Words have meaning. Probably the true meaning is what is attributed to those words rather than the ‘root word means’ (cringe when your favourite preacher does that). Some words, in certain contexts, probably simply become unhelpful as the hearer cannot make the adjustment needed to enable the word to be the bridge that brings across a healthy concept. Gayle and I do not use the word ‘Christian’ in Spain. One could use it, but by the time all the qualifications are put in, perhaps the listener will have switched off. We tend to use ‘follower of Jesus’, acknowledging that phrase also needs explaining. Indeed one might wish to suggest that the ‘God’ word is too loaded with meaning already to be of use! Where does one stop? (I was very struck by Michele Perry’s phrase that ‘our words create worlds’.)
In one of the Zoom groups someone said I am not sure I like the ‘saved’ set of words. Again not without validity. If saved immediately communicates ‘saved from hell / saved from the wrath of God’ we are going to face a difficulty in using it. We have moved so far from ‘saved for…’ when we use the saved set of words. (I have been so blessed in one Zoom group where there is a view shared from a Catholic perspective, and another coming from an Orthodox viewpoint when looking at such concepts.)
Words, can they be redeemed? Some maybe can’t or in certain contexts might not be able to be redeemed. Then we come to the New Testament. That presents another challenge to us. Here are a few words used that could be (could be??) misunderstood:
- basileia – kingdom (of God) and Empire of Rome.
- eirene – peace. Peace through the cross; peace by the sword (with the temple to peace built on the hill deicated to war in Rome.
- ekklesia – ‘church’ or Roman governmental office.
- king of kings = Caesar or Jesus (as also Saviour, lord, lord of lords).
- son of god – Caesar or Jesus?
The terms are so obviously parallel, and used without an immediate explanation of ‘Jesus is Lord, but not like Caesar and not like…’
And the painful word ‘despot‘ – well not really, the Greek word despotes is used of Jesus and of God is used some 5 times in the New Testament. We might get the word despot from this but it does not get its meaning from the word despot!
I find it interesting that the New Testament easily used words that were in common use all with an Imperial meaning already stamped on them. They were greatly redefined though as they could only be understood through a Jesus’ lens.
Some words we might not be able to use as they have become too corrupted; some we might have to use with explanations; all words we have to use through the Jesus lens of our lives. As Francis of Assisse said
Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.