Sunday, September 12, 2021

Jots and Tittles

"What do people pretend is in the Bible but is absolutely not in the Bible?"

That is the twitter prompt that caught my attention recently.  A question with a very long thread on the traditions, sayings, and understandings that we add on top of the Bible.  Things that are not biblical, but we just assume they are because of a multitude of reasons.

There were a few pithy responses, that were nonetheless very profound. America, English, White People, the concept of a Bible.  

America is most definitely not in the Bible.  There is no guarantee we will exist as a country by the time the apocalypses in Isaiah and Revelation come to pass.

English did not exist as a language until five hundred years after the events of the Bible.  The Bible was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic.

The people of the Bible were brown and black, having more in common with their Arab counterparts in the Middle East than modern day white Americans.  Even the Greeks and Romans, who would now be considered “white,” did not start being considered as such until the 1920s.  Prior to that “white” was generally reserved for Northern Europeans.  

The writers of the scripture had no idea they would be adding to a “canon” of scripture that would be passed down forever.  To those in the New Testament, the Tanakh, or the 24 books of the Hebrew Bible would have been fixed, but there was no concept of writing a new scripture.  The first New Testament would not have been referenced until 220 AD, and not “canonized” until at best 100 years later. So when we see verses referencing scripture, like the ones below, the they are referencing a specific section, not the entire book.  Besides, what Bible would it refer to?  The 66 books of the general Protestant Bible?  The 80 of the Coptic Bible, the earliest dates sect of Christianity?

A couple of answers were the Shakespeare quotes we assume are biblical. "Neither a lender nor a borrower be."  That would be Hamlet, Act I, Scene III, not scripture.

Some are aphorisms that reveal a misguided theology like "God helps those who help themselves" or "God will never give you more than you can handle.”  These are flat out contradictory to the Bible.  God helps us and often gives us more than we can bear so that we rely on Him.

Some pointed out minor language quibbles like the "s" in Revelation, Jonah meeting a whale, or there being only three wise men.  The title of the book is the Revelation of John, Jonah was swallowed by a big fish, so maybe a whale shark, and we do not know how many magi traveled.  There were only three types of gifts, so we make them three magi. 

There were things that surprised even me, because I would have believed them.  Specifically, pointing out that God did not change Saul's name to Paul.  This will mentioned in sermons, but there is no specific verse that God changed Saul’s name at his conversion. In fact, the name Saul is mentioned several times after his conversion, and the only mention we have is Acts 13:9 which says “But Saul who was also called Paul.”  We conflate Saul’s two names with tales of Abraham, Jacob, and Peter.  Those tales where God indeed did change someone's name for a purpose.  Instead Saul here had two names reflecting his two citizenships, a Jewish name Saul and a Roman name Paul.  Since Paul was the apostle to the Gentile population, his letters used his Roman name, which would be associated with that group.

We even see this in current events and political hot button issues.  Vaccination exemptions.  Mask requirements.  The Bible literally says nothing about these topics and there is no religious basis for a vaccine exemption in the Bible for most denominations (exempting Christian Scientists and Jehovah’s Witnesses, those who believe in no medical care).  You may have a deeply held personal conviction one way or the other that is informed by your religious beliefs.  But this belief is also influenced by your environment, your upbringing, your political affiliation.  Perhaps more so.  That’s why “religious convictions” run both ways on this issue.

All this to say, be careful what you attribute to the Bible.  Be careful what you read into its text and what you present as gospel.  Study and read it, search yourself to see where you are adding a jot or a tittle.

We do it more often than we would like to admit.

"For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled."

Matthew 5:18 (KJV)

"Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you."

Deuteronomy 4:2 (NIV)

No comments:

Post a Comment