Middle East Resources

The Bible and The Church

Bassam Michael Madany

January 2022

Over the years, I dealt with several translations of the Scriptures. My mother tongue is Arabic, my father, Michael Nicholas Madany, served as pastor of the Evangelical Church in Seleucia, and Alexandretta, Syria. I have been reading the Bible in Arabic since my early days. I learned French at school quite early, and it became my second language. 

My call to the ministry brought me to the USA. I spent three academic years at the Reformed Presbyterian Seminary in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where I improved my English, and learned New Testament Greek and Hebrew. 

In 1958, after one more year of theological studies at Calvin Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan, I embarked on my life work: the preparation and recording of messages based on the Arabic Bible, to be broadcast to the Arab world in the Middle East and North Africa.

While I continued to reside in the US, I kept my Arabic up to date, by listening to short-wave radio stations, reading daily and weekly papers from the Middle East, and occasionally visiting Arab countries. During these visits, I purchased Arabic books that gave me the latest information about the evolving Arab culture, and the growing Arabic vocabulary. Once in Beirut, Lebanon, I purchased “Ilah al-Ilhad al-Mu’aser: Marx & Sartre” (The God of Contemporary Unbelief: Communism & Existentialism.) I learned that some people in the Arab world were concerned about the inroads of Marxism and the atheistic Existentialism of Jean-Paul Sartre.

The radio and literature ministry became a two-way traffic: the broadcasts brought responses from Eastern Christians and Muslims; I responded via air mail letters and follow-up materials that went by surface mail.

My work required a careful preparation and writing of the broadcast materials. I read from the Bible using the Smith/Van Dyck version of 1865. My exposition of the Word of God was done with full awareness of the prejudices and misunderstandings of the Bible in the Islamic tradition. I was not polemical, and made no reference to the Qur’an, or the Hadith.

My early formal education had taken place in the Middle East at British, French schools.  Beginning in 1946 (the year of Syria’s independence) I taught at Catholic and Protestant mission schools for six years, using Standard (Classical) Arabic.

The pioneer missionaries were churchmen and operated within confessional contexts. They adhered to the Ecumenical Creeds. They had not rejected the Apostolic Tradition. They were not innovators, but reformers. Part of being Confessionally Protestant (whether Anglican, Lutheran or Reformed) was the importance of proclaiming the Word of God. (Romans 10 and I Corinthians 1 & 2). While emphasizing the importance of the written text of the Bible, the missionaries translated theological works and Bible commentaries. 

In his First Letter to the Church at Corinth, Paul dealt with the Jewish and Gentile objections to the Cross, in chapters One & Two. In chapter 10:1, he wrote: 
“Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; etc.” 
Paul informed those non-Jewish background-believers that the Israelites of the Old Testament, who went through the Red Sea, were their fathers. Of course, he did not mean physically but spiritually. When non-Jewish people joined the Church, they became heirs of the Old Testament, which meant appropriating the message, the language and phraseology of the Septuagint.

As absolutely necessary the Bible is for missions, no Bible translation by itself can and would accomplish the missionary task of the Church. The Bible must be expounded and proclaimed. As Paul put it in I Corinthians 1:21

“For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching (Kerugmatos) to save them that believe.” 
επειδη γαρ εν τη σοφια του θεου ουκ εγνω ο κοσμος δια της σοφιας τον θεον ευδοκησεν ο θεος δια της μωριας του κηρυγματος σωσαι τους πιστευοντας.

Paul emphasized the fundamental role of hearing the Gospel. “So then, faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” (ara e pistis ex akoes, e de akoe dia ‘rematos Xristou.” (Romans 10:17)

To make my point clear, I end with an excerpt from F. F. Bruce’s book “Tradition, Old & New,” Published by the Paternoster Press in 1970.i

 “Hold fast to the traditions,’ wrote Paul to the Christians in Corinth. Yet one would regard freedom from any kind of tradition as the sign of spiritual maturity and emancipation. That is because of the mistaken idea that tradition is always bad. Yet the living tradition, the community of Christian life, is indispensable. Without it, Scripture would have had no context. If we would suppose that the church had been wiped out in the Diocletian persecution and the church’s scripture lost, to be rediscovered in our own day like the Dead Sea Scrolls, would the rediscovered scriptures once more have the effect which we know them to have in experience, or would they, like the Scrolls, be an archeological curiosity and a subject of historical debate?” 

“On the other hand, the living tradition without the constant corrective of Scripture, (or, in more modern language, without the possibility of ‘reformation according to the Word of God’), might have developed out of all recognition if it had not indeed slowly faded and died.” Page 128

“And, for the Christian, history is the arena of the witness of the Spirit, by whose vital presence the once-for-all act of God which launched the Christian era and is documented in the New Testament retains its dynamism from generation to generation and is effective in human life today. The history of Christian beginnings inevitably takes on fresh significance as it is reapplied and reinterpreted in the experience of successive generations that receive it as their heritage. Thus, it remains potent and relevant. But it is necessary that the history as received should be checked from time to time against the history ‘as it actually occurred’, lest the two should part company irretrievably.” Pages 172,173

The Bible and the Church belong together and are intimately connected. Throughout the past 2000 years, the Bible formed the textbook of the Church. When it departed from its teachings, it faltered and lost its way. And as it returned to the supreme and final authority of the Word of God, the Church revived to proclaim her message:

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”      

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https://www.amazon.com/Tradition-Old-New-F-Bruce/dp/1597529885