Like "the law," the use of language in the interpretation of Scripture is "good, if a man use it lawfully" (I Tim. 1:8). But, at the point it fosters confidence in the "wisdom of men," it becomes a hindrance, inhibiting the belief of the truth.
This is a principle that is consistent in all facets of the heavenly kingdom. When teachers employ "wisdom of words" to develop and maintain faith, they involve themselves in an exercise of vanity. Although particularly deflating to the flesh, this is an observation that needs to be shouted from the housetops of the religious community.
This is particularly true in view of the exhortation to avoid striving "about words," which, states the Spirit, is to "no profit." In fact, this procedure results in the "subverting of the hearers" (II Tim. 2:14). While these words are clear, they are, notwithstanding, offensive to many of our time. This accounts for the general confusion on spiritual matters existing among professed believers.
In my judgment, if this admonition were taken seriously, many "teachers" would have very little to say. The strength of these pretenders is their understanding of language, while their weakness is their understanding of God and the "things of the Spirit of God" (I Cor. 2:14). It is difficult to conceive of a more serious condition, particularly when found in an individual purporting to represent the "mind of Christ" (I Cor. 2:16).
A great tragedy of our time is the scarcity of men with a message from God. Bible "trivia"has not only taken hold of the game market, it is now dominating in the pulpits of the land. Legion is the name of the preachers that regularly offer up a diet of "interesting" religious fare having no spiritual nourishment. For such, etymological discourses attain inordinate value. Our purpose is not to engage in a lengthy complaint of this unfortunate circumstance, but to alert our readers to the seriousness of it.
In certain circles, it has become fashionable for "teachers of the Law" to undergird their instruction with extensive appeals to the "original language." An extensive use of linguistic expertise is often considered "end of all controversy" (Heb. 6:16). Frequently "strange doctrines" are fortified by strong appeals to the "original language," verb tenses, and other elementary rules of speech.
Of special note are heterogeneous positions on the punishment of the wicked, divorce, and death. Although I stand the risk of offending many of my colleagues, I must say that such thing sought not to be! I realize I am treading on what many consider to be hallowed ground. Others may choose to interpret my words as demeaning of scholarship. Such must bear the responsibility for their unfounded conclusions.
My point is that such an approach to the Word of God is not, nor can it ever be, justified. Such a procedure is "handling the Word of God deceitfully" (II Cor. 4:2). It is not to be tolerated among those engaged in the "good fight of faith" (I Tim. 6:12).
The following reasons provide substantiation of this position. They do not denigrate the employment of linguistic expertise. We do object to the assignment of preeminent value to this approach. At the best, those enamored of "the original language" must take the "lowest seat" in the temple of instruction. Such individuals have exalted the inferior to the neglect of the superior. This is a very serious situation.
ORIGINAL MANUSCRIPTS NOT PRESERVED
God did not see fit to preserve the original manuscripts of the Apostles' doctrine. If the view of the superior weight of the "original language" is true, our Lord would have preserved the source of that "more excellent glory."
When I was younger, the absence of autographed manuscripts concerned me. I wondered why such great stress could be placed on something unavailable to us. Now that I am older, I still have the same concerns.
If this procedure is valid for the writings of the apostles, what about those of Moses and the prophets. For that matter, what about the ten commandments? Originally they were written "with the finger of God" in tables of stone (Ex. 31:18; Deut. 9:10)! Yet, when Moses broke them in spiritual rage, God did not see fit to rewrite them (Ex. 34). In fact, He commanded that the ones written by Moses be preserved in the ark of the covenant. Even then, they were not kept indefinitely.
This is a most unwise course of action if "the original" is the final word. God did not honor this questionable principle, and that carries much weight with me!
WE DEAL WITH COPIES OF MANUSCRIPTS
Not having a single page of an autographed manuscript of the "apostles of the Lamb," we must deal with copies. These are numerous, and often lack consistency. This situation forbids an inordinate veneration of the "original language." If this conclusion appears unwarranted, then someone needs to produce some sound reasons in justification of the position, until now unveiled.
After the linguists have presented their case, we must still have faith in God: faith that He will not leave us without an accurate record of His salvational message. Would it be flattering to our God to give a flawless message, only to be distorted by His enemies to the eternal subversion of those to whom it was addressed? Such a thought is absurd, and borders on blasphemy!
MEANINGS DEVELOPED DOCTRINALLY
The prophets, Jesus Christ, and the Apostles, developed the meaning of words with doctrine, not dictionaries or lexicons. There is a remarkable consistency in this approach. Holy men appealed to the truth of Scripture and to spiritual reasoning. The root meanings of words were never their emphasis, but the exposition of truth. There is such remarkable consistency in this matter, one is hard-pressed to find a single exception to it.
There are critical matters addressed by the Word of God. There is no allowance for error in these areas. If spiritual understanding can be achieved by an appeal to the "original language," then why did the Holy Spirit ignore that method? It is difficult for me to understand how many professed scholars of the Word fail to perceive this.
