Thoughts on Bias and the Bible

I have been attending church meetings since the first Sunday right after I was born. I have heard hundreds of sermons in church, on the radio, television and more recently on Youtube. I have given sermons at church, taught bible classes, and have been reading and studying the bible personally for many years. Interestingly, it has only been recently that I have noticed differences between what I hear about the bible and the actual words in the bible itself. Even more interesting is that I am also noticing differences with what English bibles state compared with what the original Greek New Testament or Hebrew Masoretic Text state. None of these observations are even touching the field of textual criticism between differing Greek text, but I digress. In this post, I want to share some of my thoughts on a few common things Christians say versus what the bible says or doesn’t say.

Bias in Speaking and Preaching: ‘Surrender’

I recently heard a preacher say that to be a Christian people need to “surrender their hearts to the Lord”. I have heard this or similar statements numerous times in my life and it just sounded normal to me. I never thought of it as strange. However, when I heard it last, a question came into my mind, “hmmm… where in the Bible says that we have to ‘surrender’ our hearts to the Lord?”. I decided to do a quick search. I searched my KJV bible for the word “surrender”, and to my surprise I obtained zero search results. This word does not even exist in the bible. In addition, it doesn’t exist in the lexicon references as a definition for any Greek or Hebrew word. So, why do Christians, and specifically pastors and preachers, keep using this expression?

Some who refer to “surrendering one’s heart” use the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 16:24, which says:

Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.

Persons who advocate using that expression equate the idea of denying yourself to surrendering. On the surface, it would seem like a fair substitution, but as I thought about it more, I wondered why we are always changing what Jesus said and using words that convey a different idea. For a person to choose to deny himself to accomplish a goal is very different from someone who surrenders his will to someone else. Usually, denying yourself is a voluntary action, where as surrendering is a coerced action initiated by force. To me, as a parent, I realize that I deny myself almost everyday. There are many things I want to do, which I choose not to do, because of how it would impact my kids. Also, we deny ourselves when we work at a job for someone else, or when we give of ourselves to others even when we need what we gave for our own purpose. No matter how I think about it in a practical sense, denying yourself is a calculated voluntary action, where you change your will or desire about a course of action.

Surrendering yourself, to me, is more of an involuntary action that is done by force placed upon you, whether that force is physical, emotional, intellectual, legal, etc.; that is, tangible or intangible. To surrender to another’s will, means that typically, your own will does not change, but you feel compelled to change your action in order to survive. To me, this is the language of war and violence. Surrender does not really equate to a genuine change of heart or mind, just a superficial adjustment of mind, and an outward change of action. Typically, people only surrender when they are overwhelmed and tired resisting and just want to survive.

It almost seems like this word “surrender” presents Jesus as a conquering warlord over people’s hearts, and that persons forcibly choose to follow Jesus against their own will, or else. Is this how Jesus works? Is this what he taught? In reading the Gospels and the Epistles over the years, I have never got the impression that Jesus is forcing us to “give our heart” to him, or “surrender our hearts”. I think in the zeal of preachers to convey that people need to repent, they have consequently created a narrative that people must repent and believe by surrendering to Jesus, the great King and Lord. The only problem with that is that Jesus never said anything about surrendering our heart. He constantly says to believe, and to repent. As a side note (which will eventually become an entire post), one of the biggest secrets that Christians don’t know is that the Greek word for repent, metanoeō, simply means “to change one’s mind”, or “think differently afterwards”. Danker defines metanoeō as to “‘have a serious change of mind and heart about a previous point of view or course of behavior’, esp. in the face of extraordinary developments”.

Bias in Interpretation: Commands

As a result of the impact of Covid-19 protocols on countries all over the world, many pastors and Christians have been advocating returning to regular church attendance. This is a good thing for Christians from a general point of view. I am not going to debate for or against it with regards to the Covid-19 protocols. What struck me was not the desire to meet as Christians to fellowship and worship God, but the reason why it must be done. Many pastors give the reason that “God commands us” to meet and worship him. Indeed there are many scripture verses that speak of worshiping God. There are also verses that speak about community worship and prayer in the Temple (Old Testament examples) and in houses (New Testament examples). To me, there are two verses that come to mind when I think of Christians worshiping God:

John 4:23-24 (KJV)
23 But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him.
24 God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.

