Understanding the Words of Jesus

by Godlessons on December 31, 2010

Have you ever wondered how a book, like the Bible, could be the word of God, yet there be so many translations of it? I think most of us have, even believers.  It would seem to me that a book inspired by an omniscient and omnipotent being should be written in such a way that interpretation could never become a problem.

Problems With Language

When we communicate, we expect that there is some commonality between the way the person we are talking to understands what we are saying and what we understand of what we are saying.  In fact, I am sitting here typing this to you, believing that your interpretation of what I’m saying will be a reasonable facsimile of what I am actually saying.

As anyone who has had textual discussions over the internet knows, there are many times where the “tone of voice” you are saying something in is misinterpreted, and bad things can happen.  I have gotten into more arguments than I can ever imagine counting over what were actually agreements, because someone took what I said wrong.  The reason for this is that text can only convey so much meaning, and the rest is left to the imagination of the person reading it.

Language doesn’t stop at the words either.  Even if you and I were having a discussion in person, where you could hear the tone in my voice, and see my body language and facial expressions, you would still be at a disadvantage in understanding what I am saying, simply because you aren’t in my mind.  I can only attempt to convey the meaning I have in my head to you, and even when your and my definition of the words I say are identical, words can only convey a certain amount of what’s going on in my mind to your mind, and your mind fills in the rest of the gaps.

This lack of ability to perfectly convey our thoughts and feelings shows in ways that are much more overt than I am talking about.  If you’re from California, what you call a drinking fountain is called a bubbler in Wisconsin.  If I want to “knock you up” in the morning in the UK, it means I will be stopping by your house in the morning, but in the US you could get slapped, unless the woman really liked you.  These are problems of differing definitions for the same words and phrases, and they are all over the place.

Even when we use the same word for the same thing, the ideas we each have in our head about what they mean can be very different.  Words and phrases can have similar meanings, but still mean very different things depending on the culture of the person saying them.  Etymologists run into these things all the time.

In ancient times, where communication was slow across distances, there were many more different dialects than there are now.  In fact, as those dialects get more and more different, new languages would erupt.  Almost all of the words of most any language are cognates of a sort with words of other languages.  They move across borders and change both meaning and pronunciation over time, until the word used now is often, not only changed in sound, but changed completely in meaning.

What this means is that even though the words spoken by a person were written down, and people at the time and in the general place of the original writer would have a reasonable understanding of the words, the more time, distance, and language differences that separate the writer and the reader, the less of the original message is conveyed, no matter how well the person translating it does their job.  There is no way to convey, with certainty over time, what the translation should be in order that it be translated into modern language properly, and this doesn’t even take into account the fact that it’s impossible to transfer a thought exactly through language.

Is it God’s Word?

This whole problem with language really rears its head in terms of holy books.  These books are supposed to be the inspired word of God, yet it is painfully obvious that there are so many different interpretations of what was originally meant that it is impossible to say who is right, who is wrong, or if anyone is right on anything as far as translations go.

In Christianity there are 38,000 different denominations, which means 38,000 different interpretations of the book.  One would think that a supreme being would understand that limitation and do something different with his word, so that there would be no question what he wants.  Why use language to convey such an important message that misunderstanding it could damn you to hell for eternity, when language is so faulty as a way to convey meaning?

A deity that wants to make sure we obey certain rules would be much better off if it implanted those rules in our minds from birth so that we don’t have to be taught.  There should be no question about what is right and wrong.  No parent should even find it necessary to teach a child the difference either, since any language used by the parent would only serve to murk up the rules that are there already.

Conclusion

The idea that an omniscient/omnipotent being would make a rule book that nobody could possibly properly understand seems rather improbable to me.  It makes no sense.  If a being has a set of extremely important rules, and that being knows that those rules will be misinterpreted, it should have never left those rules in the form of language at all, much less in the sole form of written language.  This tells me that either the rules aren’t all that important, or that they weren’t inspired by a god.  Either way, it leaves little reason to abide by them.

  • http://twitter.com/holyinvocations Mark Thielbar

    This mindless rant truly shows how much you really don’t know about the Bible. Now while there are many Christian denominations, the Bible is very clear on how/what one must do to get into heaven. There is a spirit that dwells within man that causes him either to seek the divine…or seek to destroy it. Thus, if God meant nothing to you…you would not even bother to try to disprove His existence.

    • http://godlessons.com Godlessons

      Mindless? It’s rather interesting how you call it mindless but don’t try to refute a single thing I say.

