’s word, and we can always be sure that God’s specific words, when presented in black and white, will mean to us what they should mean, and it is up to we, in the clergy, who have most closely studied God’s words, to properly explain them.

  You may have a pulpit, Mr. Ashpole, but you do not possess requisite learning to question the meaning of scripture and the Lord’s word.

Rev. Earnest Tacke

The Reformatted Church of Five Lakes

Dear Rev. Tacke,

   First, for the record: I demonstrate my limits in every essay.

   Second: You’re wrong, and as you know, you have no hard evidence to support any of your claims.

   Now what?


Dear Major Ashpole,

   I see no reason why you must sully the good name of The Daily Racing Form by associating it with religious dogma. 

   The least you can do is point out that The Daily Racing Form is used by people of all faiths, including those with no faith, and no one has ever used The Form to start a war that progressed beyond the confines of a pub.

    I would further mention that The Sport of Kings does as much to promote individual prayer as any other mass activity in America, with the possible exception of standardized testing, and you don’t have to bring three #2 pencils.

Numbers Farmsworth

Ocala, FL

Dear Numbers, 

   You are right in every sense.

   Please accept my most sincere apologies.

Dear Major Ashpole,

   I’m sorry, but I don’t see how you can possibly get “A tank crew sawed off Sue’s fort” from “Thank you for your support.”

   I got several different bunches of people here to play telephone using “Thank you for your support” and the closest we came to your “Sue’s fort” result was “President Obama is going to socialize America.”

   In fact, that’s what we ended up with every time.

Sean Hannity

Fox Entertainment Programming (aka “Fox News”)


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