I do not see a command here. I see a desire. I see intimacy. I see an expression of love. Church leaders often use the word “command” in reference to God and Jesus. It is interesting to me that the focus is typically on obligating people to do something. The thing is that most people go to a church meeting voluntarily anyways. If anyone, as a pastor or church leader, has to state commands and issue demands to your church members, who are all supposed to be like a family, then you have a bigger problem than the things you are demanding and commanding.

Another verse that leaders like to quote is Hebrews 10:25, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together…”, which is often misquoted as “Forsake not the assembling of ourselves together”. Do you see how that was changed from a particle to an imperative? It sounds more commanding that way. It is interesting to note that verse 25 is the middle of a sentence, and is preceded by the following words of verse 24: “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works”. Verse 24 talks about considering one another and stimulate love and good behavior among each other. To me, this is the real idea behind meeting. It is not about following a cold command. Worshiping God and sharing in love and goodness can’t be commanded by force.

So, what about love? Can love be commanded? Didn’t Jesus give “commandments” to love God and love your neighbor? Indeed, Jesus said in John 15:

John 15:9-17
9 As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.

10 If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.

11 These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.

12 This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.

13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

14 Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.

15 Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.

16 Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.

17 These things I command you, that ye love one another.

It would seem from the text that love can be commanded. Jesus said it, not me. However, one interesting point is that the word commandment in verses 10 and 12 is the Greek word, entolē, which means “a directive for action” by Danker, and the words Danker says it could be translated to are “commandment, order, instruction”. In verses 14 and 17 the verb form, entellō, is used and translated as “command” in the KJV. The “love one another” that Jesus instructed here involves action and interaction. Love involves choosing to behave and interact a particular way (1 Corinthians 13). To be honest, in English, no one I know of would ever use the expression “These things I command you”. Someone may say, “Do this” or “I tell you this” or “You need to do this”. In English, when someone tells you to do something, it is an “imperative”, which is technically a ‘command’, but more gives the idea that something that is necessary to be done. To me, in English, “command” gives the idea of a threatening posture or intention. I don’t think Jesus was threatening anyone. Reading the passage as a whole, it gives a gentle tone. I think he was like a big brother that is telling his younger siblings what to do because he knows the dire consequences of not following his instructions.

To me, there is danger in seeing everything in the scriptures as a command. Framing instructions like commands creates distance, and tension between the two communicating parties. It may seem simpler to say, “God commands us to…”, but isn’t it better to just say that “God tells us to…”. Consider being at work, where we are all in a contractually binding relationship with our employers to do what they tell you to do, so that the business will operate and you can get paid. Even in a situation like that, where compliance to instructions are vital to both your livelihood and the company’s success, we don’t use terminology like, ‘the boss commands…’ or ‘the supervisor demands…’. If your boss (CEO or Director or General Manager) came to you and said, ‘I command you to do [this or that]’, how would you respond? How would you feel? How would that affect your relationship with that person and that company? Wouldn’t you feel used? Wouldn’t that strip away all closeness? This is what you may hear in the military or armed forces or police. These are institutions that require compliance, not relationship. The first thing they do in military training is to strip away your rights and individuality. That way you can follow commands without thinking or opposing. So, if they tell you to shoot someone or bomb a village, you do it without question because you are “following orders”. Is this how churches should be? In a work environment, there is a level of respect and understanding where even if something needs to be done with great urgency, you would still never hear “We command you!”. You would most likely hear, “Please do this urgently, we need it by…”. True cooperation and comraderie are not achieved through forceful commands. Forceful commands only produce temporary short term fake compliance, not permanent long term genuine trust.

