So I want to use a good example of one of the ways in which the meanings of Biblical scripture can get fucked up in translation. Now you have to keep in mind that the Hebrew language has a very interesting history and it provides some pros and cons. First it’s important to understand that the language was spoken for roughly 1,000 years and then died out in about 70 AD coinciding with the expulsion of the Jews from the Holy Land. From that point Jews began speaking Greek or Aramaic or the local language of wherever they ended up. It was not until the middle 1800s that Jews began to try and reclaim their heritage by reviving the language and it took several generations for it to take hold. On one hand that’s good for us because it means that Modern Hebrew is closer to Ancient Hebrew than other languages. Read some Shakespeare or the original KJV and you will get a good idea of how much English has changed in a mere 400 years or so of continuous use. On the other hand it’s a disaster because after nearly two millennia there are a lot of words, concepts, and aspects to the language that have been totally lost and have never been recovered. Without a path of continuous use to trace back, we have almost no way to recover them in the future short of some major archeological find. Like in English, Ancient Hebrew frequently used metaphors to describe things and because there is such a gap in the history of the use of the language, those metaphors lost their meaning and translators were left to guess. As time went on and archaeologists discovered new examples of ancient writing and new evidence to consider, we have started to realize just how God awful many of those guesses were. I want to focus on that today and introduce a hypothetical situation. Let’s assume we are looking at a line in Ancient Hebrew that gives us the literal translation: ”His wife was angry for he was blue and Lord punished accordingly.” Well what does it mean to be “blue” to an ancient Jew? The best way to find out would be to ask someone who speaks Ancient Hebrew, but alas no one has spoken the language in almost 2,000 years. We do know that in English, “to be blue” can mean a couple things. It usually means “to be sad” but it can also mean “to be vulgar”. It seems pretty unlikely to us that a wife would be angry at her husband for being sad and it seems even more unlikely that God would punish someone for being sad, so that doesn’t seem like a reasonable translation. We also know that in Greek culture “blue” means “pornographic” and in Ancient Greece blue was associated with socially unacceptable sexual behavior so it seems likely that some form of vulgar sexuality is being referenced here. So let’s rewrite it for our modern reader as such: “His wife was angry because he was sexually vulgar and the Lord punished him accordingly” Well we feel pretty good about this so we’re really surprised when we read a German version that says: “His wife was angry because he was late and the Lord punished him accordingly” We are even more surprised when we read a Russian translation that says: “His wife was angry because he was gay and the Lord punished him accordingly” Well shit. What happened? In this case it’s simply a cultural problem. In Germany, “to be blue” is to be late and in Russia “to be blue” is to be gay. Just as we did with our translation, they interpreted “blue” through the filter of their own culture and not ancient Jewish culture (which we are assuming is unknown for purposes of this example.) Let’s make the problem worse. Let’s assume that the line we are translating is in the context of rituals and let’s add the caveat that the German translation came first; say in about 1000 AD. While it sure doesn’t make sense that God would punish someone for being late it’s logically reasoned that in the context of ritual God might be a bit peeved if you were late to Temple and refused to give proper offerings etc in a timely manner. In that context God may just send down His wrath. So for a full millennium we have been bombarded with the idea that being late to a religious ritual will incur punishment from the Almighty. As we translate to English and Russian however we face these major problems because we know that the Greeks used blue to describe some form of sexual behavior that was considered unacceptable, and since we use it similarly in English speaking cultures and the Russians use it similarly in regard to homosexuality, we decide that we are right and the Germans were wrong. So now we have to create a totally new Bible to translate our theory on what the verse says but because the traditional interpretation has been “to be late” our theory of “to engage in sexually vulgar behavior” is going to have a very hard time catching on. Now to make matters even worse than that we will flash forward another 500 years and archeologists uncover evidence that in Ancient Hebrew, “to be blue” meant to show holiness and obedience to God (which is actually what it did mean to the Jews at the time). Well now the entire meaning of the verse changes. His wife was mad because he was showing obedience to the holiness of God. That means she was not the righteous one. She was in fact unrighteous and did not approve of his “naïve obedience to this notion of God”, and in fact God did not punish him as we previously thought, He punished her. Let’s put this into effect with a real scripture and refer to Matthew 23: 5-9 (NIV) The things to focus on are the terms “brother” and “father”. While in Ancient Hebrew those words (as well as “sister”, “son”, “daughter”, and “mother”, etc) had the same meanings as they do today they also had a different social meaning. Those terms were also used to denote rank or status. So in ancient times to refer to someone as “my brother” meant “I recognize you as my equal”. This is also the point in Song of Songs 4:9 where it says “You have stolen my heart, my sister, my bride;…”. It is not saying that he is involved in incest. It’s saying that he accepts his lover (not his bride BTW…that’s another mistranslation) as his equal and not inferior as most women were considered at the time. Similarly, father and mother would be used to refer to one who was superior and son or daughter would be used to refer to someone who is inferior. There is a great story about a king in ancient times who wrote to another king essentially saying “Hail to you, king my brother” and the other king wrote back essentially saying “Who the hell do you think you are, my son?” So when we look at what is being discussed here, when Jesus says in Matthew 23:8 “….you are all brothers….” He is not saying “you are all related to each other” nor is he talking about some metaphysical thing where “we are all one”. He is saying “you are all equals”. In verse nine when he says to “….call no man father, for you have one Father and He is in heaven.” He is not referring to blood relationships, he is referring to superiority. He is saying “Only God is your superior”. This was a REALLY rebellious and radical thing to say mind you because he is essentially telling the people “the Pharisees may act superior to you but they are not and even more Caesar is not superior to you either. You are inferior to no man and you need no man to find God.” Such a statement would be absolutely treasonous against both Jewish law and Rome. So there we have it. This is just one way in which scriptures get fucked up; that is, a misunderstanding of the metaphoric meaning of certain words in relation to ancient culture. It’s probably the most widespread and common reason that the lesson in a verse gets lost and the meaning gets jumbled and cemented into our brains in modern culture.