I think a little background might help me describe this thing I eventually referred to as the Shovelation. This growing compilation began in 1998 during a Wednesday evening men’s group in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Well, the meeting was supposed to be a men’s group, but after I reluctantly, but gladly, gave into the guys’ requests that I teach the letter of Galatians, a few women began to infiltrate the meeting — my wife among them. My desire was, and still is, to break through the rigid, religious perceptions that have caused so many people to read the New Testament letters as if they were something other than letters. Saying this might come across as being a little too obvious, or perhaps dumb, but I’ve continued to observe that many people, like myself, miss some of the most obvious stuff in life. So, I created a letter — based upon Galatians — that Paul himself might write were he to visit today and observe what has been done to his original letter. Simply put, I took the letter of Galatians and embellished it, using its own context, as well as what can be found in his other letters, and some from the book of Acts. I did it this way because I wanted to create the framework upon which I saw the totality of grace where others only found pockets of grace interspersed alongside fear and condemnation.
After I finished the final chapter of what I called Galatians-98, I decided to bring it one step closer to home by reworking the final project into a personal letter. In short, using Paul’s letter along with my own embellishments as a template, I created an open letter from me to those who were gathered together. When I penned my rendition of the Galatians letter, it coincided with the start of my very first website, theshovel.net. At the time, I thought to use my new pen name and so began it this way: “I am the shovel, and I bring good news to you who struggle with sin and bondage and with the truth of freedom.” I eventually decided to be more direct and less anonymous (and possibly ominous or trite) and use my real name for that opening statement. After having read that first chapter aloud to the group — especially in having witnessed the dramatic effect it had upon them — I had resolved to continue along these lines as our study moved to 1 John and then to James. So yeah, most of my Shovelation project was created in 1998 and 1999.
Somewhere during that period, I came up with the name Shovelation for the growing collection. You see, to me, and to those with me, it expressed the simplicity that these writings were the revelation of the shovel — or Shovelation, for short. No, I’m not offering them up as replacements of those Biblical letters, nor as better versions, nor as something that I think should eventually be added to the Bible. Anyone who suggests any such thing has a wild and vivid imagination. If I had started this project at some other time, I probably would have called it something else. So there you have it. That’s how it all started, and that’s how it’s ever-so-slowly continuing.
This should make it clear (I would hope) that the Shovelation is not a translation. Oh, I know a smattering of Greek, but I don’t possess the Biblical language skills to even begin such a project as to create a new translation. And you know what? With the number of English translations available today, we don’t really need any more, do we? Aside from a few discrepancies (some important, some not) and/or easier readability, most versions confirm that another translation will end up saying pretty much the same thing. And that’s a good thing, as it should assure us that scholars the world over have agreed that most versions have done a good job translating the available Greek manuscripts into decent English equivalents.
And for those who insist upon a perfect translation, or even THE perfect translation, I have to ask a simple question: Do you really think a perfect translation can give perfect understanding? Now, before you answer, consider that the Pharisees not only understood but were fluent in Greek and Hebrew, and it didn’t seem to do them much good. Understanding words and/or studying original manuscripts (which, by the way, we no longer have) was never the end-all to a true understanding of God. Never! The religious scholars and leaders who lived during the time of Jesus assumed they understood truth because they studied and quoted from the authoritative writings of Moses. Jesus told them:
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life … For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words? John 5:39,40,46,47 NASB
You see, even if we had THE perfect translation, true life would not be found within the confines of that written document. No doubt it would testify TO the life or ABOUT the life, but it could just as easily give the religious leather-bound mind a way to reject the life while appearing to be an authority on the life. Be aware of those who bark the loudest about their qualifications and/or authority to dispense truth. If there is any secret to understanding the Bible it would be found not in its difficulty but in its simplicity.
If Paul, Peter, James or John were to write their letters today, I seriously doubt if many would even recognize them. Why? Because they would be too relevant and easy to understand - just like real letters! We try so hard to figure out what the Bible might be saying to US, but do we think it was originally this difficult? Those who look for special meanings usually lose the real meaning. If you can get an idea of what it meant to THEM, you will understand what it means to YOU.