Wandering the savage garden…

Lost in Translation?

Last week, our Sunday School teacher had a couple of really interesting points while talking about Philippians 4:4. This is the one that reads something like this:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.

Our teacher, who works at a HVAC company, was pointing out the difference between a thermometer and a thermostat.

A thermometer is something that measures temperature; a thermostat is something that controls temperature, assuming your AC is working properly, of course.

So how does that apply to Philippians 4:4? Well, the command (“rejoice!”) is a thermostat-type command, not a measurement.

It means that we are not to find joy, passively, but to see joy in our being in God’s will.

It means that our circumstances are able to control our happiness, but not our joy. Our happiness comes and goes; that’s normal. I could have been happy if my team had won on Thursday; I can be unhappy that it lost. That said, whether I’m happy in my external circumstances or not does not affect my joy.

My joy is a decision, a state enabled by God. It is a constant, regardless of my circumstances. It’s not always easy; I certainly fail at it.

But my choice is to find joy in all things, in that:

  1. God is in control. (“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose”, Romans 8:8)
  2. The trials God places upon us have a purpose. (“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance,” James 1:2-3)

The other thing that stood out was the actual text used for the verse. The translation I like for the verse is slightly different than the NASV I used above:

Rejoice in union with the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.

I find this clearer, because it focuses on the reason for the joy, rather than an unspecific “have joy.”

I run into this a lot, because the translations are trying to be readable, more than connotatively accurate.

Readable is “Thou shalt not kill.”

Better is “Thou shalt not murder.”

Accurate is “Thou shalt not lie in wait (to murder.)”

The latter is far more reaching than a simple “thou shalt not kill” rendering, because the Bible definitely has examples of people being put to death through law. (Your mileage may vary as to how you feel about this.)

If capital punishment is legal through the Law – and it is – then “thou shalt not kill” isn’t enough. The formation of the capital errors looks something like this:

If a man does the peppermint twist backwards while singing “heaven to stairway a buying she’s,” then he shall surely be put to death, and their blood shall not be upon them.

It’s fairly formulaic: if one performs a given act, this is the punishment, and their blood shall not be upon them. The “their” here is “the one being put to death.” The “them” is “the ones performing the punishment.”

Therefore, if the unfortunate soul caught doing the peppermint twist backwards (while reciting, etc. etc.) is put to death, the blood of the criminal is not upon the hands of those who punished him.

So “thou shalt not kill” has clear-cut exceptions, even in its simple rendering, which is all right, I suppose…

But I still prefer “thou shalt not lie in wait,” because of the more broad implications. It’s not just that you kill someone, you see, it’s that you intended to kill a specific person.

But is it really “kill?” Could it be more?

Well, the Decalogue already has injunctions against covetousness, lies, theft, and more, so would they be necessary if this commandment applied to those as well? I say yes, because of the purpose of the Ten Commandments.

The Ten Commandments were not for God. They were for us. (“The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath,” Mark 2:27, can be considered a template for this concept.) God doesn’t need the Commandments, but we do, because we are wayward.

So to me, it makes perfect sense that God would be specific in areas to cover types of behavior; the “lie in wait” to do harm is appropriate to govern what we should do.

This doesn’t address the role of the Law for Christians. One of the things that burns me up is when Christians use the Law as a club with which to beat others. It’s not that way! The Law, for Christians, is a guide, certainly, but the Law does not cover us nor govern us.

The Law is meant to serve us. Paul and Simon Peter had a conflict over the application of the Law to Christians; Paul’s point was convincing, therefore Christians don’t do a lot of things that the Torah requires.

Nor should they do those things. It would not be bad if they did, but those things are not altogether meaningful for Christians, and some are things Christians should not do, if they’ve accepted Jesus – the blood sacrifice, for example, is something that the death of Christ on the cross completed. A blood sacrifice ignores the propitiation of sin that Christ gave us.

Paul said that the Holy Spirit guides us, not the Law. (See Hebrews 6.) We act as God wills, not by the will of a codex whose purpose it was to point us to a time when we would be acceptable in God through the blood of Jesus.

Accepting the full rule of Law would be difficult for Christians anyway – look at how few Jews even try. (The Orthodox certainly do, but they’re not the majority by any means.) If you’re going to apply the law, well, you should apply all of it, not just the parts that please you – and applying the parts that please us is usually exactly what happens.


Originally published on December 24, 2011.

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