Tom, Dick and Teri Talk Translation

Tom, Dick and Teri are employed by a large corporation. Although each is a member of a different Protestant denomination, they meet in the lunchroom every day to encourage and pray for one another. Today Teri is running late, and Tom and Dick have started their lunch without her.


“So you’re moonlighting?” Tom asks Dick as he cuts his lasagna into bite-sized pieces. “Really?”


Dick shakes his head. “No, I don’t get paid for it. But I’m excited to have the chance to help this ministry get off the ground. A deacon at my church has written a historical defense of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. It’s really well done. It shows why skeptics like C.S. Lewis and Josh McDowell became Christians when they sat down and examined the facts concerning the life of Christ, facts like the historical witness of Josephus and Tacitus. Our deacon started a website and got his articles translated into 8 different languages. It’s great! I can’t tell you how good it is to go home from this place and spend a couple of hours doing work of eternal significance!”


Tom nods as he wipes his mouth with his napkin. “It must be very rewarding! What exactly do you do? Are you the tech guy?”


Dick stabs a cherry tomato with his fork. “Well, no – the deacon’s son is the tech guy. My job is actually to translate the Norwegian comments into English.”


Tom’s eyes widen. “I didn’t know you spoke Norwegian!”


Dick looks down at his salad. “Well, actually, I don’t really. My father’s mother was Norwegian, and she taught me a little when I was a kid. I actually don’t know much at all.”


“So, how does that work?” Tom asks through a mouthful of garlic bread.


“Well, it leaves a lot to be desired. I actually rely on Google Translate,” Dick admits.


“Seriously?” Tom replies. “But, Google Translate is notoriously….”


“Inadequate?” Dick agrees. “Yeah, no sense many the translations don’t make. But what can we do? The articles were professionally translated, so we’re confident that they’re comprehensible. We’re pleased to be reaching Norway with the word of God. For now we’re just doing the best we can with what we’ve got.”


“Are the other languages being handled that way?” Tom wants to know.


“Well, we’ve got people in this area who actually speak a few of the languages. For the others, they’re making do with people like me.” Dick shrugs.


Tom leans back in his chair. “Well, I’m glad you’re able to take part in this. It must be really faith-building.”


Dick nods. “It is. I was a little disturbed by one incident, though….”


Tom leans forward, and Dick continues.


“This woman wrote to us practically begging us to help her. If I understood her correctly, she said that she’d basically made the rounds of all the Christian denominations. She said she was really seeking the truth, and since different denominations teach different doctrines, she asked us to point her towards the denomination that teaches the truth.”


Tom frowns. “So what’d you do?”


“Well, I forwarded the comment to our deacon, and he sent me his reply to send back to her.” Dick explains.


“And?” Tom asks.


“And he basically told her to Google churches in her area, then pray about it and go to the one she felt God was leading her to.” Dick shifts uncomfortably.


“Your deacon told her that?” Tom questions him.


“Well, yeah, he pretty much had to,” Dick admits. “You see, some of the people working on this project don’t belong to our denomination. We’re all working together towards this common goal, so he really can’t take the opportunity to tout our denomination as ‘the church that’s teaching the truth.’ How would that sound? What bothered me was that the woman had done just what he suggested before she ever contacted us, and the best we could do is suggest that she do it all over again and hope for better results the second time around.”


Tom’s frown deepens, and Dick looks embarrassed. “So how did she take it?” Tom asks.


“No clue – she never got back to us. Of course, that could be because she couldn’t understand what we were getting at. I had to Google Translate it back to her….”


Tom chuckles in spite of himself. “It’s too bad you can’t connect with a Christian group in Norway that can help you out. You know, you could refer inquirers like her to them.”


Dick shakes his head as he bites thoughtfully into his breadstick. “Can’t do that. Most Christian groups in Norway seem to be Lutheran. There’s no way my Presbyterian deacon is going to officially encourage anybody to join up with the Lutherans. The best he can do is remain totally nondenominational about the whole thing. He gives the same advice as Billy Graham: attend the Bible-believing church of your choice.”


“Which leaves your inquirer high and dry,” Tom points out. “Pretty much all churches are ‘Bible-believing.'”


“No, they aren’t,” Dick argues, dipping a carrot into his salad dressing. “There are dozens of liberal denominations that try to explain away Biblical accounts like the miracle of the loaves and fishes, or even the Resurrection itself. Our deacon wrote his articles to combat that kind of thing! He’s not going to send anybody to one of those churches!”


“Actually,” Tom explains, laying his fork down on his plate, “I think those ‘liberal’ denominations believe the Bible, but they don’t take literally the same passages that we do. It’s a matter of interpretation. If you ask them if they believe the Bible, they’d probably say that they do – all the while merrily re-interpreting various passages to suit their postmodern outlook. Take your Presbyterian church and my nondenominational church, for example. You believe that baptism regenerates. My church teaches that baptism is just a symbol. Both of our churches believe the Bible, but we interpret it differently.”


Dick frowns. “So what’s your point?”


“My point is that if someone is seeking a ‘Bible-believing church,’ they could even end up in a non-Christian group like the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The JW’s believe the Bible, but they interpret it in a radically different way from the Christian understanding. My aunt Lou became a Jehovah’s Witness because they showed her all their non-trinitarian doctrines straight from Scripture.”


