Tag Archives: language

Limited by language

Vocabulary enables us to interpret and to express. If you have a limited vocabulary, you will also have a limited vision and a limited future. -– Jim Rohn

Darkness limits our freedom because it prevents us from moving around quickly. Consequently light gives us freedom because it allows us to see the world around us more clearly.

Language is like a light bulb burning in the darkness of ignorance. The limits of our vocabulary are the limits of our communication and thoughts. So you could say that the greater our mastery of language is, the brighter the bulb. And the brighter the bulb, the further we can see.

The world around us is dark enough already, why should we choose to make it darker by not expanding our horizons to at least the limits of known and set by other men?

The limits of my language mean the limits of my world -Ludwig Wittgenstein


Offensive language

I recently happened onto a family dispute unfolding on Facebook wherein a young child, in the course of a seemingly unrelated debate, uttered the words “I think that guy is a fagot”. To which another family member, who happens to live in an openly homosexual lifestyle quickly reprimanded the kid for using offensive language.

I’ve heard this line of reasoning before, but this time I took a minute to ponder what it is that constitutes offensive language.

Is it really any language that we find offensive? Judging from the current politically correct climate, it seems that way.

Our current cultural climate aside, I want to propose what I believe is a more reasonable assessment of what constitutes “offensive language”.

Language is offensive or not based on what it describes, not what it does.

Language that offends my sensibilities is not, itself, offensive. It is only offensive insofar as what it depicts is, itself, offensive. So, for example, pornography is offensive not because it hurts some people’s feelings, but because it is writing about prostitutes, something that is morally wrong.

Likewise, calling someone a “fagot” is offensive, not because it causes people caught up in a homosexual lifestyle any emotional damage. But because what it describes, a homosexual lifestyle, is morally wrong.

I believe this understanding of offensive language was quite normal in times past. The problem is that in our post-modern culture where we have largely bought into the notion of moral relativism, it has become impossible to define what constitutes “offensive language” outside of what it does to a person’s emotional state. Rather than recognizing a word or phrase to depict something that is immoral and then rightly taking offense at the depiction, even negatively, of something immoral we have reversed the process so that anything that offends our subjective and ever changing understanding of right and wrong is then said to be offensive.

In the first instance, offensive language is clearly defined according to an objective moral standard. Therefore, what could be considered to fall under the umbrella of “offensive language” is limited and easily understood.

In the modern interpretation, however, offensive language is defined by the hearer according to their own personal (and highly subjective) moral standard. This means that in the modern understanding, “offensive language” can constitute damn1 near anything.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
-Philippians 4:8

  1. Hell is morally repulsive too, that is why both ‘damn’ and ‘hell’ are justly categorized as offensive language. []

Why you should love Greek

I recently embarked on a quest to learn the Greek language. Or, as ESV translator Dr. William Mounce1 puts it in his lesson series “Greek tools for Bible Study“, I want to learn Greek in order to understand Scripture better. In other words, I set out to learn a “little Greek“.

Outside of a desire to know what the authors of the New Testament originally wrote, I didn’t think there would be much use for knowing a language that is no longer in use2 but as I have studied, I have found that there are quite a number of English words that come from Greek.

Learning Greek will help you understand (or at least remember) many theological terms like hamartia (gk: αμαρτια) which, when combined with the Greek word λογια, or “discourse”, turns into hamartiology or the study of sin. There’s also ecclesiology, soteriology, eschatology, etc. All of these theological terms have a root in a Greek word. Learning the Greek word will help you remember which area each area of study covers.

Learning Greek will also build your English vocabulary by helping you understand the etymologies of common (and not so common) words. The advantage of knowing the root Greek words behind English terms such as ‘adaiphoria‘ (gk: ἀδιάφορος) is that you also learn other words that are derived from the same Greek root word and, as a result, you learn new English terms at the same time you are learning new Greek terms.

Of course, as Dr. Mounce stated in one of his lectures, the single greatest reason for learning Greek is to put into practice what we say about the Bible being God’s inspired and inerrant Word. I was very convicted when I heard him ask the rhetorical question: “If it’s as important as we say it is, why don’t we take the time to learn the language it was originally written in so we can understand it better?” Ultimately this is the reason to continue slogging through first and second order declensions, case endings, etc. Consequently, this is also what Dr. Mounce writes in the beginning of his book, Basics of Biblical Greek to help motivate us to stick with it.

So, as I work through Greek I hope to post tools and resources I’ve found helpful along the way. To start with, I want to share some resources to help you learn the Greek alphabet.

The best memory aids in learning the Greek alphabet I’ve seen so far is a combination of this popular song3 and this mnemonic (gk: μνημονικός) device taught to grade school children by a rather inventive teacher through a clever story. While they won’t help you memorize the symbols or the phonetics, they do help you remember the basic alphabet.

If anyone reading this knows of any other helpful resources, pneumatic devices, songs, etc. that you’ve found useful while learning Greek let me know!

  1. Personal website, Greek tutorial site []
  2. The Greek used today is not the same as the Koine Greek used in the time of Christ. []
  3. For those who like techno music, here is a spin off with a beat mixed in. []