There's no doubt that the Bible contains graphic themes. Its stories are packed with things like violence, sex, war and sacrifice, but what about the language it contains? One blogger says modern translations of the Bible don't fully disclose the graphic language that its original writers intended for it to have.
"God's message was not meant to be run through some arbitrary, holier-than-thou politeness filter. He intended the Bible to speak to people where they're at, caught up in the stark reality of life on a fractured planet," author Steven James wrote in a blog post that appeared on CNN's Belief Blog on Saturday.
James is the author of over 30 books. He wrote Flirting with the Forbidden, a book on forgiveness, and the Patrick Bowers series of psychological thriller novels.
His blog post addresses some specific passages of Scripture that he takes issue with in modern translations. He says that the text of Isaiah 64:6, for example, should say that our righteous acts are like "menstrual rags" rather than "filthy rags."
In modern translations, Paul says in his letter to the Philippians that his good deeds are "a pile of garbage," but James says a more accurate translation would be to call his good deeds "a pile of crap."
James also explains that the Old Testament vividly describes disturbing acts – murder, rape, torture, idolatry and others – for a purpose.
"I believe that Scripture includes such graphic material to show how far we, as a race, have fallen and how far God was willing to come to rescue us from ourselves," he said.
He also explains that "Bible heroes" struggled with everyday issues, and says he is glad that Jesus never acted too piously.
"I find it encouraging that Jesus never came across as pietistic. In fact, he was never accused of being too religious; instead he partied so much that he was accused of being a drunkard and a glutton (Matthew 11:19)," wrote James.
Gale Heide, academic dean and professor of biblical languages at Montana Bible College, told The Christian Post via email on Monday that James was "right on in his translation of each of the texts," though he says people should be careful not to appreciate the Bible solely for the rawness of its language.
"While I am certain that exposing human sin, pain, and frailty will afford contemporary readers access to the points of the various stories, we cannot allow such material to distract us from seeing God in the text before us," Heide said.
He speculates that editors of modern Bible versions might have tried to remove some graphic language so as to also remove any distractions from the true purpose of the text, but says that isn't the best approach.
"I agree with being as honest as we can in our translation work," he said. "At the same time, drawing out the points of the Bible that may be slightly colorful is pointless if we are only going to point and giggle."
John Walton, an Old Testament professor at Wheaton College, said via email that much of what James said is true, though he questioned some of the points he made about the Bible's characters.
"For example, the fact that on one occasion Noah got drunk does not make him a drunk. Several of his characterizations could be questioned in this way," said Walton.
Walton did say, however, that "Bible readers are more inclined to put characters on a pedestal than the Bible itself is."
James acknowledged on his Facebook page on Sunday that his blog post would probably cause "a bit of a stir," and he was right.
One Facebook user, Yisrael John Killian, said it was a "mistake" for James to say that the Bible's heroes were ordinary in many ways.
"The people mentioned in the Bible were FAR GREATER than we can imagine...Please, please do not pull these great people down to our level!" said Killian.
Kendyl Taylor Van Dyck, another Facebook user, praised James for the article and said it was precisely what she needed to read.
"Your blatant message and honest words are a healing remedy to a world, especially to Christian culture, full of rhetoric that fits perfectly in the safe little box we build," wrote Van Dyck. "I can't even tell you how refreshing that was to read."
James' blog post, "My Take: Stop sugarcoating the Bible," can be read here.