The first draft of my sermon this week was originally nearly an hour long. Though some people would be willing to sit through that, I’m not sure the nursery workers would be my best friend! Below are the two sections I cut to help trim some of the fat from the sermon.
Mansions of Glory – John 14:2
In 1864, William Featherstone penned the words to the hymn “My Jesus, I Love Thee.” One of the more infamous lines reads:
In mansions of glory and endless delight,
I’ll ever adore thee in heaven so bright
The idea that we will all have a “mansion” in Heaven has floated around long before the hymn. Some Bible translations, notably the KJV, read in John 14:2, “In my Father’s house are many mansions” (emphasis mine). The translation of “mansions” has a weird history.
It was first used in the Latin translation of the Bible called the Vulgate (written by Jerome around 400 AD). Here’s the line from John 14:2:
John 14:2 in domo Patris mei mansiones multae sunt si quo minus dixissem vobis quia vado parare vobis locum
I don’t know Latin, but you can clearly see the term “mansions” there. About a thousand years after Jerome wrote the Vulgate, a guy named William Tyndale translated the Bible into English. But even though he used some Greek manuscripts available to him, out of influence of the Vulgate he brought the word “mansions” over from the Latin. Here is Tyndale’s translation, in old English:
John 14:2 In my fathers housse are many mansions. If it were not so I wolde have tolde you. I go to prepare a place for you.
In Latin, the word “mansiones” didn’t refer to a huge house, like we would think of a mansion today, but it referred to a stopover place, a place you’d visit briefly on a journey.
What many don’t realize is, when the KJV translation was written, over 80% of it was borrowed word for word from Tyndale’s version. Can you guess what the KJV says in John 14:2?
John 14:2 In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.
From here, the word stuck. The influence of the KJV can hardly be overemphasized. The idea of mansions in Heaven entered our hymns and our common thoughts.
But is it the best translation of the Greek?
This is where the sermon picks the conversation back up. In the sermon, I briefly explained that the Greek word for “mansions” is better translated “rooms.” The term doesn’t refer to a giant house, but to a room, or apartment, that was part of an existing larger structure. The picture is not one of Jesus building a whole bunch of different homes, but more similar to the way Jews would add an addition to their home to accommodate a newly-married son.
In the words of Audio Adrenaline, “It’s a big, big house, with lots and lots of room!”
Believe and Believe – John 14:1
The ESV translates John 14:1 – “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.” There are three verbs in this verse. The translation of the first one is agreed upon by nearly all translators, as reflected in the first sentence in this verse. But the next two verbs – “believe” and “believe” – can yield four main possible translations.
In Greek, the verbal form used here for “believe” can be either an imperative (a command) or an indicative (the mood that describes something that is, as opposed to describing something that may or will be). The form is exactly the same for both imperative and indicative. This gives us four possible translations of Jesus’ statement:
#1: Indicative + Indicative = “You believe in God; you also believe in me.”
#2: Indicative + Imperative = “You believe in God; believe also in me.”
#3: Imperative + Indicative = “Believe in God; you also believe in me.”
#4: Imperative + Imperative = “Believe in God; believe also in me.”
The decision must ultimately be based on the context of the passage. Since the thrust of Jesus’ conversation with the disciples in John 14 focuses on His relationship with the Father and how they need to believe in Jesus (see especially 14:11), almost certainly the last verb of the phrase should be an imperative. This eliminates options #1 and #3.
#2 and #4 are very difficult to decide between. KJV leans towards option #2, ESV towards option #4. Option #2 may be a bit better, mainly because it would be hard to argue that the disciples didn’t believe in God. However, this may be precisely Jesus’ point in this passage, since He is arguing that they must believe in Jesus in order to believe in God!
Do you see the difficulty now?
(To make matters worse, the first phrase can also be translated as a question: “Do you believe in God?”)
Perhaps the ambiguity with the first “believe” is purposeful. We are meant to ponder the difference in verbal mood because it serves to strengthen the point Jesus is making. Belief in Jesus is belief in God. You cannot have one without the other (14:6-7).