Quarrels About Words
Some months ago Dane Ortlund posted an excellent meditation on 1 Tim 6:4,
…an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people…
“Quarrels about words.” That hit me hard, considering that “Usage Determines Meaning” is one of the main themes of this blog.
My first thought was guilt: I’m too focused on quarrels about words, and my blog is public proof. But my second thought is that I didn’t create the quarrels. People misusing words did. Paul does tell Titus to “rebuke those who contradict [sound doctrine].” And he told Timothy to “reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.”
But do my posts on words count? I can say that my overall point is that one of the best ways to avoid “word-battles” (λογομαχία) is to recognize the truth of James Barr’s dictum, a dictum which happens to underlie all my posts on Bible words:
Theological thought of the type found in the NT has its characteristic linguistic expression not in the word individually but in the word-combination or sentence…. [Since] important elements in the NT vocabulary were not technical…. the attempt to relate the individual word directly to the theological thought leads to the distortion of the semantic contribution made by words in contexts; the value of the context come to be seen as something contributed by the word, and then it is read into the word as its contribution where the context is in fact different. Thus the word becomes overloaded with interpretative suggestion. Semantics of Biblical Language, 233-234.
If we can focus a bit more on what the Bible says in sentences and a bit less on the supposed precise, hidden (to all but the cognoscenti) meaning of individual Greek and Hebrew words, we’ll be on more secure theological footing.
But I can also say that I don’t want to be guilty of anything the Bible warns me about. I don’t want to have “an unhealthy craving for…quarrels about words.” So I am praying that the Lord would give me grace to spot and avoid this sin. I’ve pulled back a bit since this verse was brought to my attention.
Or perhaps the answer is that no one should disagree with me. Then we won’t have any quarrels.