THE release of the Patois New Testament Bible is making some people happy that at last Jamaicans have the 'Word of God' in their mother tongue. But that happiness will soon evaporate for I am certain that very few people will read the Patois Bible. Indeed, I say with confidence that Bible reading in Jamaica will not increase because of the Patois Bible.
First, many Jamaicans don't read in general, so adding another book, albeit the greatest one, won't make a difference. Second, though Jamaicans speak Patois, most of them can't read it, for it is difficult to read. Jamaican Patois is a tongue for the ear — not for the eye. I am a pretty accomplished reader, far ahead of the average Jamaican, yet I find Patois hard to read, though like them I speak it fluently.
But the main reason that the Patois Bible won't increase Bible reading in Jamaica is that Jamaicans rarely read the Bible in any translation or form. There are scores of translations and editions of the Holy Scripture available, most of them written in clear and elegant English, yet they are largely neglected; so what gives us hope that one rendering of God's Word in a coarse and imprecise dialect will be read? The problem of Jamaica is not the need for the Bible in the native dialect. It is to get the people to read the Bible.
I suspect that the translation of the New Testament into Patois has little to do with promoting Biblical knowledge but more with a defence of Patois from imagined assaults upon it.
It is also an attempt to dignify Patois by rendering the greatest book in it; but what it has done is almost debased the most transcendent and sublime revelation of God to man.
You think this is prejudicial and bigoted nonsense. Ask yourself how can a biblically educated country, as some insist that Jamaica is, exist in such appalling social and religious conditions?
What biblically educated country could wallow in the crime and violence in which Jamaicans delight? A biblically educated society isn't a violent and crime — ridden society, for the Bible not only identifies behaviours that are reprehensible and commands us to reject of them; it also empowers us to depart from such behaviours and embrace behaviours that are commanded by God.
In addition, were Jamaica a biblically educated country, the Roman Catholic organisation, which is heretical, could never flourish in it. Over the centuries the Roman Catholic organisation has flourished because it has suppressed the clear teaching of Scripture and persecuted those who held to it; all to propagate monstrous falsehoods and practices. Papal Infallibility, Mariolatry, Purgatory, Priestly Celibacy, Transubstantiation, The Veneration of the Saints are some of the monstrous falsehoods and practices found nowhere in Scripture, but are at the heart of Roman Catholicism.
Indeed had the Roman Catholic organisation had its way in the past, Jamaicans today wouldn't be free to read the Bible and worship as they choose. For it persecuted to the death, believers who sought to acquire the Word of God for themselves and study and follow it. But because Jamaica is largely biblically illiterate, it follows the Roman Catholic organisation thinking that it is God's church because of its record of charitable work. I know many former Roman Catholics, many of whom are now believers in Christ, who will testify that for the many years they spent in Roman Catholicism they were not taught the Bible by the church and that they left and found God, through reading Scripture on their own.
Some months ago I read a book in which 50 former Roman Catholic priests told of their service in the Roman organisation and why they left. All without fail said that they entered Roman Catholicism and continued in it for the time they did because they didn't know the Scriptures; and while they were in it they were taught mainly Roman Catholic doctrine and very little Scripture. Everyone said that they left the organisation and Priestly Celibacy and empty priest craft due to one thing: studying God's Word.
Another errant group which flourishes in Jamaica due to biblical ignorance is the Seventh-day Adventists. It is well-regarded as the fastest- growing church group in Jamaica. But if Jamaicans knew their Bible they would know that the Adventist church denies fundamental biblical doctrines, such as the eternality of hell. It says hell is temporary after which the sinner goes into annihilation. It also teaches soul — sleep and investigative judgement; and holds to the belief that keeping the Sabbath and some dietary laws are necessary for salvation. How could a group with such umbilical beliefs and doctrines be the fastest growing religious group in a country well-grounded in God's Word?
There are also in Jamaica assorted Pentecostal and charismatic believers teaching things that the Bible doesn't support, such as Baptismal Regeneration, speaking in tongues as the universal evidence of being filled with the Holy Spirit and works salvation. These all occur because Jamaicans do not read their Bible as they ought to, so anyone who comes claiming to be from God will get a hearing and a following.
The translators of the Bible into Patois and their supporters and defenders are insisting that what has kept Jamaicans from reading the Bible more, over the years, is the language of the Bible — English imposed on them by their colonisers. No! The problem isn't language; it is with the Bible itself, including the edition now being translated in Patois.
When you don't love something, you will loathe it in whatever form it comes.
Ewin James, is a pastor, Bible teacher and freelance journalist who lives in Florida.