Language of Ashdod
By Dave Brown
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There is nothing inherently sinful about applying various meanings to decent words, and we must be quite careful not to become sick (doting) "about questionings and disputes about words” (1 Tim. 6:4). On the other hand, Nehemiah was greatly distressed when he saw that "their children spoke half in the speech of Ashdod, and could not speak in the Jews’ language" (Nehemiah 13:24). Why do you suppose he was so concerned?
There were spiritual words and terms within the Jews’ language that had no counterpart in language of Ashdod. There were certain spiritual concepts about the true and living God that just could not be communicated without knowing the Jew's language. In fact, attempts to substitute pagan religious terms might communicate the very opposite of that intended. This goes beyond just communication. Do we not think in words? Perhaps not always, but for the most part we formulate our spiritual thoughts in words. If we have so twisted the meanings of words, or if our culture does not contain an accurate scriptural meaning of a word, then we are in the same situation as the children of Israel were back in the time of Nehemiah. This should give us distress as it did Nehemiah.
Language is the means by which we communicate thought. It is the way that God has chosen to communicate His will to us today. If we arbitrarily change the meaning of bible words, we cannot expect that we will be able to understand what the Holy Spirit intended when He inspired the writers (2 Pet. 1: 20-21).
The world has so twisted the use of many bible words that we are often at a loss to communicate spiritual thoughts with them. As some examples, we hear of fellowship dinners, fellowship halls, fellowship parties, etc.; Christian colleges, Christian student centers, Christian nations, etc.; and perhaps the word church most often brings to mind a building that is dedicated to worship.
Is it wrong to use these words in this way? We know of no scripture that says that if you use a bible word it has to have the exact meaning that that word has in the bible. Since the same word often has a variety of possible dictionary meanings, such a command would be unfathomable. However, if a bible word is used with the intent to imply biblical authority for practices that are unscriptural, this is deception. Subtle deception ... the kind used by Satan in Genesis 3. The problem is not in the use of the word per se, it is in the reason that the word is being used at all. This is something that we all need to guard ourselves against -- using bible words to advance our own causes rather than those of Christ.
The word fellowship is never used to refer to a common meal, a recreation hall or any type of entertainment in the bible. The word Christian is never used as an adjective in the bible, so when we use it this way, what are we trying to imply? The word church is never used in the bible to apply to any type of building. Should it not give us pause in making these common meanings not only part of our vocabulary, but of our very thought processes. If these non-biblical meanings become so commonplace, will we still be able to understand the spiritual concepts that they were used by the Holy Spirit to convey (see 1 Corinthians 2:12-16)?
But there is a much more subtle demon at work here. For, if misusing these words becomes second nature to us, we cannot begin to understand the depth of their true biblical meanings. What are their biblical usages of the three examples we have given above? This might help:
- Fellowship comes from the same Greek word as communion; when you hear fellowship do you think communion? Both words involve sharing on a very individualized and personal level when used in the spiritual sense, which is their biblical usage. An example is 1 John 1:6-7: "If we say that we have fellowship with him and walk in the darkness, we lie, and do not the truth; but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanseth us from all sin." Worldly fellowship (meals, games, entertainment, etc.) is often justifed as a means to get people to walk in the light, but this verse shows that fellowship (sharing) with God is an effect (of walking in the light), it is not a cause of anything.
- Christian is a word that was only used to refer to those who were baptized into Christ (Romans 6:3); it never referred to an institution of any type, not even the Lord's church (Matthew 16;18). Since it only appears three times in the bible, it is easy to prove its usage by total enumeration. Acts 11:26: "And it came to pass, that even for a whole year they were gathered together with the church, and taught much people, and that the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch." Acts 26:28: "And Agrippa (said) unto Paul, With but little persuasion thou would fain make me a Christian. 1 Peter 4:15-16: "For let none of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief, or an evil-doer, or as a meddler in other men's matters: but if (a man suffer) as a Christian , let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God in this name.
- Church is translated from the Greek word that literally means "called out." When you hear church do you think "called out?" It would have been far better if the translators ignored common convention and just translated ekklesia as "called out." Our usage of the word church today is strictly religious, but ekklesia had no such restriction in the first century (see "assembly" used in Acts 19:39 and 19:41). So, of necessity, Jesus said: "I will build my church" (Matthew 16:18), and not "I will build the church." The word is never used to refer to a building in the New Testament. However, the origin of the word "church" itself was probably from the Greek kuriakos meaning "belonging to the Lord" and ultimately in German and English a meeting house belonging to the Lord. By metonymy, the word is often use in its scripturally correct meaning, i.e., the people of God and not the building of God, much as the word Synagogue has this dual meaning in the New Testament (by metonymy, it is applied to both the building and the people in the building). However, its strict and only meaning in the New Testament is "called out," i.e., a called out group of people. Then, the Lord's church would be God's called out group of people. The word is used in both a local (e.g., Romans 16:16) and a universal sense (e.g., Mt. 16; 18, Hebrews 12:23).
This article is not about the misuse of just these three words. These are just examples to illustrate the point. There are many other words that have acquired common-day religious meanings that are not consistent with their biblical meanings. To mention just a few: faith, ministry, worship, rapture, grace, works, baptism, miracle, love, power, life, death. These (and many other) bible words are often used in ways that do not reflect their biblical meanings. The net result is a breakdown in our ability to think and communicate using these words in spiritual ways. To understand the scriptural meanings of such words it is usually quite informative to consider the usage of the word throughout the New Testament using a concordance (several are available on line). Do a comprehensive search and see exactly how these words are used in the bible to crystallize their exact scriptural meanings. The use of these or other words in ways that are inconsistent with the biblical meaning can result in considerable confusion.
"Use bible words in bible ways" is not just a gimmicky motto; it is essential to avoiding the language of Ashdod, and it is essential to our understanding God's will for us as revealed in the bible today. Proper usage requires us to study the use of words and terms and learn the meanings exactly as they are given in the bible. How much better would it be to take the bible meaning of these words and apply them in our daily life, than to take the common meanings and try to use them communicate biblical concepts.
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