All reference to the Bible are made from the King James version, and may be different in other versions. Please bear this in mind if you are researching the scriptural references.
The Bible is divided into two main sections: the Old Testament (from the time of Adam and Eve to Malachi, about 2000 BC) and the New Testament (beginning a few years before Jesus Christ’s birth and continuing until about 100 AD) The Bible is used in many Christian religions, although the interpretations of it vary betweens sects. Note that Martin Luther King Jr was a Baptist, which would have affected his views. In most Christian religions (all that I am aware of), the Bible is seen to be the word of God, given through his prophets
In writing about these scriptures and explaining them, I have written as though the interpretations are fact, that the Bible is an accurate and true account, that Jesus really lived, etc. Obviously not everyone believes this or agrees with these interpretations, however for the purpose of analysing the texts, it is important to see it the way Martin Luther King Jr would have. As a Baptist minister, he believed that Jesus truly lived, etc. So it makes sense to look at it from this perspective, regardless of your own personal views. Please do not be offended by anything said here or take it as preaching – that is not the intention at all.
“Storms of persecution” – Opposition is often represented by storms, with Jesus as a refuge. Many of Jesus’ apostles were fishermen, so storms were something that posed problems for them and were dangerous. See Mark 4:37-41 (next slide) for the story of how Jesus calmed the storm. Isaiah 25:4 – For thou hast been a strength to the poor, a strength to the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm, a shadow from the heat, when the blast of the terrible ones is as a storm against the wall.
37 And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full. 38 And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish? 39 And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea,Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40 And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith? 41 And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?
“Could no longer bear such a heavy burden” – Reference to Jesus carrying the cross. Before he was crucified, Jesus was forced to walk through the city, carrying the cross on his back. All the while, people stood on the side of the road, spitting on him and yelling insults, etc. “Every time such a temptation appeared” – Before Jesus started his ministry, he fasted in the desert for 40 days. During this time, the devil appeared three times with temptations, all of which Jesus refused. Despite being in a weakened state physically, Jesus remained strong against the temptations. In referencing this, MLK equates his suffering with that of Jesus. See Matthew 4 and Luke 4 for details
“The Master’s burden is light” – The Master is a term often used for Jesus. He taught that those who followed him would be relieved of their burdens if they would let him take them. Through Jesus’ atonement (dying on the cross), he suffered for the sins and pains of the world, allowing people to be free of them by accepting Jesus into their lives. MLK, despite all his sufferings, found relief through Jesus. Matthew 11:28-30 – Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. Note the capitalisation of “Master”
“Unearned suffering is redemptive” – Jesus’ crucifixion was seen as unearned because he never actually committed any crime. For this reason, his death had the power to atone for the sins of others – his innocent death counteracted the wickedness of others who would accept him. MLK is saying that, like Jesus, he has not committed any crimes, but is being punished for preaching of love. Isaiah 53:3-5 - He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. This scripture also relates to the previous slide – suffering for us
“The cross” – the cross refers to Jesus’ cross, on which he was hung and died. In the case of MLK, it represents the suffering he had to go through as a result of his beliefs. Again, this reference aims to equate MLK’s suffering with that of Jesus, giving the idea that he seeks only for peace, while others who fight against him are evil, trying to prevent the work of God from going forward.
“Stumbling block” – A stumbling block is a metaphor for anything that gets in the way of following Jesus. MLK uses it to represent the oppression faced by those who followed him, which scared many people and caused them to give up. Peter 2: 6-8 - Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded. Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed.
Paul was not always Christian. Initially, he was named Saul, and was Roman. He fought against Christians and was part of many attacks on them. He was not converted to Christianity until after Jesus’ crucifixion (33-34 AD). While travelling on the road to Damascus, Saul saw a bright light and heard the voice of Jesus, who told him to stop persecuting his people. The encounter left him blind and unable to eat or drink. God then sent a prophet, Ananias, to heal and baptise Saul, who became Paul from then onwards.
After his conversion, Paul’s life was completely turned around, and he spent the rest of his days preaching of God and Jesus, converting many to Christianity. Interestingly, aside from the encounter on the road to Damascus, there is no record of Paul ever meeting Jesus. All his doctrine came through revelations from God. Paul’s mission took him from Damascus, through Arabia, Jerusalem, Asia Minor, Macedonia and Italy. He was martyred in Rome around 64 AD. Paul’s mission was long, and many times he faced near-death or other suffering because of his preaching.
