Words Mean Things

I’m in a part of Luther’s Bondage of the Will where he is addressing the verses that Erasmus uses to “prove” man has free-will. So far Erasmus has not used the verses I would use, but we’ll see if he gets there.

So far he is dealing with verses that say “if we obey,” ‘if we are willing,” “if you shall obey.” Erasmus uses these to say that obviously we have a will and ability otherwise God wouldn’t say this.

Here’s Luther’s basic defense. You ready? I know I am!

If I ask how it is proved that the existence of ‘free-will’ in man is indicated and implied wherever the phrase ‘if thou art willing,’ ‘if thou shalt hear,’ ‘if thou shalt do’ are used, she will say, ‘Because the nature of words and use of language among men seem to require it.’ Therefore, she bases her judgment of things and words that are of God upon the customs and concerns of men; and what is more perverse than that, when the former are heavenly and the latter earthly? Thus in her stupidity she betrays herself as thinking of God only as of man.

Luther’s point is this: I know that’s what it says, but that’s not what it means.

He maintains that God uses words differently than people do. It appears as though God is saying that, but God uses words differently so we know He doesn’t mean that.

Couple things:

–If God uses words not like men, how does Luther, a man, know how God is using words? And, more curiously, how is it that God is always using words to back up Luther? Rather coincidental, no?!

–If God uses words not the way man does, wouldn’t God explain that to man at some point? Is God aware that He’s talking to man? Seems like God, who is pretty smart, would communicate to man in such a way that man could understand Him, rather than obliquely saying things.

–If this is true, then all bets are off. You can make the Bible say whatever you want as long as you maintain this is what God really meant.

This is highly frustrating to me. The only thing I can use to make my doctrinal points is the Bible. So when a person tells me the Bible doesn’t mean what it says, then I have nothing left. It’s a winning tactic, but will also keep you from ever hearing and understanding what God actually said.

But that’s the tendency that many Christian Leaders have used and still do. “You idiots can’t understand this book, but thank God you have me! Now listen up because I, for some unexplained reason, really know what God meant.”

I’m not buying it. God said what He meant. He’s not playing games or obfuscating. Words mean things. Take the common sense, literal meaning of His words and you’re gonna be just fine.

All false doctrine at some point makes you have to ignore the common sense, literal meaning of words. Your alarm bells should go off when you hear people say words don’t mean what they say. Every Calvinist I’ve ever talked to has argued about the meanings of words. Luther does the same thing.

Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers. Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
–2 Timothy 2:14-15

4 thoughts on “Words Mean Things”

  1. You can make the Bible say whatever you want as long as you maintain this is what God really mean

    That unfortunately describes a far too common attitude – where the very clear meaning of scripture is thrown aside and replaced with a teacher (or a church’s) reinterpretation telling us what God really meant.

    Recently I heard a very popular, cessationist, preacher talk about Psalm 103.

    Praise the Lord my soul
    And forget not all His benefits,
    Who forgives all your sins
    And heals all your diseases.

    The preacher was very quick to point out that the last line quoted above referred to “diseases of the soul” and not bodily illness.
    How fortunate we are to have men like that (who has published his own study bible to put us right) to tell us what God REALLY means, instead of what He said.

    You said,

    Every Calvinist I’ve ever talked to has argued about the meanings of words

    I have been very critical of Calvinism for years, particularly its doctrine of Limited Atonement.
    Just a few days ago my wife pointed out how many who reject Calvinism with its limitation of salvation to a “sovereignly chosen elect” are in fact De Facto Calvinists in most other areas of their lives.
    Deferring so many things to “God’s sovereign will” where scripture has made clear that the faith of the believer is required – particularly with prayer.

    The widely held De Facto Calvinist view gives the Christian an excuse for their prayers being unanswered that doesn’t require them to face up to the fact that they didn’t really believe that they would receive what they were asking for, despite several promises (from the Lord Himself) that: “If you believe you WILL receive whatever you ask for in prayer”.

  2. Every passage has a context and there are distinctions in covenants and so forth that should be taken into account when interpreting a passage. But if all the words are taken in context one can get a pretty solid idea as to what is being asked of them. The problem is that most people get an idea and then invent a system whereby they can eliminate verses that disagree with them, or redefine words, or other such things. The Scripture is the foundation; not our ideas. People get that mixed up.

  3. I’ve occasionally pointed out that the validity of a person’s theology is often revealed more by the verses they avoid than by those the quote.

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