When the Bible doesn’t say what the Bible says

And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.”
Matthew 16:22

Peter’s rebuke of Jesus’ first [pseudo] Passion Prediction is fairly well known.  Jesus, having just been confessed as Messiah by Peter, begins to tell his disciples just what that means.  “I’ll have to suffer and die, but on the third day rise again.”  It seems obvious that the guy who just got the “keys to the kingdom” wouldn’t want that kingdom to come to an abrupt end while its founder hung on a cross, so Peter pulls Jesus aside and rebukes Jesus, saying, “God forbid it, Lord!”

“God forbid it, Lord!” is a clever turn of phrase, but it is also rife with trouble.  It raises questions of hierarchy in the Trinity: can God, the Father, I assume, overrule the Son?  Can God force the Son to do something he really doesn’t want to do?  It also raises questions about the whole confession bit we just heard from Peter.  If Jesus is the “Son of the Living God” and Lord, then what role does his own will have to play in the Messianic work he has come to do?  Finally, it makes me wonder just who Peter thinks he is to rebuke “the Son of the Living God” by invoking the God card?

“God forbid it, Lord!” is a clever and challenging turn of phrase that Peter may not have ever really said.  Newer translations seem to pick up the Greek “hilios soi” as an idiomatic expression meaning “God forbid it,” while older versions play of the meaning of the adjective hilios and say something very different:

  • NRSV – And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.”
  • KJV – Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee.
  • Young’s Literal – And having taken him aside, Peter began to rebuke him, saying, ‘Be kind to thyself, sir; this shall not be to thee;’

The vast majority of the Bible didn’t first exist in a written form.  The stories of the Old Testament as well as the life and ministry of Jesus were carried in the hearts and minds of gifted story tellers, teachers, and ultimately the faithful who heard them told again and again.  They were told in Aramaic, Hebrew, Syriac, and Greek.  They were the stories of the people, told in their language and their idioms. Two thousand plus years later, we have the difficult challenge of trying to understand the language and culture of a people so far removed from us as to be nearly unimaginable.  Oh, and if Hebrew or Greek are like the paintings of Michelangelo, English is the finger-painted mess of a two year old.

A visual expression of English’s ability to capture the nuances of ancient Hebrew and Koine Greek.

Did Peter really say to Jesus “God forbid it”?  Maybe he did, but I don’t think so.  I think Peter forbade Jesus’ idea of Messiahship and he wanted Jesus to know that in no uncertain terms.  Sometimes the Bible doesn’t say what we think it says, and I find that to be a real gift.  Instead of being a dead book, etched in stone, the Bible is living and active.  It had meaning for the first souls who told the stories of the faith and it still has meaning for us 2,000 years later.  The truth of God’s steadfast love for us doesn’t change, but it’d be hard to argue that the Bible’s call for our response to that love hasn’t been constantly in flux.  That’s part of the life of faith: growing deeper into our understanding of God’s pull on our lives.  That’s why, after 8 years, I still blog about the Bible four days a week.  I am an ever changing person.  It is an ever changing book.

One thought on “When the Bible doesn’t say what the Bible says

  1. It is easy to go past what the bible says. Clearly Peter’s response was not acceptable to Jesus, but it isn’t exactly clear what Peter was or was not thinking. I always appreciate John Calvin’s idea of the importance of “a certain learned ignorance” which seems to have applications to many questions asked in theology in the current day on which scripture is silent.

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