Monthly Archives: April 2020

Ten Mangled Words: Conclusion

Words are not just names. If they were, we’d have no problem swapping out one label for another. No, words are things. Yes, they are man-made things, concatenations of syllables created by human cultures, and their particular meanings have been shaped through convention and association. But they are things that have meaning in themselves, and that transmit meaning. Meaning is at the heart of worship and obedience.

When the thing in question distorts meaning, it becomes a very dangerous thing. A road-sign that points left when it should point right is a dangerous thing. A box of rat-poison labelled as jelly-beans is a dangerous thing. When words are used badly or wrongly, it is not simply a matter of some grammar that needs polishing. Mangled words are more like a loose nut in an airplane engine, like a stray flu-germ on the chef’s hands. As Mark Twain put it, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter. ’Tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

Words are the stock and trade of pastors. Pastors should care more than the average man about the meaning of words, both denotative and connotative. They should oppose the wrong use of words, as the apostles did when false teachers distorted the words “liberty” (2 Peter 2:19), “grace” (Jude 1:4) and “people of God” (Phil 3:1-3).

To be careless about words is to fail to see their importance. It is, in some cases, choosing nominalism over realism. Nominalism denies ultimate realities or fixed meanings, and sees names as just convenient labels we use to impose meanings. Realism believes God’s reality is in itself meaningful and that meaning is more or less discoverable. In God’s case, naming even preceded creating: God spoke, naming the creation, and it came to be. Meaning preceded matter. Meaning or naming preceded the existence of the thing; the name was not a mere interpretation or label after the fact. He then gave man the privilege of assigning further names to creation. In other words, man was a sub-creator with God. By naming, Adam shared the prerogative of perceiving a thing’s reality through words. There is a true correspondence, between naming and nature.

The meanings of the words tolerance, freedom, authority, authentic, relevant, culture, equality, emotion, taste, and hate are not arbitrary and purely subjective. Nor are they unimportant. These words are currently the words at the very centre of our culture, and are at the root of disputes about worship, ministry, missions, social justice, morality, economics and Christian living. To get the wrong meaning about these words will likely be to court failure or disaster in ministry. Church leaders cannot afford to live with the mangled form of these words.

Is this being “obsessed with disputes and arguments over words” (1 Tim. 6:4)? I trust not. Clarifying the correct meaning of these words is the effort of those whose primary tool is the written and spoken word. We refuse to allow these words to fall into enemy hands. As Luther said, “If I profess with loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except that little point which the world and the Devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battlefield besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.”

May we earnestly contend for the true meaning of these ten words.

“Hate” – A Word Like “Atheism”

His name was Polycarp, and he was a disciple of the apostle John. He later became the pastor of the church at Smyrna. When he was very old, the vicious persecutions of Christians in Smyrna turned on him. He was arrested and told to deny Christ. He refused. He was brought into the stadium to be killed before the audience of unbelievers.

The governor looked down on him and said – “Consider your age, and be sensible. Swear and say, ‘Down with the atheists'”. Polycarp looked at the pagan audience in the stadium, and said, “Down with the atheists.” The governor said, “Swear, reproach Christ, and I will release you.” Polycarp answered, “Eighty and six years have I served him, and he never once wronged me; how then shall I blaspheme my King, Who hath saved me?”

Polycarp’s dialogue with the governor requires a bit of commentary to be understood. When the governor told Polycarp to say “Down with the atheists”, he meant for Polycarp to renounce Christianity. Atheist was a pejorative term that pagans threw at Christians. To a polytheistic society awash in gods, goddesses, temples, and all their paraphernalia, Christianity seemed, at first glance, a religion of denial. They denied these gods existed, and denied the reality behind the statues and figurines. To pagans, the Christians were unbelievers, deniers of their gods. They were atheists, not in the modern sense of the term, as materialists or naturalists, but as those who refused belief in the gods.

Of course, to Christians, the real atheists were those who denied the existence of the one true and living God: the triune God of Scripture. To fail to believe in Him is to fail to believe in the only God who exists. Pagans were the true atheists. Polycarp’s response was dripping in irony. He repeated the precise words required of him, but everyone understood that he meant the opposite of what they intended him to declare. Pagans called Christians atheists. Christians denied the charge and called the pagans atheists.

Perhaps something similar is happening today with the word hate. Unbelievers are very free with the word haters. Christians, particularly those of the conservative kind, are said to be haters. Why? They do not endorse homosexual marriage. They do not recognise transgender pronouns. They do not accept Islam as a road to reconciliation with God. They hold to the Bible as God’s Word. This makes them purveyors of hate, people without tolerance, acceptance, and affirmation.

Christians would deny that charge, as we have done in this series. We would explain our understanding of love, hate, and tolerance. We would affirm that we pose no physical threat to those who differ with us, nor are we disturbers of the peace. Conversely, we might counter the slander with a question: who are the real haters? If people vandalise our businesses, make false allegations about Christians being elected into high office, pour vitriol of the most unsavoury kind upon us in print and in person, and attempt to limit the exercise of free speech among Christians, should we call these people tolerant of Christianity? Should we say they are open and affirming of our beliefs? Should we say they practice inclusivity when it comes to Christianity? No, we will say, at least among ourselves, that they appear to hate what we believe and stand for.

