Scriptural Terminology: Why It Matters

I mentioned yesterday—I hope it was yesterday; I’m a few days ahead and I’m scheduling these to come up one day at a time—that the blood of Jesus is said in Scripture to be sprinkled, not to be a "mighty river."

We can understand the importance of that terminology. After all, we’re talking about the precious blood of Jesus Christ, the purchase price of our salvation.

Today I want to point out that Scriptural terminology matters in a lot of other areas, too.

I want to give you two examples.

Salvation by Faith Alone

This subject illustrates how Scriptural terminology can save us from traditions of men that are not true. This isn’t a very popular subject, though, so you may not agree with what follows. Unfortunately, though, I’m right. So those of you that prefer to hold to doctrines you like rather than doctrines that are Scriptural may want to skip this section.

It was on this subject that I developed the principle for myself that even if I didn’t understand why the Bible said something, I would say it the Bible’s way, anyway.

The problem began when I, a good faith-alone believer, discovered that Paul thought that people could be rewarded eternal life by doing good. It doesn’t matter whether you’re just anyone (Rom. 2:5-7) or a Christian (Gal. 6:9), eternal life is reaped by those who patiently continue to do good.

Then why in the world did Paul also say, "Not of works, lest any man should boast"? (Eph. 2:9). Heavens! What was he thinking? Was he bipolar?

The more I researched, the worse it got. Eph. 5 not only says that you will be kept out of God’s kingdom by sexual immorality, uncleanness, and greed, but Paul makes a point of using the judgment of unbelievers as an example to keep us from being deceived (v. 6). In other words, don’t be fooled because if the sons of disobedience experience God’s wrath for these things, so will you.

Peter nails that idea down. All of us, he says, ought to fear the judgment of God because God is not partial. We’re not going to get an easier judgment than the lost (1 Pet. 1:17).

But then there’s Paul’s repeated statements that we’re saved apart from works. It’s not just Eph. 2:9. There’s the famous Rom. 3:28, but there’s also his statement that if salvation is by grace, then it’s not by works in Rom. 11:6. And, of course, there’s also all of Ephesians 4, making a point that Abraham was saved apart from works.

Then James says that Abraham was saved by works!

What’s a man to do with that?

What I chose to do was to say what the Scriptures say. For years—yes, literally; at least 4 or 5 years—I simply said what the Scriptures said in whatever situations I thought they applied. I became as likely to tell a "greasy grace" believer that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone (Jam. 2:24) as to tell a self-condemned believer that we are justified by faith apart from the works of the Law (Rom. 3:28).

Let me tell you that you get in a lot less trouble saying the latter than the former!

It became apparent to me that most Christians handled these verses by picking the ones they like. Romans 3:28 is popular. James 2:24 is basically ejected from Protestant churches. You may never repeat it in any situation or in any company … except one. In a theological discussion, you can explain why "justified by works and not by faith only" really means "justified by faith only."

If you don’t go along with that, then everyone concludes you’re not saved because you’re adding to faith, which is apparently a big no-no in fundamentalist churches.

In the Bible, however, it’s a command (2 Pet. 1:5).

And thus, we have an excellent illustration of how in the anti-tradition fundamentalist churches, they have used their tradition to make void the command of God (2 Pet. 1:5-11) and the theology of a leading apostle (Jam. 2:14-26).

So, first, I recommend using Scriptural terminology to overthrow false tradition, such as the belief that going to heaven occurs by faith alone.

If you keep saying what the Scripture says, I tell you from experience, you eventually figure out (especially if you have help from the early Christian writings) that the Scriptures never say you go to heaven by faith alone, they only say that you are justified or saved by faith alone.

And sometimes, in Scripture, those are different.

I say sometimes because if you work at using Scriptural terminology, you’ll also discover that different apostles used different terminology. You have to pay attention to which apostle is speaking, especially when the subject is eternal life (Paul vs. John) or justification & righteousness (Paul vs. James).

The Trinity

On the Trinity, my opinion is that our modern understanding of the Trinity is close enough to Scripture that’s the difference is not a big deal.

Nonetheless, here Scriptural terminology will not so much deliver you from false tradition as to save you from being confused by 1.) the Scriptures, and 2.) the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

A couple real doozies for the typical Christian are:

  • John 17:3: (Jesus praying) "… that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent."
  • 1 Cor. 8:6: "For us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things.

There’s others, but the Jehovah’s Witnesses really like both of those. (Of course, they don’t like John 1:1, so they had to change a bit, using 1st year Greek that doesn’t apply, and they really don’t like the two Jehovah’s they have in the New World Translation’s Zech. 2:8-11.)

