English blog

it says what it says

15-11-2011 - Posted by Andre Piet

In a Dutch newspaper (het Nederlands Dagblad) of November 14, 2011, I read a contribution from Prof. Gijsbert van den Brink, entitled, “Mustard Seed, Bible and biology”. He begins with:

According to Mark 4:31, Jesus said that the mustard seed was the smallest of all seeds on earth. The Greek manuscripts are unanimous, and it’s not so easy to argue that if you read carefully, you will see that, actually, something else is meant.

Then he continues:

Literally it says, indeed, “the lesser of all seeds, but it is undisputed that this meant the superlative: the smallest. Theologians have sometimes the name being skillful in making a text say something else than what it seems to say; but sometimes they just do not succeed. Then it simply is what the minister, with whom I once went to catechism, used to say: it says what it says and, therefore, it does not say what it does not say.

Carefully notice what happened here: first, the theologian argues that the literal text does not say “the smallest of all seeds”, but “the smaller of all seeds”, but that this is not what was intended… Then he talks about the reputation of theologians, who make a text say something what it does not say. In the rest of his article, Van den Brink tries to explain how Jesus asserted something which, according to every biologist, simply is not true. His solution ultimately is:

… When Christ named the mustard seed the smallest of all seeds, he adjusted himself to the common world of that time. So it was simply seen in the old east: you have different seeds, and the mustard seed is the smallest. And because the message which He wished to convey with the parable of the mustard seed, is separate from it, Jesus simply adapted to this view. He was being pastoral, because that is how they could understand Him.

A rather suggestive conclusion: the Bible adapts itself to primitive and misrepresentations in the world of that time period. I’m not interested in his conclusion at this time, but how van den Brink, through a typical example of theological reasoning, arrives at it. And this while he, nota bene, had warned his readers that theologians are very skillful in the twisting of Scripture. Indeed, because if we assume that Jesus meant what He said, namely, that the mustard seed is “the lesser (smaller) of all seeds”, then the article is all about nothing! Jesus’ statement leaves room for other small seeds, after all, and for possibly even smaller seeds. No point. Besides, Jesus was according to the parallel section in Mat.13:31 and 32 speaking about all the seeds that are sown in the field. We could wish that Van der Brink had but listened a little better to the preacher who taught him: it says what it says and, therefore, it does not say what it does not say. ——————————— translation: Peter Feddema