Bias in Translation: terror & soul

I have been actively learning Greek for several months now, and I have been studying the Bible interlinearly with Greek for a few years now. As I compare and contrast the English bibles with the Textus Receptus (and critical text), I often get really frustrated at the choice of words that translators have used to translate the original Greek words. I understand the concept of “semantic range” or “lexical range” of meanings of Greek words. We have this in English, where a word can be used in various contexts or domains and can have different applicable meanings. However, I have noticed many times that the translators translate the same greek word as different English words that exist in the same context, and even sometimes in the same sentence or passage.

I have posted various blog articles about this very issue. In my blog posts I have listed various examples of this. So, I am not inclined to really repeat them. For completeness sake, I think I can mention some that I come across regularly or that stand out in my mind.

The first half of 2 Corinthians 5:11 (KJV) states, “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men…”. This verse has been used and misused to instill the idea that God is angry and vengeful. He talks about the “terror of the Lord”. However, when we look at the Greek word that is translated to terror, we find “phobos”. The Greek word phobos means “fear” not necessarily “terror”. Danker primarily defines phobos as “feeling of need to escape from or avoid a threat” and secondarily, he defines it as “feeling of respect”. Phobos is used 47 times in the New Testament, but is translated 3 times as “terror”. I think that the use of terror in this verse is misleading. In my mind, terror is technically the resulting feeling of fear, but the “fear of the Lord” is a different thing altogether. If you read the scriptures often or even did a search for the expression “fear of the Lord” you would clearly see that it is not about “terror”. Proverbs 8:13 (KJV) actually defines the “fear of the Lord” for us:

The fear of the LORD is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate.

This is what the apostle was talking about: hating evil! He was not trying to instill “terror” of God in people. It is such a misleading translation of the text, and in my mind it shows the bias of the translators in terms of how they view God and his relationship with us.

One more recent example that I want to share is how the word, psychē, is translated in Matthew 16:25-26, Mark 8:35-37, and Luke 9:24-25. This word appears 105 times in the New Testament. In the KJV, it is translated 58 times as ‘soul’, 40 times as ‘life’, 3 times as ‘mind’, 1 time as ‘heart’, 1 time as ‘heartily, and 2 times not translated. Translators have stated that words can sometimes be translated differently depending on the context. However, if the word is used multiple times in the same context, how can you justify translating it differently? For instance, in Matthew 16:

25 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.
26 For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?

In English, the words ‘life’ and ‘soul’ have two different meanings, but in Greek, in these two verses, they are only one word. I believe that the writer never intended to express different meanings. The translators, though, decided that there are different meanings, hence different words. I find that hard to accept. It seems like a bias to me. The context is the same for the use of the word. Does it mean ‘soul’ or does it mean ‘life’? Does the answer to that question change the meaning of the passage as we previously understood it? Is our ‘soul’ the same as our ‘life’? Do we have a ‘soul’ separate from our ‘life’? Can we even infer any meaning to all of this? Or maybe the better question is whether we have already been biased to infer a particular meaning because two different words are used to translate one word?

Concluding Thoughts

The bible is a book that has influenced many cultures and peoples. Words are powerful and important things because they are used to convey stories, experiences, and ideas. Those who transcribe and translate are very important, as they have a very difficult task. At the same time, they are human and will make mistakes. It is the responsibility of the reader to take this into account when they read and study the scriptures. Contrary to what some believe, no one bible translation has it all correct, or convey what the original perfectly intended. When something doesn’t sound right, or when what is said conflicts or contrasts with what is written, let’s check it out. Let’s represent God and his Word more clearly in love and meekness. Blessings.

References:
  1. Lexicon :: Strong’s G3340 – metanoeō – Blue Letter Bible – Site: https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?strongs=G3340&t=KJV
  2. The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament – Frederick William Danker
  3. Imperative – Merriam Webster Dictionary – Site: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/imperative
  4. Lexicon :: Strong’s G5590 – psychē – Blue Letter Bible – Site: https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G5590&t=KJV

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