Five in the morningMistakes

“You are worth dying for.”- Jesus

You are worth dying forFor the sake of not being mean, I’m not going to specify where I saw this or who put it there. (Although I am rather hoping that they will see this blog post and realize that my objection to it went beyond the fact that it involves ending a sentence with a preposition.) The context where I first saw it isn’t actually a relevant point, because this phrase can be found in many places on the internet, and it would seem that it’s something of a cliché in the internet Christian community. As great as it is that many people use the internet to talk about religion, the problem with the internet Christian community is that it tends to be dominated by clichés.

The problem with this particular cliché is that it attributes a quotation to Jesus that isn’t actually from the Bible. One must always be careful when putting words in Jesus’ mouth, and when I say that one must be careful, I really mean that one shouldn’t do it. Paraphrasing is a dangerous thing when the distinction between paraphrasing and quoting is not clearly made. That’s true in academic writing and it’s true when talking about God.

I’m not saying that paraphrasing is bad in general, because it isn’t. As an English major who is used to writing a lot of papers, I can’t deny that there is definitely a place for paraphrasing. If I tried to deny that, I would earn the disapproval of many professors. Sometimes, paraphrasing is the most efficient way to make a point, especially when you’re trying to express a simple idea by referring to a text that discusses multiple ideas and therefore uses complex language. Sometimes, it’s the best way to draw together two related ideas that come from different texts. Paraphrasing is often necessary in order to have an opportunity to use your own writing style and voice, and it’s the only way to show your professor (or any other reader) that you actually understand what you’re saying and have put thought into your topic. Some of those reasons to paraphrase can definitely apply to talking about the Bible, and others may or may not, depending upon the context. But, just as in any form of academic writing, it’s always important when talking about Jesus to distinguish between an actual quotation and paraphrasing.

The idea behind this particular cliché paraphrased quotation is obviously to express Jesus’ love for us, which is so great that he willingly sacrificed himself to pay for our sins. That’s a good idea to express, and it’s Biblical and true and important. The problem is that it isn’t really what that phrase is saying. It’s way too easy to equivocate on the word “worth”. Actually, I’m not sure that even counts as equivocation, because the misunderstanding is what the expression is actually saying, and the intended meaning requires redefining words a little.

CrucifixThe problematic word here is “worth”. “Worth” is an expression of value, and value is generally understood to be a property of the thing being valued, not the person by whom the thing is valued. To say “you are worth dying for” is to imply that the “you” being addressed has inherent worth and is worthy in and of him/herself. This is contrary both to Lutheranism and to Christian doctrine in general. It is important to understand that our worth and worthiness are not the reason that Christ died for us, they are a cause of the fact that Christ died for us. In and of ourselves, we are not worth anything, and we certainly are not worth something as valuable as the life that Jesus sacrificed for us. If this cliché included the prepositional phrase “to me”, that would help a little, but there’s still something wrong with the fact that “you” is the subject of the sentence while Jesus is being pushed into a little prepositional phrase. Yes, it’s true that there are many Bible verses where the word “you” is the subject, but that’s different because every Bible verse is surrounded by a large and rich context. (That is, the Bible) A religious cliché that doesn’t come from the Bible has only an implied context, so if it doesn’t stand on its own, it’s in danger of saying something it really doesn’t mean. (Or at least, we really hope that’s not what it actually means.)

I left this on my computer after I posted it on facebook for Easter, so I might as well use it here now.

I left this on my computer after I posted it on facebook for Easter, so I might as well use it here now.

Even though the intended meaning behind “You are worth dying for” is a Biblical idea, the accidental meaning is directly anti-Biblical because it contradicts Romans 5:6-8, which says, “ετι γαρ Xριστος, οντων ημων ασθενων ετι, κατα καιρον υπερ ασεβων απεθανεν. μολις γαρ υπερ δικαιου τις αποθανειται; υπερ γαρ του αγαθου, ταχα τις και τολμα αποθανειν; συνιστησιν δε την εαυτου αγαπην εις ημας ο θεος, οτι ετι αμαρτωλων οντων ημων, Xριστος υπερ ημων απεθανεν.” Or, in other words, (English ones) “For Christ, when we were still without strength, according to the right time, for the ungodly he died. For rarely for the righteous will one die, yet for the good man, perhaps someone would even dare to die, but God commends his love for us that, we being sinners, Christ died for us.”

(As a side note, I confess that about 70% of the reason for my recent inclination to use Greek words on my blog is that it makes me feel clever, even though I realize that there’s a big difference between knowing something and knowing how to look something up. But it’s worth noting that about 7% of the reason for my use of Greek words is that Greek is just awesomer than English, and the other 23% is that quoting Bible verses in Greek is more accurate because the New Testament was in Greek in the first place. And I think that those are both valid reasons. As another side note, I would like to acknowledge the likelihood that I may have made a mistake in the preceding paragraph. As yet another side note, I would like to point out how excited I am that I only had to peek in the King James a little bit to figure out what the Greek of Romans 5:6-8 is in English. And, yeah, I think that’s enough side notes for now.)

I hadn’t really thought ahead to how I was going to finish this blog post, and now it’s morning and it’s time for me to do daytime stuff, so I’m just going to leave it there.  The end.