Pastors and the Prohibitive Practice of Word Wrangling
- Friday, November 20, 2009
Many of us pastors have trouble staying out of the ditches and onto the road.
A scholar friend says, "Truth is a ridge on either side of which are vast chasms to be avoided at all cost."
It's one thing to love word-study and to delight in finding a particular word in Scripture that turns out to be a well-spring of insights and applications, and a far different thing to fight over the meaning of some obscure Greek word.
Somewhere in my past I encountered a translation of 1 Timothy 6:5 that warns God's leaders of "word-wrangling." This morning, looking that passage up in various translations and commentaries and other study helps, no one has it that way, but more as "constant striving" and "chronic disagreement." (The Greek word---ahem, here we go now--is 'disparatribai,' a double compound word which according to Thayer, means "constant contention, incessant wrangling or strife.")
"Thayer" refers to a well-respected Greek-English lexicon used for generations. In the above quote, he used the word "wrangling". Maybe I got it from him.
What started all this in my mind was two things.
The image of wrangling suggests a cowboy roping a dogie, jumping off his horse, and wrestling the animal to the ground.
Some of us do that with words. We capture them, hogtie them, and put our own brand on them. The result may be to make the word mean something entirely different from the writer's original intention.
And since our audiences--that would be the men and women of our congregations--are not knowledgeable about the Greek and Hebrew (most don't have a clue what a lexicon is!), when we start parsing (ahem) these words in sermons, they either shift into neutral intending to catch up when we return to the main highway or they stand in awe, assured we must know what we're talking about since we use phrases like "the original Greek says" and "my Hebrew professor used to say this word means."
Why our people put up with this stuff is beyond me.
The other thing that drove me to turn on the computer this morning and drive down this particular lane was Acts 2:40 where Peter told the Jerusalem crowd to "save yourselves."
Yep. That's what he said.
"With many other words he warned them and he pleaded with them, 'Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.'" (Acts 2:40)
Those who love word wrangling, the sport of delving into the murky meanings of biblical words and finding hidden, hitherto unknown insights and applications no doubt have had their fun with this one. Save yourselves? Are you kidding me?
However, no word study is needed here. The clear meaning of the expression refers to persons taking responsibility for their present and future situations and "getting up and leaving this place." Leave the saloon, break the stranglehold of your surroundings, end your addiction to this depraved culture. Decide to change!
Anyway you want to say it.
The crowds in Zion's streets understood what Peter was saying. We know that because immediately after he said it, three thousand of them got up and came to him, "accepting his word" is how Luke put it, and were baptized into the family of Jesus Christ.
Can a person save himself? In one way, yes. In another, no.
How about this one....
A member of the tiny American denomination known officially as Primitive Baptists and unofficially as hard-shell Baptists descended on my office for a little session in word-wrangling. His wife was a Southern Baptist and to keep peace in the family, he often attended with her. But in no way did he worship. He resented the organ and piano, he grimaced everytime we mentioned Sunday School, and he found fault with half the stuff in my sermons.
"You talk about soul-winning," he said. "We can't win a soul to God! That's the work of the Holy Spirit. You're teaching error."
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