      First of all, I have never tried to disprove the existence of a god in general. The only gods I can disprove are gods that have made claims that are just impossible. The god you believe in has made claims that are absolutely impossible, so I flat out can say that the god of the Bible doesn’t exist.

      The fact is, there are many interpretations, made by the same information, about the path to heaven. You have one, and there are about 38,000 different others. First of all, ignoring the fact that your god is impossible, show me how your belief is better than those 38,000 different other Christian denominations. You could never live long enough to examine all those other denominations first of all.

      Give me something that isn’t just totally insane belief in the impossible as far as the Christian religion is concerned. You can’t do it.

      • Swampfox

        Your point goes to a major problem of human nature, not the Holy Spirit. Obviously

        Protestantism with it’s solo scripture and the individual is infallible in interpreting the bible is a house of straw. Otherwise, If that is the case Hitler and Stalin would be as justified as  sister Teresa.

        That is why Christ gave the authority to a teaching church lead by the holy spirit. You have the framework for the Holy Spirit. I believe Cardinal Newman stated it well “I loved to choose and see my path but now, lead thou
        me on!”

        The members of the church through the years obviously haven’t let the Holy Spirit have enough of a say which lets entropy enter the picture.

  • http://twitter.com/D0MINI0N .

    I can’t think of a single person, even any atheists, who don’t understand Jesus. They may not like him, and they may presume to disagree with him, but they do understand him. Not you though, you’re special, so rare and remarkable one wonders how you put your pants on without an instruction manual and ‘mountains of evidence’ that it can even be done at all. Or maybe you don’t wear pants…

    • http://godlessons.com Godlessons

      Really?  Is there really a burning hell, or is that just from Dante’s Inferno?  Did Jesus say that you should sell all you own and give to the poor if you want to be his disciple, or was that just what he said to one man?  Did he say that the end of the world would be signaled by the falling of the temple, or was that something else?  Does being born of the water mean being born or being baptized, and does being born again happen while you are alive or when you die?

      You can’t tell me that there is a consensus about what Jesus meant, and to pretend there is anything like that is just idiotic.  There wouldn’t be 36,000 different Christian sects if that were the case.

      • http://twitter.com/D0MINI0N .

        Jesus said several times there is a hell. Dante’s Inferno is fiction and should be considered accordingly.

        Jesus said to the man ‘if you would be PERFECT, then sell what you have and follow me’. You didn’t read that part carefully, if at all.

        Some have it ‘the end of the age’, and it refers to the end time, or rather, 1917.

        After reading your other post it seems you didn’t read that part either. It means in this life, and it’s a metaphor. Nicodemus had the same problem, and he was purported to be a wise man. Not surprising YOU didn’t understand it, but then you never intended to.

        How do you figure 36000? There’s 9.

        If you had brains you’d be dangerous.

        • http://godlessons.com Godlessons

          Holy shit you’re either an idiot or a troll.  You didn’t say one thing other than “Dante’s Inferno is fiction” that was correct there.

          I have given up on trying to fix stupid or deal with trolls here, so you’re going to have to go study on your own time, find someone else to troll, or find something intelligent to talk about that I feel is worth responding to.

          • http://twitter.com/D0MINI0N .

            You made a ridiculous post, full of errors and false assertions, and you got mauled. Don’t be such a sore loser.

    • Swampfox

      I put the same to you. How can you possibly claim to be a Christian when the church through the Bible clearly indicates that you need to be baptized in the Holy Spirit to start to understand?
      Baptism doesn’t guarantee anything. It is the door to the Church. The “Sacrament of regeneration”
      or that institution of Christ by which we are reborn to spiritual life. 

      Your post really indicates you don’t know Christianity as Christianity is taught.  

      • http://godlessons.com Godlessons

        Besides your copout being complete bullshit, you indicated that you were Catholic in another post.  You don’t even believe this shit this way.  How can you now complain that I don’t understand it when apparently you don’t understand it either according to the people this was directed to?

  • Swampfox

    Did God give us a written book? No.
    Did Jesus give a a written book? No.
    Did the Holy Spirit give us a written book? No.

    Christ gave us a teaching church with the promise that the Holy Spirit will always be with it as the guide which gave mankind the written word as testament to its Catechism..

    • http://godlessons.com Godlessons

      You miss the point.  Language, whether written or spoken is an imprecise method of communication.  Considering the fact that no two people agree on things, it looks like your Holy Spirit is a failure at doing his job.

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