Mike Johnson, the new Speaker of the House, volunteered that the Bible was essential to his political thinking. When asked on Fox News how he would make public policy, his answer was: “Well, go pick up a Bible off your shelf and read it. That’s my worldview.”
Notice that he had not been directly asked about the importance of the Bible to him or the role the Bible played in his life. That is why I stress the word “volunteered” in my opening comment. Therefore it is legitimate to inquire into his views on the Bible as a matter of peaceful political discourse from this firm advocate and champion that the election was stolen.
Although Johnson did not refer to “the” Bible, the implication of his answer is that everyone picking up a Bible from one’s self will be picking up the same book. That perception is incorrect. Although the term “Bible” is used when referring to the holy scriptures of
do not have the same Bible. The number of books vary with the Jewish Bible being the shortest. And even when the different faiths share the same books within their bible, the sequence of books may vary.
When Irish Catholics began emigrating in numbers to the United States, these differences posed a problem. They did not want their children being taught from a Protestant Bible in the public schools. When Abraham Lincoln famous said in his Second Inaugural Address that both sides “read the same Bible,” he was wrong. Protestants on both sides did but Catholics and Jews did not. Presumably Mike Johnson, a scriptural originalist, is referring to a Protestant Bible. However as Speaker of the House for all Americans, he should show some recognition that even people who do read from Bible do not read the exact same book.
According to Miriam ‘Ma’ Ferguson, Governor of Texas in 1924: “If English was good enough for Jesus Christ, and it’s good enough for the children of Texas.” There is some dispute over the exact words she said but the message is consistent regardless of the variation. True, the Bible on Mike Johnson’s shelf is likely to be in English but there are a number of human decisions involved in the development just as there were in which books should be included in the Bible.
Since Jesus did not speak English, then what are the ancient sources that provide the basis for the translation into English? Without belaboring the point, the primary sources for translation are
Leningrad Codex (Hebrew) – the oldest most complete Hebrew manuscript from around 1008/9 CE used now in Jewish, Protestant, and some Catholic translations. The Dead Sea Scrolls predate the Masoretic Text by over a millennium but are in scrolls and are not in a continuous form.
Septuagint (Greek) – Jewish translation in the time of Ptolemy III (3rd century BCE) with the best manuscript copies from the 4th century CE Codex Vaticanus and 5th century CE Codex Alexandrinus with the 4th century CE Codex Sinaiticus also used. The text of the early Christians.
Vulgate (Latin) – 4th century translation by Jerome where he decided to go bck to the
“original” source in Hebrew for the relevant books.
Generally, the Introduction or Editor(s)’ Preface will identify the textual sources used in the English translation. This section is rarely read and certainly was not by Governor Ferguson.
The English translation has been a factor in English and American history. First, whether or not the Bible should be translated into English. Second, if it is, then which translation should be used? At the dawn of the colonial era in what became the United States, the dominant Protestant English translation was the Geneva Bible, named after the city where exiles from England lived. It was the version of the Puritans and Shakespeare before the King James Version eventually dominated. The odds are Mike Johnson has a Protestant Bible using the King James Version or perhaps one from the 20t century as greater knowledge about ancient vocabulary occurred including cognates from other cultures that shed light on the biblical usage.
These developments raise the question of what exactly it means to be a scriptural originalist given the human decisions about what the original text was in Hebrew, Greek, or Latin, and how it is translated into English. Even those ancient manuscripts have gaps which need to be filled in some way, often by consulting other manuscripts.
INTERPRETATION: THE END OF DAYS
Even if people have the same English version, they are quite capable of interpreting the words differently. One such example is the “end of days,” meaning the return of Jesus.
In American history, the most common form of Christian eschatology referring to the end times has been postmillennialism. According to this view, prior to the return of Jesus, people, who have been saved, will have produced a world of faith, peace and prosperity. Only after We the People and others have created this version of the good life on earth, will Jesus return to end history with the general resurrection.
The postmillennial view matched the optimistic view of the future held by Americans throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. We could witness a better tomorrow being built – the signs were all around us. Many “do-gooder” movements from abolition to the Social Gospel derived from this outlook: people taking actions to make the world a better place. Given Mike Johnson’s stated positions on the social safety net, his reading of the Bible probably did not lead him to espouse postmillennial views.
The main alternative to postmillennial is premillennial. In this case, Jesus returns prior to the millennium. His return ushers in the golden age of one thousand years. Before he returns there will be a Great Tribulation or times of trouble. The earth will experience disasters, wars, carnage, plagues, and famine. Pretribulationists will miss that time of misery because they will have been raptured before it commences. Posttribulationists will experience the same horrors as everyone else and then receive great rewards. Midtribulationists endure some of the times of trouble before being raptured.
This is the simple version.
People reading the exact same texts can come up with diametrically different views. The premillennialists in this country really gathered steam beginning in the 1840s. They are the ones who constantly searching for signs on when the rapture will occur and Jesus will return. Postmillennialists do not.
It is astonishing how premillennialists can churn out detailed analyses of the same verses from the Gospels and the Book of Revelation about the signs. Year after year, decade after decade, they scrutinized the world around them and the very same verses as their predecessors looking for signs.
This is where Mike Johnson belongs. MAGA abounds in the language of carnage and only their Lord and Savior, the Holy One, Blessed Be His Name, can rescue the country from apocalyptic doom and punish the wicked minions of evil, of Satan. The contrast with the sunny optimism of Ronald Reagan is remarkable. Truly the Republican Party of “morning in America” has been replaced by the MAGA Party of the time of Tribulations.
Our Speaker of the House believes the dinosaurs once roamed the earth along with human beings. He lauds the Ark Encounter theme park with its Creation Museum and Ark amusement park. Now he will be responsible for the fate of climate change legislation in the House of Representatives.
Mike Johnson has every right to assert that the Bible is his guiding light for legislation and the future of this country where the Bible trumps the Constitution. The media has every right and indeed an obligation to question about what he means. There are a lot of questions that can be asked of him given this belief. For example, what does he think of Ham?