Part 7b: Mutations and Biblical Text
Recap to This Point:
I. Introduction (Part 1)
II. Authorship of Scripture (Part 2)
III. Who Are God’s Audiences? (Part 3): Some Pertinent Questions
IV. Might Jesus Have Been an Audience? (Did God Write the Old Testament for His Incarnated Son?) (Part 4)
V. Johnathan and his arrow boy: If Johnathan would do this for his dearly beloved David, why wouldn’t God do it for his Son? (Part 5)
VI. Polyfunctional Text and Today’s Reader: A Practical Application for Christians (Part 6)
VII. Mutations and Biblical Text: (Part 7a)
New Material Begins Here
I Examples of Polyfunctional Biblical Texts
- The Christian purpose is to discover Christ in all the Bible.
- The hermeneutic Christ taught his disciples in Luke 24 is a good place to begin.
- The Holy Spirit indwells today’s Christian believers. This is the same Holy Spirit who indwelled the New Testament authors and who inspired the Old Testament authors to write according to his will.
B. What hermeneutical principles did the New Testament authors use?
The Fathers of the Church did not formulate specific exegetical rules as did the rabbis, however they relied on a few principles or criteria of interpretation common to them all: the principle of the unity of the biblical text of the two Testaments, the interpretation of the Old in the light of the New, and the conviction that all the texts of the Old Testament spoke of Christ and of Christian mysteries (1).
C. Psalm 1 as an Example of a Polyfunctional Text
1. Its Multiple Audiences
- the author
- worshipers of the author’s day
- the ancient editors of the Psalter who perceived it as introductory to the whole
- Jesus himself and those taught by him (Peter, for example), who perceived the Psalter as prophetic of the life of Messiah
- Bible students (this author included), who may also be devotional readers
- devotional readers who apply the psalm predominantly as words from God that speak to their own lives
- devotional readers who apply the psalm prophetically to the life of Christ
For each audience listed above, the function of the text of Psalm 1:1 will differ accordingly.
2. One possible network of Scripture to join with this portion of Psalm 1 in order to form a distinctive message for these audiences: Jesus, his Luke 24 disciples, and today’s Bible students
1 “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers. 2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” (ESV)
10 as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12 ESV)
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2Corinthians 5:21 ESV)
Deduction: Psalm 1 is speaking of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, since he is the only human being who matches the description of the righteous “man” (specifically a male) spoken of in verse 1. This righteous man is blessed.
So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!” (John 19:5 ESV)
Deduction: The man being crucified is the one and only blessedly righteous man of Psalm 1.
Puzzle: How can this horrible juxtaposition possibly be? How can it be that the uniquely righteous man, representative of humankind, is about to be crucified? This makes no sense in everyday terms.
And say to him, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, “Behold, the man whose name is the Branch: for he shall branch out from his place, and he shall build the temple of the LORD. (Zechariah 6:12 ESV)
“that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” (Luke 24:7 ESV)
“But from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” (Luke 22:69 ESV)
By adding the verses in Zechariah and Luke, the reader begins to understand that the means of building the temple of the Lord is through the sacrificial death and resurrection of the righteous Man on the cross. This blessed man will have his supreme reward. Countless other Scriptures can be added to the chain to fill out a theology of Christ and the cross.
Success in completing a chain of connected verses is influenced by the translations used. Consider the following table (2).
Most reference Bibles do not list Zechariah 6:12 as the verse to which Pilate is unconsciously alluding, although God the Holy Spirit designed the connection. The NET marginal notes point out the allusion and discuss the possible range of meanings that may have influenced various translators. Interestingly, the translation which NET chose does not appear to reflect the same meaning as Zechariah 6:12, but one of the more local meanings, as in, “Oh, this man whom we are discussing, here he is.” More literal translations–those which adhere closely to the exact wording of the original languages–such as the ESV and the KJV, provide the reader an opportunity to make her own connections, if she happens to be familiar with the Zechariah text. A highly interpretive translation, such as the MIT (The Idiomatic Translation of the New Testament, 2008, by William Graham MacDonald), effectively obscures the connection to the text of Zechariah 6:12, as well as any representative use of the word man, as in a human being representative of all mankind.
Here are the NET notes for John 19:5.
John 19:5 So Jesus came outside, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Look, here is the man!” (NET)
14 )sn Look, here is the man! Pilate may have meant no more than something like “Here is the accused!” or in a contemptuous way, “Here is your king!” Others have taken Pilate’s statement as intended to evoke pity from Jesus’ accusers: “Look at this poor fellow!” (Jesus would certainly not have looked very impressive after the scourging). For the author, however, Pilate’s words constituted an unconscious allusion to Zech 6:12, “Look, here is the man whose name is the Branch.” In this case Pilate (unknowingly and ironically) presented Jesus to the nation under a messianic title. (NET subject note for John 19:5)
D. Bible students can assemble similar functional networks for these and other Scriptures quoted in the table above.
II The Main Point
A. Each of the multiple audiences listed under point C.1 above is valid. Except for the Lord and perhaps his disciples, none of the audiences are “better” than any of the others. A given text may function differently for the same person at different moments in that person’s life. In other words, one person may participate in more than one audience at different moments in their lives.
