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Sunday, July 08, 2007

Locution Confusion--Part 4

We're blessed that Koine and Ancient Hebrew are extinct. Their obsolescence is our gain, for it preserves the words, and their attached meanings for all time.

Even in English, the church can take advantage of words that have died out. As society avoids the terms, and terms only become "church-words," the church can again preserve her intention. We should not shrink away from using such terms, but should embrace them; giving our people definitions and teaching them to add it to their vocabulary.

Consider the name: Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches

I grew up "in the fellowship," yet always struggled with the word "brethren." I wasn't sure why we didn't just use the term brothers. I didn't even know how to spell brethren.

I remember using a church Bible one week in Sunday School. For some reason, I had forgotten my Bible and the teacher handed me one from the class room. It was simply a paperback (I thought all Bibles were printed with leather covers at that time), but it's back cover intrigued me. It had a picture of our church building and near the top it stated: This Bible is a gift of Brookville Grace Brethern Church.

"Wow," I exclaimed, "these Bibles have our church's picture on them. Why don't we pass them out?"

"Because our church's name is misspelled," she calmly answered.

Now, it's nothing for me to miss a typo (A real shock for anyone who has read this blog!), so I looked over the Bible again. Now I knew the name of our church was misspelled so I had it narrowed down to four words. I scanned over it again.


Nope. That was spelled right.


Another easy one. Clearly it was spelled correctly too.


Seemed right to me. At least that seemed to match the way most people pronounced it.


Now, even today, I often type "chruch" when I"m typing too quickly. I double checked the spelling, but it was correct.

Dazed, I just stared at the teacher. This was the moment I was introduced to our church fellowship. We are Grace Brethren A name that carries back to 1708.

For years, I wondered about the name "Brethren." Isn't it time to replace it with a more contemporary word? Could we call ourselves the Fellowship of Grace Brothers or Grace Brothers Fellowship? In fact, is the word "brethren" necessary when you've already used the word "fellowship?" In fact, wouldn't "Brothers of Grace" be a cool name? Many times, I looked at the name of our fellowship and thought we had to change our name to be relevant or to have any chance at survival.

But then I realized something. Of the four words in our fellowship, "Brethren" is probably the least misunderstood word of them all. It's another example of how an obscure word actually conveys the original meaning best.


  • At 9:31 AM, Blogger Brad said…

    I can see how the extinction of the original languages has frozen the meanings of biblical words to the ranges they had in their original contexts.

    But are you saying, then, that biblical words cannot have more than one meaning? Could not "hamartolos" have picked up a broader range of meanings before ancient Greek fell out of use?

    If John Piper claimed to be a "hamartolos" would we necessarily be able to tell what he means apart from context? Paul, for example, claimed that he and Peter were not, in fact, "hamortoloi" (Gal. 2:15). Does this mean that they were not sinners?

  • At 8:30 PM, Blogger barabbas said…

    I was conversing with one of my customers today about our church experience of late. When I informed her that it had been several months since I had attended the church she assumed i still attended she responded by asking where we WERE attending. When I told her she said, 'Brethren? Why Brethren?' I almost chuckled. I briefly toyed with the idea of asking, 'Why not Brethren?', but I didn't want to invite any denominational argumentation at all. (She is a devout Penecostal.)

    Brethren? Why Brethren?

  • At 9:03 PM, Blogger danny2 said…

    never said the words cannot have more than one meaning...

    never said that the new testament authors do not even use some greek words in ways that previous writings had not...

    clearly context is key.

    however, when english words have new meanings now than they used to have, we often do not even recognize a difference of meaning. therefore, since the greek is a "dead language," for instance, we more easily spot the discrepancies.

  • At 9:45 PM, Blogger Brad said…


  • At 9:49 PM, Blogger Brad said…

    This, however, is the comment that previously led me to misunderstand you:

    In English, when John Piper says he is bad, we may be confused as to what he means. But in Greek, when John Piper affirms "hamartolos," we can know exactly what he means.

  • At 10:05 PM, Blogger RevPharoah said…

    I have found the word Brethren to be less than helpful in identifying who we are.
    For those who have any association with the word at all, they connect us with either Old Order Brethren or Church of the Brethren (or the old United Brethren) Sometimes with Plymouth Brethren or Brethren in Christ. None of these come close to helping them identify what they will experience if they visit us.


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