This article is a revision and a combining of a series of articles recently published by this same author, Christina M. Wilson.
I love Sudoku! Some might think it odd, but working on a Sudoku number puzzle helps my brain relax enough to gently fall off to sleep, either at night or for a nap. I think that is because Sudoku is a wordless puzzle. It focuses the brain, quiets distractions, and all without mental images, narratives, or words. That’s pretty cool. For those who are unfamiliar with Sudoku, it’s a square made of a 3×3 grid of smaller squares, each of which are divided into a 3×3 grid of still smaller squares. In other words, nine squares form a larger square, and these larger squares are arranged in a 3×3 grid. There are 81 small squares all together.
Sudoku is played by filling each of the 9 grids with the digits 1 through 9. Each of these digits must be used exactly once. The trick is to fill each grid in such a way that any and all rows in either horizontal or vertical direction must contain each of the 9 digits used exactly once. In the case of a Sudoku puzzle, there can only be one solution per puzzle. The puzzle publisher provides the digits for a certain number of the smallest squares at the beginning of each game. The more numbers provided, the easier the puzzle, and vice versa.
The biological world of living things resembles a Sudoku puzzle in the following way. Living cells contain molecules which are arranged into larger units, which are then arranged into larger units, which are arranged into yet larger units. Everything from the simplest, smallest unit to the entire network of functioning parts must work together in cooperative unity in order for the biological entity, whether plant, animal, bacteria, or virus, to exist.
But the biological world greatly differs from a Sudoku puzzle. Ultimately, except for challenging the minds of some people and putting others to sleep, a Sudoku puzzle has no meaning. It makes no statements. It gives no information, and no language is involved. A living, biological organism is quite different. In the last few decades, scientists have made exciting discoveries about the organization of living entities at the cellular and molecular level.
Scientists have discovered nucleotides. A nucleotide is a micro-unit of biological chemistry in which the chemicals are linguistic letters. These letters both store and communicate information. Nucleotides join together in orderly arrangements to perform functions within a living cell, such as supplying instructions for other parts of the cell to build proteins.
Nucleotide packets joined together in long strings form DNA strands. Discrete units within single strands of DNA are called DNA sequences. In recent decades scientists discovered that DNA sequences are polyfunctional. That means that a single DNA sequence, comprised of nucleotide packets, participates in more than one chemical network of information and function. A simple analogy is an individual letter at an intersection of two words in a crossword puzzle. That single letter participates in both a vertical and horizontal direction whose resultant products are completely distinct one from another (two different words). Another example is a single Sudoku digit, which must participate in three addition equations simultaneously: its own square, a vertical line, and a horizontal line.
When the same sequence of nucleotides codes for regions of more than one functional polypeptide, this sequence contains overlapping genes. (1)
Most DNA sequences are polyfunctional… This means that DNA sequences have meaning on several different levels … For example, imagine a sentence which has a very specific message in its normal form but with an equally coherent message when read backwards. Now let’s suppose that it also has a third message when reading every other letter, and a fourth message when a simple encryption program is used to translate it. Such a message would be polyfunctional…(2)
In the last decade, we have discovered still another aspect of the multidimensional genome. We now know that DNA sequences are typically “polyfunctional” . Trifanov previously had described at least 12 genetic codes that any given nucleotide can contribute to [39,40], and showed that a given base-pair can contribute to multiple overlapping codes simultaneously. The first evidence of overlapping protein-coding sequences in viruses caused quite a stir, but since then it has become recognized as typical. According to Kapronov et al., “it is not unusual that a single base-pair can be part of an intricate network of multiple isoforms of overlapping sense and antisense transcripts, the majority of which are unannotated” . The ENCODE project  has confirmed that this phenomenon is ubiquitous in higher genomes, wherein a given DNA sequence routinely encodes multiple overlapping messages, meaning that a single nucleotide can contribute to two or more genetic codes. Most recently, Itzkovitz et al. analyzed protein coding regions of 700 species, and showed that virtually all forms of life have extensive overlapping information in their genomes . So not only are there many “knobs” in Fisher’s microscope analogy, each one can affect multiple traits simultaneously and interactively. (3)
Nucleotide sequences carry genetic information of many different kinds, not just instructions for protein synthesis (triplet code). Several codes of nucleotide sequences are discussed including: (1) the translation framing code, responsible for correct triplet counting by the ribosome during protein synthesis; (2) the chromatin code, which provides instructions on appropriate placement of nucleosomes along the DNA molecules and their spatial arrangement; (3) a putative loop code for single-stranded RNA-protein interactions. The codes are degenerate and corresponding messages are not only interspersed but actually overlap, so that some nucleotides belong to several messages simultaneously. (4)
Sudoku puzzles, crossword puzzles, and polyfunctional DNA sequences provide examples of how the same segment of information can possess multiple meanings in the real world. We can think of countless further examples in human language, where context provides signals that change meanings of an identical information unit. For example, a change in emotive expression (anger, sarcasm, nostalgia, etc.) can change a word’s meaning tremendously. We can also think of figures of speech, such as puns, metaphors, similes, and so forth. Much sexual humor is based upon multiple meanings of words and phrases. Would it be a stretch to say that most human speech is context-dependent?
Even physical objects can convey polyfunctional information. For example, take an empty can of tomato soup. Left lying on a kitchen counter, it might indicate that the cook is still busy. Found in an enormous pile of similar objects the same can might mean that a recycling plant or garbage dump is near. On a long stretch of beach or in an alleyway outside a restaurant, the very same can could indicate improperly discarded trash. Placed in an art gallery with a title and someone’s name nearby, one and the same empty can of tomato soup might convey a profound artistic statement.
The more we consider polyfunctional information units, the more we discover that our world is permeated with them.
Polyfunctional Old Testament Text: Authorship
I. What Is Polyfunctional Old Testament Text?
A polyfunctional Old Testament text is any passage that functions in more than one context. Context includes audience, time frame, and referents. To be polyfunctional, a text need have multiples of only one of those items. For example, there may be two distinct audiences for a text in the same time frame, or there may be two referents for the same text in a given point in time. Similar to scientists’ new understanding of polyfunctional nucleotides within DNA strands, a polyfunctional biblical text must broaden our biblical understanding away from strict single purpose, single audience, single meaning kinds of interpretation. The God who created the language of polyfunctional nucleotides in DNA strands is the same God who wrote Old Testament Scripture. God is the living Word. He designed Scripture with his own audiences, time frames, and referents in mind. Jesus the Son of God, one of the triune God, had to correct even his disciples for their lack of understanding on this point (see especially Luke 24).