There are no exceptions to this. Whether the word is "faith," "justify," "sacrifice," "law," or"sanctify," doctrine is the means of expounding its meaning. Christ's High Priesthood is developed by an appeal to the key events of Scripture (Heb. 5). The sin of fornication, and the reasonableness of sanctification, are explained by an appeal to godly reasoning (I Cor. 6:13ff). Justification is expounded, not defined etymologically (Rom. 4-5; Gal. 2-3). The coming of the Lord is taught, not defined with linguistic skill (I Thess. 4; II Pet. 3; I John 3). There is such remarkable consistency in this, that is difficult to conceive of it being overlooked.
OUR SAVIOR'S EXAMPLE
Our blessed Lord Himself probably spoke in more than one language. While on the cross, Mark wrote that He cried, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabacthani" (Mk. 15:34). Matthew recorded this saying as "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani" (Matt. 27:46). Mark uses the Aramaic form, while Matthew uses the Hebrew form. That our Savior's words were not comprehended by those about the cross is seen in their reaction to it: "Behold, he calleth Elias" (Mk. 15:35). He spoke in a language not discerned by those present at His crucifixion.
Yet, in all His matchless teaching, Jesus never buttressed His doctrine with an appeal to the technicalities of language. There is not a single exception to this in all of the Gospels. No post-Pentecost writer ever recalled a single syllable uttered by the blessed Lord involving the fine distinctions of language. This circumstance negates the emphasis of which we speak.
Speaking as a man, Jesus was a Jew in a Roman world. At least three languages were prevalent, perhaps four: (a. Greek, (b. Hebrew, (c. Latin, and (d. Aramaic. These languages are characterized by technicalities that have challenged linguistic specialists. Yet, the Son of God did not appeal to these technicalities in support of truth on a single occasion. In all of God's Word, there is not one deviation from this rule.
Paul was a linguist, able, at the least, to speak Greek (Acts 21:37) and Hebrew (Acts 21:40).Yet, in all his writings, he made no appeal, no matter how minuscule, to the technicalities of language to support his teaching. There are absolutely no exceptions to this observation. Because he, like the prophets, was "moved by the Holy Spirit" (I Pet. 1:21) to write, we are brought to an unavoidable conclusion. The Spirit of God never led a holy man to fortify spiritual truth by an appeal to the intricacies of grammar. That being the case, what spirit has constrained men to do so today?
TRUSTING THE WISDOM OF MEN
This procedure brings hearers to trust in the wisdom of men. It exalts men too highly, and brings Christ too low. It ascribes inordinate value to human erudition, and too little to "the faith of God's elect" (Tit. 1:1). Here is a subtle, and often unintentional, appeal to a clerical system. A special class of people becomes the source of knowledge, thus relegating the Scriptures themselves to irrelevancy. Faith, in such a case, must stand in men rather than God.
ACQUIRING SPIRITUAL UNDERSTANDING
The Spirit revealed the procedure for getting understanding. This is a highly controversial method, but unquestionably effectual. Early in the history of the church, false prophets became dominant. It became necessary for the Apostles to admonish believers to "try the spirits, whether theyare of God" (I John 4:1-2). They perceived the circumstance to be a threat to the salvation of thepeople of God.
How were Christ's disciples to confront this situation? John's words are startling to thoserelying on scientific approaches for understanding. "But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things . . . But the anointing which ye have received of Him abideth in you, and ye not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in Him" (I John 2:20,27).
These words were not a reference to Apostolic inspiration. At the time they were written, John was the only remaining apostle. Nor, indeed, are they an explanation of some miraculous enduement conferred on an elite few. This would have contradicted our Lord's promise of the same provision to every individual loving Him and keeping His word (John 14:21, 23). The Spirit's intent was to assure believers of the availability of spiritual insight to them.
The Holy Spirit can open the revealed Word to the understanding of those willing to be taught. Thus, their perception of truth will protect them from the encroachments of false prophets. Although this gracious provision is questioned by those choosing techniques founded on worldly wisdom, it has proved effective for those willing to receive it.
Faith is superior to reason. It is the peculiar prerogative of faith to save the soul. Consequently, it is imperative for it to rest upon the proper foundation. The wisdom of men is not an appropriate underpinning for faith. Paul labored to ensure that this was not the result of his preaching (I Cor. 2:4-7). In such an approach, faith rests upon reason--human reasoning. However, the manner of the kingdom is for sound reasoning to rest upon faith.
The reason for this condition is obvious: faith is superior to reason. It is the response of men, through the Holy Spirit, to the affirmation of God. In words of Scripture, this is the belief of "the record God hath given of His Son" (I John 5:10-11). God declares it, man receives it and conducts himself accordingly. This procedure brings satisfaction to the soul, strength to the will, and joy and confidence to the heart. This cannot be achieved by a study of the various nuances of words.
All of this postulates basic clarity in the message of the Gospel. An etymological approach, however, presumes textual ambiguity. This assumed circumstance demands an unreasonable emphasis on the "original language."
It may be countered that there has been a corruption in the English translation of the text. This situation is thought to mandate a return to the "original." In the flesh, this is a plausible argument. But we must not be misled by its sophistry.
It is inconceivable that God would allow a fundamentally flawed Bible to be given to hungry and thirsty souls. If this is the case, then there really is no significance to inspiration, and no point at which assurance of textual integrity can be reached. We are thus set hopelessly adrift on the sea of semantics, without compass or guide. Those that need to maintain such a position are in a quagmire of flesh, from which extrication is highly unlikely.
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