“The range of the mountains is his pasture, and he searcheth after every green thing. Will the unicorn be willing to serve thee, or abide by thy crib? Canst thou bind the unicorn with his band in the furrow? or will he harrow the valleys after thee?” (Job 39:8-10 KJV)
There you go, proof that unicorns are real. They are in the Bible, and not just in Job. They are in Numbers (23:22 & 24:8), Deuteronomy (33:17), Psalms (22:21, 29:6, 92:10) and Isaiah (34:7). Here’s the thing, though. The passage in Job talks about binding unicorns in the furrow to harrow the valleys, which is a fancy way of saying “plowing a field.” And if we know anything about unicorns from legend and myth, it’s that they are notoriously hard to catch, let alone bind to a plow — so what is a good farmer to do?
OK, all kidding aside, these are actual verses that still appear in the King James Bible to this very day. Now, any good scholar would look at a different translation and realize the word “unicorn” is translated “oxen” in every other version of the Bible. So how did one of the first ever major English translations mess that up and trade real-life farm animals for inhabitants of Narnia? That answer is simple: no one dared to question it.
The KJV was, unlike most translations, not interpreted from the original Hebrew text of the Torah. It was instead translated from the Roman Catholic Church’s Latin Bible, which in turn was translated from the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the original Hebrew Old Testament. So, they started three languages out from the original, which was a rough place to start. And to top it off, there are stories that King James had such tight control over the wording, so that he could make sure that different verses correctly reflected the newly minted Church of England, that he left scholars in fear for their lives.
But Scripture demands that we push beyond the fear of doubt or ruffling feathers or perhaps even just the fear of being wrong. If we refuse to see the Bible as a collection and collaboration of history and poetry, kings and fishermen, accuracy and allegory, we run the risk of only ever seeing the words on the page and not the Breath of Life that sustains them.
One of my favorite lines in Christian music is by Josh Garrels, and it says “Why do good men become a part of the regime? They don’t believe in resistance.” As modern Christians, we are hesitant at the idea of resistance. Most of the time, especially in our persecution-free, largely Protestant country, things go along day to day in our families and faith and we question very little. When the time comes for us to take a stand on something that just isn’t right, we have those same fears: doubt, failure, causing a stir. But if we live by fear of asking big questions about how Scripture interacts with our world, we allow fear to shuffle us into the ranks of passionless obedience to a system that keeps telling us it’s working.
Jesus loved resistance. He wasn’t a rebel without a cause; he was a Rabbi who could see the bigger picture, and he asked us to open our eyes a little further so that we could see it too. That’s what the Kingdom of God looks like: infinite perspective in a world determined to make us focus in only on our own needs, desires, fears and failures.
The Scriptures are not meant to be locked away, or have their interpretation outsourced, or be proof-texted or used to our own advantage. They are meant to be studied, talked about regularly, debated, loved, and entirely eaten up until we consume them enough that they begin to consume us.
Friends, we cannot rely on what a Facebook meme or popular preacher says about a verse in the Bible. We must be diligent and steady to face our fears of possibly being wrong, or causing a stir, or bringing up doubt, all of which are things the God of the Universe can handle. But if we choose to take everything at face value, we are left farming with unicorns.
Ali can be reached via email here. Illustration by Anna Olson.