II. Authorship of Old Testament Polyfunctional Text
A. God is the primary author of Scripture.
2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is breathed out by God…
“Thus says the Lord”… 417 times in the Old Testament
“Write…” God telling a prophet to write–85 times in the Old Testament
Isaiah 34:16 Seek and read from the book of the LORD:
Romans 1:1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures,
(Unless otherwise noted, all biblical quotations are from the English Standard Version, ESV.)
B. God as the ultimate author of Scripture has the authority and the power to write polyfunctional text.
1. Jesus Christ is the living Word of God. He is the foremost communicator.
John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
John 1:18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.(NIV)
2. God himself with and through the living Word is creator and author of everything.
Genesis 1:1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
John 1:3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
Hebrews 1:1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power…
Revelation 1:8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”
Revelation 21:6 And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.
Revelation 22:13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”
3. Therefore, God as creator of everything and as the living Word has authority and power to write polyfunctional Old Testament texts.
He has the capacity (brilliance, power, creativity, sovereignty, and intelligence) to do so:
- As creator
- As maintainer
- As the Alpha and Omega
- As the author of Scripture
- As the living Word
C. What about the human authors?
Clearly, God used intermediaries to write the Bible, both Old and New Testaments. In the Old Testament, these were people like Moses, David, Ezra, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, and many other prophets. The New Testament human authors include a few of Jesus’s disciples (Matthew, John, Peter), Paul the apostle, Luke the historian, and at least one who remains anonymous (Hebrews).
Did the Old Testament authors fully understand what and to whom they were writing? New Testament Scripture tells us they did not.
Luke 20:28 They asked him, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies leaving a wife but no children, that man must marry the widow and father children for his brother. (NET)
Comment on the above verse: Did Moses specifically know when he wrote those words for the Israelite community of his day that he was also writing for a group of Sadducees (no such group existed in Moses’s timeframe) who would be reading his words many centuries later? Did he know that these Sadducees would be quoting his words as their own Scripture (Moses wrote for us) in order to argue with the incarnated Son of God?
The New Testament also records a prophecy spoken by someone whose intention explicitly differed from God’s.
John 11:49 But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. 50 Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” 51 He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. 53 So from that day on they made plans to put him to death.
Analysis: The gospel writer John identifies Caiaphas as the high priest who spoke the prophecy John quotes in verse 50. John then reveals God’s intended blessing for the people and nation through Christ’s death (verses 50-51). He also explicitly states (vs 51) that God used Caiaphas in his role as high priest to prophesy; Caiaphas did not do so of his own accord, or “out of his own intention.” Verse 53 reveals Caiaphas’s attitude toward Jesus–he wanted to “put him to death,” i.e., to kill him. Caiaphas appears again in John 18:13-28, where he indeed does participate in the religious judgment against Jesus that led to his crucifixion.
The reader can minimally conclude from John 11:49-53 that Caiaphas the human prophet’s authorial intention differed completely from God’s authorial intention, as recorded by John in his inspired gospel. Caiaphas’s attitude revealed animosity against Jesus, the Christ. God’s attitude toward his Christ revealed that he intended him as a blessing to many. John’s text in this passage is polyfunctional. To Caiaphas, the prophet-speaker, the meaning of his text was (paraphrased), “Let’s get rid of this man causing us so much trouble. It will be better for ourselves and the nation.” To God, the source of the prophecy, the meaning was (paraphrased), It’s a blessing for many that Christ will die a substitutionary death for my people everywhere. Clearly then, the passage demonstrates polyfunctional text whose meaning varies by speaker and by audience (5).
1 Corinthians 9:9 For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? 10 Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop.
Comment: Did Moses explicitly know that he was writing for people who would be living after the birth of God incarnate and who would put their faith in him? Did God know? Did God reveal his intention for this passage to the inspired writer Paul? Paul is not saying that he is using the passage as an extended application. No, but he states, “It was written for our sake.” In other words, according to Paul, God’s intended meaning for him and the Christians to whom he was writing was present in the passage from the beginning. The Old Testament passage demonstrates polyfunctional meaning in which the referent (an ox) changes meaning for a different audience in a different time frame.
1 Peter 1:10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. 12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.
Comment: This passage indicates that Old Testament prophets who prophesied about a salvation and grace knew that they were not prophesying for their own time and place, but more than that, they did not know. Peter clearly and directly states that they knew they did not know the full meaning of their own prophecies. Are we then to conclude that what they spoke in their own context of time and place would have been unintelligible to those who heard them speak? Most likely not. I suggest that these prophecies would have been polyfunctional, able to serve two very different contexts.
Jesus’s comments to the two disciples whom he joined in their walk to the town of Emmaus shortly after his resurrection reveal a great deal about the Old Testament audience, who for centuries and centuries lived with Scripture before the Advent of Christ. Jesus spoke briefly and to the point–he said they missed its major significance.
Luke 24:13 That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them.
Luke 24:25 So he said to them, “You foolish people– how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Wasn’t it necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (NET)
Luke 24:27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things written about himself in all the scriptures. (NET)
When Jesus “interpreted to them the things written about himself,” was he changing the text’s original meaning or creating allegories or making extensive applications? No, the text of Luke states clearly that he “interpreted to them the things written about himself.” The things written about him had been there in the original words all along. Jesus did not distort or change Scripture. Rather, he opened the disciples’ understanding to see a different pathway of communication in the identical words. The text itself was polyfunctional. The same text had one meaning within the context of ancient Judaism and another meaning in the context of Christ’s incarnation, death, and resurrection. If it were a crossword puzzle, we would say that the disciples needed to read the text message not in a horizontal but a vertical direction (See Introduction above).
So, to answer the question at the beginning of this section, “What about the human authors?” the above examples show that the human authors did not know all the functions of the texts they were writing, nor was it necessary for them to do so in order for the texts themelves to be polyfunctional.
For centuries past, up to and including the present, believing Christians and biblical scholars have wondered about the New Testament’s use of Old Testament quotations. “How did they get this out of that?” is a common response among those who read the New Testament authors (6). I propose the answer lies not with the original human authors of the Old Testament, nor the original audiences in Old Testament days, nor the New Testament human authors, nor the New Testament audiences. The answer to the puzzle of New Testament exegesis of the Old lies with the divine author himself–God–and with the texts themselves that he inspired and caused to be written. God intentionally wrote polyfunctional text. As an infinitely talented author (an understatement), God has complete control over all aspects of his Scripture: its content, its fulfillment, all history, the actual words of the text, the human authors, and the various human audiences. For his own reasons he chose to write text through Old Testament authors that would be meaningful enough for the audiences of their day to take great care in their preservation and transmission, yet not be fully understood by them. After Christ’s resurrection, God brought a new audience (believers in Christ) to understand other meanings in the original texts, meanings that had always been present. The texts themselves were polyfunctional.
