“Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?” Matthew 6:27
I ran into this verse the other day, and I’m embarrassed to admit that I’d never seen it before.
Oh, I’ve seen one like it — my New International Version records a similar sounding verse that says, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”
Now the reason that the verse sounds similar is because it is the same verse, Matthew 6:27, only translated quite differently, and before we get into an argument about the superiority of the King James Version versus the New International Version, or any other version (check out the different renderings of the verse here), that’s not what I’m here to talk about. Contrary to the irritating ditty that my husband, a pastor’s kid, grew up with and wishes he could get out of his head, the King James Version is not necessarily That Old Time Religion (whatever that is), and Paul and Silas didn’t read it.
Different Bible Translations
All Bible translations are done by the children of men, and as such, are prone to being interpreted according to the prejudices and presuppositions of those men. It is, literally, a miracle that we have readable versions of Scripture that stick enough to the point so that we can still get the message. (It’s the notes you might want to be especially wary of: while it’s difficult to get too wild with a translation without someone noticing and speaking up, all sorts of interpretations can be, and have been, tacked onto the helpful notes below.)
That being said, it’s not a bad idea to have at least two different versions of the Bible on hand, and when a particular verse puzzles one, there may be a different way of looking at it in another version. Especially helpful for those of us who didn’t pick up Greek or Hebrew in school is a good interlinear Bible of the New and Old Testaments, and frequently, when I puzzle over a particular wording, I’ll pull out my interlinear friend and check.
Checking Other Sources
Which is what I did with Matthew 6:27, intrigued to discover two things:
1) The Greek translation does deal with cubits, stature, and height as opposed to adding hours to one’s life,
2) The New Revised Standard version of the text, in a column to the right, unblushingly transcribes those cubits to one’s height as hours to one’s life.
Perhaps this seems absurdly trivial, but upon contemplation, it really isn’t.
When we put the two verses side by side we see that yes, they sort of say the same thing: our act of worrying doesn’t change things, so why to we do it? but the differences are subtle:
Consider this: it is possible to add inches to your height — through perching on our toes, wearing heels, or standing on a box behind a counter — and while putting on an extra foot-and-a-half is difficult to pull off, we could manage six inches or so, with stilettos.
The point is that we can do it — not well, not genuinely, not completely, and not for real — but we can put forth enough of a substitute to fool ourselves, and others, into thinking that we’re taller than we are. In effect, we are scheming.
Scheming — which is not to be confused with brainstorming or creatively thinking through a problem — involves invoking our sense of cleverness to bring about a desired result, regardless of how we get that result. The important thing is success, not the process by which we get there — the ends justifying the means, so to speak — and scheming, by its nature, involves depending upon our own resources: our intelligence, our acumen, our mental dexterity and the shrewdness of our wit.
And while there’s nothing wrong with our using our intelligence to think through things, sometimes the problems we’re thinking through are too big for us to handle — which is why we are worrying — and in the process of scheming, and resolving to solve this problem at all costs, we do not turn to our Father and our Eldest Brother and ask them for — not cleverness, not wit, not sharpness and sagacity — but wisdom, and patience, and help.
If we were honest with ourselves, we would admit that our problem is so beyond our ability to solve that we would have greater success growing, by our own means, from 4 foot 8 to 6 foot 2. This is absurd, and we know it, but when we’re talking about something different, like generating money, let’s say, we throw all common sense out the window, or at least we do if we buy the Make a Million Quick! books or remotely believe any prosperity preacher.
“Conceive it; think it; believe it; make it happen!” we are told, and when it doesn’t, it is because we didn’t think hard enough, as if we, like God, could create material matter simply by thinking it, or speaking it.
If this is so, and millions of mis-guided Christians, and non-Christians, believe both the religious and business seminar speakers who assure them that it is, then why not start with something easy and tangible, like adding actual, and verifiable, inches to our height?
And herein is where the KJV version of Matthew 6:27 just shines: we can’t add inches to our height just by thinking it; even a child knows that. But adding an hour to our life . . . how would we know if we did or not? It’s too abstract, and completely unprovable. We can still learn from the NIV, and associates, version, but by looking at other (and in this case more accurate) translations, we gain a depth and a perspective that we didn’t have before.
There is no one perfect translation of the Bible that makes no mistakes and does not reflect the bias of its translators, but this does not mean we should despair. Find your favorite version and read it lovingly, but keep your mind open enough to look at other versions — broadening your horizons and opening your mind to different ways of looking at the same thing.
Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I encourage all believers to confidently approach whatever Bible is in their house and read it.
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