Index by Subject

“Literally” – A Discussion of Definitions

I recently read an interesting short article on the use of the term “literally” that I want to share with you, then comment upon.

Two Misuses of “Literally”

“He literally knocked his head off.”  No.  If he had, the head would have rolled across the floor, separated from the body.  “Literally,” in that case, is mistakenly used to intensify a figure of speech, but “literally” does not intensify the figure.  It says “knocked his head off” is not a figure of speech but a true description of what he did.

Another misuse of “literally” has to do with word meaning.  Someone says, “proskuneo ‘literally’ means ‘kiss the ground toward.’”  No, proskuneo literally means “worship.”  “Kiss the ground toward” is its etymology, how the word was formed.  It is also an archaic meaning; as ancient Persians did literally fall on their faces and kiss the feet or hem of the robe of their deified kings.  Etymology does not determine meaning; usage does.  The New Testament frequently says, “They fell down and worshipped him”  (Matthew 2:11; e.g.).  “Fell down” is from a different original word, “worshipped” is proskuneo.

“Literally” does not intensify a figure.  A word’s etymological meaning is not its “literal” meaning.

Cecil May
Preacher Talk (Vol. 27, No. 2—April 2012)

The first misuse of the term “literally” is typical in casual conversation.  While irritating to those who are sensitive to the mangling of the English language, it is innocuous.  However, defining biblical terms by their etymology, (or even their assigned dictionary definitions), without considering context, is extremely troubling as we seek to interpret God’s word.

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The Law of Equivalences

Studying the Bible is a great joy.  The truths that are found within the pages of God’s word have value that the world cannot measure with earthly things.  The excitement of unearthing these treasures is accelerated as each student detects the urgency in grasping its teachings.  Eternity is at stake.  Time does not stop so that I can perceive truths.  We are given one life and with that one life we must gain knowledge and wisely practice what we learn.  We must open God’s word, look to the context, consider associate passages, and reflect on what I call, “The Law of Equivalences.”

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(A Departure from the Divine Hermeneutics)

To speak of a departure from the Divine hermeneutics is a somewhat sophisticated way of saying that someone has deliberately chosen to no longer be bound by the authority of God’s Word.  It is simply a choice to not abide in the teaching of Christ (2 John 9-11) (John 8:31-32).

For the more than fifty years that I have sought to preach the gospel, we have always clearly understood the principles of Divine hermeneutics and how God absolutely expects us to understand, teach, and be obedient to His inspired Word, just as it has been revealed by the Holy Spirit. We have always recognized that understanding these Divine principles of interpretation has never really been the problem!  The true and real problem has been the unwillingness on the part of so very many, including our own brethren, to believe, accept, and make application of those principles!  We therefore have those among us who simply do not want to accept what God has spoken and who desire to substitute their own will in the place of God’s Will. Without hesitation or reservation, I would therefore affirm that the problem can and will be defined and evidenced by what we want to hear, what we want to believe, and what we want to do! It is an effort in futility for anyone to “beat around the bush” or to “whistle past the graveyard” in seeking justification for such willful rejection of God’s righteousness. The time has arrived for us to encounter, in a head on battle, this blatant and willful disregard for God’s commandments. As we encounter this digression, we must be certain that we have clothed ourselves with “the whole armor of God” (Ephesians 6:10-18).  It is a sad reality that we have far too many “soldiers” among us who are content to throw away the “sword of the Spirit” as they hide in the bushes or behind the trees, while denying that a battle is even taking place!  They are absolutely useless when it comes time to “fight the good fight of the faith” (1 Timothy 6:12) (2 Timothy 4:7), and their often encountered attitude of arrogance, insolence, and disdain for those fighting the battle is an absolute betrayal of the Master’s cause.  We would be most wise to consider the words of Philippians 3:17-19, “Brethren, be ye imitators together of me, and mark them that so walk even as ye have us for an ensample. For many walk, of whom I told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is perdition, whose god is the belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.”

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A Gospel/Doctrine Distinction

(A Departure from the Divine Hermeneutics)

While the old Bible hermeneutics acknowledges that God communicated his will to man through explicit commands, approved examples and necessary implications, a new hermeneutics makes light of all three by establishing an imaginary distinction in scripture between gospel and doctrine.

Essentially, the gospel/doctrine distinction has historically held that the gospel consists of a very limited set of facts about Jesus which are preached to the lost and which they can believe to the saving of their souls. Doctrine, on the other hand, is taught those already saved by the gospel. It is the product of the epistles, which is then filtered down to modern men through cultural and theological biases, creating an individually held standard that must not be imposed upon those of a conflicting mindset. The gospel is never preached to the saved and doctrine is never taught the lost when this distinction is obeyed.

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(A Departure from the Divine Hermeneutics)

Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8).

It is no small task to define Modernism, even though the movement and philosophy has been around for some time. Various descriptions and definitions can be found in the abundance of sources on the subject. The problem is that modernistic thought has manifested itself in so many different contexts; therefore, it is hard to give one encompassing definition. Yet, we must try to identify the key facets of modernism so that we can identify it when it does manifest itself.

