(RNS) — Popular activities for this (mostly) vaccinated summer include: visiting heavily populated beaches, hanging out indoors with crowds of more than 50 and debating biblical Greek translations on the internet.
On TikTok, more than 49 million users have viewed the hashtag #deconstruction — a buzzword chiefly among evangelicals and former evangelicals who are re-analyzing the traditional faith they grew up in.
The hashtag #BibleTranslations has roughly a half million views, leading to earnest advice on selecting a Bible translation or lighthearted videos poking fun at the King James Version. But a dynamic subsection of creators is using the platform to debunk what they see as dangerous misinterpretations of biblical texts.
@johndoenobodyHow do we handle “church hurt”? #deconstruction #exvangelical #progressivechristian #jesus♬ original sound – John Doe Nobody
Some of the deconstructionists of TikTok are progressive Christian pastors with theology degrees. Others have studied their way out of the churches they grew up in and are now religiously unaffiliated. Still others are sharing scraps of knowledge they have picked up in the telephone game of the internet. But whether atheist or Christian or somewhere in between, this corner of biblical TikTok is united over a shared nerdy obsession with getting words right.
Explaining the nitty-gritty details of ancient Greek and Hebrew in Christian Scriptures may not seem like viral content, but on TikTok, it’s algorithm fire.
Here are three of the most popularly “deconstructed” words on the video platform.
One of the biggest trends in the biblical translations of deconstructionist TikTok is breaking down the many meanings packed into the word “hell.”
JeGaysus, a creator with a devoted following of 180,000, offers his literary critique on “Gehenna” — a word often translated as “hell” — in the guise of a rainbow-scarfed Jesus.
@jegaysusAlright..if I can’t get my most viral vid on the fyp we’ll know there’s a bigger issue #hell #deconstruction #itsametaphor #lgbtqia #gehenna♬ original sound – Gay Jesus-KingOfQueens
Hell is often presented as a big, scary reason not to leave Christianity — you don’t want to wager on eternal life and be on the losing end. At least, that’s how Jesseca Reddell felt (Motherofdogs on TikTok). For Reddell, learning more about the different meanings behind “H-E-double-hockey-sticks” helped her get over her fear of eternal damnation if she left her church. “Share with your traumatized friend,” the video caption suggests.
@m0ther0fd0gs_Share w your traumatized friend #foryoupage #foryou #bible #education #christian #DontSpillChallenge #atheist #religion #hell #fyp♬ original sound – Motherofdogs
There are many ancient traditions about the afterlife. Scriptural descriptions of the bad place are often intertwined with secular ideas that were popular at the time. So one big question deconstruction advocates pose is what word is actually behind the English translation, “hell.” Maybe Gehenna? Possibly Tartarus? Could be Hades or even Sheol?
Ricky Brock Jr. has a bachelor’s in theology, which he puts to use responding to his followers’ questions about the afterlife. Here, he explains some of the origins of the concept of hell in order to help a commenter overcome their fear.
@captaindadpool86Reply to @chilled_marble #greenscreen♬ original sound – CaptainDadPool
The Greek words that are translated in contemporary English as “homosexuality” or “homosexuals” are just as hotly debated as “hell” among TikTok scholars.
The Rev. Karla Kamstra offers a little ditty to summarize her thoughts on where the word “homosexual” can be found in the Bible.
@revkarlaThank you @sharynlord for original sound #revkarla #lgbtq #ally #friends #hypocrisy #religioustrauma #heal #healing #spiritualbutnotreligious♬ original sound – Sharynlord
Many creators, like Kamstra above, focus on the Greek word Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 6:9 — arsenokoitai. They point out controversies in the history of its translation and the different ways to interpret the word. The ancient Greek word gets trotted out in daily internet beef, like in Macy Schultz’s video below:
@macyaschultz1Reply to @comrade_snoopy4 y’all sound so dumb #fyp #xyzbca #lgbtq #politics #trend #bi #mistranslations♬ original sound – macy schultz
Andrew Harrison Cox has seminary training and now works at a justice ministry in Florida. His videos, like the one below, point out the gap between the cultural phenomena Paul refers to and how we talk about homosexuality today.
@andrewharrisoncoxReply to @the_christian_writer #lgbtqia #queerchristian #queer #lgbtq #christian #sin @1946themovie #homosexuality #sexualsin♬ Monday Jazz – Easy Listening Jazz Instrumentals
Others flesh out passages such as Romans 1:26 with more cultural context. Here’s the passage (NIV translation, just for the record):
Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.
But, according to one TikToker, Paul’s referring to specific acts happening in pagan temples as part of idolatrous worship.
@1946themovieReply to @thepotatoking12345 They just get younger and younger. #indoctrination #badtheologykills #toxicchristian #romans1 #bible #transition #gay #bi♬ Spongebob – Dante9k
These biblical deconstructionists of TikTok have landed on a single conclusion: They are in fairly firm agreement that, according to the Bible, homosexuality is not a sin.
Andrew Harrison Cox preaches that message to try to dispel the anxiety his followers express.
@andrewharrisoncoxReply to @drowning00000 #homosexuality #homosexualagenda #gay #bi #trans #lgbtq #pridemonth #bible #thebible #queer #thebible #christian♬ original sound – Andrew Harrison Cox
The father of lies provides nearly limitless fodder for TikTok theologians looking to undo some common misconceptions. Creators discuss the different titles in the Scriptures that have become names for the Prince of Darkness we know and loathe today.
Deconstructing the story of the devil also attracts creators who don’t normally dedicate their feeds to biblical interpretation or deconstruction content. Such as Logan Ford, 25, who claims Lucifer’s origins were a typo.
@lordfordboredReply to @captainmacfarlane #greenscreen #lucifer #satan #history #bible #books #comics #dc #fypシ #foryou #lordfordbored #sorrynotsorry #viral♬ Monkeys Spinning Monkeys – Kevin MacLeod
And some, like Jeff Baker, pastor and co-founder of Chosen Family Church, manage to cram a semester’s worth of biblical criticism on scriptural imagery for Satan into a 60-second video:
@cfc_pastorjeff#stitch with @jegaysus #greenscreen this took me soooo long to fit into a minute lol #satan #devil #snakeangels #biblestudy #theology #queerpastor♬ original sound – Jeff from Chosen Family Church
If you’re looking for a crash course in pop biblical criticism, enjoy stoking online arguments over ancient texts or just hope to learn a little Greek in 60 seconds, maybe open TikTok and start scrolling.