Scientists nowadays rarely write about things outside their narrow fields of expertise, and it’s especially unfashionable for a scientist to say much about religion. Yet I sense that many people are eager to learn what a contemporary scientist like me really thinks about theological matters; the relative scarcity of such information is another reason I decided to prepare this post. Many of the greatest mathematicians of the past—including Pascal, Newton, Euler, and Cauchy—wrote about theology, so I am not ashamed to follow in their footsteps.
With these sentences, Donald E. Knuth introduces his book 3:16 Bible Texts Illuminated (with the only exception, that I took the liberty to replace book by post). While his work The Art of Computer Programming is widely known, this theological book has received less attention. In the book, Donald Knuth investigates all verses with number 16 of the third chapter in each biblical book. By sampling the bible in this way, he expects to grasp the scope of the entire bible. Of course, each verse has to be studied carefully in its context. That’s why D. Knuth always starts by looking at the biblical book as a whole before investigating the verse in detail. Each study is accompanied by a beautiful calligraphy of the examined verse.
To test how well Knuth’s sampling method works, I would like to repeat the procedure but with verse 14 of each third chapter. Donald Knuth’s selection of the 16th verse of chapter 3 is based on John 3v16, one of the most famous verses in the bible. For the choice of verse 14, it is not obvious that the sample will contain famous verses. As it turns out, there is also a well known verse in our sample: Exodus 3v14. In this verse, God reveals himself as: I AM WHO I AM, explicating his name JHWH. In the New Testament Colossians 3v14 sticks out, because the band of love accurately illustrates the center of Christian ethics. I’m very happy, that Peter Haller, calligrapher and a friend of mine, volunteered to illustrate these two verses, so that you can enjoy them in form of a beautiful calligraphy. Please click on them to view them in full scale.
Since I currently do not have the leisure to explain all 51 verses 3:14 in depth, I had to choose a different form to present them to you. I decided to simply write down some short thoughts about each verse. Sometimes they consist of presenting the context of the verse, sometimes of explaining some symbols or key concepts, sometimes of some comment in an associative style. Before taking my thoughts for granted, please verify, whether they are consistent with the teaching of the Bible as a whole.
To get an overview, I labeled all 51 verses with one or multiple of the following tags: Judgement, Theology (concerned with the characteristics of God), Soteriology (concerned with the matters of redemption), History, Ethics (defining good and evil behavior). Counting the corresponding labels we get the following statistics
The Bible is deeply rooted in the history of humankind and the people of Israel. Every verse is spoken into a historical context, so we could basically label all verses as historical. But I restricted the usage of the label History to verses with a main emphasis on a historical event. You might be surprised, that the selected verses more often speak about ethics and judgement than about theology or redemption. The emphasize on ethics shows, that Christian life does not mainly expresses itself in believing some true facts about God but in obedience to His will. The frequent reference to judgement is a warning to those who are disobedient to God’s laws and a call for repentance. On the other hand, for those being afflicted with the evil in this world, judgement stands for the hope of justice. As you can see from the complete list below, the high frequencies of verses on judgement and ethics are also a consequence of the large number of books falling in the categories of the small prophets and the epistles of Paul.
Genesis 3v14 The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life.”
No later than in the third chapter of the bible, we are in the midst of the battle between good and evil. The evil has penetrated the perfect creation of God. The serpent, i.e. Satan, seduced Adam and Eve to abuse their free will and to seek to be like God. Serendipitously, the serpent is judged by God, who will later send the Messiah, who shall bruise the serpent’s head (see Genesis 3v15).
Exodus 3v14 God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”
In this verse God reveals His name to Moses: I AM WHO I AM. The eternal God, the origin of all existing things, has no other means to define Himself rather than by Himself. In God every cause comes to an end. Jesus refers to this passage in John 8v58 when saying: Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM, thereby identifying Himself with JHWH.
Leviticus 3v14 Then he shall offer from it, as his offering for a food offering to the Lord, the fat covering the entrails and all the fat that is on the entrails.
