Category: Glossary

Pharisee is a word too often on our lips

words have power

I have come to perceive a shortcoming in my choice of language – the way I use the word Pharisee. Specifically, my readiness to use the term Pharisee when really I mean legalist. It was such a ready term that I never stopped to consider the emotional weight it carried.

Our use of “Pharisee” in modern Christianity to denote those that lean on the law is commonplace. Yet it ignores the fact that not all of the Pharisees were like that. But there are two entirely separate deeper reasons for dropping this term from use.

  1. Respect for our Jewish brothers
  2. Accessibility for newcomers

We Christians are slow to realise that our faith was, once, a Jewish faith. We share a common set of roots with the Jewish communities of today. We should be aware that Rabbinic Judaism has been the mainstream form of Judaism since the 6th century. Rabbinic Judaism grew out of Pharisaic Judaism. Therefore, when we use the word Pharisee as a slur what does that say about our respect (or lack thereof) to an entire community? It does not speak well of us.

words have powerSince learning of this, I have grown uncomfortable with the way we use words drawn from Biblical texts. Historic Christianity has already made itself a by-word for the oppression of the Jewish people. Why should we compound this with careless speech and wording?

We must also consider what our word choice says to newcomers to the faith. Not only does the use of insider jargon make us harder to understand but we run the risk of passing on antisemitic biases without ever realising it. If we mean “legalism” or “legalist” why not use those words instead?

As a result, from now on I plan to stop using the word Pharisee outside of discussions about the actual Pharisees (which is not at all often). Even then, I plan to be a whole lot more careful. I have already begun revising the words I use as tags to reflect my new understanding.

I wish to apologise to the entire Jewish community for my use of words that might have suggested any bias or ill-feeling towards them. It is not my intention to dismiss the validity of your culture nor do I seek to replace you in any way. I was simply careless and ill-informed. I am sorry.

The Atonement

What is the atonement, how does it work, and what does the Bible have to say on the subject? While most Christians agree that Jesus Christ is the saviour, things fragment on further exploration

Introduction

Wait, this is not the definition of a single word, what is going on?

I have in the past attempted to define various words used in the discussion of doctrine with varying degrees of clarity and depth. Usually, I cover such terms only up to the depth of my own needed understanding to discuss some other related topic. This time, however, I have no end goal in mind beyond laying out an index of ideas from which I can build.

In other words, I am going to sketch things out with the broadest possible strokes and then revisit the details in later posts.

Definition of atonement

In western Christian theologyatonement describes how human beings can be reconciled to God through Christ‘s sacrificial suffering and death.

Wikipedia

Broadly speaking the atonement describes what Christ did, why (and perhaps how) he did it, and what it means to Christians.

Continue reading

What is sin?

I wanted to write about something else entirely but before I can, I feel I must clearly define what I mean by “sin”.

Etymology of sin

Sin is an English word used in translation for words from two distinct languages (Hebrew and Greek) with contributions from at least two more languages (Latin and Old English). As such, the meaning of the word “sin” is highly complex and deserves special attention.

Rather than struggle to cover the grounds others already have, this is a summary taken from Wikipedia:

The word derives from “Old English syn(n), for original *sunjō. The stem may be related to that of Latin ‘sons, sont-is’ guilty. In Old English there are examples of the original general sense, ‘offence, wrong-doing, misdeed'”. The English Biblical terms translated as “sin” or “syn” from the Biblical Greek and Jewish terms sometimes originate from words in the latter languages denoting the act or state of missing the mark; the original sense of New Testament Greek ἁμαρτία hamartia “sin”, is failure, being in error, missing the mark, especially in spear throwing; Hebrew hata “sin” originates in archery and literally refers to missing the “gold” at the centre of a target, but hitting the target, i.e. error. “To sin” has been defined from a Greek concordance as “to miss the mark”.

The takeaway point is that our word – sin – is not a perfect match to the source text. It is close but not exact. You might say, our understanding of sin itself suffers from sin (hamartia).

Sin: Crime vs Weakness

The etymology of sin brings up the first of many doctrinal questions. Is sin a guilty state (as, for example, a criminal) as the Latin suggests, an offence (again criminal) as the Old English offers, or a mistake or shortcoming as the Geek and Hebrew might lead us to believe? Continue reading

Substitutionary atonement

The doctrine of substitutionary atonement is often taken by western churches (and most atheists) as being the only view of salvation. This is far from true – something I will explore as I attempt to define the topic.

Overview of substitutionary atonement

This form of atonement starts with the idea that God is both just and angry at us for our sin. Therefore he punishes Jesus to satisfy his anger and we get the benefits – if we believe. In many cases, if we forget to believe, fail to believe, or just don’t hear about it then we still get the punishment of his anger for all time.

