The Bible is Not the Big Book of Everything

The Bible is not the Big Book of Everything and the attempt to enlist Jesus in the minutiae of highly specific and historically conditioned culture war arguments is doomed. Take this embarrassing exchange, for instance:

As it happens, both of these people are wrong. She is wrong about her assertion. He is wrong about the counter-example since “He” is, in that passage (John 18:5-6), supplied by the translator to make the reply make sense in English grammar. (Bible hint: Sometimes, when you read along in some translations, such as the King James Version, you will notice that a word is italicized. The reason for that is to signal to the reader that the word has been supplied by the translator in order to clarify the meaning, make the grammar make sense in English, and so forth. Some people foolishly object to this, but they seem to me to be ignorant of the how complex a process translation is. And quite honestly, I would rather a translator tell me where he has supplied words than have to figure it out for myself.)

Jesus’ actual reply in the original Greek text is a much bigger thunderclap since John is telling us in no uncertain terms that he took for himself the name “I AM!”: the Name of God. That is why, a verse later, the people sent to arrest him recoil in fear. John’s interest is not in culture war disputes among English-grammar users 2000 years after his death, but in telling us that Jesus is the God of Israel, which he thinks is rather more important than gender identity turf wars. This passage is one of several Johannine “I AM” statements made by Jesus asserted (and absolutely intended to be read) as claims of deity, harking back to God’s revelation of his Name to Moses in Exodus 3. It is not so much a subtle double entendre as a 2×4 to the side of the head. It’s right up there with “Before Abraham was, I AM!” (John 8:58). And, lest you fall prey to the tiresome claim that John is attributing to Jesus claims of deity that the supposedly “historical Jesus” never made, bear in mind that all four gospels attribute claims of deity to Jesus, including the earliest gospel, Mark:

Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” .And Jesus said, “I AM; and you will see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” (Mk 14:61–62).

Like it or not, both implicitly and explicitly, the historical Jesus made shocking claims to deity. The words are not placed in his mouth by his disciples. The disciples are, rather, dragged to the conclusion by him and his resurrection that he is who he claims to be.

Meanwhile, the reality is that Jesus does indeed use the masculine pronoun about himself:

He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man.” (Matthew 13:37)

“For the Son of man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay every man for what he has done.” (Mt 16:27)

“When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.” (Mt 25:31)

“For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mk 8:38)

“The Son of man will be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him; and when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” (Mk 9:31)

“For the Son of man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed!” (Mk 14:21)

“When the Son of Man comes will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8)

And so on (there’s a lot more where that came from).

And, of course, Jesus’ favorite title for himself–Son of Man–though intended to refer to his relationship with and saving work for the entire human race and not just males, is far too gendered for culture warriors of the Left these days. So some try to render it as “The Human One” or “The Chosen One”. But that is not, in fact, the title he used and the attempt to call such renderings “translations” are a perversion of language.

Similarly, of course, he famously tells his disciples, “When you pray, say, ‘Father'” (Luke 11:2).

You may dislike him for that, but if you are going to read books, you have to read them for what the author actually says, not for what you want them to say. At any rate, you must do that if you are going to understand them and not just cannibalize them to make them into your personal sock puppets. Attempting to pound square pegs into round holes–like the attempt to argue “Jesus always does what I think best” when there is zero evidence that he does what you want and lots of evidence that he clearly did not do what you want–is a fool’s errand.

It is ironic that so many post-moderns, allegedly concerned about colonialism and the erasure of other cultures so often think absolutely nothing of the erasure of pre-modern cultures and modes of expression that make them uncomfortable. The past is another country. They do things differently there. Telling lies about what they actually said does not change that. It just attempts to pave it over with a cultural arrogance that would make the haughtiest colonialist proud.


3 Responses

  1. As some one who has dabbled in languages, I am surprised how many devout Christians haven’t, and don’t realise that differences among different languages can affect one’s confidently-held theological assertions. (eg, the fact that in Aramaic Jesus said “This, my body” and that Latin renders this as “This is body” so that neither the Protestant nor the Catholic Jesus said “This is my body”).
    It seems to be commonly assumed that languages map one for one wordwise, whereas of course they don’t, eg in Spanish and Italian you can leave out the pronouns but not “that” from “I said that I want coffee” whereas in English it’s the other way around. Or that while individual words may match via Google Translate, “vous sont les homme” is most assuredly not French for “you are the man”.
    Hence the value of the italics in Bible translations.

  2. “Translation is complicated.” That says it all.

    Grammarian nitpick: “I” is also a pronoun. At least in English. But many languages might not even use a pronoun in a phrase like “I am.” The verb conjugation alone specifies who is saying it. I have no idea if the Greek does that here. Unfortunately, my Coine Greek is a little rusty. 😉 But we also have to keep in mind that Jesus probably didn’t (or rarely) spoke Greek. He was speaking Aramaic, and the earliest versions of the Gospels we have are copies of recollections of eyewitnesses. So nitpicking the pronouns seems a good case of straining at gnats while swallowing camels.

    But your ultimate point is absolutely correct, and one that shook my world back when I was a good little Protestant: The Bible is not the Big Book of Everything. The Bible isn’t even a book. It’s a library of books of many different genres and intentions — and none of them are Science books.

    1. True. But “I” is not gendered and the whole point of the pronoun stuff is for MAGA cultists to cultivate a new group of scapegoats they can incite the mob to hate, because scapegoating is all their cult of bullying morons knows how to do.

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