The offer is the means to find reconciliation with God. To be effective, the offer has to be without blemish. As we learn in Hebrews 10, the blood of animals cannot take away sins, but only the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
Numbers 3v14 And the Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, saying:
God has repeatedly revealed Himself in the history of Israel and the church. Otherwise we would not know much about Him. In the words of Francis Schaeffer: God is there, and He is not silent.
Deuteronomy 3v14 Jair the Manassite took all the region of Argob, that is, Bashan, as far as the border of the Geshurites and the Maacathites, and called the villages after his own name, Havvoth-jair, as it is to this day.
Israel conquers the Holy Land. This is the judgement of the Canaanite peoples, who sacrificed their own children to idols like the Molech. If Israel ignored the laws of God, they would be expelled out of the country in exactly the same way (Leviticus18v25-28). This came true hundreds of years later, when the Babylonians exiled the Jews.
Josua 3v14 So when the people set out from their tents to pass over the Jordan with the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people, …
Before Israel enters Palestine, they have to cross the Jordan. Before we enter the kingdom of God, we have to submerge and die by being baptised.
Judges 3v14 And the people of Israel served Eglon the king of Moab eighteen years.
There is no absolute freedom for human beings. Either you serve God or you are a slave to sin (John 8v34). If you imagine being free, prove it, by living one week without sin, as defined by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.
Ruth 3v14 So she lay at his feet until the morning, but arose before one could recognize another. And he said, “Let it not be known that the woman came to the threshing floor.”
If it is unfashionable for a scientist to say much about religion, than it must be even more unfashionable to demand sexual purity from an adulterous generation.
1 Samuel 3v14 Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever.
Eli is judged, because his sons blasphemed God and he did not restrain them. If he had judged himself and his sons, he would not have been judged by God, see 1.Corinthians 11v31.
2 Samuel 3v14 Then David sent messengers to Ish-bosheth, Saul’s son, saying, “Give me my wife Michal, for whom I paid the bridal price of a hundred foreskins of the Philistines.”
Michal saved David’s life, when he was persecuted by King Saul. But later, she despised him, when he danced in front of the ark of the Lord (2Samuel 6v16).
1 Kings 3v14 And if you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days.
God appeared to Solomon in a dream by night and asked what He shall give him. Since Solomon didn’t ask for a long life, richness or the lives of his enemies, but for wisdom to govern the people, God gave him what he asked for, but also promised him a long life, if he walked as his father David. How did David walk? Not without sin, but with repentance when he failed, see Psalms 51!
2 Kings 3v14 And Elisha said, “As the Lord of hosts lives, before whom I stand, were it not that I have regard for Jehoshaphat the king of Judah, I would neither look at you nor see you.”
Thanks to God, we have somebody who intercedes for us in front of God: Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us (Romans 8v34).
1 Chronicles 3v14 Amon his son, Josiah his son.
Two descendants of David, kings of Israel. More important, ancestors of Jesus, the eternal king of Israel.
2 Chronicles 3v14 And he made the veil of blue and purple and crimson fabrics and fine linen, and he worked cherubim on it.
The purpose of this veil is to separate the Most Holy Place, the residence of the Shechinah, from the Holy Place, where the priests offered their daily sacrifice. After Christ died, the curtain was torn in two (Matthew 27v51), to allow sinful human beings for the first time to enter the presence of JWHW.
Nehemia 3v14 Malchijah the son of Rechab, ruler of the district of Beth-haccherem, repaired the Dung Gate. He rebuilt it and set its doors, its bolts, and its bars.
It doesn’t matter whether you build the Sheep Gate, the Fish Gate, the Gate of Yeshanah, the Valley Gate, the Dung Gate, the Fountain Gate, the Water Gate, the Horse Gate, the East Gate or the Muster Gate. It only matters that everybody walks in the good works, which God prepared for him (Epheser 2v10).
Esther 3v14 A copy of the document was to be issued as a decree in every province by proclamation to all the peoples to be ready for that day.
The Jews are accused of not keeping the laws of the king of Persia and Media. Thus, the king commands the genocide of the Jewish people. It was neither the first nor the last attempt to wipe out the People of God, but it is God’s privilege to turn what is meant for evil into the good of his people (Genesis 50v20).
