Misusing Biblical Words
Words are vehicles of communication and if one uses the wrong word, he sends the wrong or incorrect idea to his hearers. In some areas this may be inconsequential, in others it may make a great deal of difference. I think it was brother Cope, when he taught at FHC before becoming president of Florida College who, in a survey of the Old Testament, told the following joke about using the wrong word. We were in Leviticus discussing practices of the Jews under the law. The joke centered about an elderly man who was bout to undergo a surgical procedure and expressed to his wife fear that he would forget to tell the doctor what he was there for. She told him to remember that the procedure started with a “c” and was for males and he shouldn’t have any problem. As he was wheeled into the operating room the doctor asked him what he was there for and he replied, “castration”, and the surgeon asked if he was sure and he replied that he was positive, that his procedure was for males and began with the letter “c”. So, they performed the surgery and as they carted him out of the room the nurse said, “Doctor, your next case is an eight day old male Jewish boy who is here for his circumcision”. The old man groaned and said, “Doc, that’s what I came for!” Using the right word does make a difference.
Using the right word in religion is also very important. Peter said, “If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God....” (1 Pet. 4:11). To do this, one must neither “add unto these things” nor “take away from the words of the book of this prophecy,” (Rev. 22:18,19) and he must “abide in the doctrine of Christ” in order to have and retain fellowship with the Father and Son (2 Jn. 9). Inspiration emphasizes that neither man nor angel is to preach a gospel different from that one revealed by the Holy Spirit thru the apostles of Christ (Gal. 1:6-8). Words that correctly portray Biblical ideas should be used in our efforts to teach others and to misuse Biblical words is to give wrong impressions of what the Scriptures teach.
Our English word, baptize, is from the Greek word, “baptizo” which was not translated but was made an English word by replacing the last letter with and “e” for it’s “o”. The Council of Revenna in 1311 passed a decree stating that baptism may be administered by sprinkling, pouring, or immersion. But that’s a misuse of the word, baptizo, which is defined in Greek lexicons as the act of dipping, immersing or submerging (Vine’s Ex. Dic. Of N.T. Words, Vol. I, pg. 96-97). The Scriptures define it as a burial (Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:12) and the eunuch’s baptism is described as their coming “unto a certain water,” and “they went down into the water” and they “came up out of the water,” (Acts 8:36, 38-39). Sprinkling or pouring water upon requires none of these but immersion requires each of them. Therefore those who refer to sprinkling or pouring water upon one as baptism, misuse the Biblical word.
Referring to the preacher of a church as a “pastor” is another example of a misuse of a Biblical word. The Greek word, “poimen,” is used of one who feeds or tends a flock (Vine Ex. Dic. Of N.T. Words, Vol. III, pg. 167). Luke said that from Miletus Paul sent to Ephesus and “called for the elders of the church”. As he addressed them, he referred to them as “overseers” or bishops and told them “to feed,” (the Greek word for pastor or shepherd), the flock over which the Holy Spirit had made them “overseers” or bishops (Acts 20:17,28). Two things are evident from these passages, (1) the words elders, overseers and pastors are used of the same men and (2) there is a plurality of these (elders, overseers, pastors) in each local church (singular). The preacher in a local church, if he meets the qualifications given by the Holy Spirit (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9) may be approved by a local church to be one of its pastors, elders or bishops but he cannot Scripturally be “the pastor” of a church because the New Testament requires a plurality of these for a local church to be Scripturally organized. And, since one of the qualifications for serving a local congregation as a pastor requires being “the husband of one wife” and a woman cannot be this, it follows that she cannot Scripturally serve in this role. Neither can one man, Scripturally be “the pastor” of a local church since a plurality of elders is required. To refer to him as such is to misuse a Biblical word.
One of the most commonly misused Bible words is fellowship. There are three words in the New Testament that are translated fellowship in our English versions. They are (1) koinonia which means “communion, fellowship, sharing in common,” (2) metoche and is rendered “partnership” and (3) koinonos which “denotes a partaker or partner,” (Vine’s Ex. Dic. Of N.T. Words, Vol. II, pg. 90). So, fellowship is a sharing in common, a partnership or being a partaker IN WHAT? This isn’t inherent in the definition of the word just as the Greek word, baptizo, merely describes the action performed but does not identify the substance in which the dipping, submerging, or plunging takes place, the same is true of the Biblical word fellowship. When we gather passages relating to baptism, we learn that John baptized “in Aenon near to Salim because there was much water there” (Jn. 3:23) and that Jesus came “to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him” and when He was baptized, He “went straightway out of the water,” (Jn. 3:13,16). As Philip taught the eunuch, they came “unto a certain water,” the eunuch said, “here is water,” they “went dow both into the water...and he baptized him,” (Acts 8:36,38-39). From the definition of baptizo, I learn the action required by the Word is a dipping, plunging or immersion and from other passages associated with the act, I learn that the element in which it takes place isn’t buttermilk, orange juice or castor oil, it is water but this learned from the context, not from the definition of the Greek word, “baptizo”.
From three Greek words we learn that fellowship is “sharing in common, partnership or being a partner” with others but the context is always in connection with religious or spiritual matters. We aren’t to have fellowship with the “unfruitful works of darkness” (Eph. 5:11) or with “unrighteousness” (2 Cor. 6:14) or “with devils” (1 Cor. 10:20). Luke associates the fellowship that early disciples had with their joint participation in continuing “steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine, fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). Today, in many churches, all kinds of sharing involving social and recreational activities is called fellowship. Many churches now build large buildings called “Fellowship Halls” for these activities and promote them as a “ministry” of the church.
When this started many gospel preachers spoke against it pointing out that social and recreational activities are responsibilities of the home, not the church. The pendulum has now swung the other way. In the February 2009 issue of The Christian Chronicle, on page 3, there is a picture of a man playing a fiddle while another looks on and under the picture the following:
“Church members perform ‘roots music’ for community.
Ray Fox, a member of the Granny White church in Nashville, Tenn., plays fiddle while minister Scot Gleaves plays banjo at a recent bluegrass jam in the congregation’s fellowship hall. Church members and visiting musicians invited the community to the free Thursday night performance. Gleaves said he hopes the public jam session, the congregation’s first, will strengthen ties and attract new people. ‘We want to use it as an outreach,’ Gleaves said, ‘sort of a door of entry.’”
This issue of The Christian Chronicle also reports that the Richland Hills church in Texas, which from 2000 has listed the largest number in attendance for Sunday worship, was dropped from a list of churches of Christ in the U.S. “In 2007 Richland Hills added an instrumental worship service on Saturday nights. A few months ago the church added instruments to one of its two Sunday morning services. The church’s 9 a.m. worship remains a cappella and on a recent Sunday 2,347 people attended that service.”
Misused words precede unscriptural practices and there is no end to which they will not take us.
Stand, Vol. 45, No. 3, March 2009
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