Archive for October, 2006

Check out posts in my other blogs

Wednesday, October 18th, 2006

If you are reading this post you would probably also be interested in posts in some of my blogs:

a reasonable mystic

Mal’s Meanderings

speak-in-tongues blog

Distortion of meaning by dictionary definitions

Monday, October 16th, 2006

The posts to the Listening 2 God Google group that accompanies this blog have led me to thinking about how the common definitions of words in dictionaries often lead to a distortion of meaning in their common use.

The dictionary is attempting to reflect the common use meaning of a word, but inevitably it helps to change how that word is used. The meaning presented will be biased by a number of factors, such as the understanding of the dictionary compiler, or its use by the sample of sources used by the compiler, which might, or might not, be representative of a large body of users of that word. Consequently, the future use of this word will be biased towards this direction, as people look up the word to find out what it means.

In this way, while the dictionary meanings attempt to follow common useage, at the same time they also establish that common useage.

For example, let’s take the word “prophecy”. Common useage, as indicated by what I read on the web and in books, and by what I hear in conversation, now emphasises predicting the future. This is understandable, given the sensational value placed on it in recent television programs.

If we look up the verb “prophesy” in the Macquarie Dictionary, we find six meanings relating to predicting the future, one for hearing God’s voice, and one for teaching or preaching (another common distortion used in evangelical circles).

But is it accurate? I believe that early Christian references to this word, and even earlier Hebrew useage was more in the line of hearing God’s voice, whether for now or the future.

Another example – “speaking in tongues”. Common useage, as given in dictionaries emphasises ecstacy, possibly because of the inaccuracy of early Pentecostal teaching, but also because of the common perception that it is something wierd. I am sure that the understanding of the early church was rather more prosaic, as is our own experience.

Then there is “demon”. Until recently it was clearly an evil spirit – an angelic being. But more commonly it has been demystified so far as to be only a synonym for human angst.

Most dictionaries will also have an entry for “demon possession”, which is not even in the Bible except as a very poor mistranslation introduced by the king James version and continued in many versions since. A better translation would be to retain the Greek word in its English form of “demonise”, which simply means something like “to have a demon”.

However, if we look up “demonise”, we find that its common useage is now to make a person, idea or institution “look like a demon” – in other words, give them the appearance of evil. Interestingly, if you are familiar with the concept of territorial spirits, you will realise that this idea is not so far off the mark, except that there are definitely evil spirits involved in the process! We see in the world news every day people “demonising” religion. What they don’t realise is that “religion” was demonised long ago. Check out Peter Wagner’s Freedom From The Religious Spirit.

One result of these changes in common useage is that over time they are read back into the original documents, and so influence future understanding and translations. It all becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.

It is known that many marginal notes on ancient Bible manuscripts had this effect as they found their way into subsequent copies of the text. Well, the process hasn’t ceased!

Theology of Lying

Thursday, October 12th, 2006

Then there’s the little boy in Sunday School, who, when asked what a lie was, said:

“It’s an abomination unto God, and an ever present help in time of trouble.”

(from Dutch Sheets, Intercessory Prayer: How God Can Use Your Prayers to Move Heaven and Earth. Regal Books, 1997, p115.)