Stop sign

For those of you who are interested in theological humor, here is an excellent old chestnut. I got this from a college friend (Bear), but had lost it for a while. Finally it popped up again on Wrightsaid and I immediately saved it. Enjoy.

Suppose you’re traveling to work and you see a stop sign. What do you do? That depends on how you exegete the stop sign.

1. A postmodernist deconstructs the sign (knocks it over with his car), ending forever the tyranny of the north-south traffic over the east-west traffic.

2. Similarly, a Marxist sees a stop sign as an instrument of class conflict. He concludes that the bourgeoisie use the north-south road and obstruct the progress of the workers on the east-west road.

3. A serious and educated Catholic believes that he cannot understand the stop sign apart from its interpretive community and their tradition. Observing that the interpretive community doesn’t take it too seriously, he doesn’t feel obligated to take it too seriously either.

4. An average Catholic (or Orthodox or Coptic or Anglican or Methodist or Presbyterian or whatever) doesn’t bother to read the sign but he’ll stop if the car in front of him does.

5. A fundamentalist, taking the text very literally, stops at the stop sign and waits for it to tell him to go.

6. A preacher might look up “STOP” in his lexicons of English and discover that it can mean: 1) something which prevents motion, such as a plug for a drain, or a block of wood that prevents a door from closing; 2) a location where a train or bus lets off passengers. The main point of his sermon the following Sunday on this text is: when you see a stop sign, it is a place where traffic is naturally clogged, so it is a good place to let off passengers from your car.

7. An orthodox Jew does one of two things:1) Take another route to work that doesn’t have a stop sign so that he doesn’t run the risk of disobeying the Law.2) Stop at the stop sign, say “Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, king of the universe, who hast given us thy commandment to stop,”wait 3 seconds according to his watch, and then proceed. Incidently,the Talmud has the following comments on this passage: R[abbi] Meirsays: He who does not stop shall not live long. R. Hillel says: Cursed is he who does not count to three before proceeding. R. Simonben Yudah says: Why three? Because the Holy One, blessed be He, gave us the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. R. ben Isaac says:Because of the three patriarchs. R. Yehuda says: Why bless the Lord at a stop sign? Because it says: “Be still, and know that I am God.”R. Hezekiel says: When Jephthah returned from defeating the Ammonites, the Holy One, blessed be He, knew that a donkey would run out of the house and overtake his daughter; but Jephthah did not stop at the stop sign, and the donkey did not have time to come out. For this reason he saw his daughter first and lost her. Thus he was judged for his transgression at the stop sign. R. Gamaliel says: R.Hillel, when he was a baby, never spoke a word, though his parents tried to teach him by speaking and showing him the words on a scroll. One day his father was driving through town and did not stop at the sign. Young Hillel called out: “Stop, father!” In this way, he began reading and speaking at the same time. Thus it is written:”Out of the mouth of babes.” R. ben Jacob says: Where did the stop sign come from? Out of the sky, for it is written: “Forever, O Lord, your word is fixed in the heavens.” R. ben Nathan says: When were stop signs created? On the fourth day, for it is written: “let them serve as signs.” R. Yeshuah says: … [continues for three more pages]

8. A Pharisee does the same thing as an orthodox Jew, except that he waits 10 seconds instead of 3. He also replaces his brake lights with 1000 watt searchlights and connects his horn so that it is activated whenever he touches the brake pedal.

9. A scholar from Jesus seminar concludes that the passage “STOP” undoubtedly was never uttered by Jesus himself, but belongs entirely to stage III of the gospel tradition, when the church was first confronted by traffic in its parking lot.

10. A NT scholar notices that there is no stop sign on Mark street, but there is one on Matthew and Luke streets, and concludes that the ones on Luke and Matthew streets are both copied from a sign on a completely hypothetical street called “Q”. There is an excellent 300 page discussion of speculations on the origin of these stop signs and the differences between the stop signs on Matthew and Luke street in the scholar’s commentary on the passage. There is an unfortunate omission in the commentary, however; the author apparently forgot to explain what the text means.

11. An OT scholar points out that there are a number of stylistic differences between the first and second half of the passage “STOP”. For example, “ST” contains no enclosed areas and 5 line endings,whereas “OP” contains two enclosed areas and only one line termination. He concludes that the author for the second part is different from the author for the first part and probably lived hundreds of years later. Later scholars determine that the second half is itself actually written by two separate authors because of similar stylistic differences between the “O” and the “P”.

12. Another prominent OT scholar notes in his commentary that the stop sign would fit better into the context three streets back. (Unfortunately, he neglected to explain why in his commentary.) Clearly it was moved to its present location by a later redactor. He thus exegetes the intersection as though the stop sign were not there.

13. Because of the difficulties in interpretation, another OT scholar emends the text, changing “T” to “H”. “SHOP” is much easier to understand in context than “STOP” because of the multiplicity of stores in the area. The textual corruption probably occurred because”SHOP” is so similar to “STOP” on the sign several streets back that it is a natural mistake for a scribe to make. Thus the sign should be interpreted to announce the existence of a shopping area.



  1. September 9, 2005 at 12:54 pm

    14. A worship band leader pauses and writes a chorus based on “Stop, Mr. Postman!” Instead calling it “Stop Mr. Churchman!” He/She writes two verses and twelve chorus repeats.
    15. A W Bushite Republican realizes that sign is faded, and pushes to raise taxes so that the local sign company can produce another sign causing one employee to work an addional 12 minutes, his tax increase in effect paying for the new sign.
    16. A Presbyterian turns to those riding with him and forms a committee to decide the length of stop necessary, the exact location of the stopping to be done, and the exact definition of WHAT is to be stopped.
    17. If no one is in the car with him, the Presbyterian makes an executive decision, and plans to report on his actions the next time four others are in the car with him.
    18. A Constitutionalist wonders which part of the US Constitution gives the Executive Branch of Government the right to dictate stopping zones. He also considers whether the determination of said stopping zones is technically Legislation and should have been determined by the City Council. He then finds out that the stop locations WERE determined by the City Council, so he agrees to stop hereafter at that stop sign.

  2. Mr. Baggins said,

    September 9, 2005 at 1:59 pm

    That’s really great. Did you think those up yourself? Or should we exercise source criticism on it?

  3. September 9, 2005 at 6:58 pm

    ::blushing and muttering “aw shucks…” I made them up… BUT, I don’t like criticism of ANY kind, source, high, low, or constructive.

  4. October 2, 2006 at 3:55 pm

    […] Stop Signs […]

  5. October 14, 2006 at 12:03 pm

    […] Nothing at all funny happened during the day, so I decided to take matters into my own hands. I thought this was very clever (though a lot of it is an in joke) and #5 made me laugh. […]

  6. November 24, 2006 at 1:21 pm

    […] Nothing at all funny happened during the day, so I decided to take matters into my own hands. I thought this was very clever (though a lot of it is an in joke) and #5 made me laugh. […]

  7. Josh said,

    November 24, 2006 at 1:30 pm

    19. A Baptist sees the sign and figures it only applies to those that were born after stop signs were created.

    20. A Baptist Pastor wants to obey the sign, but yields his decision until the congregation votes on what to do about it.

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