And there the impasse will remain. I doubt that Polycarp convinced pagans to stop calling him an atheist while they remained pagans. He understood their blinded condition and simply taught who were the true atheists and the true worshippers.

I doubt we will convince the rabid left that Christians are not haters, while they remain committed to their radical notions. Best to recognise their blinded condition, and keep teaching who truly loves, and who is practising real malice.

Perhaps one day, if you are a Christian, you will be called upon by some authority and told to say, “I renounce all bigoted, intolerant and hateful forms of speech and religion.” With Polycarp, wave your hand at the assembled unbelievers and say, “I renounce all bigoted, intolerant and hateful forms of speech and religion.”

The Crucifixion: Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday?

The exact day of the week of Christ’s death has been debated for centuries. The day, while not fundamental to the gospel, is of some import, especially in countries like South Africa which celebrate Good Friday as a public holiday. Churches hold Good Friday services (were we allowed out the house!) What support is there for each of these views?

The Wednesday View

This view is almost entirely based upon Matthew 12:40, which makes mention of three nights. This leads proponents to require 72 hours from Christ’s death to His resurrection. Jesus enters Jerusalem on the Saturday (Nisan 10), is betrayed on the Tuesday, and crucified Wednesday (Nisan 14). Consequently, Jesus must have risen before 6pm on Saturday, or else he ends rising up on the fourth day).

The Thursday View

This is similarly based on Matthew 12:40, stating that a Friday crucifixion has only two nights. Proponents suggest that Jesus entered Jerusalem on Sunday (Nisan 10) the Last Supper was Wednesday night, Jesus was crucified on Thursday (Nisan 14), and the next day (Friday) was a sabbath because it was the first day of Unleavened Bread. The “day of preparation” is said to be Thursday. It is claimed that people would have been resting on the Friday, and hence Thursday became the day of preparation.

The Friday View

In this view, Christ celebrated the Supper on Thursday night. This was likely the Galilean Passover, which was celebrated a day earlier. He was tried in the early hours of Friday. He entered Jerusalem on the Monday, Nisan 10 (which had begun Sunday 6pm) and was crucified on Friday (Nisan 15, by Galilean reckoning, Nisan14 by Judean reckoning), the day of preparation. He was laid in the tomb on the same day, and was in the tomb all of the Sabbath. The women who came to the Tomb came early on the first day of the week (Sunday), the same day on which He rose.

Evidence:

The Scriptures overwhelmingly speak of Jesus being raised “on the third day” ((Matt. 16:21; 17:23; 20:19; 27:64; Luke 9:22; 18:33; 24:7, 21, 46; Acts 10:40; 1 Cor. 15:4), not the fourth. Four passages (Matt. 27:63; Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:34) speak of Christ’s resurrection as occurring “after three days,” but this is speaking of the same time period as on “the third day” because that is the phrase uses in parallel Gospel accounts.

Several Old Testament accounts show that the Hebrews regarded a part of a day as the whole day, that is, “day and night”. For example day in Esther 4:16, Esther asks the Jews, “Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day,” and then she would go in to the king, and in 5:1 Esther went in to the king on the third day. Other examples include Genesis 42:17, 1 Kings 20:29, 2 Chronicles 10:5, 1 Samuel 30:12-13). Rabbinical sources also show this. Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah (c A.D. 100), said “A day and night are an Onah [‘a portion of time’] and the portion of an Onah is as the whole of it.” (Jerusalem Talmud: Shabbath ix. 3; also Babylonian Talmud: Pesahim 4a). If Jesus was in the tomb for part of Friday and part of Sunday, then the Jewish idiom would be that he was in the tomb for “three days and three nights”.

The Wednesday crucifixion requires that Jesus have ridden into Jerusalem on the Saturday, which would have been another Sabbath violation, as would the cutting down of palm branches. It has Christ rising on the fourth day, if the “third day” is also the first day of the week.

There is simply no evidence that Nisan 15 (the day after Passover) was a day on which no one worked. This is essentially a theory held only by those who hold to the Thursday crucifixion. There is no real case for a Passover Sabbath which occurred the day before the regular weekly Sabbath. The expression “the day of preparation” is universally used to mean Friday ((Matt. 27:62; Mark 15:42; Luke 23:54; John 19:14, 31, 42). Mark makes this especially clear “Now when evening had come, because it was the Preparation Day, that is, the day before the Sabbath, (Mk. 15:42).

The great consensus of interpreters and scholars is that Jesus died on Friday. Yes, to keep the strict chronology and typology of the examination of the Passover Lamb, we probably have to accept it was really Palm Monday. Perhaps the complicated harmonising of Galilean and Judean timekeeping might allow us to keep that one, since we have no Scripture telling us exactly what day of the week was the triumphal entry. But it seems the evidence does point fairly clearly to a Friday crucifixion.