Uninterested In Words

April 14, 202

There are many words that have changed meaning in recent years. Some we don’t pay much attention to because we are ambivalent (ambivalent is a great example of this, it doesn’t mean uncaring, it means holding two contradictory views or emotions). So, we are not ambivalent, rather we are disinterested. Other words may bother us (I will avoid discussing pronouns as their change is contrived) but people will often use the word “literally” to mean figuratively. “I’m literally dying” should be justification for calling an ambulance but instead it means I’m laughing.

If you have grown up using a word a certain way it can be difficult to accept a change. This is not just the case now, it has long been the case that people have been frustrated by changing definitions. In ancient Rome there were influential linguists who insisted that whatever a word meant in classical Greek was it’s meaning and they refused to accept any change. Some of these linguists published dictionaries in which they attempted to enforce an older meaning of a word. The name for these linguists is “Atticist” referring to their desire to enforce the Greek dialect spoken in the region of Attica or classical Greek. An easy way to remember this is they want to get their definition from the attic where the old relics are stored.

This has bearing on Bible study because you may want to look up a word and in your research come across someone writing in the first century AD but insisting on a definition from the 5th century BC.

Thankfully most of this work has been done for us so unless you are a Greek scholar working on a translation you can rely on sources that have already considered the source of ancient definitions and filtered out the Atticists. However, there are times when having this tidbit of background may help you. That is when a scholar has a bias. I know it may not seem like it but Greek scholars are human too. If they are advocating for a certain interpretation of scripture they are not above using an older definition if it helps make their point. One example of this can be found in the way some have attempted to define authority in I Tim 2:12 as “domineering” which is not the meaning at the time Paul wrote.

Why get into these details? Two reasons: first to remind each of us to be careful about definitions. James Lindsay is fond of reminding people that those who are pushing a progressive agenda use a common vocabulary but they don’t use a common dictionary they have redefined words like democracy, racism, freedom and many others. The second reason is to encourage careful detail oriented Bible study. Putting in a little extra work will often lead to great insights and helpful applications from the word of God.

~ Kevin Cleary