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Binding Where God Has Not
(A Departure from the Divine Hermeneutics)

Proper hermeneutics demands respect for the authority of the word of God. Legalism, on the other hand, is a departure from the divine hermeneutics that really doesn’t respect the authority of the word.

Not all who use the term legalism understand what it is. Neither is everyone who is charged with being a legalist guilty. It is true, however, that legalism is real and alive. It was a problem in the first century and is still a problem today.

What is Legalism?

Many times when we contend for a “thus saith the Lord”, we are charged with being legalists. So, let’s first clarify what legalism is not:

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Silence Never Authorizes

The primary difference between the Christian Church and the church of Christ that resulted in the division that remains to this day had little to do with the issues of the Missionary Society and the musical instrument. Though those issues were the lightning rod that effected the division, the real issue was the difference in view toward Bible authority and the silence of the scriptures. The same is true in the case of the institutional apostasy of the 20th Century. Identical attitudinal differences remain. These differences are highlighted by a very simple question asked by someone or some group wanting to justify some religious practice. The question goes something like this, “Where does the Bible say I cannot do it?” Such an inquisitor has usually already decided their course of action. They just want to have God’s word behind them if at all possible. Legitimate biblical support is not always necessary if they can frame an authority search by appealing to negative authority, what the Bible does not say. Generally, however, the Bible does not say you cannot do whatever you might think you want to do. The problem is that the one seeking negative authority is asking the wrong question. We ought to be asking, “Where does it say in the Bible that I can?”

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The Greek word (sumphero) translated “expedient” (KJV) is defined as: “to bring together…bear together…to help, be profitable, be expedient” (Thayer); “to bring together…advantage, profitable, expedient (not merely ‘convenient’)…” (Vine).  Sumphero is used by the Lord.  He said,

And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable [sumphero] for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable [sumphero] for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell (Matthew 5:29, 30).

Thus, “expedient” has an inherent meaning of “profitable,” helpful, beneficial.  It is strange then, that “expedients” in the church have had such devastating effects.   Many practices introduced and organizations formed based on expediency have caused a number of divisions, great heartache and bitterness.  Expediency was used as the reason to kill Christ (John 11:50).  This shows the danger in justifying our action because it is “expedient.”  Hence, we need a proper understanding of Bible expediency.

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How to Establish Authority

Once we understand that all authority resides in Christ, and all we do must first be authorized by the Lord, then, we are ready to pursue the important question of “how” to connect the authoritative will of the Lord in Heaven to our specific beliefs and practices here on earth.  We are at a critical point in our walk with the Lord.  We no longer focus merely on our free will to believe, but seek to establish God’s authority for what we are to believe.  Unlike many who act first, no doubt intending to do it unto the Lord, we understand we must first have the Lord’s approval before we proceed to act (Colossians 3:17).  It is not a matter of merely doing something and saying, “I am doing this in the name of the Lord”, but it is doing that which has “the name of the Lord” or his authoritative approval behind it (cf. Acts 4:7, 19:13-16).  We know whatever the Lord approves of, it will be found where He has revealed His mind concerning the matter: His word (1 Corinthians 2:10-13).  How then do we use God’s word in a way pleasing unto Him in order to establish His authority in all that we believe, say and do?

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All Authority Resides in Christ

It is interesting to study and gain insight into people’s views of the Scriptures. Some see the authority principle clearly while others do not see it at all. From the beginning, God’s relationship with man centered around a loving and all knowing God relating from a position of power to His creation, man. “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth'” (Genesis 1:26-28).  God said what He intended to do and then did it. Though He said, “let Us,” He sought permission from no other power. He spoke and things were created. It all existed and came into being from nothing. “By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible” (Hebrews 11:3). This is the ultimate power.

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Theme Editorial

Webster’s defines hermeneutics as:

“The study of the methodological principles of interpretation (as of the Bible)”

Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary

In his introductory comments in his book on the subject, Hermeneutics, Professor D.R. Dungan said:

Hermeneutics is the science of interpretation. It is derived from the Greek Hermes, the messenger of the gods and the interpreter of Jupiter.  Every Hermeneus was, therefore, an interpreter, as he was supposed to inherit some of the mystic qualities of this god of philology, this patron of eloquence.  Sacred hermeneutics is the science of interpreting the Scriptures.  Exegesis (from ex, out, and egeisthas, to guide or lead), means to lead out.  It is the application of the principles of hermeneutics in bringing out the meaning of any writing which might otherwise be difficult to understand.

(Hermeneutics, page 1)

In this issue of Watchman Magazine, we intend both to examine the Divine Hermeneutics, and to warn of some present departures from that hermeneutics.  When we use the term Divine Hermeneutics, we refer to the “methodological principles of interpretation” which are established by God.  In other words, the principles established in this series of articles are divine mandates.  They are not “man-made” principles as is commonly contended by some.

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