“They don’t believe that Jesus is God, do they?” Dick asks.


Tom shakes his head. “No, they believe that Jesus was created by God. My uncle was really disgusted when she joined their group – not that he believed in God, quite the opposite. He thought Jesus never really existed.”


“See, that’s the kind of nonsense these articles of ours are attempting to debunk,” Dick enthuses. “We’re taking a solidly historical approach to the Resurrection, laying out all the evidence, the witnesses, and the reaction of the terrified apostles who became martyrs for the faith after encountering the Risen Christ, whom they called God.”


“Write down the website for me; I’d love to read this for myself.” Dick takes out a pen and writes the address down on a napkin.


“I do have one question, though,” Tom says as he accepts the napkin. “Your deacon has thoroughly researched the historical evidence concerning the life, death and resurrection of Jesus to write these articles, right?”


Dick nods vigorously.


“And he accepts extrabiblical accounts of the Crucifixion as valid, right?”


Dick nods again as he tastes his tiramisu. “Of course he does! That’s the great thing: we can use the historical record to buttress what the Bible says. There’s no contradiction there.”


“Right, I agree with you,” Tom acknowledges. “So here’s my question. If you accept the historical evidence for the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, using it to buttress your contention that the biblical Crucifixion and Resurrection accounts must be taken literally, why do you reject the historical evidence that shows that the early Christians were convinced that John 6 and Matthew 27 must be taken literally – you know, “unless you eat My flesh and drink My blood, you have no life in you” and “This IS My body – this IS My blood”? Why is the historical evidence for the life of Christ admissible, but the historical evidence for the beliefs of the first Christians not admissible?


Dick stops chewing. “We don’t accept that evidence because it contradicts what the Bible teaches,” he tells Tom. “That’s how we know that some Christians in the early church taught error.”


“No,” Tom insists. “Think about it, Dick. You don’t accept that evidence because it contradicts your narrative, your interpretation of what the Bible teaches – and that’s exactly how a Resurrection-denying liberal Christian would feel about your historical evidence for the miracle of the Resurrection!


Dick scowls, but Tom plows ahead. “When a denomination’s interpretation of the Scriptures conflicts with the historical evidence, that denomination’s witness is kind of like Google Translate – all the words are there, but the sense is garbled. When a denomination’s interpretation of the Bible jibes with the evidence of history – then and only then does everything make sense.”


Dick opens his mouth to reply, but sees Teri approaching and thinks better of it.


“Hi, guys,” Teri chirps as she places her tray on the lunch table. “You talking about me?” she asks jokingly.


“We’re talking about Google Translate as a metaphor for Protestant life,” Tom quips.




Tom looks meaningfully at Dick. “Exactly.”



On the memorial of St. Joseph the Worker


Deo omnis gloria!

  1. Sara said:

    I love your Tom, Dick and Teri posts!

    • Thank you so much! They are a way to express some of the “twilight zone” experiences I would have from time to time as an Evangelical when I realized that my doctrine, my expectations and real life just didn’t jibe….

  2. Tom, Dick and Terri seem more coherent than some. I’m guessing the more reasonable people hide from me (as Tolkien said of Smaug, I have a rather strong personality). The only people willing to discuss faith with me are JWs and Mormons – and Twilight Zone doesn’t even begin to describe those experiences. Recently had a couple clean-scrubbed and charming LDS young women (they let women do missionary stuff now? J. Smith is rolling in his grave, wishing they would just stay at home and be his wives) and I tried to tell them in a friendly way that I’d read some of the Book of Mormon, and it was 2nd rate King James fan fiction. (I’m just such a charmer). They smiled and were polite, and told my good friend Mormon neighbor, who told me, that they thought it was good first meeting. Um, huh?

    My former boss is Evangelical and a very nice man, who even attended my son’s funeral mass. He made one very gentle comment about the whole prayers for the dead aspect of the services, as in since Andrew was a believer, his salvation is assured. But apart from me dropping an occasional ‘Catholics take Scripture seriously, not literally’ or ‘We start with the Gospel of John, and work from there’ I never engaged him. His son, however, is the dude with the armload of advanced degrees and the book on how to take history into account when reading scriptures. Him, he sets me off, but lives several thousand miles away, to both our benefits.

    • Despite coming of age in Mormon country, my most interesting encounter with them actually took place in West Germany in the 1980’s. I opened my door to find two nice, young German men on my doorstep. They launched into their spiel, but as they talked it began to dawn on me that they were actually from Utah. I told them where I was from, and invited them in (I was homesick). After informing them that I would be glad to read their Book of Mormon (they gave me a copy in English), I mentioned that I wouldn’t really be comfortable as a 20-something, unattached female to have the neighbors think that I was entertaining 20-something, unattached males in my apartment. They called two female missionaries up from Stuttgart or somewhere down South, and they all came over about a month later after I’d read their book. We entered the Twilight Zone when I mentioned to them that little details of the book had bothered me, like the honeybees (which did not exist in the Americas until the conquistadors brought them over) and the horses (ditto), or the fact that genetic testing shows no trace of Jewish DNA in the native population of South America. One of the young ladies beamed at me and said in a strong voice, “Renée, you’ve just gotta have faith!” This obvious abuse of the virtue of faith led me to discontinue our meetings. Who knows? They probably went back to Stuttgart assuring each other that it all went very well….

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