III. Who Are the Audiences of God’s Polyfunctional Old Testament Text?
A. Some Questions
God alone is the ultimate author of Scripture. That is a given; that is the starting point. Beginning with God as author, we can ask questions about his audience.
- Does God write for one audience or more than one?
- Is God’s original audience his main audience? By “original audience” is meant the audience who initially received, whether orally or in writing, the content of Old Testament Scripture.
- Is the human author to be considered an audience?
- Does it matter to the full functioning of the text if the human author did or did not understand in full detail all the various functions his text might at any time perform?
For example, does it matter that the human authors did not know in detail of whom and of what time they were prophesying when they predicted a future salvation and grace to be revealed? (See 1Peter 1:10-12 and Examples 4 and 5 in section II-C above.)
As another example, does it matter to the full functioning of any particular Davidic psalm whether or not David knew he was being the mouthpiece of another? (Peter tells us that in the case of Psalm 16:8-11, David was a prophet who did foresee that he was speaking about his descendant in the flesh, namely Christ, Acts 2:30-31).
B. Some Possible Audiences
We can think of multiple audiences for the prophecies given before the exile which were read, interpreted, and acted upon after the exile. The exile prophecies are clear examples of text written for an original audience and a God-intended later audience. For example, Daniel speaks while in exile of prophecies proclaimed to a different audience before the exile, Daniel 9:2 “In the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, perceived in the books the number of years that, according to the word of the LORD to Jeremiah the prophet, must pass before the end of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years (7).” A reasonable conclusion is that God intended to write to two different audiences at two different times and places. The identical prophecies would function differently for each audience. For the original audience, Jeremiah and his listeners, the prophecies functioned as warnings, a call to national repentance, and signals of a future hope. History shows that many in this original audience did not believe that Jeremiah spoke the Word of God. Or, believing, they simply chose to rebel. For the later audience, Daniel, the prophecies functioned as truth and a call to prayer. Within that prayer, Daniel repented for the whole nation (Daniel 9). God began to fulfill the prophecies spoken to both audiences shortly after Daniel’s prayer, when Cyrus issued his famous decree for the exiles to return to Jerusalem in order to rebuild the house of God (Ezra 1:1-3).
As another example, later in the text of Daniel, Daniel himself prophesies and introduces yet another audience for a different time and a different place.
Daniel 12:8 I heard, but I did not understand. Then I said, “O my lord, what shall be the outcome of these things?” 9 He said, “Go your way, Daniel, for the words are shut up and sealed until the time of the end. (8)
Clearly, since Daniel openly states, “I did not understand,” the identical text functions for him as the original audience differently than it will function for the future audience who will read it in the context of its fulfillment. Daniel’s contemporaneous listeners are yet a third audience for the identical set of words, and their perceptions are not recorded.
To summarize the above, some examples of multiple audiences would include:
1. the human authors of Old Testament Scripture, often prophets or historians
2. the original audiences to whom the human authors spoke or wrote
3. a later biblical author commenting upon prior biblical passages (these commentaries are common in both testaments)
4. New Testament audiences
5. the eschatological, or end times, audiences.
God wrote the Bible as polyfunctional text intended to serve different functions for different audiences in different times and places. We gave examples of specific audiences from the books of Acts, Psalms, and Daniel. Some audiences were original, some, such as Daniel, were intermediate, and some are still future, e.g., the eschatological audiences who will live when history arrives at its final end. Nor do we want to overlook the fact that believers and nonbelievers comprise distinctly different audiences for whom biblical texts convey different meanings and functions.
As we consider the ins and outs of prophetic speech in the Old Testament, for this author at least, it seems far simpler to think in terms of polyfunctional text intended by God to effect different outcomes for different audiences of different times and places (the function of a text, rather than the meaning of a text), than to try to solve unanswerable puzzles phrased in terms such as, “single meaning,” “multiple meanings,” “single meaning and single referent,” “single meaning and multiple referents,” sensus plenior,” “typology,” “allegory,” “pesher,” “midrash,” and so forth.
To help one comprehend that Old Testament text performs functions on more than one contextual pathway, the Christian reader need simply perceive her own pathway, the pathway intended specifically for her by God. Any given reader of Scripture is herself a context and audience of one, different than the original audience in its historical-grammatical setting. If this reader perceives a meaning applicable to her own life yet decidedly different than its presumed meaning for a so-called “original” audience, who but God has authority to claim that her meaning is invalid? Or that her meaning is not really a meaning but an application? If such were the case, then even Jesus’s own interpretation that Moses wrote about him would be subject to doubt (John 5:39).
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. For example, if a nonbeliever reads a biblical text, that text may mean something far different than the same text read by the same person at a different point in time when the person has become a believer. In the first instance, quite possibly, the text may serve no function, while in the second instance, the same text may perform a function of great value.
All this is not to suggest that a consideration of original audiences in their own historical-grammatical Old testament contexts cannot produce valuable understandings. However, these may be largely irrelevant to the context God provides as his Spirit joins readers in their reading of Scripture. Nor need they be the Spirit’s own starting point. When producing meaning in a reader’s heart, or preferably function, the Holy Spirit may choose to ignore the original context completely. It is this author’s Christian belief that the Holy Spirit is capable of interpreting Scripture properly within the heart of each and every believer according to his (God’s) own purposeful design and intention.
That is, devotional readings can be true and valuable within the context of a believer’s own heart, whether or not they agree with academic interpretations. This is not to say that the way a text functions in one believer’s heart will provide a profitable function in another believer’s heart. The proposition is that God wrote polyfunctional text. The biological world provides an analogy in polyfunctional components of DNA. Within a strand of DNA, a polyfunctional nucleotide can participate in a network that conveys a command to a particular cellular component, and the very same nucleotide can participate in a second (or third or fourth or fifth) non-related network that conveys a different command to a different part of the same cell. Polyfunctional Scripture functions similarly.
There are safeguards against extreme error. Just as a single nucleotide exists and functions within an entire strand of DNA, each individual believer exists and functions within the universal body of Christ, which is the church. Within the cell, a mutation to a nucleotide may benefit one of its communication pathways, yet prove to be deleterious to others and to the whole. All believers together, as a unified whole, provide the corrective for individual errors of interpretation, that is, a veering off from God’s intended textual purposes in Christ.
