Words Matter

The meaning of words matters. We live in a culture that often insists that words have no precise meaning. A word is merely a symbol of a sign (another word), which is a symbol of another sign, etc., etc., etc. Indeed, meaning is not found in the words themselves, but the white spaces between the words. Thus, something that directly appears to say one thing, can be interpreted to mean its opposite (the technical term is “deconstruction”). Interestingly, the philosophers that push these thoughts and ideas don’t like it if you treat their writings and words the same way as they treat others. Their words need to be interpreted in line with what they said. That says a great deal about the validity of their systems.
Nevertheless, many have bought into those beliefs as it helps to justify things that the Scriptures declare to be wrong. Over the next few days, we will look at how these theories have impacted how the Bible is taught and read. The initial point is simply this: the meaning of words really does matter.

When someone is using words that have what might be called “a memory of meaning” it is important to discern how that person is using those words.

The philosopher Richard Rorty was honest enough in one of his books to admit what is going on. The meaning of a word, or words, will be deliberately changed. The hope is that as those words are used in debates with other groups, by the time those in the other group realize what you’ve done, you’ve converted them to your position. The intent is deliberately deceptive.

That practice, along with the belief that words have no obvious meaning is not new. Origen, c. 184-c. 253 (an early church father who is described as a Gnostic-see Hanson’s “Universalism”), wrote in his “De Principiis” that the real meaning of Scripture is hidden and escapes the notice of most (a very Gnostic idea). In essence, what the text literally says is NOT what it means.

What that means for us, as believers in Christ, who uphold the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures, and that the Bible does mean what it says, is that just because someone is using “Christian” words, that person may not be saying what you think they are.

Here are some examples where authors appear on the surface to mean one thing, but actually mean something quite different.

In one of his books, Brian McLaren writes of the importance of celebrating Easter, and the resurrection. That is something we, as Christians, can get behind, right? But what does he mean? He writes that instead of celebrating “the resuscitation of a single corpse nearly two millenia ago, but more-as the ongoing resurrection of all humanity through Christ? Easter could be the annual reaffirmation of our ongoing resurrection from violence to peace, . . .” (page 175, “Why DId Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?”).

Notice his use of words: Even the meaning of the word “Easter” is changed. The Easter celebration is about what is happening to all of humaity, not what happened to Jesus. As for “resurrection” it has nothing to do with Jesus, as Jesus is merely a resuscitated corpse. Instead, all of humanity is being resurrected.

McLaren is using words that have a “memory of meaning,” but has radically redefined them to mean something different. As we saw in a previous post, those types of changes are by design. Just because someone is using words we think we know doesn’t mean they are using those words in the way we expect.


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