Summary: In this discourse, I've reworked several sermons from other preachers with a slightly different emphasis based upon the Contemporary English Version's translation of Matthew 16:23, namely, "You're in the way because you think like everybody else..."
Comparing a variety of Biblical versions can be very helpful, and given the fact that the original New Testament texts were written in an old form of Greek, drawing out the exact meaning of the text and transferring that meaning to English is difficult. Through comparison of the various translations, sometimes we can discover sometime new in the passage that we might otherwise have missed. For example, let’s look at verse 23 from our Gospel reading for today. In the New International Version this passage reads: “Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”
I think that the meaning becomes even clearer in the Good News Version: “Jesus turned around and said to Peter, ‘Get away from me, Satan! You are an obstacle in my way, because these thoughts of yours don't come from God, but from man.’"
In still another version, the Contemporary English Version, we find the passage rendered as follows: “Jesus turned to Peter and said, ‘Satan, get away from me! You’re in my way because you think like everybody else and not like God.’”
Is it proper to use diverse translations? Before I go any further, let me offer the opinion of the translators of the King James Version of the Bible. In 1611, in the preface section of their translation titled “The Translators to the Readers”, they answered that question in the following way:
“We affirm and avow, that they meanest translation of the Bible in English, set forth by men of our profession… containeth the word of God, nay, is the word of God… though it be not interpreted by every Tanslator with the like grace, nor peradventure so fitly for phrase, nor so expressly for sense, everywhere…. For is the Kingdom of God become words or syllables? Why should we be bondage to them if we may be free, use one precisely when we may use another no less fit, as commodiously?” Here, the scholars who put together the King James Version of the Bible argue rather convincingly for comparative use of different translations of the Bible. That being said let us go forward.
The problem with what Peter has said to Jesus is not just that the thoughts come from Satan rather than God. That is the root of the problem, but the problem is made all the more difficult because everybody seems to think this way. It’s a bit harder to see this in the other translations, but, it’s hard to miss in the Contemporary English Version.
Today I’m going to explain as best I can why I think it is so important to speak with one’s own voice authentically tuned to the influence of the Holy Spirit rather than allowing others to speak for us, and why I think this was part of what Jesus was trying to teach Peter in His response, “Get out of my way Satan”.
But first let’s start with a common experience that maybe you have shared. This will provide a common frame of reference. Have you ever talked to others passionately until blue in the face, but they didn’t receive the message you were sending? They didn’t hear or understand, but not because you were not speaking clearly. Your statements were dismissed simply because what you were saying was contrary to what the majority says or thinks. I have a hunch that most of us have had that type of experience. I know I have. It’s frustrating. And I think Jesus himself experienced this frustration. That is at least part of what is going on in today’s Gospel lesson. Peter wasn’t getting it, couldn’t comprehend what Jesus was saying, and a big part of the reason for this was that what Jesus was saying was contrary to what the majority says, thinks, or wants to hear, and, contrary to what Peter wanted to hear.
It is human nature to go along with ideas that the majority seem to hold. It’s easier not to have to think too much. Justifying a “contrarian” position requires courage and a lot of intellectual and emotional work. We don’t want to be different. We want to “fit in”. And once someone convinces us that everyone else is thinking a certain way, whether they are or not, the path of least resistance is to start thinking that way ourselves. That is why propaganda can be so numbing, dulling and effective.
Nazi Germany was built upon repeating lies over and over again until the people of Germany became so used to hearing these lies that they no longer questioned them, their critical judgement was suspended, they started ignoring the lies; they began to believe them. It is difficult for an individual or a minority group to stand against the majority. Most people conform without even realizing that they have been hoodwinked into doing so. That is the nature of propaganda. When lies are repeated often enough, people stop questioning.