To state my thought simply, “Christian, read your Bible in faith, trusting in God, and he will do the rest. He designed his holy Word to function this way. You don’t need a scholar to interpret his word for you,” (see 1 John 2:27).
IV. Might Jesus Have Been an Audience? (Did God Write the Old Testament for His Incarnated Son?)
A. Scripture (Old Testament) was of primary importance to Jesus and his ministry.
1. Jesus often quoted Scripture (Scripture here implies the Old Testament). Three examples follow:
Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes'” (Matthew 21:42)
For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” (Luke 22:37)
“I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.'” (John 13:18)
2. Jesus saw himself as fulfilling Scripture.
Jesus said to them, “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God? (Mark 12:24f)
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, (John 5:39)
3. Jesus perceived Old Testament Scripture as fulfilled in himself.
“But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” (Matthew 26:54, Jesus speaking about his suffering to come)
“Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But let the Scriptures be fulfilled.” (Mark 14:49)
And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21)
While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. (John 17:12, Jesus praying to his Father)
4. Some of Jesus’s parables retold Scripture in story form.
Matthew 21:28 “What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ … :45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. (Matthew 21:28-45)
For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry! (Isaiah 5:7)
B. Even as a child, Jesus was intimately acquainted with the words of Scripture.
After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” 49 And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50 And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them. (Luke 2:46)
C. From where did Jesus get his knowledge of the Old Testament?
This is a difficult question, since neither the gospels nor the remainder of the New Testament tell the reader directly.
1. One approach is to leave Scripture and search through the cultural customs of the time. All results would be speculative, since Scripture does not tell us where Jesus got his knowledge.
2. Another approach would be to surmise that God gave Jesus knowledge directly through the Spirit during his long hours of prayer. This, too, is speculation.
3. There may be other possibilities, all speculative.
This section, however, is not about exploring how Jesus got his knowledge; it’s about the important point that Jesus possessed a vast knowledge of Old Testament Scripture.
D. Most importantly, Jesus understood the Old Testament to be written about himself.
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, (John 5:39)
25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:25-27)
44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. (Luke 24:44-47)
E. For those who believe that Jesus is God’s incarnated Son, then Point D above must be our conclusion as well.
V. Jonathan and His Arrow Boy: A Clear Example of a Polyfunctional Text
A. If Johnathan would encode a message for his dearly beloved David, why wouldn’t God do it for his Son?
1Samuel 20 is a love story about two brothers. These are soul brothers, not brothers united by parentage. Saul was king, and Jonathan was his son, rightful heir to his father’s throne. But God had chosen David, a shepherd boy and warrior, to be Israel’s future king. Jonathan loved God, and he loved his friend David, but not more than David loved Jonathan. Jonathan was willing to sacrifice his own future for David, his life friend, whom he loved more than his own soul, and David placed all his trust in Jonathan his friend.
B. Why does Scripture include the detailed narrative of Jonathan’s arrow boy?
1Samuel 20:10-40 (9) contains the sequence relating to Johnathan’s arrow boy with specific reference made to him in 1Samuel 20:10, 19-22, and 35-41. In this narrative, the arrow boy is an unwitting tool Jonathan uses to give David a secret message. The arrow boy knows nothing of his being used in such fashion. Yet, the whole scene acted out, including the predetermined words, are a coded message between Jonathan and David. It’s written in an “If this, then that; but if this other, then that other,” format, much like lines of computer code. It’s a very interesting story hidden in plain sight in what appears to be mundane prose of only minor significance. Who is the arrow boy? He’s just an unwary messenger whose own conscious perception would remain flat and unperturbed. And yet the larger story conveys deepest emotions of great significance.
In other words, if the reader of 1 Samuel 20 were to ask the arrow boy what transpired on that particular day, his reply would have missed entirely the heart of the story. The real story was purposefully kept far above the comprehension of the arrow boy/messenger by the two originators of the story, Jonathan as writer and David as intended audience, who collaborated in advance together.
But again, why has Scripture preserved the full details of the entire sequence of events recorded in the 1 Samuel 20 passage? Surely the purpose of this narrative passed away millennia ago? The protagonists and minor actors would have died within 100 years of its happening. What is the main point of the passage? Isn’t it the friendship and loyalty between David and Jonathan? Why do we still read today the exact words of Jonathan to his arrow boy? What significance could that part of the narrative possibly have beyond the original three person context?
C. A Review of the Facts
1. Christ-believers of all ages and places, evangelical Christians included, believe that God is the ultimate source and author of all Scripture.
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, (2Timothy 3:16)
2. Therefore, God designed and intended the passage about the arrow boy to be part of Scripture.
3. Jonathan’s words or a close variation were spoken twice, “Look the arrows are beyond you,” (vs 22) and “Is not the arrow beyond you?” (vs 37).
a) In the first instance of this historical event, David was the original audience of one.
b) In the second instance of this historical event, David and the arrow boy comprised two distinct, original audiences, even though they shared roughly the same location, the exact same point in time, and the identical speaker. David, as the original primary audience for whom the words were intended, knew about the arrow boy, while the arrow boy, original audience two, “knew nothing. Only Jonathan and David knew the matter.” (vs 37)
D. Conclusion to Be Drawn from the Facts
The facts lead to an unavoidable conclusion. In addition to two audiences, the passage reveals two entirely different meanings for an identical set of words, “Is not the arrow beyond you?” For the arrow boy the words simply meant that he should keep running further in order to find the arrow. For David, the identical words at the identical time and place, spoken by the identical speaker, meant that King Saul intended to kill David and that David should run and hide.
Even though David and the arrow boy heard the identical words, their comprehension of them at the basic level of meaning was entirely different. One cannot brush aside the polyfunctional nature of this text by claiming that David merely applied Jonathan’s words to his own situation. David would never have arrived at the meaning, “King Saul wants to kill you,” from the spoken words, “Is not the arrow beyond you?” without the context of the back story, that is, all that had transpired before, quite out of earshot of the arrow boy. That back story was a predetermined code, or design, for that certain set of words. If the words were a nucleotide segment in a strand of DNA, then the entire coded message from Jonathan to David was much longer than the nucleotide under consideration in 1 Samuel 20:37. Maintaining this analogy, for the arrow boy, the given nucleotide combined with other segments of understanding in his own context to form a much shorter, less dramatic message that was quite distinct from David’s. Their understandings overlapped at this one point of speech only. Beyond this particular speech segment, their worlds did not intersect.
