The Meaning of the Bible in Sign Language

As a hearing child of deaf parents myself, I was thrilled in 2022 to see the movie CODA win best picture, deaf actor Troy Kotsur win best supporting actor, and Siân Heder win for best adapted screenplay.  CODA stands for Children of Deaf Adults and the story centers around Ruby Rossi, a hearing teenage girl who is an amazing singer but is the only hearing member of her family.  There are good lessons in the movie about overcoming differences and obstacles through some compassion and creativity.

It was a great movie but be aware: “Mr. Kotsur used the versatility of sign language to enhance Frank’s dialogue, which is sometimes salty enough to push the limits on the movie’s PG-13 rating.”[1]  There’s one scene in particular where Frank Rossi embarrasses his daughter Ruby in front of a boy with some improvised, erotic sign language.  Versatility has negatives but also positives…

Multiple words for love in Greek (eros, agape, etc.) conceal layers of meaning when translated to English.  After watching CODA, I was reminded of an example where the expressiveness of sign language also adds layers of meaning beyond spoken English. (maybe spoken English is just a bad language?)  Not all sign language is the same – there are many dialects – but the sign for Bible I use is actually two signs: “Jesus” followed by “book.”  Every time I sign what I would just speak as “Bible,” there’s a reminder built right in that the Bible is a book about Jesus.  From start to finish, the Bible is a record of why He needed to come, what He was like when He did, and what His followers should believe, know, and do.  Jesus Christ is described right in the sign for Bible!

But there’s still another layer.  In the book of 1 Corinthians, the apostle Paul defends his ministry saying that his message needs to focus on “Christ crucified”[2], not on performing miracles to those who want signs and impressing with fancy speech those who love wisdom.  To sign “Jesus”, I touch the middle finger of my right hand to the palm of my left hand, then the middle finger of my left to the palm of my right.  What does that signify?  It’s an expressive reminder of the crucifixion of Jesus, and the nails that were barbarically driven into his hands.  Thomas, one of the 12 main disciples of Jesus, said after the first Easter that he would not believe Jesus had risen from the dead “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side.”  Eight days later, Jesus presented Himself to Thomas and said “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”  To which Thomas replied: “My Lord and my God!”  (John 20:24-29).  I don’t know if this was intended by the person who created the sign for Jesus, but it may be a liturgy recalling this encounter, reminding us that Jesus was crucified, yet lives!

So, whenever you think of the Bible, think of it in sign language where every single time you sign it, there is a reminder that the Bible is the book about Christ crucified.  After Thomas declared who Jesus was, Jesus responded: “Have you believed because you have seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  Every time I sign “Bible,” it testifies to those who have not seen Jesus of what He has done for them.

One Last Thing
By the way, to sign “book” you place your hands together flat, palms facing each other, in front of you, then open them as if your hands were the front and back of a book.

[1] Jurgensen, John. “Troy Kotsur of ‘CODA’ Wins Best Supporting Actor Oscar.” The Wall Street Journal, 27 March 2022.
[2] 1 Corinthians 1:23

How Shall Christians Be Known?

The mark of a relationship with Christ has taken many forms over the ages, but with one common factor: a self-sacrificing love.

In the book of Genesis, Joseph, son of Jacob, has a fascinating story.  Joseph was favored by his father, despised by his brothers, sold into slavery in Egypt, but eventually rose to a position of prominence under Pharaoh.  In Genesis 41, Pharaoh learns that Joseph has interpreted dreams and calls for his help with Pharaoh’s own distressing series of dreams.  Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dreams as a prophecy of seven years of famine and recommends a plan to get through it.  After this interpretation comes Genesis 41:38, where “Pharaoh said to his servants, ‘Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God?’”  We connect Pharoah’s recognition of God’s Spirit in Joseph to the correct interpretation of dreams, but there is more to it:  Joseph also cared for the people of Egypt and oversaw the plan to survive the famine.

In the book of Acts, after Peter’s proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ to many “rulers and elders and scribes gathered together in Jerusalem,[1] Acts 4:13 records that “when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.”  These crowds knew that Peter and John had been with Jesus, that they had a similar spirit.  They had something that comes not from this world’s schools or from what it holds in distinguished, high regard.  Instead, “they were uneducated, common men,” but they carried the mark of Jesus.  They had a connection to an unknown source of boldness and were concerned for the spiritual needs of all people.

In the Psalms, a Psalmist (probably David) wrote in Psalm 119:97-98:

Oh how I love your law!
            It is my meditation all the day.
Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies,
            for it is ever with me.”

