If Only Jesus Would Have Been From the South…

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Why Many Love the Gospel of John

One of the reasons many people love the Gospel of John is due to the many encounters Jesus has with individuals. Whether it be the woman at the well in John 4 or with Nathaniel and Jesus in John 1 . Or even the infamous one on one encounter with Peter near the conclusion of the gospel. This one on one dynamic produces within us a certain ease and comfort as we read these stories because we can imagine ourselves in the position of the one to whom Jesus is ministering to.

Well if there is one thing I have realized in seeking to translate the New Testament and words of Jesus from the original Greek to our modern English, it’s that certain things get lost in translation. Literally.

You vs. Y’all

While there are many idioms, language quirks, and even metaphors that make up this list there is one functional pronoun issue that tops them all. That would be You vs. y’all.

In Koine Greek language, the language of the New Testament, there is both a singular and a plural “you.” A singular “to you” is σοι, pronounced like “soy.” While a plural “to you” is ὑμῖν, which is pronounced “who-min.” I am sure if you look closely, even if you can’t read Greek, you will notice the difference. Well for us as English-speaking people, we lack that difference. Except in the south where we will often hear “y’all” which is short for “you all.”

So why is this an issue? Well often times in these “one on one” stories of Jesus and another he speaks directly to them as individuals (σοι). However, in some of these stories he will then broaden out and a second time say “you” but this time, unbeknownst to us, include others as in “you all” (ὑμῖν).

Jesus, Nicodemus, and y’all

One such example can be found in John 3. During a nighttime conversation between the Pharisee Nicodemus and Jesus they begin to dialog about the origin of Jesus and His message. In order for Nicodemus to rightly understand this profound truth Jesus declares that he must be “born from above” or as some call it “born again.” This means to come into a saving, redeeming, and confessional relationship with Jesus and this new message of the Kingdom. However, the dialog is not meant for Nicodemus alone, but also others in Israel and the readers of this gospel. Both then and today. Keeping in mind what we read above, lets look more closely at v. 7.

NA28 John 3:7 μὴ θαυμάσῃς ὅτι εἶπόν σοι· δεῖ ὑμᾶς γεννηθῆναι ἄνωθεν.

NRS John 3:7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’

Do you see the difference? In our Greek translation it basically says, “Do not marvel or be astonished that I said to you (singular), ‘You all, Y’all, everyone, must be born from above.”

Well how about that. We, the reader, the listener on the outside have just been invited into the story in a deeper way. This second “you” is in the plural form relating to everyone around Nicodemus. Not just him.

Dean Deppe, a scholar out of Amsterdam, speaks on the importance of this singular/plural “you” and its importance. He says,

“This dialogue represents a conversation between unbelieving Jewish leaders in the first century and the Christian church, led by Jesus. Without realizing it, Nicodemus speaks prophetically in the plural: “We know that you are a teacher who has come from God” (3:2), Then in 3:11-12, the dialogue displays the contrasting faith of Christians, on the one hand, and unbelieving Jews, on the other hand, when Jesus gives to Nicodemus personally (sing. you) a message for everyone (plural you)….This change in Greek pronouns demonstrates that all of us must enter into a conversation with Jesus. ” (Dean Deppe, PhD., Devotions on the Greek New Testament, 45)

Why is This Important?

Understanding this helps us realize as readers of this story and others like it that we were not just meant to observe the story playing out in Scripture but rather join in on it. We were never meant to be mere observers but rather participators placing ourselves within the texts we read and study.

This understanding of the singular and plural “you” only furthers that very truth. Since Jesus was not from the south where he would have readily said “y’all”, perhaps the next time you come across one of those “you’s” in Scripture, do a simple word search on Bible Gateway. It will tell you if it’s singular or plural. The result and context may just open your eyes and draw you in even more to the beauty of Scripture and the beautiful narrative which unfolds.

Want to try one? Read 1 Corinthians 6:19 and try to figure out who it is that serves as the “temple of the Holy Spirit.” The context is more important than you may think.

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#ContextMatters

 

 

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Yes by all means you should live a “perfect” life.

Matthew 5:48 [widescreen]

pərˈfekSH(ə)n/

n. – the condition, state, or quality of being free or as free as possible from all flaws or defects.

Ever met someone who was a spiritual perfectionist? Or someone who lived their spiritual life in trying to be so perfect they tried to manage, control, or manipulate their life to project they “have it all together?” Yea I’ve never meant one either (cough cough). Yes I have been guilty of this in my life.

This word “perfection” in the above Scripture has often been misunderstood and even twisted down through the years. Its even been dumbed down and included on bumper stickers like “Christians aren’t perfect; only forgiven” (insert child like sneer). Even in this bumpersticker a noble minded Christian is furthering the misunderstanding of this word.

