“Hey Steve, what’s with the King’s English in your blog post title this morning?” Great question, dear reader, thanks for asking. As I’ve said before, the English language is like my three year-old’s finger paintings as compared to the van Gogh that is Greek. Modern English simply lacks the nuance that is available in many other languages. Take the title of this post as an example. Modern English has no polite form of address. Whether you are speaking to a close friend or the President of the United States, you would ask “How are you?” in exactly the same way. Those who argue for keeping the King James’ Version of the Bible do so, in part, because it maintains the I/Thou relationship between humanity and God.
Modern English also lacks the ability highlight the subtle variations in Greek words. The well worn example is that Greek has four words that all get translated a love: philia – brotherly love, eros – intimate love, storge – familial love, and agape – self-giving love. In Sunday’s Gospel lesson, we find two letters that carry two subtle, but very important meanings. In verse 36, Jesus replies to Pilate saying, “My kingdom is not of this world.” in the King James Version, but in the NRSV, he says, “My kingdom is not from this world.”
Of and From are both perfectly acceptable translations of the Greek preposition “ek.” When you think of Jesus’ words, you probably remember him saying “My kingdom is not of this world,” or at least that’s how I hear it, but in this week’s Sermon Brainwave Podcast, the scholars at Luther Seminary point out the importance of understanding these two letters in this rather short sentence. They note that Jesus isn’t talking about the location of his authority, but rather the location of the source of his authority. In saying that his kingdom is not from this world, Jesus is making a claim before Pilate that no matter how much authority Pilate thinks he has, Jesus’ power comes from on high. This will come to a head later in the story as Jesus tells Pilate in 19:11, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above…”
“From whence cometh thy authority, Jesus?” is a very real question for Pilate, it was a very real question for the Temple leadership, and it remains a very real question for us today. The Sermon Brainwave folk invite us to ponder that question by returning to John 1:1 and taking note that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”