The Psalmist praises God’s commandment as a source of wisdom better than anything available to his enemies.  By meditating on God’s commandments, the Psalmist is “wiser than my enemies,” because he has a wisdom from an unworldly source.  He carries the mark of Christ, but what is this commandment and what is this wisdom?

In Matthew 22:37-40, Jesus says the greatest commandments are: “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.”  In other words, any and all commands of God are subordinated to the command to love God and neighbor, including our enemies.

In John 13:34-35, Jesus reiterates the rule, telling His disciples: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  Therefore, how can all people “find a man…in whom is the Spirit of God?”  Where will the world find astonishing boldness and good news among even “uneducated, common men”?  They will find it in those who have the fruit of the Spirit, which begins with “love,” but also includes “joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”[2]

So, does someone have a physical need like those impacted by the famine in Joseph’s day?  Does someone have a spiritual need for hope that only the gospel can provide?  Love provides the answer to both needs, and by love will the world know Christ’s disciples.

Therefore, make Christ known today by loving someone as Christ would.

[1] Acts 4:5
[2] Galatians 5:22-23

Betrayed With a Kiss: Sunday Share from Charles Spurgeon

Today’s Sunday Share comes from Charles Spurgeon’s Morning & Evening devotional.  The entire morning entry for March 25th is copied below:

“Betrayest thou the Son of Man with a kiss?” —Luke 22:48

            “’The kisses of an enemy are deceitful.’ Let me be on my guard when the world puts on a loving face, for it will, if possible, betray me as it did my Master, with a kiss. Whenever a man is about to stab religion, he usually professes very great reverence for it. Let me beware of the sleek-faced hypocrisy which is armour-bearer to heresy and infidelity. Knowing the deceivableness of unrighteousness, let me be wise as a serpent to detect and avoid the designs of the enemy. The young man, void of understanding, was led astray by the kiss of the strange woman: may my soul be so graciously instructed all this day, that ‘the much fair speech’ of the world may have no effect upon me. Holy Spirit, let me not, a poor frail son of man, be betrayed with a kiss!

But what if I should be guilty of the same accursed sin as Judas, that son of perdition? I have been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus; I am a member of His visible Church; I sit at the communion table: all these are so many kisses of my lips. AM I sincere in them? If not, I am a base traitor. Do I live in the world as carelessly as others do, and yet make a profession of being a follower of Jesus? Then I must expose religion to ridicule, and lead men to speak evil of the holy name by which I am called. Surely if I act thus inconsistently I am a Judas, and it were better for me that I had never been born. Dare I hope that I am clear in this matter? Then, O Lord, keep me so. O Lord, make me sincere and true. Preserve me from every false way. Never let me betray my Saviour. I do love Thee, Jesus, and though I often grieve Thee, yet I would desire to abide faithful even unto death. O God, forbid that I should be a high-soaring professor, and then fall at last into the lake of fire, because I betrayed my Master with a kiss.”

Sacrificed for You

The Old Testament book of Leviticus is probably the hardest book in the Bible for many to read.  Much of it outlines, in detail, the duties of priests and Levites (the book’s name comes from this group) in worship, including the sacrificial system involving animals practiced in ancient times.  However, there are many pictures of Christ embedded in these stories and rituals, one being the requirement that each individual lay their hands on any bull offered for their sin.

This is first described in Leviticus 1:3-5a – “If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer a male without blemish. He shall bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the LORD. He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him.  Then he shall kill the bull before the LORD” (emphasis mine)

Why is it so important that each person lay their hand on their sacrifice?  I think there are at least 3 reasons:

First, the sacrifice is for each of us specifically and individually.  Atonement is not a blanket covering everyone with no distinction – it focuses on each individual.  God does not have a limited attention span, where time spent with one person takes away from time spent with another. He can, and does, focus on us all.  Since He desires relationship with each person, He wants us to be aware of the need for sacrifice at individual level, as well as the connection created at an individual level.

Second, the sacrifice shows us the severity of our sin.  Before a just God, no sin can go unpunished, or He would commit injustice.  Only blood can atone for sin, and having each person make a personal connection with their sacrifice highlights the seriousness of our own sin, discouraging us from thinking other people’s sin is more serious than our own.  Even the priests, as shown in Leviticus 8:14, had to lay their hands on their own sacrifice, showing even those who might be considered, or consider themselves, more spiritual are not exempt.

