retina logo

Words and Meanings

Some words change meaning over time. For instance, the earliest meaning of English “bully” was “sweetheart” (so says Merriam-Webster.com), but in our day its accepted meaning is a far cry from “sweetheart” (!) and if one needs to learn the current definition of “bully”, standard dictionaries prescribe it. A dictionary changing the meaning of a word may just reflect the change in society’s usage of the word. But the new or alternative meaning, because it is now so defined by the dictionary, is also authoritative, since the dictionary is the accepted standard for the definition of words; look it up in the dictionary.
Just recently, the editors of the Cambridge Dictionary updated the traditional definition of “woman” (“an adult female human being”), to now include: “an adult who lives and identifies as female though they may have been said to have a different sex at birth.” Likewise, the Merriam-Webster online dictionary also added a definition that defines “female” as “having a gender identity that is the opposite of male.” In response, a political commentator tweeted: “Remember, if you can control the language, you can control the population.”
Words and their meanings have power. We Christians know that God’s Word has power. Genesis 1 records that God spoke, and it was so; as well: the gospel of Christ is the power of God to salvation for all who believe (Rom1:16 NKJV). Words and their meanings can also be powerful unto deception when used by the devil and his hosts (think of the encounter between Eve and the Serpent). Even our own tongues can have power like fire (see James 3). Words and meanings have the power to sway beliefs and conduct. Words and meanings can be used to indoctrinate, to establish and nurture a certain mind-set, a way of looking at things. Back in 1755, Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary, one of the oldest and most influential, defined “woman” as the “female of the human species.” That authoritative basic definition has stood the test of time for 267 years. So now, when standard dictionaries give a meaning to “woman” that is altered from God’s creational definition, then in whose service is that dictionary?
If this standard dictionary redefining of “female” and “woman” was just a reflection of “what has become just recently accepted in our culture, well, that in itself is a testimony to a self-absorbed, self-determining society. And as we are those who believe and confess and contend for the doctrines of the Christian faith once for all delivered to the saints ( Jude 3), we understand the basic“why” of society’s confu- sion about biological sex and gender. There is a way that seems right to a man. But its end is the way of death (Prov.14:12 NKJV). That way that seems right is due to lack of knowledge and wisdom, in this particular case as it pertains to God creating humankind: male and female He created them (Gen 1:27). The dictionaries’ reflecting the current culture’s “way that seems right,” is due to the lack of “fear” of the Lord and its attendant foolishness: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise and instruction (Prov.1:7).
Words and meanings have power. Their power is evident when changed meanings influence national and state and local policies to allow for and even fund the mutilation of children for the sake of asserting their self-determined gender identity that differs from their biological sex.
We who believe and profess that God’s inscripturated Word is the Truth ought not be confused about gender identity. And we as well ought not think this particular dictionary change in word meaning is just one more cultural moral issue. We ought to see it as part of the pervasive attack against Christ Jesus and His body, the Church, dating back to the history of Genesis 3. Christ, who is the Word that became flesh as the seed of the woman is the way, the truth, and the life ( John 14:6) and by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities and powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist (Col. 1:16-17).
Christ has already, before the Creation, as the Word, assigned the meaning to all things, and that meaning is given by the words of His inspired, by His Spirit, Scriptures. And however standard dictionaries may change the meaning of words, God’s Word will still have remained unchangingly inerrant and infallible and trust- worthy as the Truth in all that is says, including its definition and meaning of “woman.”
God’s established, creational, word meanings may not be descriptive of the culture- assigned meaning of words like“woman,” but God’s Word is prescriptive for every culture. It is wisdom that calls out, and as Proverbs 8:35-36 states of wisdom (which is personified in Christ Jesus, see Proverbs 8:22-31): For whoever finds me finds life, and obtains favor from the Lord; but he
who sins against me wrongs his own soul; all those who hate me love death. Because God’s Word is prescriptive for everyone created in His image, judgment unto eternal death awaits those who wrong their own souls by refusing to heed it as truth, as wisdom unto life.
To “fear” the Lord is to find life-giving wisdom by heeding His Word, trusting in the Christ Jesus who became for us the wisdom of God (I Cor. 1:30), repenting of idolatry, including self-determinism such as gender identity. By God’s grace through faith unto reverential, awe-full, trustful submission to the Lord and His standard-setting Word, deadly self-determinism gives way to acknowledging God in all your ways and Him blessedly directing your paths (see Prov. 3:5-8).
For us who are abiding in God’s wisdom, we understand that it the devil, the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience (Eph.2:2). He is the one who influences men and women and children to determine meaning for themselves, as He did as the Serpent in the Garden, and he can even use standard dictionaries for his deceptive, Christian-church-destroying aims.
So even as we take comfort in belonging to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ, who has redeemed me from all the power of the devil, we are yet in this present life engaged in a spiritual battle between Satan and his hosts and us who are Christ’s disciples, His church. We pray: “Thy Kingdom Come” and our calling is to make disciples of all the nations…. teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you (see Matt. 28:20). Making dis- ciples is through proclaiming/witnessing the Jesus Christ of the gospel and that involves being engaged in the spiritual battle against all the current influencers/promoters/indoctrinators of self-determined meanings; of a deceptive, false reality that rejects God and His preceptive Word. To be engaged in the battle requires abiding in His Word so we are properly armed for the conflict (Eph 6:10-18).
So when the Lord gives us opportunities to speak the Truth in love, whether that is to a neighbor who makes some reference to a changed definition, or to a newspaper editor in response to a raised cultural issue, or, more close to home, making sure your family is all on the same page when it comes to biblical definitions, let us Christians be bold to counter, prudently, wisely, winsomely, the ungodly culture’s many-pronged misinforming influences, including even standard dictionaries.
Thy Word is Truth

George Horner
Ridgeland, SC

Read more from The Reformed Herald here.

Benjamin Rush

While so much of our denomination is now centered in the midwest, it is important to be reminded that our American roots stem largely from the early migration

Hope Haven

Hope Haven

Hope Haven works to care for those abroad and those here at home. Their work in providing a “dream home” for Allie is made possible through the support

Our World Mission

Dear brothers and sisters,At Christmas time, we remember and celebrate the incredible love God showed us in sending His Son to earth for us, to bring to us

Should I Always Expect Goodness from God?

In Lord’s Day #35, Question #94 of the Heidelberg Catechism it says, in part, “trust in [God] alone, with all humility and patience, expect all good from Him

Scroll to Top