"I am come to send fire on the earth; and what will I, if it be already kindled? But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and now I am straightened til it be accomplished" Luke -50
For those old enough to remember, R&B disc jockey Magnificent Montague's phrase "Burn baby burn" was associated with the 1965 Watt's riots. Based on the tone of their remarks, I think some Christians have adopted this posture also. Those who love hellfire and brimstone may find this passage in Luke is something they can sink their teeth into. Or not.
The insights for this piece were gleaned from David Bivin and Roy Blizzard, Jr's book: Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus - New Insights From a Hebraic Perspective. The authors devoted several pages to the verses above and I'll attempt to capsulate their thoughts.
Translation is a tricky business. Sentence structure, verb tenses, regional dialects and idioms make capturing what's expressed difficult. If some one attempted to translate my journal notation, "Today the market took a dead cat bounce" where would they begin?
People fluent in English but unfamiliar with stock market terminology would be hard pressed to understand my writing. What if that person was required to translate my statement into another language. They could erroneous come to the conclusion that I have a vendetta against felines. They may try to ascertain how high a dead cat would bounce and what conditions would be necessary to facilitate such action. Without careful research, all sorts of crazy, off-the-wall interpretations could be ascribed to my words and none would describe the market's movement.
Bivin and Blizzard believe, based on sentence structure, patterns of description and the fact that the most of the writers of the New Testament were Jewish, that originally much of what we now have written in Greek was originally translated from Hebrew. If true, and their research is compelling, most who read the New Testament do so third hand. How does this apply to the passage in Luke? Their understanding from a Hebraic perspective reads as follows:
"My task,' Jesus said, 'is to set the world on fire. This I am doing. The earth is burning. I have already begun to sow the seeds of judgment, and one day there will be a final judgment. But I do not look forward to that Day of Judgment, that final moment - the moment of my return - when men will no longer have a chance to accept me as Lord. How could I wish for that! I am required to baptize the earth, to judge the world. That is the task I've been given by my Father. But in the meantime, until that judgment is complete, how difficult it is for me! How I agonize as some men decide to become my disciples and others decide to reject my messianic claim." page 98
Verses 51-53 of that passage in Luke provide additional clarification of Luke 12:49-50.
Sounds very different from what we normally read, doesn't it? It has an entirely different voice; one of reluctance and sadness, not one of anticipation to set things straight.
In conclusion, what if Bivin and Blizzard's translation is correct? If Jesus isn't really looking forward with excitement to Judgment Day coming sooner rather than later, should we His disciples think differently?