Technically speaking, substitutionary atonement is the name given to a number of Christian models of the atonement that regard Jesus as dying as a substitute for others, ‘instead of’ them.

There are different theories that come under the umbrella term “substitutionary atonement”. Four of the more well known are:

  • Ransom theory.
  • Christus Victor.
  • Satisfaction theory.
  • Penal substitution.

Continue reading

Sola scriptura

The phrase sola scriptura literally means from scripture alone.

Specifically, sola scriptura is a doctrine which holds that the Christian Scriptures are the sole infallible rule of faith and practice. This is a touch more specific than I got with my zeroth axiom (which just states that scripture can be used to establish doctrine).

Sola scriptura is a formal principle of many Protestant denominations. It has been assumed in almost all that I have encountered. Charismatic churches seem to preach some variation of it.

Sola scriptura sits very happily with doctrines that ascribe infallibility to scripture. It is not the same as prima scriptura – which is that the scriptures come first and above all else.

Sola scriptura was a foundational doctrinal principle of the Reformation held by the Reformers. The reformers taught that authentication of Scripture is governed by the discernible excellence of the text as well as the personal witness of the Holy Spirit to the heart of each man.

Sola scriptura and the Axioms of Faith.

As far as the axioms that I have published so far go, both sola scriptura and prima scriptura are compatible with the axioms. Axiom Zero assumes that one of the two is true.

Criticisms of sola scriptura

I don’t intend to get into one right now but I thought I would list some of the objections to sola scriptura.

Please correct me if I get any of these wrong.

One argument is that if scripture is seen as the only source of infallible teaching, its interpretation is subject to fallible interpretation. Generally, these arguments go on to state the need for an infallible interpreter in order to reach a certainty of Christian belief.

Sola scriptura can be argued to be self-referentially incoherent. The Bible itself does not specifically seem to teach sola scriptura. Therefore, the belief that the Scriptures are the only source of Christian belief is self-contradicting because it cannot be supported without extra-scriptural doctrine. (I hope I’ve presented that clearly enough).

Sola scriptura is not so different to the teachings of the Sadducees that held only to the written law and not the oral traditions. I’m not sure what sort of objection that is but I thought I would mention it. You might want to look at Karaite Judaism if this interests you as Karaite Judaism holds the Tanakh alone as its supreme authority in Halakha (Jewish religious law) and theology. I don’t know enough to say if Karaite Judaism and the Sadducees are the similar (or not).

I read about a writer called Dave Armstrong. Armstrong apparently made the point that, since Jesus and the Apostles acknowledge authoritative Jewish oral tradition, Christians cannot dispute oral tradition’s legitimacy and authority. However, as found in Scripture, Jesus also challenges some Jewish oral tradition. Therefore, Christians can dispute some of that tradition’s authority since they hold that Jesus’ authority is greater. The conclusion of total infallibility is therefore brought into question.

How I intend to use the phrase “sola scriptura”.

I’ve not really thought about using it but I think I might write about the differences between sola scriptura and prima scriptura and try to come down one way or the other. It is a big can of worms, as evidenced by the arguments against it. I might leave that topic for a while.

Hermeneutics

Hermeneutics is the study and interpretation of scripture. Most of us just call it Bible Study.

  • It could be fair to call this website a hermeneutical website.
  • On the whole, you will find the word written with a prefix such as “Biblical hermeneutics”.
  • Most Christian debates surrounding theology stem from different hermeneutical approaches.

While reading up on hermeneutics, I learned that Jewish and Christian biblical hermeneutics overlap but have very different interpretive traditions. Which goes some way to explaining why Jewish and Christian readings of scripture vary so much.

My use of the word hermeneutics.

I am not one for big words when shorter ones will do. However, with the Axioms Of Faith, I will be dealing with hermeneutics. I might, if I am feeling verbose, use the word. If I do, you should now know what I mean.

 

Amyraldism

Amyraldism is a word I bumped into for the first time right at the end of October 2017. If I do a poor job of defining it, please forgive me.

Amyraldism is, as I understand it, a form of theology introduced by Moise Amyraut. With Amyraldism, you get the Calvinist doctrines of total depravity, unconditional election, irresistible grace and perseverance of the saints. Which, up to that point, is regular vanilla Calvinism.

With Amyraldism however, only the elect are brought to faith and actually saved but salvation was available to everyone anyway (so going to hell is your fault). As I said, you get the teaching that Christ died to save all which (as I understand it) is at odds with regular Calvinism. [We are all the elect in the end.]