Third, nobody else can worship for us since the purpose of worship is to have a personal relationship with our Lord and Maker.  It is the sacrifice that restores our relationship to God, not the priest that intermediates the sacrifice, which is highlighted by the fact that Jesus became both the sacrifice and the High Priest.  Just as I can’t have a real relationship with someone only by hearing about them through someone else, I can’t have a real relationship with God through someone else’s worship.  The faith of people you know – parents, friends, teachers, pastors – will do you no good.  Each must have his own faith because what He wants is us.

Photo by Cdoncel on Unsplash

In Leviticus we find a picture of Jesus, who lived a perfect life for us, not so that we don’t have to be perfect, but so that we can become perfect.  He died for each of us, specifically, and needed to die because no other sacrifice could cover the severity of our sins before a just God.  Through His sacrifice, we are adopted as members of His family, to live perfectly in Paradise for eternity.

Jesus lamented of the religious people of his day in Matthew 23:37 – “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”  When He offered relationship, they insisted on religion, and missed being touched by their Maker’s hands.

One More Picture
Much more recently than Leviticus was written, a similar point was made by Mel Gibson in his movie The Passion of the Christ[1].  During the scene where Jesus is being crucified, Gibson decided to film his own hands driving the spike into Christ’s hand.  It is the only time Gibson appears in the film.  The film’s website (since removed) said this was “symbolic of the fact that he holds himself accountable first and foremost for Christ’s death.”  Gibson, in Leviticus terms, chose to “lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering.

Yes, Jesus suffered terribly for the sin of each of us, but He willingly did it because it was needed to gather His people to Himself.  “Lay your hand” on His sacrifice and thank Him that He wants to know you personally.


[1] Gibson, Mel.  The Passion of the Christ.  (2004)

Marlboro Man Needs the Gospel

Marlboro Man was a character used to advertise Marlboro cigarettes starting in 1954.  He became a cliché of a rugged man, often shown on horseback with a cowboy hat and some rope, confidently smoking a cigarette, and was portrayed by several different actors until 1999.  However, the origin of this famous ad campaign isn’t as well known.

Before the manly Marlboro Man manifested in 1954, Marlboro was sold as a feminine cigarette, with a red-colored filter at the tip.  Ads had phrases like “Ivory Tips Protect the Lips,” and touted that lipstick on the cigarette wouldn’t matter since it was red anyway.  But later, when the health risks of cigarette smoking came to light, Philip Morris & Co. wanted to sell Marlboro to men on the idea that filters made smoking “safer.”  However, given Marlboro’s feminine image – created through advertising – Philip Morris had to overcome that connotation, so the red tips were removed, and Marlboro Man was born as a way to sell Marlboro cigarettes to men concerned about lung cancer and other health risks.

Marlboro Man ad on a Warsaw, Poland building.

With hindsight, we know that filters don’t make smoking safer.  Ironically, and sadly, five different men who appeared in Marlboro advertisements died of smoking-related diseases, earning Marlboro cigarettes the nickname “cowboy killers.”[1]

Also with hindsight, we can see the massive power of advertising to shape our perceptions.  The Marlboro Man campaign is considered in the ad industry to be one of the best of all time, changing a “feminine” product into one of stereotypical masculinity almost overnight.  But the campaign also shows us that “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death”, as Proverbs 14:12 and 16:25 say.  In this case, it was very literal death in this world.

To make Philip Morris money, the ads declared that smoking was not a “way to death,” but that it was “right to a man” to be like the Marlboro Man.  It’s not entirely unlike the line “the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist,” which was spoken by Kevin Spacey’s character in the 1995 movie, The Usual Suspects.  This line was a paraphrase of a line at least as old as the 1850’s.[2]

I recently heard a sermon where the pastor said, “the culture is trying to kill you,” and I don’t think it was an exaggeration.  Just as Marlboro ads first convinced people it was a feminine product, then turned on a dime to convince people it was a masculine product, without any real change to what was being sold, we’re all bombarded by dangerous messages every day, and many will only be seen in the broader culture as dangerous with the benefit of hindsight.  Smoking used to be considered normal.

I’m not writing this to condemn smokers, because we all have our bad habits, but to spotlight the importance of an eternal perspective.  Any culture is limited to the perspective of its leaders in that time and circumstance, and the pull of peer pressure is real.  Every culture in this world has “a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death,” but also every culture needs the gospel more than it needs effective advertising campaigns.

Therefore, as the apostle Peter wrote in 1 Peter 3:8-9 – “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.  Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.”

Marlboro Man needs the good news of the gospel, not condemnation.