E. Meaning as Function
Even though David and Jonathan’s arrow boy shared the identical event, they each received two entirely different messages from an exactly identical set of words spoken by an identical speaker. While the words contained a literal meaning that never varied–it was the same literal meaning for both David and the arrow boy–more importantly, the words contained a function. And here is where the “meaning” of the identical words differ: the function of the words–a command to do something–was different for David than for the arrow boy. 1) For the arrow boy, the function of the words was a command to keep running in the same direction to retrieve the arrows. 2) For David, the function of the words was a command to begin running away from King Saul, who intended to kill him. The biblical text is polyfunctional. Speaking of function, rather than meaning, is both simpler and clearer.
F. Comparison with Polyfunctional Nucleotides
In 1 Samuel 20:10-41 Scripture provides a clear-cut, up-front, simple example of polyfunctional text, similar to the kind that occurs in a polyfunctional nucleotide in the biological world. In other words, Scripture gives us an example of an encoded message intended to function differently in two different, but simultaneous, messaging systems. Or, one could say that the same text means two different things. It’s similar to a single letter of a cross-word puzzle, or a single digit in a Sudoku puzzle. It’s the intentional double entendre. The identical encoded communication segment, in this case a human speech segment, functions in two different communication systems: one for David, and one for the arrow boy.
Polyfunctional nucleotides perform functions within the cell. Located in the DNA, they give chemical commands to other parts of the cell. These commands order the intended cellular audience to perform actions, such as building a particular protein. That a single nucleotide can be included in two entirely different messaging systems is amazing–this fact amazes scientists (10).
Likewise, the words that Jonathan spoke to the arrow boy were polyfunctional. They performed two functions; they gave two commands. One command to perform an action–find the arrow–was purposefully intended for the boy. The other command–run and hide, because the king wants to kill you–was purposefully intended for David. The identical words intentionally functioned within two communication networks to effect two different results–two actions.
While biological polyfunctional nucleotides may amaze scientists, this particular biblical polyfunctional text–Jonathan and his arrow boy– may not appear so amazing. It is, after all, a mundane part of the highly passionate drama between Jonathan and his soul brother David. And yet, God chose to preserve all these mundane details for millennia in his Word, the Bible. Why?
G. The passage about Jonathan’s Arrow Boy Reveals God’s Intention to Write Polyfunctional Text: An Editorial Comment
Yes, this author believes that God wrote polyfunctional text. The example of Jonathan, David, and the arrow boy are preserved in Scripture to demonstrate this fact. The word “believes” was used in the opening first person sentence of this paragraph, because such a statement cannot be proven to the satisfaction of academia. Jesus taught his Emmaus Road disciples to read Old Testament Scripture through the eyes of faith in himself, the crucified and risen Lord. Most likely, his same words would not have convinced more than a portion of academia. Not meaning to disparage, but how is it that generations and generations of rabbis and their biblical students failed to see the suffering Christ, Messiah, in the words of their own Scripture? All of Jesus’s disciples had similarly failed, until he opened their eyes after the resurrection.
Academia is constrained to prove. That’s why nothing, to repeat–nothing–anywhere in Scripture is agreed upon by all biblical commentators. For every passage, readers can find two academicians at odds with each other. When it comes to proofs, academia will always argue, because every “proof” has an “anti-proof.”
But God chose faith to be the operating principle for his Word.
And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)
H. Jesus and Polyfunctional Scripture: An Important Question
Even though he was a carpenter’s son, Jesus knew that Scripture was written about himself.
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, (John 5:39)
To repeat the question in heading “A” above, Why wouldn’t God the loving Father (“This is my beloved Son…”) write a manual to help his divine Son who emptied himself and took on the likeness of sinful flesh? Jesus constrained his own divinity when he became human. Paul in Philippians writes that Jesus “emptied himself” (Philippians 2:7). If we believe Scripture, then we believe John 5:39 quoted just above. We must conclude that the Old Testament does indeed bear witness about Christ.
Based upon biblical evidence and the immensely capable abilities of God, it is reasonable to suppose that in the eons of time before the Bible was written, that is, before creation, when the eternal Godhead chose the Son to be the eternal sacrifice, that same Godhead planned and consulted within themself, similar to Jonathan and David, to write a Scripture that would help, lead, and guide the Son throughout the severe trial of his appearance in the weakness of human flesh. In other words, God shot an arrow–the Old Testament–to send a strong message of love and truth to his beloved Son to help him during the time of his incarnation.
During the period of Christ’s incarnation and especially during his passion, Jesus may have been the only living human being on earth who understood the entire meaning of the Old Testament. Paul writes,
7 But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory (1Corinthians 2:7-8)
Are we to conclude that the Word of God was void, because none of the rulers of this age understood it? Certainly not! The one person for whom the Bible was especially written, Jesus Christ the Son, understood Scripture fully and made the best use of its words to accomplish the mission for which God sent him. Isaiah writes,
So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:11)
Why did Jesus quote Scripture to Satan during his temptation in the desert? Was it a case of his merely being able to pull out cleverly applicable Scriptures while under the severest pressures of hunger, thirst, and temptation? Or, were those particular verses placed there ahead of time for a reason? As Jesus hung on the cross, being slowly suffocated to death, was his human mind able to function in clarity even then and cleverly remember verses from the Psalter that seemed to him appropriate and applicable for that moment? Or, were the psalms of David purposefully placed there by his Father to train Jesus during the years of childhood and preparation, to thoroughly drench him in the certainty of the role and script that he would fulfill? This author believes the latter. How about you?
VI. A Practical Application for Christians
A. Polyfunctional Text and Today’s Reader
1. God talks
- “And God said, Let there be light.” (Genesis 1:3)
- God’s very name and nature refers to speech. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:)
- The Old Testament is filled with records of God speaking, questioning, dialoguing, appearing to, and in other ways communicating with various prophets and people.
- In the New Testament God audibly spoke over Jesus three times.
- Mark and Luke record God speaking directly to Jesus at his baptism, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
- Next, God audibly spoke to those with Jesus at the Mount of Transfiguration, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”
- Finally, John records a less well known incident in which God audibly responded to Jesus while he was praying.
“Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” (John 12:28)
- The resurrected and ascended Lord Jesus spoke directly to Saul on the road to Damascus. They even talked back and forth in dialogue.
4 And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” (Act 9:4-6)
2. A First Principle for New Believers in Christ
One of the first principles of Christianity new believers often hear is, “What is true of Christ is true of me, because I am in Christ and he is in me.”