Job 3v14 with kings and counselors of the earth who rebuilt ruins for themselves
The wealthy and the poor, the wise and the foolish, the king and the servant, everybody ends up in the same place, the Sheol, the place of shadow.
Proverbs 3v14 for the gain from her [wisdom] is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold.
Gaining wisdom means seeking Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2v3).
Ecclesiastes 3v14 I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Psalms 111v10). So the contemplation of the eternal works of God will make you wise.
Isaiah 3v14 The Lord will enter into judgment with the elders and princes of his people: “It is you who have devoured the vineyard, the spoil of the poor is in your houses.
God’s judgement always starts with his own people. The elite of Israel are condemned because it extorted the property from those, who are incapable of defending themselves.
Jeremiah 3v14 Return, O faithless children, declares the Lord; for I am your master; I will take you, one from a city and two from a family, and I will bring you to Zion.
“Repent!”, this was the main message of Jesus. As the prodigal son returned to the Father, we have to repent and return to God. It is certain, that the Father will feel compassion with us and will not repulse us (Luke 15v20).
Lamentation 3v14 I have become the laughingstock of all peoples, the object of their taunts all day long.
Even in his deepest despair, Jeremiah finds new hope in the Lord. Only seven verses later we read: But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
Ezekiel 3v14 The Spirit lifted me up and took me away, and I went in bitterness in the heat of my spirit, the hand of the Lord being strong upon me.
As in the case of Daniel or the evangelist John, a theophany of the Holy One leads to physical illness and weakness. Consider this, before you ask God to reveal Himself to you!
Daniel 3v14 Nebuchadnezzar answered and said to them, “Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up?
Let’s listen to their brave answer and learn from them: “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”
Joel 3v14 Multitudes, multitudes, in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision.
How should we act in view of the impending judgement? Jesus tells us: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matthew 3v2).
Amos 3v14 that on the day I punish Israel for his transgressions, I will punish the altars of Bethel, and the horns of the altar shall be cut off and fall to the ground.
In order not to repeat the mistakes of our ancestors, we have to ask: Why were they punished? Verse 10 tells us the reason for the judgement: “They do not know how to do right,” declares the Lord, “those who store up violence and robbery in their strongholds.”
Nahum 3v14 Draw water for the siege; strengthen your forts; go into the clay; tread the mortar; take hold of the brick mold!
Again, why is the city of Niniveh being judged? Their list of sins is long: murder, lies, plunder, prostitution, betrayal (Nahum 3).
Habakkuk 3v14 You pierced with his own arrows the heads of his warriors, who came like a whirlwind to scatter me, rejoicing as if to devour the poor in secret.
Again, the devour of the poor is punished.
Zephaniah 3v14 Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Judgement and grace are tightly linked in the bible. A small rest of the people always escapes the judgement and receives grace from God. As Zephaniah tells us, these are those who seek refuge in the name of the Lord.
Malachi 3v14 You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts?
What’s the profit of those keeping the laws of God? Their names are written in the book of life (Luke 10v20)!
Matthew 3v14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”
It’s really not obvious why Jesus wants to be baptised by John the Baptist. The water baptism symbolises the purification from our sins. So why does Jesus, the only sinless man, wants to be baptised? The answer is to be found in the “fifth” gospel, the prophet Isaiah, chapter 53: But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. It‘s not for his own sins, but for ours, that he needs to be baptised.
Mark 3v14 And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach.
More important than the twelve is the message they had to preach. They proclaimed the gospel, i.e. the good news: liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, liberty to those who are oppressed, the year of the Lord’s favor (Luke 4v18).
Luke 3v14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”
Many persons in the bible asked the question of all questions: “What must I do to be saved?” Although formulated in different terms, they always got the same answer:
Jeremiah: “Wash your heart from evil, that you may be saved!” Jeremiah 4v14
Joel: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved!” Joel 2v32
Jesus (I): “Come, follow me!” Mark 10v21
Jesus (II): “Whoever believes in him [the Son of God] should not perish but have eternal life.” John 6v47
Peter: “And there is salvation in no one else [than Jesus Christ], for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Acts 4v12
Paul: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” Acts 16v31
John 3v14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
Here we encounter again the serpent as in Genesis. Is it not blasphemy to compare Jesus, the Son of Man, to this symbol of the evil? As in the case of Jesus’ baptism, this can only be understood by the principle of substitution. Jesus took our guilt on himself, thereby obtaining redemption for our souls.