This verse has been used by Christians who tend to be legalistic in nature. I used to They use it to justify their self-righteousness and in doing so tarnish and twist the original meaning and context of this word.

I used to live and think that to make the Father proud, to do this “Christian thing” right, I had to be perfect. I had to analyze my daily list of do’s and don’ts. I had to have all my stuff together. I had to ensure that each thing was lining up for my moral life so that what I was projecting on the inside really was perfect just like Jesus says. Thankfully, I have come to understand what Jesus was saying.

A Harmful Word or An Unfortunate Translation?

Kathleen Norris, a famous New York Times bestselling author said something fascinating in her book “Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith.” She has this to say about the “disease of perfection”:

“Perfectionism is one of the scariest words I know. It is a marked characteristic of contemporary American culture, a serious psychological affliction that makes people too timid to take necessary risks and causes them to suffer when, although they’ve done the best they can, their efforts fall short of some imaginary, and usually unattainable, standard. Internally it functions as a form of myopia, a preoccupation with self-image that can stunt emotional growth.” Amazing Grace, 55.

Norris is right on. This is a frightening verse and word for many of us. Thankfully when we look at the Christian landscape it is not so much a scary word that has harmed us but rather a scary translation. What often happens in the transmission between the Greek text into English is that we impose certain meanings on the original language that were not present in the original context. This is one of those times. On this one, we are imposing our American and Western understanding of perfection as opposed to a first century understanding of τέλειος which when transcribed is teleios.

This is usually what our concept of perfection in American society and even the American church looks like. Sadly, we’re missing it.

 

Perfection according to Jesus

Teleios, in the way Jesus used it and in this context refers not to a purity that is free from flaw or garnishment but rather a word that denotes a completeness, maturity, full-grown, and developed. Kind of like the perfect Cabernet wine. Is a perfect wine one that is bottled perfectly, fermented perfectly, and free from any imperfection? Some would say yea. However the majority would say the perfect wine is one that has aged well. Over time. One that matured. One that has grown complete with time. This stands in serious contention with our imposed meaning which usually involves setting forth an impossible goal, living without flaw, and so on.

This certainly does not give one license to live without holiness, morality, and a certain godliness that (along with our actions) marks us as different from others who do not follow Christ. But understood in the proper context, holiness is part of maturity. A mature follower of Jesus will understand that we lose certain liberties in following Jesus. Certain actions or ways of thinking that without the knowledge of Christ we were free to partake in, are left/ should be left behind us. These things should be realized through walking with the Holy Spirit. Not the legalistic pressure of others around you.

To be “perfect” in the way Jesus is calling us to be in this context means to make room for growth and to do so on purpose. It is to make the necessary changes which bring about maturity or ripeness. As Norris says, “To mature is to lose adolescent self-consciousness so as to be able to make a gift of oneself, as a parent, as teacher, friend, or spouse.” (Amazing Grace, 56) In other words, to mature, to be perfect, is to leave behind our childish ways so that we may prosper in any given role or position God has us in.

Jesus embodied this. In fact Jesus gives us an amazing window into what perfection really is. For him it was being mature enough to give yourself to others. Whatever we have or whoever we are, no matter how little it seems, is something that can be given and shared with others around us. That requires a mature perspective that as followers of Jesus we aren’t here for ourselves.

We are here to draw everyone around us to the love and joy of knowing Christ. That is the glorious summation of our lives as followers of Christ. It is one that is glorious, adventurous, and perfect. Whether married, single, with kids, no kids, or any other situation–we are to live this life. A life clinging to this world, status, material goods, or anything else we try and fill that God-sized hole with would be an imperfect and immature life. One that is stunted by the frivolous things of a society that has lost its way in the tragic depths of shallowness.

Understanding and Aiming for the right kind of Perfection

Life is to be lived in the perfection Jesus calls us to live in. A perfection marked by growth. Not a lie of “having it all together.” A perfection marked by honest and authentic faith. Not a shallow veneer of sinlessness and self-righteousness. A perfection marked by the tension of seeking holiness and acknowledging brokenness. Not an embarrassing and harmful projection that one has already arrived.

In Ephesians Paul says, “in whom [Christ] the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.” We are that structure. The church. We are the ones growing, maturing, perfect-ing…

May all of us be driven by this daily desire to grow in Him.

Let it be our prayer that in all of our hearts what drives us is not a worldly image of perfection but rather a Christlike pursuit of growth and maturity.

How about you? How do you understand perfection? Is it hard to break away from societies concept of perfection  and embrace the biblical one? Why or why not?