B. Likewise, it is not this author’s intention to say that certain translations in the table are “better” than others. Each translation performs its own function.
C. However, if the purpose of a translation is to preserve as many possible functions of a polyfunctional text as possible, then the more literal translations are preferable. This is because the secondary meanings of the “mutated” translations can be derived from the original text, but not vice versa.
Perhaps some development of this idea may be helpful.
1. It is presuppositional, or assumed, that God designed the words of the original text for his own purposes. These lie in God’s own heart and to whomsoever he may choose to reveal them. Clearly, he revealed the purposes of his text, the Old Testament, to his incarnated Son. God’s design intentions are primary; God chose both the original languages and the inspired words (3). He also gifted all believers of all ages his own Holy Spirit, who can help them read and understand Scripture.
2. God designed polyfunctional text. (Hopefully that has been amply demonstrated in this series of articles.)
3. Polyfunctional Old Testament texts perform different functions for different audiences. (They “mean” different things to different people.) A function is valid for the audience for whom it was intended.
4. Because each of the several functions uses the same original text, a change of wording to accommodate one particular audience with its corresponding function may destroy the divinely intended functioning of that text for a different audience.
5. An example of a translation that accommodates a certain function for one audience, and in the process all but destroys a different function for a different audience, is given in the table above. This is where The Message Bible translates the original Hebrew (and Greek) of Psalm 1:1, which reads, “Blessed is the man,” as, “How well God must like you.” It also translates the original Hebrew (and Greek) of Zechariah 6:12 as, “We have a man here,” rather than the literal from the original, “Behold the man.” John 19:5 follows in The Message as, “Here he is: the Man,” rather than providing a close translation of the original Greek, “Behold the man!” Because some of the polyfunctional information has been destroyed, or “lost,” in translation, it would be impossible to return to the original text and consequently, to some of the other functions.
D. This is not to imply that paraphrased translations are “bad.” They serve useful purposes, that is, perform useful functions, for the audience for whom they are intended. But paraphrased translations do lose some of the functions of the original text.
E. Students should consult literal translations to uncover the multiple functions of specific texts. In the table above, the ESV and the KJV are more literal translations than any of the others, except the ancient Greek. The KJV is a translation made several centuries ago, while the ESV is recent.
God is the amazing God of communication. His supernatural being has three persons–Father, Son, and Spirit–who communicate among himself. He spoke the created order into being in Genesis and John 1. Jesus the incarnate Son is called the Word. Jesus healed, performed miracles upon the physical world, taught, comforted, and prayed by his speech. God the Father broke through the created world and spoke audibly to his Son three times.
God communicates with his people in countless ways, many involving language. He gave the Ten Commandments to Moses; he spoke through the prophets; he left a prophetic prayer journal for his Son in the pages of our Scripture. God wants to be known and understood.
God invented language. Mankind were born speaking and communicating with words directly to God and with each other. God scrambled speech at the tower of Babel, and many languages were born. God gave mankind writing, and he uses his written word as a major means of communicating with his people.
The God who is the Word created language and all living things. Perhaps not surprisingly, God created living things with physically encoded language at the molecular level. Scientists have been studying the biomolecular encoded language of DNA since the 1950’s. In recent decades, scientists have been able to unlock the genomes of all living cells. Amazingly, they have discovered a language system encoded in the biomolecules of all living organisms that functions much the same as a computer code. The biomolecules within the DNA of all living systems collect, store, and reproduce data. They also give commands to other parts of a living cell. Many of these coded sequences direct other parts of a cell to perform functions, such as the manufacture and transport of protein to specific portions of the cell where they are needed.
What’s more, scientists have discovered that some nucleotides (the molecules which form the letters encoded into DNA) are polyfunctional. That is, they participate in more than one messaging system. Polyfunctional DNA is poly-constrained, which results in beneficial mutations being extremely rare. For example, a mutation that works beneficially for one of its message strands may harm or break down another which overlaps it. Polyfunctional sequences overlap one another by using the same nucleotides for different messages. Analogies are the individual letters of crossword puzzles, the digits of a Sudoku square, and interactive novels which contain more than one story line.
God invented language. He designed the biomolecular language of living cells, and he designed the language and arrangement of Scripture. These two different kinds of language have much in common. Understanding polyfunctional DNA can help students of Scripture understand polyfunctional Old Testament text.
16 Marcos, Natalio Fernandez Marcos. The Septuagint in Context: Introduction to the Greek Version of the Bible. Translated by Wilfred G. E. Watson. Netherlands: Society of Biblical Literature, 2000, page 342.
2 The YouVersion app supplies many of the translations used in the Translation Comparison table. Bibleworks for Windows version 9 (no longer published) supplied the remainder.
3 Because the New Testament authors and the early church Fathers quoted extensively from the Septuagint (the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament), it might be wise to allow some latitude that God perhaps chose this early translation as well. See Law, Timothy Michael. When God Spoke Greek: The Septuagint and the Making of the Christian Bible. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013.