Moise Amyraut was alive between 1596 and 1664 which makes this doctrine less than 400 years old. Or, in other words, the Church taught something else for more than 75% of our history.

As doctrines go, Amyraldism is one which does not fit terribly well with Romans 8:32 as well as pretty much any verses that talk about God saving all men.

Amyraldistic theology might [not] explain Bob’s rather odd flavour of Calvinism. If it does then I disagree strongly with it.

According to one website I read (which gives a better definition), it is also known as “four-point Calvinism”.

How I plan to use the word “Amyraldism”.

I have no plans to use this word. I just thought it was interesting and (once again) avoiding working on my book. I’m not sure I fully understand the term but figured I would define it as best I could because of the topics I have covered previously.

Can you expand this definition?

If you have a better, clearer or deeper explanation of Amyraldism, please speak up. If I was wrong about any point, say something.

Share your thoughts – if only to let me know that someone is reading this.

Update

It looks like I got this one wildly wrong. As Amyraldism, it seems is a doctrine of Universal Salvation. I’ve gone back over the post and struck out the parts that were wrong and added notes [like this] to correct what was clearly incorrect.

Agnosis

Agnosis is the first of the seven principles I listed in an essay I wrote called, “Travellers along the path of The Way of Yeshua”.

It comes from the Greek, and means literally “lacking knowledge”. ἀ- (a-, “without”, “lacking”) + γνῶσις (gnôsis, “knowledge”).

In my essay I wrote:

Man is ignorant and the full truth is inherently unknowable to us. All that we think we know is faulty due to our own limitations. Our own best knowledge, doctrines, and understanding are forever flawed and full of error. We seek to embrace metanoia – a change in our thinking – freely confessing our ignorance and, in doing so, we allow our nature to be changed into the nature of Yeshua.

The concept of agnosis is that there is simply so much that we do not know about The Father and about even ourselves. It follows that as we are finite and God is infinite that we cannot possibly know as He knows.

Many of the other principles flow from this one. Along with love, and trust in Yeshua, you could easily work out the others.

Embracing our own agnosis requires humility. Appreciating our own agnosis keeps us from being proud about what we do know. Agnosis keeps us open to learning from others. Which is why I recommend it for the Church of tomorrow.

Agnosis from the axioms of faith.

The principle of agnosis can be reached from the axioms of faith. The zeroth axiom states that all scripture is good for establishing doctrine.

  • Luke 10:21 and Matthew 11:25 show us that there are things that The Father has hidden from us.
  • 1 Corinthians 13:12 says, “For now we see in a mirror indirectly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, just as I have been fully known.”
  • Romans 3:23 tells us that all have erred (sinned) and therefore we are flawed.

Scripture never asks us to understand everything, only to trust Father, and walk humbly in righteousness.

How I intend to use the words agnosis and agnosia.

Sparingly. However, when I do use these words it is always as a reminder (to myself) of the limits of human understanding.

Metanoia

Metanoia, an Ancient Greek word (μετάνοια) meaning “changing one’s mind”.

Metanoia is translated as repent most of the time in English language Bibles. However, reform might be closer to the original meaning. “Reform, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17). I think only Young’s Literal Translation renders metanoia this way (read it here).

Metanoia is a fundamental change in thinking and living rather than a confession of sins as repentance is often explained.

How I intend to use the word metanoia.

Sometimes I try to avoid words which bring colour or meaning that they should not have. For example, the word repentance is so heavily charged, so thoroughly defined that it might not be fit for use in a particular discussion of doctrine. Where I wish to specifically refer to the radical change of heart and mind implicit in the original Greek, there I may use this word.

Yeshua

Yeshua and other variants on the name of Jesus.

In the west, we use the name, Jesus. We do so with such consistency that it is often overlooked that Jesus was not His name back then. A direct rendering may have had us talking about Joshua Christ.

The Wikipedia does a surprisingly good job of explaining this:

Yeshua (ישוע, with vowel pointing יֵשׁוּעַ – yēšūă‘ in Hebrew) was a common alternative form of the name יְהוֹשֻׁעַ (“Yehoshua” – Joshua) in later books of the Hebrew Bible and among Jews of the Second Temple period. The name corresponds to the Greek spelling Iesous, from which, through the Latin Iesus, comes the English spelling Jesus.

The variation in name pronunciation does not stop there.

In English, the name Yeshua is extensively used by followers of Messianic Judaism, whereas East Syrian Christian denominations use the name Isho in order to preserve the Aramaic or Syriac name of Jesus.

Regardless of if you know Him as Isho, Jesus, Yeshua, Iesous, Yehoshua, or even Joshua, this is the exact same messiah (anointed one) that we are talking about.