Should we use extra-biblical language to describe and offer solutions to the human condition? Is it okay to use words that are not in the Bible, or in ways the Bible does not intend? Do you think the Lord has a problem with you using extra-, sub-, or biblically altered words?
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Input from Church History
Most Christians are okay with the use of extra-biblical language. Historically, the church has found the use of extra-biblical language essential in understanding the teachings of the Bible. Language that is not in the Bible is how our church creeds came into being. Herman Bavinck nailed this whole discussion for me when he said,
Scripture was not given to us in order that we should merely repeat its exact words in parrot-like fashion but in order that we should digest it in our own minds and express it in our own words.
That use was made of Scripture by Jesus and the apostles, who not only quoted the exact words of Scripture, but also by a process of reasoning arrived at inferences and conclusions based upon these words.
The Bible is neither a statute book nor a dogmatics-text but it is the source of theology. As Word of God, not only its exact words have binding authority but so have all conclusions that are properly derived from it.
Furthermore, neither study of Scripture nor theological activity is at all possible unless one uses terms that do not occur in the Bible. – Reformed Dogmatics Volume 2: God and Creation, by Herman Bavinck, Baker Academic, 2006, p. 296
Language and the Body of Christ
The key to creating, using, and accepting extra-biblical language is a respectful back-and-forth collegial scrutiny that is motivated by a desire for the church to mature in Christ.
Because of the doctrine of progressive sanctification and the refining process of the hermeneutical spiral, we will always be positioning new ideas and words into the Christian consciousness.
We should never stop thinking about the human condition and how we can fulfill our God-given responsibility to cooperate with Him in bringing change to lives.
As Bavinck pointed out, the Savior coined new words and ways to explain old truths. You should follow His example too as long as the new words reveal the truth while aiding the advancement of the gospel. (I coined the word preforgiveness. I also coined the term, “practicalization of the gospel,” or at least I like to think I did.)
A Modern-Day Example
In the field of biblical counseling, no human has come up with more extra-biblical language than the father of the modern counseling movement, Jay Adams. God has used this man to start nothing less than a “sanctification revolution” within the church.
Throughout his body of work, he has either coined or popularized many words that are not in the Bible, or words that he has given alternate or additional meanings that the Bible did not originally intend.
Here are a few samples of extra-biblical, non-biblical, or biblically altered words that Jay has given us to help us to not only think better about counseling, but to do counseling more successfully: Halo data, pre-conditioning, dehabituation, and rehabituation.
The most popular of his biblical-altered coinages is the word nouthetic. For those of you who may not be familiar with the world of biblical counseling, that word was put forth as a way to talk about how to bring care to others. Jay transliterated it from the Greek language, specifically Romans 15:14:
I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another.
I’m quite sure Paul was not thinking about a formalized counseling movement when he used the word noutheteo. But Jay, as led and illuminated by the Spirit of God, coined this new use of the word from the Greek language and built an entire counseling model upon it.
Nouthetic is one of the success stories of how biblically altered language can not only take us beyond what the original biblical authors intented, but helps us to be better Christians as well.
A Specific Example
In recent years, there has been a discussion within the biblical counseling movement over the use of the word idolatry as a way of describing the human condition.
Some godly men and women that I respect do not care for the utilization of that word because it is only used one time in the Bible and it refers to household gods. Other Christians that I respect use it in an attempt to describe the false worship that goes on in the heart of people who are stuck in their sin.
I like the word. I think it is a good descriptor to use in sanctification contexts because it helps me to explain false worship, which is the original use of the word in the Bible. When I use the word to help explain the human condition of the person I am helping, I do not leave the word unexplained.
My goal is to fully unpack the state of the individual’s heart while drawing attention to any existent sin. I seek to help them learn how to apply the gospel to their hearts so they can change and grow. I have found the word helpful in serving individuals who are stuck in their progressive sanctification.
In 2010, I conducted an interview with my good friend Donn Arms about the use of the word “idolatry” as a way of describing the human condition. Donn is Jay’s partner in ministry. Donn and I have been friends since the late nineties. You can listen to our conversation here.
Christians are united. We’re brothers and sisters in Christ. My interview with Donn demonstrates how two brothers can disagree, but still focus on the Savior as we co-labor for Him.
My hope is that we can continue to do as Bavinck suggested and Jay has modeled for us: process the Bible in our minds and reproduce it in our words for the glory of God!
Call to Action
- List a few “non-Bible words” that you use.
- Are the ideas of those words taught in the Bible?
- Does your use of those words help or hinder a person to transform into Christlikeness?