To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27)
And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, (1Corinthians 1:30)
Therefore, if God talked to Jesus in such a way that Jesus understood him, and the resurrected Jesus spoke to Saul so that this man understood him, then Christians, who are indwelled by Christ, should not be disbelieving when they discover Jesus speaking to them through the Holy Spirit in such a way that they understand it is he.
3. God Speaks Through His Word, the Bible
Though the Bible is not the only way God speaks to his children–he has many ways of speaking–speaking through the Bible is one of the main ways. Why is the Bible different than any other book that ever was or ever will be? The Bible is unique because the Spirit of God can speak through this written Word to believers.
The Psalter provides an example of a biblical book through which God often speaks to believers. It is far, far different for a believer to read a psalm by David and to hear God speak directly into her heart through the very words of the psalm, than it is to sit in a Bible study class and hear the teacher expound a lesson using David as an example which her listeners can then apply to their own lives. The difference is day and night.
This series of articles has sought to demonstrate that it is fully reasonable to think that God wrote Scripture specifically to communicate with his own Son in his days as incarnate Messiah. Referring back to point two above–“What is true of Christ is true of me, because I am in Christ and he is in me,”–is applicable here. If God spoke to his Son during his hours of great need, why wouldn’t he speak to each believer in Christ the same way? If God encouraged his Son through Scripture, why wouldn’t he through Scripture encourage each little one? This kind of communication academia knows nothing about. It is spiritual.
1Corinthians 2:7 But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”–10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. 14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 16 “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (1Corinthians 2:7-16)
B. A Message To the Reader
If you are one day reading the words of Scripture and you get the unusual perception that God is speaking directly to you, that he has been reading your very thoughts and is now responding to you, know and believe that indeed he is. And that he designed this moment eons ago before you were even created. He means for those words to be an arrow into your heart. God always intended to speak to his children through Scripture. He is that much of a genius and that much of a loving Father.
Then, reader, take a further step and know that Jesus Christ is part of what you feel in that moment. Those words speaking to you are also his words; that arrow in your heart is also an arrow in his heart. Those words sent to you today as a special gift from God hand-wrapped with your name upon them were also sent to Christ in his incarnation. He willingly experienced the same sorrows you experience. He is one of us. He is like you, and he is like me.
Then turn in your Bible and read John 17. That is Christ’s prayer for you. You are included in that prayer. Jesus thought of you and prayed for you 2,000 years ago, and God is thinking of you now. I entrust you to God the Father in my prayers as well.
This article has demonstrated how God, as ultimate agent, intentionally wrote Old Testament Scripture as polyfunctional text. An identical set of words can intentionally convey different meanings to different audiences during the same time frame or different time frames. The narrative about David, Jonathan, and Jonathan’s arrow boy provide a prime example. The thesis of this paper is that God’s primary audience for Old Testament text was his then future incarnate Son, Jesus Christ. The primary application is for today’s believing Christian or for today’s about-to-be-believing child of God. God often speaks to his beloved children through words of Scripture. This is a small part of a universal testimony that this is so. Be on the lookout to hear God speak directly to your heart.
VII. Sidebar: Mutations and Biblical Text
The inspiration for the title and metaphor of this article, which is titled, “Polyfunctional Old Testament Biblical Texts: An Analogy to Molecular Biochemistry of DNA,” came from Dr J C Sanford’s book, Genetic Entropy (11). Throughout the series, rather than discuss the “meaning” of Old Testament texts, the conversation centers around the “function” of the texts. For example, what do the texts accomplish in the lives of their various audiences? What are the various purposes (intended results) for each audience? What “commands” do the texts give or what events do they set off? (See the example given in Section V above, the biblical text concerning Johnathan, David, and Johnathan’s arrow boy.)
10…11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:11)
In the biological world, a nucleotide is a string of four molecules which together comprise one letter of the living code that forms the DNA messaging system of all living entities. Nucleotides can be polyfunctional, that is, they can participate in more than one cellular message.
Many specific nucleotides in a higher genome are poly-functional, affecting various biological processes simultaneously (12).
Scientists also speak of polyfunctional DNA.
It is increasingly clear that there are multiple, overlapping, functional information systems within higher genomes. This means that many nucleotides do not have one function but actually have several functions (even as a letter in a crossword puzzle can be part of two words) (13).
A mutation is a change in the molecules of DNA. To speak using a chemical metaphor, this author made many mutations as she typed the above quotation. These she went back and selected against, thereby restoring the quotation to its original form.
Mutational changes are directly analogous to word processing errors which arise in the copying of a text. There can be substitutions, deletions, insertions, duplications, inversions, etc. (14).
Poly-functional DNA is interesting because it is poly-constrained and is severely limited in terms of having any potential beneficial mutations (15).
To illustrate the above quotation, consider two words in a crossword puzzle. Imagine that the author decides to change the word “boots” to “boats” because the new clue fits in with the puzzle’s theme better. She fails to notice, however, that the horizontal word no longer has meaning. But the editor realizes the loss of meaning and throws out the entire puzzle as being no longer acceptable. The crossword puzzle words in this example are poly-constrained, “severely limited in terms of having any potential beneficial mutations” (see above). Of course, if the remainder of the puzzle were complete, and if the words were more tightly packed, the constraints against change would be even greater.
Another illustration is the word “diaper.” The same six letters can be part of a message spelled both forward and backward, as in the sentence, “The diaper was repaid.” However, the mother who jotted the short note to her friend and left it on her front porch realized that she had borrowed six diapers, not just one. She changed “diaper” to “diapers,” and suddenly, the word no longer functions as a “semordnilap,” that is a word that can be read in both directions (Try reading “semordnilap” in reverse.) By adding an “s” to her original word in order to improve it, the mother broke her sentence as well. “The diapers was srepaid.”
The two examples above illustrate what is called poly-constraint with regard to beneficial mutations of polyfunctional words. These resemble the biochemical world, in which a beneficial mutation of a polyfunctional segment of DNA is very rare. Scripture is not so very different when well-meaning editors come along to improve the text of the original languages by changing words here and there to accommodate certain audiences. Some paraphrased translations destroy entire passages of polyfunctional text.
B. Examples of Polyfunctional Biblical Texts
a. The Christian purpose is to discover Christ in all the Bible.
b. The hermeneutic Christ taught his disciples in Luke 24 is a good place to begin.
c. 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.
2. 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 (16).