Anyway, Christians should be told that the apostles and their churches regularly referred to the Father as the one God. When they speak of the Father and Son together, they talk about God and his Son or God and his Word. The Son is almost never referred to as God when the Father is being talked about at the same time.

Tertullian, in A.D. 200, explains this:

Though Tertullian is the one illustrating this, he is illustrating what is true. Go check it out in Scripture. Go read the apostolic fathers. The Scriptures may not explain, as Tertullian does, why they only call the Son God when the Father is not being talked about as well, but that is what the Scriptures do.

I have some explanations for Scriptural terminology concerning the Trinity—which is, by the way, the same terminology used in the Nicene Creed and the Apostles Creed—based on what early Christians said the apostles taught.

I can’t think of a smooth ending, so … try to speak the way the Scriptures speak. That will help you understand what the Scriptures mean and help deliver you from believing whatever you’re told by whatever particular sect said it to you.

That’s only one step, though. Truth is given to the church by God, so the ultimate step to knowing what the Scriptures mean is to bind together with other Christians as a family, forget your individual traditions, leave no one out that tries to obey Christ, and learn from the Spirit of God together

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7 Responses to Scriptural Terminology: Why It Matters

  1. Mark says:

    I personally never saw why recieving forgiveness/mercy would not lead to obedience anyway. To put it crudely, if a good God pardons you and invites you to be a part of his good kingdom, you will want to be good.

    The Law quote is interesting, though I have found the whole looking in a mirror and asking 'how am I doing?' thing to be a tricky area.

    I wrote some rather garbled and contradictory reflections on these issues earlier this year. They can be viewed here: http://butteredmusings.blogspot.com/2010/08/searc

    • shammahbn says:

      Being "internet friends" has always seemed strange to me, but I have a few–among them, you. I went to your blog, and I followed it. If you run across this comment by me, I'm waiting for parts 2 and 3!

    • shammahbn says:

      Oh, great. You do have part 2 and 3 up. I wonder why my Google Reader didn't let me know? Techie stuff never works right for me.

      Okay, reading them now …

  2. shammahbn says:

    An excellent thought for the whole idea of faith vs. works and mercy vs. judgment is expressed by William Law in his story about Penitens, contained in his _Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life_. It ought to be mandatory reading:

    "If I had only my weaknesses and imperfections to lament, I would lie here humbly trusting in the mercies of God. But, alas!, how can I call a general disregard and thorough neglect of all religious improvement a frailty or imperfection, when it was as much within my ability to have been exact, careful, and diligent in the exercise of godliness as to do so in the carrying on of my business? I could have called in just as many helps, have practiced as many rules, and been taught as many sure methods of holy living as of thriving in my trade if I had simply intended or desired it. Oh, my friends! A careless life, unconcerned and inattentive to the duties of religion, is so without any excuse, so unworthy of the mercy of God, and such a shame to the sense and reason of our minds that I can hardly conceive of a greater punishment than for a man to be thrust into the state I am in so that he can reflect upon it."

  3. shammahbn says:

    Good grief, I did answer this. I wonder what happened to the answer?

    I think I did it on my phone. It must not have worked. Well, here goes again:

    The dying criminal didn't have time to do real noticeable works because he died, but who can deny that his works in words proved that his faith was real?

    As for the tax collector, I do think he was justified forensically. I do believe that "if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive our sins."

    However, no one who beats his chest and declares, "God be merciful to me a sinner," then goes home and makes no effort to follow God.

  4. jeremiahbriggs says:

    I'm looking forward to your answers to those questions as well. I think I know the answers but I want to see what you say. I've often thought that the Kingdom of Heaven is not somewhere you go. Its somewhere you are internally. Thats why immoral people can't live there. Mankind can exist in two realms at the same time. Paul said he was seated in the Heavenlies with Christ while also being here. I think it was George MacDonald that said: Those who find themselves in Heaven will realize they never left. Those who find themselves in Hell will discover that they have always been there. Both the thief and the tax collector asked for and received mercy (repentance). I'm sitting here with tears in my eyes thinking about the loving kindness of our God. His redeeming power and banner over us is love.

  5. Mark says:

    Two scriptural questions –

    What is your take on the dying criminal next to Jesus (Luke 23:39-43)? He seemed to be promised ‘paradise’ without works.
    Also, (slightly different topic) what do you think of Luke 18:9-14? The tax collector goes home ‘justified’. I can’t see how that word in this incident is not forensic.

    Thanks

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