Jesus and Information Theory

There is a clear connection between Jesus's teaching and information theory. Our growing understanding of information theory can help us use Jesus's ideas more effectively in our lives. However, most people don't see this connection and possibility for two reasons:

  1. Jesus's teaching had been framed in religious terminology that was not part of the original Greek, but which in many ways isolates it from modern science, and
  2. Most people don't understand the various aspects of information theory and their connection to scientific knowledge.

The first problem is one of language. As I discuss in this article about the "word," the Greek word translated as "word" is better translated as "idea" or, even better in terms of information theory, "message." Discerning "messages" from "noise" is the central focus of information theory. Unfortunately, we find ourselves having to do this when we read translations of Jesus's words. What is the message? What is the noise added by theology?

For example, when we read, "In the beginning was the word," what we are really reading is "In the beginning was the idea" or "In the beginning was the message." Though they are not Jesus's words, you can see an article on this verse here

Jesus saw himself as spreading ideas, a message. The theological view is that he was promoting "the word" as in "the Bible." His message, however, was more specific than "read the Bible," and, as a matter of record, he never told be people to read the Bible. He did, however, tell the people who did study and write about the Bible that they did not understand what they were reading. 

In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus is telling us about information and offering a basic information theory. Specifically, he explains how his message takes root when it is not smothered by noise. If people's lives are productive, they duplicate and spread his message for others. In the parable, he uses Greek words that literally mean "get it" or "receive" to describe receiving the message,. He also uses the a Greek term that means "putting it together" to describe making it useful. This is literally what we have to do with all messages: we have to receive them and then put together what they mean.  His view of human nature is more complicated than the picture we get from orthodox Christian teaching, but unless we understand his view of ideas, message, and information, we cannot appreciate it.

Understanding today's information technology can give us a new and valuable perspective on many of Jesus's lessons. Unfortunately, most people know how to use phones and computers, but they are usually unfamiliar the deeper thinking behind these devices about what information is and how it works. Recent work on what we call "information theory" started with Claude Shannon's theory about how information is measured in communication. However,  I also include thinking about computer theory from those like Alan Turing and John von Neumann. Those theories must be related and expanded further to measure information an algorithm for solving a specific problem. Jesus spoke specifically about how certain specific ideas could be used to address certain common problems in human life. This is not simply communication theory, the the view of information as an algorithm, that is a method or idea, about addressing a specific problem.

My training is in computer technology. I built a software company into an Inc. 500 company. I hold a lifetime certification in  information technology, from hardware to application from the ICCP. I have written several books on digital technology, including a college textbook. Much of my award-winning work on competition is based on an information theory that defines most competitive problems as issues related to the relative value of information. And, this site,  of course, and my work in translation is made possible with a certain approach to information and the use of technology to reveal what is hard to discover without modern information tools. It is only natural that I would see Jesus's message in terms of information, a flow of information from the Divine to humans.

Though I spend most of my time on Biblical translation these days, I also spend time studying the other great book of his laws that the Father has given us, the book of nature. Nature's laws are God's laws. People have described mathematics as the language of the Divine. The Bible is true, but creation is also true. Both are flawed only in the degree that their understanding is filter through our limited human capabilities. There is, however, a straight line between the study of the Bible to the idea that we can understand and utilize the laws of nature. Anti-religious movements like critical theory deny the existence of object truth. Trust in the Divine affirms it. The rules by which information moves are a key part of nature. The discovery of DNA as an information coding system affirms this. In this series of articles, I hope to demonstrate that Jesus understood a lot about these laws of nature and used them to illustrate how we should behave.

As I start work on articles about Jesus and his view of information, the links will be listed below:

  1. The Parable of the Sower and Information Theory
  2. The Lord's Prayer and Information Theory