Acts 3v14 But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you
The Jews didn’t recognize that Jesus is the holy and righteous God, so they sentenced him, the author of life, to death. Or as John put it: He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him (John 1v11). But since they acted in ignorance, they got another chance to repent and to turn back.
Romans 3v14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
Paul makes it very clear, that there is not even one person, who is not guilty before the Lord. No matter how decent a man is, everybody offended against the law of God. The only way to get righteousness in the eyes of God is by faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 3v22).
1 Corinthians 3v14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward.
From this verse we learn, that judgement not only means punishment of the evil but also reward for good work. Although good work is not able to bring you into heaven, it is rewarded if it has been built on the foundation of Christ.
2 Corinthians 3v14 But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away.
By nature, our mind is hardened. Only in Christ and by the help of the Holy Spirit we can understand the bible.
Ephesians 3v14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father.
As already King David knew (Psalms 22), it’s not the question, whether you will bow your knees or not. The only point is whether you do it voluntarily or at the point of the sword.
Philippians 3v14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Looking forward should be the usual mindset of a Christian. Of course, in the Lord’s Supper we remember what Jesus did for us in the past. But concerning our own life, we must not be concerned with what went wrong in the past, but look forward to the glorious future, which lies ahead.
Colossians 3v14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
Love is the base, the essence of all Christian ethics. When Jesus was asked about the most important commandment, he replied: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” Matthew 22v37-40.
Love always relates to God, because he is love, and nobody can know him than by love (1 John 4v8). This is why Pascal wrote: “Au lieu qu’en parlant des choses humaines on dit qu’il faut les connaître avant que de les aimer,
les saints, au contraire, disent en parlant des choses divines, qu’il faut les aimer pour les connaître.” God is the center of all love and he is the ribbon, which ties together man and woman, old and young, slave and free, people of every culture and language. As Paul writes in Colossians 3v11: Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.
2 Thessalonians 3v14 If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed.
The mentioned persons are Christians in Salonika who were busybodies but did not work. Paul writes to them the following sentence, which is worth to be memorised: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat (2 Thessalonians 3v10). Even though the Thessalonians should have nothing to do with them, Paul exhorts, not to regard them as enemies (2 Thessalonians 3v15).
1 Timothy 3v14 I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, …
Paul probably wrote this epistle short after being released from his captivity in Rome around the year 65 A.D. His first letter to Timothy was known to Clement of Rome, who was one of the first bishops of Rome in the first century.
2 Timothy 3v14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it
It’s important to build our faith on trustworthy sources. Timothy learned from Paul, Paul learned from Christ. His credibility is based on His resurrection from the death.
Titus 3v14 And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful.
Not everybody who claims to be a Christian is a true follower. The true ones are recognised by their fruits, not by their words (Matthew 7v20).
Hebrews 3v14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.
The shares we are to seek are those of Christ, not those traded at the stock exchange. Money is useless to obtain them; they are only obtained by faith.
James 3v14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth.
Our most relevant enemies are not our fellow men, but our selfish self. The modern trend to focus on ourselves is definitely completely anti-Christian.
1 Peter 3v14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled,
Suffering is not a value per se, but it is an unavoidable part of Christian life (2 Timothy 3v12). If we suffer, we know, that Christ suffers with us, and only by passion, we learn compassion for our human fellows.
2 Peter 3v14 Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.
We’re awaiting a new world without pain and tears, but to enter it, we have to be purified by the blood of Christ (Revelation 7v14).
1 John 3v14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers.
O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? (1Corinthians 15v55)
Revelation 3v14 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.”
Jesus is the אָמֵן, the only reliable source to learn anything about יהוה. He is the Α and the Ω (Revelation 1v8), the beginning and the end of this post.