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Friday, August 14, 2015

Language Problems

There are a lot of times that we run into language problems. It is the Tower of Babel all over again. I use a word and mean it as x and you hear it as y. Worse, we read a word, say, in a book and it means x this time, but y another time. Very confusing. You read that the young man took his date to a date farm and you are completely confused. "They have farms that produce dates??" You hear that the woman got engaged while she was engaged in a new project and it all makes no sense. "She was engaged to two people?" The sign says "No right turn" and you're trying to figure out why they would make it illegal to make the correct turn.

You would think that by minimizing the scope of the language it would get easier. Say, for instance, we limit it to theology. No, better, Christian theology. Here we find standard words like "justified", "saved", and "gospel". Whew! We're all set. We're clear! No confusion. Or is there? Turns out that "justified" appears in the Bible with multiple meanings. We get the whole "justified by grace" thing. We are declared righteous (just) in God's eyes. Got it. But wait! In Psalms David says, "Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You may be justified in Your words and blameless in Your judgment." (Psa 51:4) In what sense is God "justified" in the sense of "declared righteous in God's eyes"? Well, not at all. A different sense of "justified". Jesus said, "Wisdom is justified by her deeds." (Matt 11:19) Again, not "declared righteous in God's eyes". And with that problem in hand, you can only imagine the various senses in which "saved" appears in Scripture. Let me give you a hint. It is not always in the sense of "saved from the wrath of God."

So now we come across a sure thing, right? "Surely 'Gospel' means 'the Good News of salvation by grace through faith', right?" I'm actually a little surprised you would ask, given the plethora of previous counter-examples. No. It means "good news". That "good news" varies. Jesus first preached the Gospel in Matthew 4. Here was His Gospel: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matt 4:17) Matthew 4:23 says that Jesus was "proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom." So this is not the Gospel that we think of, the good news that we are saved by grace through faith. This is the good news that the kingdom was at hand. In Matthew 24 the prediction is that "this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come." (Matt 24:14) Does that mean that Christ will not return until the "saved by grace" Gospel is proclaimed throughout the wole world? No. That's about the kingdom. Then in Revelation we hear of "an eternal gospel" proclaimed by an angel. This is a different set of good news. "Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. And he said with a loud voice, 'Fear God and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come, and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.'" (Rev 14:6-7) Get that? This good news was that God's judgment was arriving and He would be glorified. Not the same gospel we think of when we think of the word. No, the gospel you and I think about is what is termed "the gospel of the grace of God" (Acts 20:24). That gospel, in fact, wasn't known clearly until Paul brought it up (Gal 2:2). Now, it wasn't new to Paul -- Paul didn't originate it (Gal 3:8) -- but it wasn't known in that form. Paul calls it "my gospel" (e.g., Rom 2:16), "the gospel of God" (e.g., Rom 15:16), and "the gospel of Christ" (e.g., Rom 15:19).

Just a sampling. You would think it would be easier, but it's not. You have to pay attention. You have to listen to the words, the context, the whole thing. You know, like when you listen to everyday conversations. Now, if you pay close attention to someone that you want to listen to, what would you expect to do if it is God talking? I'd think you'd want to pay the utmost attention. But, hey, maybe that's just me.


Stan said...

... or Jesus's gospel conflicts with Paul and John and the angel in Revelation. I suppose that could be true ... if you're not going to hold the Bible as God-breathed.

David said...

I'm confused, is your comment an addendum or a response to an unposted comment from someone else?

Stan said...

Yes, David.

Stan said...

When someone tells me that Jesus was right and Paul was wrong, I feel I need to addendum and respond.