"A colloquial translation with a Southern accent"
The purpose of the "cotton patch" approach to the scriptures is to help the modern reader have the same sense of participation in them which the early Christians must have had. This approach is explained in detail in the first volume of this series - The Cotton Patch Version of Paul's Epistles. By stripping away the fancy language, the artificial piety, and the barriers of time and distance, this version puts Jesus and his people in the midst of our modem world, living where we live, talking as we talk, working, hurting, praying, bleeding, dying, conquering, alongside the rest of us. It seeks to restore the original feeling and excitement of the fast-breaking news-good news-rather than musty history.
To be sure, this is a risky undertaking. For one thing, it simply can't he done with absolute accuracy. Matching present-day people, groups and settings with their biblical counterparts involves a good bit of guesswork and subjective interpretation, mingled with the best knowledge one has of both the modern and ancient situation. For example, I have paired the Pharisees with church members, and the scribes with theologians and seminary professors. This may pinch, and may well be challenged. In fact, I gladly yield to those who may do a better job of matching. There are times, too, when the circumstances defy the technique of "cotton patching," such as Stephen's long historical speech (Happenings 7:1- 53) and Paul's shipwreck (Happenings 27:1-28:15). In these instances we simply return to the original setting. It is hoped - perhaps in vain - that this capricious century-jumping will neither lose nor confuse you.
Another thing which makes this approach risky is that it may make the New Testament characters, particularly Jesus, too contemporary and therefore too human, thus laying oneself open to charges of sacrilege and irreverence. Jesus has been so zealously worshipped, his deity so vehemently affirmed, his halo so brightly illumined, and his cross so beautifully polished that in the minds of many he no longer exists as a man. He has become an exquisite celestial being who momentarily and mistakenly lapsed into a painful involvement in the human scene, and then quite properly returned to his heavenly habitat. By thus glorifying him we more effectively rid ourselves of him than did those who tried to do so by crudely crucifying him.
Obviously this is not the thrust of the Bible. Its emphasis all the way through is on the humanity of God-Immanuel, God-with-us; upon incarnation - the word become flesh, here and now, in our own experiences. Its movement is from heaven earthward, not vice versa.
So the "cotton patch" version unashamedly takes the side of human beings rather than the angels. In so doing, it is as offensive as the incarnation, as indecent as the Almighty God dying ignobly as a man on a cross.
But admitting the risks, perhaps the rewards will more than offset them. Possibly the wind of Pentecost will blow through our houses, and its fire enkindle our hearts. Maybe Jesus,, the great interpreter of the scriptures, will join us and enlighten us on our journey from Atlanta to Austell even as he did the two disciples on their way from Jerusalem to Emmaus. He may let us sit at his feet and wash them with our tears. Perhaps he'll startle us with his parables and powerful sermons, and sting us with his honest rebukes. He may come alive. And we too.
In case some of you are wondering why Luke and Acts are tied together, let me point out that they are but two volumes, by the same author, of the biography of Jesus. The first is an account of the life of Christ as one man, Jesus of Nazareth, and comes to a fitting climax with the ascension. As this episode ends the curtain falls, but we are told not to go away; the drama is not over. The second volume, or act two, then picks up the story and describes the life of Christ in his new body, the church. Since this story is not complete, nor will it be until the end of time, it could not be brought to a climax. It merely stops, as though the author is saying, "Here's where I get off; y'all take it from here." Luke-Acts, then, as the first two volumes in the still unfinished biography of Jesus, should never have been separated by the Gospel of John.
Luke the physician, generally believed to be the author of these two volumes, or scrolls, presents his material with tremendous literary skill and artistry. While seeking to preserve this and at the same time simplifying it for my companions of the cotton patch, I have been caught often in the scholar-farmer bind. So the text may seem to be quite polished in one sentence and a bit uncouth in the next. I beg your forbearance, for this bumpiness is a fairly common foible of one who must stand in both camps at once and act as go-between.
No one can be more painfully aware than I of the faults and imperfections of this humble attempt to capture the spirit and meaning of the Lukan writings, and to share them with my contemporaries. But even so, this is the way they have come through to me after immersing myself in the Greek scriptures and in the day-to-day affairs of the human situation. With all the shortcomings, then, I pass them on to you with the fervent hope that you may thereby be encouraged and strengthened in your life in Christ.
Clarence L. Jordan
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