Twinkie Spirituality

I wouldn’t say that it is the most famous single verse in the Bible for all Presbyterians, but John 3: 16 is certainly the one verse that American Christians are most associated with. For years, I couldn’t watch a football game without seeing some young enthusiastic chap in the end zone waving his John 3: 16 placard right next to the man completely painted in blue and orange.

John 3_16“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” That’s the King James Version—not necessarily the version that we Presbyterians pound our pulpits with, but it is likely the preferred version for many a banner-waving evangelist who is out to save us from certain eternal death.

I will admit to a certain sarcasm in my tone, not because I think that John 3: 16 has no spiritual merit. No. The assumption that salvation could be as simple and as clean as giving one’s intellectual assent to a Biblical proposition baffles me. Justification without sanctification. Right belief over righteousness.

Translating the Bible is a delicate business that can have life-long, if not, eternal consequences. John 3: 16 is one of those. In the Greek the word eis is most often translated as “in” as in “believeth in Jesus.” But eis can also be translated as into, unto, to and for (as well as a dozen other miscellaneous translations). In fact, in the King James Version, of all the above-mentioned translations “in” is the least often choice. “Into” is the preferred translation in 573 cases compared to only 138 cases of “in”.

TwinkiesAnd this is one of those places where I think the translation “into” serves us better. I don’t think that “in” is a bad translation for eis, but it seems to leave itself open to a particular brand of Americanized Christianity that brings out the sarcastic side of me. If believing “in Jesus” is nothing more than an intellectual affirmation that proves that we believe the right stuff, but doesn’t call us to a “right life”, then this faith of ours is about as satisfying as a twenty year-old Twinkie.

It might last forever, but life-giving it is not.

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