C. Psalm 1 as an Example of a Polyfunctional Text (Link to Psalm 1)
1. The Multiple audiences of Psalm 1
- 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
2. For each audience listed above, the function of the text of Psalm 1:1 will differ accordingly.
D. Pathways, or Networks, of Polyfunctional Text
Different audiences can receive different messages. Another word for message would be meaning. The meaning of a text is found in the function the text performs in relation to a particular audience. Texts can perform different functions for different audiences. As demonstrated previously in this article, 1 Corinthians 9:9-10 is an example of a text that functions differently for its Old Testament audience and for its New Testament audience. (It is simpler and clearer to think in terms of function rather than in terms of meaning versus application.)
1 Corinthians 9:9 For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? 10 Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop.
Single texts can be polyfunctional in and of themselves. An example of such a text was just given. As regards this text from 1 Corinthians, the context of its original occurrence in Deuteronomy 25:4 extended enormously from animal husbandry to everything that is recorded in the New Testament about Christ and the early church. Paul took one verse and gave it a different function for a different audience. My thesis is that God built this polyfunctionality into that verse from the beginning.
Polyfunctionality extends beyond single passages. In larger contexts than the so-called original setting, the function of a specific text can vary–become polyfunctional–when it combines with other texts in a network, or pathway. There can be multiple networks aimed at multiple audiences.
For example, let us posit an audience comprised of today’s devotional Christian readers. We will posit a network, or biblical pathway, that consists of the following texts:
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.”
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)
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)
A member of the audience comprised of today’s devotional Christian readers might reasonably deduce that Psalm 1:1-2 speaks concerning the Son of God, Jesus Christ, since he is the only human being who matches the description of the righteous “man” (specifically a male) described in these verses. Romans 3, which is itself a quotation from Psalm 14:1-3, declares that no one is righteous, whereas 2 Corinthians 5:21 declares Jesus to have been without sin. Clearly, he is in a class by himself.
After this, the Holy Spirit, who designed Scripture for his own purposes with his own audiences in mind, reminds some of these devotional readers of the following verse.
So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!” (John 19:5)
These devotional readers, influenced by the Holy Spirit, can reasonably deduce that the man being crucified is the one and only blessedly righteous man of Psalm 1:1, pointed at in the phrase, “Blessed is the man…” Psalm 1:1 and John 19:5, when combined, cause Psalm 1:1 to become polyfunctional.
But these same devotional readers consequently face a puzzle, how can the horrible juxtaposition of blessedness and crucifixion exist together? How can it be that the uniquely righteous man is about to be crucified? This makes no sense in everyday understanding of the word “blessed”.
Then the Holy Spirit adduces more biblical statements from both testaments. These verses help form a solution to the puzzle.
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)
“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)
“But from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” (Luke 22:69)
The verse from Zechariah is added due to its resonance with Pilot’s statement in John, “Behold the man!” By adding the verse in Zechariah and the two verses in 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. The blessing of Psalm 1:1 is fulfilled through the building of the temple and the Man’s being seated at the right hand of the power of God. Countless other Scriptures can be added to the chain to fill out a theology of Christ and the cross.
E. Success in completing a chain of connected verses is influenced by the translations used.
Consider the following table (17).
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, however, do point out the allusion and discuss a possible range of meanings, meanings which may have influenced various translators. Interestingly, the translation which NET chose for its own text 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)
Sidebar comment from this author: Net Bible states, “Pilate’s words constituted an unconscious allusion to Zechariah 6:12 … In this case Pilate (unknowingly and ironically) presented Jesus to the nation under a messianic title.” Note, however, that Pilate did not use the word “Branch.” Therefore, if the NET translators find an allusive connection between “Behold, the man…” and Zechariah’s Messiah, why not also include “Blessed is the man,” which in Psalm 1:1 contains a very precise description of the nature and character of Jesus Christ?
The reader should take note that the chain of context read horizontally in the “Translation Comparison” table above works well for some translations, but is nonexistent in others. This thought will be developed in “G” below.
F. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, devotional Christian readers can form their own functional networks.
G. How Non-Beneficial “Mutations” Occur in Polyfunctional Chains of Biblical Text
1. Before considering mutations, consider the disclaimer that each of the multiple audiences listed under point C.1 above is valid. Excepting the Lord and perhaps his disciples, none of the audiences is “better” than any other. For example, the audience of today’s devotional readers is of no less value to God than the so-called original audience.
2. 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.
3. However, if the purpose of a translation is to preserve as many 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.
a. It is presuppositional, or assumed, that God designed the words of the original text for his own purposes. These purposes 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 (18). He also gifted all believers of all ages with his own Holy Spirit, who can help them read and understand Scripture.
b. God designed the text to be polyfunctional. (Hopefully that has been amply demonstrated in this article.)
c. 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.
d. Because each of the several functions uses the same original text, a change of wording to accommodate one particular audience may destroy the divinely intended functioning of that text for a different audience, especially if the translator is unaware of the multiple functions of the text under consideration.
e. Translations from one language to another often destroy potential meanings. This is because no language has exact correspondences with any other. Original statements often, or even most often, contain more than one potential interpretation. The complete range of potential meanings cannot be captured in a one to one correspondence between the original language and the translation, because the identical range of potential meanings doesn’t exist in the language of the translation. Therefore, translators often must choose which meanings they will capture at the expense of losing other potential meanings. The further afield a translation wanders from a literal representation of the original statement, the likelier it becomes that the range of potential meanings will diminish.
f. To state the above in genetic terms, translations carry less information than the originals, just as most mutations involve a loss of information. That is why it becomes more difficult to regain the original from a highly “mutated” translation, that is, one that strays greatly from the literal words in order to achieve a particular effect for a particular audience. A highly inflected translation contains far less information, and possibly incorrect information, than the original.
4. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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. God 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 means of 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, the Psalter, 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, giving birth to many languages. 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 and created language also created 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 the numerical/electronic language of 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.
1 David C. Krakauer, Stability and Evolution of Overlapping Genes, Evolution: International Journal of Organic Evolution, first published May 9, 2007. Available at https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.0014-3820.2000.tb00075.x, accessed April 22, 2020.
2 John Sanford, Genetic Entropy & the Mystery of the Genome, p. 131–3, FMS Publications, Third Edition 2008.
3 George Montañez, Robert J. Marks II, Jorge Fernandez and John C. Sanford, “Multiple Overlapping Genetic Codes Profoundly Reduce the Probability of Beneficial Mutation” in Biological Information: New Perspectives, edited by George Montañez, Robert J. Marks II, Jorge Fernandez and John C. Sanford, published by World Scientific Company: Hackensack, New Jersey, 2011, p 141.
