May 19, 2010

A Letter to the Christians in Atlanta

2010 1514 page24 capor do people put new tubes in old, bald tires. If they do the tires will blow out, and the tubes will be ruined and the tires will be torn up. But they put new tubes in new tires and both give good mileage.”
This is Clarence Jordan’s particular rendering of Jesus’ speech on new wine and old wineskins in Matthew 9:17, in his Cotton Patch translation of the New Testament.1
Clarence Jordan (1912-1969), an American farmer and New Testament scholar, was also the founder of Koinonia Farm, a place in southwest Georgia where Blacks and Whites could work together and benefit from a common purse in a spirit of earnest cooperation and partnership even before the civil rights movement of the sixties.
Jordan, a biblical Greek scholar, wrote the Cotton Patch translation of the New Testament in an effort to make the Word of God more accessible to the people he met in the marketplace every day. Understandably, he took some liberties with the text that sound striking to mainstream Christian ears. For one, he did not “translate,” among other excerpts, the genealogies of Jesus and the whole book of Revelation. Moreover, he made Jesus be born in Gainesville, Georgia, and any mention to Rome was changed to read Washington, D.C. Under his particular applied theory of translation, 1 and 2 Peter became 1 and 2 Rock, and the Epistles of John became the epistles of Jack.
To the Christians in Atlanta
In the same vein, in Jordan’s translation-adaptation-paraphrase of the New Testament, the city of Corinth became Atlanta. In fact, 1 Corinthians is renamed “A Letter to the Christians in Atlanta.”
2010 1514 page24While we could easily express doubts about some of Jordan’s translation choices, it doesn’t hurt to imagine what would happen if, in fact, a holy man of God such as Paul delivered a contemporary, inspired letter to the Christians in Atlanta, especially to the Seventh-day Adventist Christians in Atlanta. And what if—here I am taking liberties too—the letter was not addressed to the actual Seventh-day Adventist churches in Atlanta (according to, some 160 churches, groups, and companies) but to the thousands who, from June 24 to July 3, 2010, will crowd the Georgia World Congress Center for ?the fifty-ninth General Conference session? What if each one—both delegates and visitors—upon reaching one of the many entrance gates to the session venue, received an inspired letter directly from Paul? What would that letter say?
Just Imagine . . .
This could be a simple exercise of the imagination. However, I dare say hopefully, that the content of his letter would not differ a great deal from the letter Paul addressed to the Corinthians many centuries ago. It is likely he would also begin his letter by thanking “God for the wonderful thing he did for you in giving you Christ Jesus, who has enriched you in so many ways” (1 Cor. 1:4, 5).2 He would urge us to avoid worldly divisions and to remember that every one of us is “God’s ‘mansion’ in which God’s Spirit lives” (3:16). He would not spare advice for the road, our daily walk with Jesus, and would remind us that being part of God’s people is an everyday commitment (see 10:1-11). So, he would tell us, “whether you’re eating or drinking or whatever, make sure it is to God’s credit” (10:31).
Paul would also tell us not to forget that “though God uses different means of empowering us, it is one and the same God who energizes everybody in every way” (12:6), and then he would urge us to “seek diligently for love” (13:13), “the greatest way of all” (12:31).
Finally, he would remind us of the final blow to death, which will be given by Someone who makes us victors in His name (see 15:51-57). Then he would add: “Always keep up the good work for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for him is ever wasted” (15:58).
Now, if the apostle was able to send an actual letter to the Seventh-day Adventists gathered for the General Conference session, I dare to think Paul would add one more chapter to his letter; one not found in his ancient letter to the Christian church in Corinth, nor in Jordan’s adaptation addressed to the Christians in Atlanta. Part of that chapter, I imagine, could run something like this:
Letter Perfect
“Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
“Welcome to this gathering of God’s people. Please don’t forget why you are here. Don’t let the high-sounding messages, nor the inspiring music—however important they may be, obscure the One who is behind, in, before, and beyond all this worthwhile celebration. Remember that when the committees end, the lights go off, and the stage becomes empty, there is still that ‘gentle whisper’ (1 Kings 19:12, NIV) waiting for your personal response.
“Thus, dear Seventh-day Adventist friends gathered in Atlanta, I entreat you to please wait for His call. Because you know He will call, and I want you to be ready. So no matter whether you come from Alabama or Algeria, Nunavut or Nepal, Switzerland or the Solomon Islands, please, please, dear Adventist friend, ‘prepare to meet your God’ (Amos 4:12, NIV).” 
1The Cotton Patch Version of the New Testament is actually a set of four books commonly called Cotton Patch Gospels: Cotton Patch Version Matthew & John; Cotton Patch Version Luke & Acts; Cotton Patch Version Paul’s Epistles; and Cotton Patch Version Hebrews & the General Epistles. They are currently published by Smyth & Helwys (Macon, Georgia).
2Unless otherwise stated, all Bible quotations are taken from The Cotton Patch Version. Nevertheless, since this version does not always follow the regular verse numbers, they have been added following more traditional versions.
Marcos Paseggi is a professional translator (he translates Adventist World into Spanish), enthusiastic writer, and biblical researcher writing from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. This article was published May 20, 2010.