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Monday, August 09, 2010

truth and error 2: word-wrangling, v. 14

14 Remind them of these things and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers. (2 Timothy 2:14)
What is “word-wrangling?” Some examples from Timothy and Titus show the church arguing about genealogies and the meaning of minute points of the Law, while missing the opportunity to display charity and love one another. It appears, in this context, that word-wrangling had even displaced or replaced a foundational belief in the resurrection.

I believe this practice is one of the pressing issues of our day. Perhaps the most glaring example in recent history is a former President saying “It depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is” while apparently dodging the moral elephant in the room. But one need not point the finger at so prominent a public figure. At every college and university in the country, and perhaps even amidst the high schools on down to elementary schools, the basic meaning of words is being challenged as never before. Distorting the technical philosophical approach of deconstructing a text, amateur deconstructionists simply vacate important words (even ‘is’!) of meaning and fill in the blank as they see fit. In many ways, we have become the masters of word-wrangling.

If the finger is still pointing too far away, let me come closer to home. Committed Christians can often find themselves nit-picking so much over words and concepts that they miss the forest – hours and hours wrangling over finer and finer sub-points of theology and missing what God is doing and inviting us to do all around us.

There is some balance, of course. It is important to study and understand words, particularly in God’s Word. But we must not miss the really foundational teachings of scripture chasing after secondary things. And verse 14 is talking about more than distraction; it is talking about fighting over such things. The word, “wrangling,” literally means “to fight with words as with a sword.”

Part of the real difficulty is also that, to some degree, we all have bought into the cultural assumption of personal interpretation. If you’re smart, you’ve learned to discover what another person means by a word – you can’t take it for granted any more.

Does that seem far-fetched? Consider our denomination. In denominational circles, I can no longer presume a common understanding of “gospel” or “evangelism” or “justice.” It is necessary to spell everything out with great specificity in order to be precise. With deeply held convictions tied to these words, we are at the point of wrangling over words.

So what to do? I don’t want to spend my days defining words with excruciating specificity, particularly when they are words that have been so consistently used by the Church. And what assurance do I have that my definitions are any more or less valid than the next person? The next verse points us in the direction we need to go…

Posts in this "Truth and Error" series:
1 - intro and core doctrine, 2 timothy 2.14-26
2 - word-wrangling, v. 14
3 - study, v. 15
4 - a local challenge, vv. 16-18
5 - church pictures, vv. 19-21
6 - empty talk, vv. 16-18
7 - immaturity and distraction, v. 22
8 - false teaching, v. 23
9 - kind to all, v. 24
10 - able to teach, patient, gentle, vv. 24-25
11 - gracious hope, vv. 25b-26a
12 - enemy clarification, v. 26b

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