Friday, December 19, 2008

Discernment : Grammar, Vocabulary and Misunderstanding

How something is said can sometimes be more important that what is said. People bring presuppositions to their use of language. Language can be misunderstood by the hearer and conclusions can be jumped to. One must be very sure of what the person talking is saying to them. This can cut both ways, as a heretical cultist might say that 'Jesus saves', thus sounding good, but if you question them further you might find that they consider other possibilities for salvation.

Language changes over the centuries and translations don't always catch the full flavor of the original, even when you are dealing with the same language. For example, the word 'replenish' in Genesis 1:28 has been used to justify the gap theory of creation since it means to 're – plenish' or 'plenish again'. The problem with that is that back in the day the KJV was written, there was no such word as 'plenish' and replenish didn't mean 'fill up again', but simply to fill or make complete.

It is very important when attempting to discern the message someone is giving to find out how they define the words they are using. Putting your definitions on someone else's words can lead to some serious misunderstanding about what they are saying. Learn to ask what they mean when you are not sure about what they are saying. If there is no mutual understanding of what is being said then the discussion can degenerate very quickly into a “yes you did say that”, “no I didn't” match.

If you find that someone is saying things differently that you would and won't budge, you should charitably try to speak their language using their words. Then you can show them the lack of difference (or major difference) between your positions. It may be that you have a better way of saying it or it may be that they do. It might even be a trivial difference that isn't important.

This is a fairly common bit of advice given in writings on counter cult sites specifically for discerning what is being said. It is very useful at all times whenever you encounter something you don't understand. Don't charge in, find out what they mean. If, in the end, you find them in error and they will not change, then stronger measures can be taken.

Many times people use words to try to make a point where their logic is weak. They force a definition to gain an illegitimate connection between groups or ideas. For example, many religions have a lustration ceremony for symbolic purification. Greeks, Romans, Jews and Christians are among that number. The Christian specific one is baptism, John the Baptist used one as he prepared the way for Jesus, there are other purifications ceremonies in Judaism and examples abound in pagan cultures. People who try to find any sort of connection between pagan beliefs and Christian ones (the so-called 'pagan christs') often take any sort of lustration ritual (of which there are many) and immediately name it 'baptism' in their writing, then redefine it as a 'stolen' item by Christianity from a pagan religion.

Be careful of those who insist that their definitions are the only possible ones for words or phrases, most especially if they deny the full range of definitions available in the dictionary. Make sure they are discussing something not only in literary context, but historical and cultural context, note again the 're-plenish' example of error I used above.

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