YE SHALL KNOW
THE TRUTH AND THE TRUTH SHALL SET YOU FREE, John 8
Jesus’s audience responds to this sentence with the
question "what do you mean, ‘you will be made free’?" Jesus replies
"’everyone who commits sin is a slave.’" So apparently it is fair
to say that freedom from sin is what the phrase is about in its original context.
What does “sin” mean here? In Hebrew I believe the
word is לחטוא, which means basically “to miss the mark” and
ultimately to “transgress.” But the basic meaning of Jesus’ phrase may well be “everyone who misses the mark is a slave.”
This and the original statement thus beg the questions, what “truth” will
set you free? what “mark” did you miss if you are not free? This leaves the
Tower words open to many interpretations.
Professor Battle, who had those words put up there, was a
Professor of Classics. He insisted the Gothic Old Main be destroyed and
replaced by the current Greco-roman style of the Tower.
However, he was also a highly visible member of All Saints Church, just a few
blocks away. So we have a structure primarily devoted to reminding us of the
heritage of Hellenism, but the words engraved on the front acknowledge some
debt to Hebraism as well.
Why these words? Many Bibles list among the related
passages 2 Peter 2:19, which concludes “if anyone lets himself be dominated
by anything, then he is a slave to it,” a phrase that would not be out
of place in John Henry Newman’s classic, The
Idea of a University. Thus I don’t doubt that
Prof. Battle had in mind the relevance to liberal arts studies
However, he was
probably also aware of the context of the related phrase by Peter, whose letter
As there were
false prophets in the past history of our people, so
you too will have your false teachers, who will insinuate their own disruptive
views and disown the Master who purchased their freedom. They will destroy
themselves very quickly; but there will be many who copy their shameful
behavior and the Way of Truth will be brought into disrepute on their account.
They will eagerly try to buy you for themselves with insidious speeches,… [2:
1-3]. Such self-willed people with no reverence are not afraid of offending….
All the same, these people who only insult anything that they do not understand
are not reasoning beings…. They are unsightly blots on your society: men whose
only object is dissipation all day long, and they amuse themselves deceiving
you even when they are your guests at a meal; with their eyes always looking
for adultery, men with an infinite capacity for sinning they will seduce any
soul which is at all unstable. Greed is the one lesson their minds have learnt.
….[2: 10-14] People like this are dried-up rivers, fog
swirling in the wind, and the dark underworld is the place reserved for them.
With their high-flown talk, which is all hollow, they
tempt back the ones who have only just escaped from paganism, playing on their
bodily desires with debaucheries. They promise freedom but they themselves are
slaves, slaves to corruption; because if anyone lets
himself be dominated by anything, then he is a slave to it.
What effect will
those words on the Tower have on you next time you look up at them, if you
recall this passage?
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