4 E.N. Trifonov, The Multiple Codes of Nucleotide Sequences, Bulletin of Mathimatical Biology 51, 417–432 (1989). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02460081.
5 My thinking on this passage has been aided by reading Raju D. Kanjummen, who writes an excellent academic article discussing this and other biblical examples of non-confluence (non-identity, or non-overlap) of divine and human authorial intentions. See Kanjummen, Raju D., “The Single Intent of Scripture: Critical Examination of a Theological Construct,” in Grace Theological Journal 7.1 (1986): 81-110. The phrase “out of his own intention” is quoted from page 90. Kunjummen also writes that his argument concerning the non-confluence of human and divine authorial intentions, “… opens the possibility that God may through a later author explain more of what he had in mind in an earlier statement in a manner similar to how he clarified through John his intention through Caiaphas’s prophecy,” (90).
6 See, for example, Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Darrell L. Bock, and Peter Enns in a back and forth academic discussion on the ins and outs of this topic, located in the book: Kenneth Berding and Jonathan Lunde, eds. Three Views on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament. Counterpoints. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008. This book is also available in PDF format online at https://peiterleonardpesik.files.wordpress.com/2015/03/three-views-on-the-new-testament-use-of-the-old-testament-counterpoints-bible-and-theology-w.pdf, accessed April 7, 2020.
7 Unless otherwise noted, all scriptural quotations are from the English Standard Version, ESV.
9 1 Samuel 20:10-41:
10 Then David said to Jonathan, “Who will tell me if your father answers you roughly?” 11 And Jonathan said to David, “Come, let us go out into the field.” So they both went out into the field. 12 And Jonathan said to David, “The LORD, the God of Israel, be witness! When I have sounded out my father, about this time tomorrow, or the third day, behold, if he is well disposed toward David, shall I not then send and disclose it to you? 13 But should it please my father to do you harm, the LORD do so to Jonathan and more also if I do not disclose it to you and send you away, that you may go in safety. May the LORD be with you, as he has been with my father. 14 If I am still alive, show me the steadfast love of the LORD, that I may not die; 15 and do not cut off your steadfast love from my house forever, when the LORD cuts off every one of the enemies of David from the face of the earth.” 16 And Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, “May the LORD take vengeance on David’s enemies.” 17 And Jonathan made David swear again by his love for him, for he loved him as he loved his own soul. 18 Then Jonathan said to him, “Tomorrow is the new moon, and you will be missed, because your seat will be empty. 19 On the third day go down quickly to the place where you hid yourself when the matter was in hand, and remain beside the stone heap. 20 And I will shoot three arrows to the side of it, as though I shot at a mark. 21 And behold, I will send the boy, saying, ‘Go, find the arrows.’ If I say to the boy, ‘Look, the arrows are on this side of you, take them,’ then you are to come, for, as the LORD lives, it is safe for you and there is no danger. 22 But if I say to the youth, ‘Look, the arrows are beyond you,’ then go, for the LORD has sent you away. 23 And as for the matter of which you and I have spoken, behold, the LORD is between you and me forever.” 24 So David hid himself in the field. And when the new moon came, the king sat down to eat food. 25 The king sat on his seat, as at other times, on the seat by the wall. Jonathan sat opposite, and Abner sat by Saul’s side, but David’s place was empty. 26 Yet Saul did not say anything that day, for he thought, “Something has happened to him. He is not clean; surely he is not clean.” 27 But on the second day, the day after the new moon, David’s place was empty. And Saul said to Jonathan his son, “Why has not the son of Jesse come to the meal, either yesterday or today?” 28 Jonathan answered Saul, “David earnestly asked leave of me to go to Bethlehem. 29 He said, ‘Let me go, for our clan holds a sacrifice in the city, and my brother has commanded me to be there. So now, if I have found favor in your eyes, let me get away and see my brothers.’ For this reason he has not come to the king’s table.” 30 Then Saul’s anger was kindled against Jonathan, and he said to him, “You son of a perverse, rebellious woman, do I not know that you have chosen the son of Jesse to your own shame, and to the shame of your mother’s nakedness? 31 For as long as the son of Jesse lives on the earth, neither you nor your kingdom shall be established. Therefore send and bring him to me, for he shall surely die.” 32 Then Jonathan answered Saul his father, “Why should he be put to death? What has he done?” 33 But Saul hurled his spear at him to strike him. So Jonathan knew that his father was determined to put David to death. 34 And Jonathan rose from the table in fierce anger and ate no food the second day of the month, for he was grieved for David, because his father had disgraced him. 35 In the morning Jonathan went out into the field to the appointment with David, and with him a little boy. 36 And he said to his boy, “Run and find the arrows that I shoot.” As the boy ran, he shot an arrow beyond him. 37 And when the boy came to the place of the arrow that Jonathan had shot, Jonathan called after the boy and said, “Is not the arrow beyond you?” 38 And Jonathan called after the boy, “Hurry! Be quick! Do not stay!” So Jonathan’s boy gathered up the arrows and came to his master. 39 But the boy knew nothing. Only Jonathan and David knew the matter. 40 And Jonathan gave his weapons to his boy and said to him, “Go and carry them to the city.” 41 And as soon as the boy had gone, David rose from beside the stone heap and fell on his face to the ground and bowed three times. And they kissed one another and wept with one another, David weeping the most. (1Sa 20:10-41 ESV)
10 “The first evidence of overlapping protein-coding sequences in viruses caused quite a stir, but since then it has become recognized as typical.” And, “The ENCODE project has confirmed that this phenomenon is ubiquitous in higher genomes, wherein a given DNA sequence routinely encodes multiple overlapping messages, meaning that a single nucleotide can contribute to two or more genetic codes. Most recently, Itzkovitz et al. analyzed protein coding regions of 700 species, and showed that virtually all forms of life have extensive overlapping information in their genomes.” George Montañez, Robert J. Marks II, Jorge Fernandez and John C. Sanford. Multiple Overlapping Genetic Codes Profoundly Reduce the Probability of Beneficial Mutation. Available at https://www.worldscientific.com/doi/10.1142/9789814508728_0006. Accessed April 22, 2020.
11 Sanford, J. C., Genetic Entropy, 4th Edition, FMS Publications: Lima, NY, 2014.
12 Ibid., 249.
13 Ibid., 250.
15 Ibid., 250.
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.
17 The table was created by the current author. The YouVersion app supplied many of the translations used in the Translation Comparison table. Bibleworks for Windows version 9 (no longer published) supplied the remainder.
18 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.