When my daughter, Sarah was about 12 years old, if we said something that sounded like it would be a good name for a band, then she would shout out this phrase. For the next hour or so, there would be in depth discussion about what type of music that “band” would play, what they would wear, and what the names of their albums or songs would be. It has transcended the limits of being a family based, critical thinking exercise, and has become an on-running joke among anyone who knows us. People on the Porch, Flaming Guacamole, Origami Penguins, and Vaguely Dumplings are just a sampling of the endless options we have come up with. We even have a Twitter page devoted to it now, and there are people from around the globe on #goodnameforaband.
This got me thinking. Why is it when we say certain words together, their meaning can change from what we were actually talking about, and we begin instead to carry on long discussions about an imaginary punk – metal – bluegrass band named “Aggressively Bearded” whose top ten hit was called “Prius Bulldog”?
My youngest daughter loves linguistics. She recently got into Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphs. Hannah informed me that this kind of writing often contained a series of pictures as if they were letters. For instance, they would draw something common, say a milk jug to represent the ‘M’ sound, and that would begin a word that started with “M” (but has nothing to do with milk). At the end of the word, they would have what is referred to as a “determinate”, or a drawing that was a portrayal of the actual thing being “spelled” out by the other pictures. If we were to do this today… let’s say I wanted to spell “cars”… It might look like…
No offense to Ancient Egypt, but this is a very confusing way to spell things. After all, the above series of pictures could be interpreted in any number of ways. If you didn’t know the rules of the ‘code’, then you could get a really messed up concept of what is actually trying to be said. At some point you have to explain things…you have to use words…words that make sense.
Also, much to the chagrin of many elected officials, words mean things. In English, words like “boy” and “girl” actually mean a boy and a girl, and they are not the same, and can’t just simply be redefined as a fish or a skyscraper. We Americans are very familiar with political spin, where infamous people, in the public eye, redefine terms in an effort to find favor, cast doubt, or get away with something. Christians fire back with affirmations of the clarity of God’s Word. Chants of “sin is sin” and “right is right” echo from thronging conservatives. But whose “right” do we follow? We fight the most among ourselves. I find it interesting that when it comes to God’s Words…there are so many different and contradictory interpretations. Why do we, as His people, who have His Spirit living in us, struggle so much with understanding His Words?
The Apostle Paul states in Romans 16:25-27 that the mysteries the saints before us couldn’t get their heads wrapped around have been revealed to us…all nations…to bring about the obedience of faith. Furthermore, God’s a pretty, straight forward guy! He has this habit of saying exactly what He means, and not giving much room for reader error. Don’t kill people…Don’t commit adultery…Don’t lie…Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your mind, and all your strength…Those who call upon the Name of the Lord shall be saved… Pretty easy stuff, really. And when He doesn’t actually say what He wants outright, He will give us a picture story, an historical incident, or some kind of object lesson where the individual involved either loses big or comes out on top. After all, He does compare us to both sheep and children. Even with all of this…we still mess it up. Different denominations have rules concerning everything from dress codes and music, to rules about what members can eat or drink. Swing the opposite direction, and you have Christ believers who can ‘worship God at home’ with Christian radio and movies, or have to know what ‘barista minister’ is on before they come to service (because that Becky girl is new, and she has no idea how to blend a macchiato…she needs prayer).
According to Barna research group, in the “State of the Bible” study they completed in 2017, 87% of American households have a copy of the Bible, but only about 20% of these people read the Bible at least four times a week. Only 38% of Americans are active church goers, but 95% of churches considered ‘Protestant’ have Sunday School (the primary educational ministry in a church). Only 1 in 7 senior pastors (15%) believe that their Sunday school program is actually worth their participation. Finally, many pastors focus their Sunday morning sermons on evangelism rather than deeper theology (Evangelism and the Sunday Morning Pulpit, The Gospel Coalition, 2011). Boiled down, it means that it is very likely that if someone does attend church, regularly…then they are receiving their theological principles either from the sermon, only…which may be totally focused on Salvation and practice (not history or theology)…or from an enthusiastic volunteer who is a dedicated listener to the “Charles Stanley Minute.” Everyone has an opinion about the contents of the Bible. It is the only book on the best-seller list that people think they completely understand whether they have read it or not! Try that with Jane Austin! Add in the desperate need to find willing volunteers to fill open positions in our churches, and you have the perfect recipe for bad theology and misinterpretation God’s Words.
We need a return to God’s ACTUAL Words.
First of all, take time to study THE BIBLE. Commentaries are great, and quarterlies are fine, but if the sum total of your study of your Beloved’s letter to you comes from some specific publisher’s take on it, you have a problem. Also, don’t rely on what you feel a passage might mean. Yes, God speaks to each of us, but the book of James cautions us teachers about what we teach (James 3:1). Your opinion of what God says doesn’t mean anything. “I think…” is one of the most detrimental phrases we can use in real Bible study. If someone consistently uses “I think this verse means…” during study sessions, then they are their own pope.
The Old Testament was written in Hebrew; the New Testament was written in Greek. If you do not know these languages, learn to use a Concordance, and keep one handy. Digital options can be found on the net (http://www.biblestudytools.com/concordances/strongs-exhaustive-concordance/). Remember the first rule of understanding the Bible…It says what it means. If it says a tree, it means a tree. If the tree is talking or doing something weird, then seek out some other answer. Do a word study on the word “tree” to see if the word for “tree” in that passage even refers to a wooden, leafy thing, housing birds.
And keep in mind, like with our Egyptian friends, time changes language. Obadiah 1:1 says in KJV…”…we have heard a rumour from the Lord…” Rumors are bad, and usually untrue! God doesn’t spread rumors! Does He? A short study reveals the actual Hebrew word is ‘semuah’, meaning ‘report’. Without knowing that, someone might have added a whole new, bad attribute to God’s character!
This is how cults begin, people.
If I could travel back in time to my 15 year old grandmother, she might think a monitor is someone who watches you at school, a gigabyte is a type of bug, and a stick of RAM is some kind of goat-jerky. A lot can change in a few decades…or centuries…or millennia. A literal rendering of the real language of Scripture, in context, is the FIRST STEP to a better understanding of what God is actually talking about. “Literal Rendering”…Good name for a band.
Until Next Time…
1 Corinthians 10:31