MLK references Galatians 6:17 – From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus. He, like Paul, is essentially saying that he has suffered persecution, hate and temptation just as Jesus did. When Jesus was resurrected, he still had the marks from the nails of the cross in his hands, feet and side. These “marks” represent his suffering, and are what Paul and MLK are referring to. Once again, MLK asserts that his suffering is just like Jesus’.
“This I remember, especially in this season of giving, for these people have followed the example and spirit of Christ Himself. They have given mankind a priceless “Gift of Love.” Jesus’ death was a sacrifice he made for everyone. He paid the price for our sins, making the ultimate sacrifice. He did so out of love, and does not expect anything in return except to follow him. Since we do not have to pay for our sins ourselves, this sacrifice is a gift. Those who suffered, as Christ did, are doing so in the same spirit because it is unselfish and out of love. Corinthians 6:20 - For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.
“Forsaken by society” – Reference to Jesus. Although he was a Jew, the Jews were the ones who demanded his death. He was rejected by his own people. Isaiah 53:3-5 - He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. MLK equates the situations Corinthians 4:8-10 - We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.
MLK compares the situation of the boys with that of Jesus to portray them as innocent victims of undeserved hatred. He shows the culprits to be the white people, who have put the boys in their unfortunate situation. This also emphasises that the white treatment of blacks is not a response to violence, but is fuelled by anger because of their background. Their suffering is uncalled for, and they are simply dealing with it in the best way they know how.
“Come to Jesus” – Jesus invites everyone to come unto him. That is to say that they accept his gospel, and allow it to change their lives and relieve them of their burdens. Through him, they can find peace from their worries Matthew 11:28 - Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
“A voice still cries to every potential Peter, ‘Put up your sword!’” - This refers to the Apostle Simon Peter. After he cut off the ear of a guard who tried to take Jesus, Jesus told him to ‘Put up your sword,’ which meant to put it away. It was a call for him to use other means than violence. John 18:10-11 - Then Simon Peter having a sword drew it, and smote the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus. Then said Jesus unto Peter, Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?
“Caesar will occupy a palace and Christ a cross” – Caesar was the leader of Rome. At the time, Rome occupied Jerusalem. The Jews suffered a great deal at the hands of the Romans. MLK creates binary opposition between them – a palace is a place of luxury and comfort, and has connotations of power. A cross represents punishment and pain. Likewise, the white people held all the power and had the better lifestyle, whilst the black people had to suffer from them.
This is often a confusing point for some people: 1 AD was the year of Christ’s birth 33-34 AD was when Christ was crucified There is no “gap” in time between Jesus’ birth and death – those years were still counted. AD stands for “Anno Domini,” which is Latin for In the year of our Lord. It does not stand for “After Death” BC simply stands for “Before Christ” There is no year 0 – Time went from 1 BC to 1 AD We are currently in 2011 AD, theoretically 2011 years after the birth of Christ
“Walk and never get weary” – Jesus said that all those who followed him would be sustained by a spiritual power that would allow them to exceed their physical capabilities. MLK was implying that, despite their suffering, they would remain strong so long as they put their faith in Jesus. Isaiah 40:31 - But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.
“Promised land” – When the Israelites were freed from slavery to the Egyptians, Moses led them to what they called the Promised Land. Although it wasn’t actually that far away, they wandered in the wilderness for about forty years before they finally reached it and settled down. During this time, they camped in the desert. It was very tough for them, but eventually the suffering helped them become closer to God and recognise their dependence on him. Deuteronomy 6:3 - Hear therefore, O Israel, and observe to do it; that it may be well with thee, and that ye may increase mightily, as the LORD God of thy fathers hath promised thee, in the land that floweth with milk and honey.
Using the term “promised land” has implications of a final goal that is difficult to reach, and will take a long time to attain, but through great endurance, they will reap the rewards by finding peace and plenty. MLK was encouraging the people by saying that, though the road to racial equality would be long and hard, they would one day reach it. They would need to be faithful first, because they had many trials ahead of them, and would need to rely on the Lord for their strength.
There aren’t really any Biblical references in this essay, which is probably to do with the fact that it was aimed at a different audience – white people instead of fellow black people. It is possible to make a connection between the reference “to calm troubled waters” and when Jesus calmed the sea during the storm (see slide 6). However, given the context of this metaphor, it might be a bit of a weak link. Maybe. I’m not sure. It’s up for your interpretation!
Please remember that these are just the connections I found – you may interpret them completely differently, and that certainly does not make you wrong! I would encourage you to do your own research to see for yourself, remembering the context in which each work was written. I hope you have found this to be a good starting point for you! http://ibscrewed4english.blogspot.com/
The King James Bible can be accessed online for free at: http://lds.org/scriptures/?lang=eng All referencing in this presentation were made from this site.