The Old Testament: A Dictionary of Christian Vocabulary

Since coming to North America, I’ve realized more and more that the USA and the UK are, as George Bernard Shaw allegedly said, “Two nations divided by a common language.”

But sometimes it feels like I’m learning a foreign language. More than once I’ve been asked, “So, what language do they speak in England?” or “What is your first language?” Sometimes it’s just spelling: not colour, but color. Sometimes it’s a matter of emphasis: not gar-age, but gar-age. Sometimes it’s pronunciation: not tom-ah-to, but tom-ay-to. But sometimes it’s a completely new word I’ve had to learn for the same thing: not trousers, but pants; not biscuits, but cookies; not pavement, but sidewalk, etc.

Confusing conversations
I could persist in using my old vocabulary, but it doesn’t get me very far, and can result in some confusing conversations. So, I must learn this nation’s vocabulary to improve both my understanding and my ability to communicate (without losing my valuable accent, hopefully!).

This is also true for all of us when we try to understand and communicate the Gospel. How do we understand the theological words, phrases and concepts of the New Testament? Do we consult dictionary.com, Merriam Webster’s, OED, etc? If so, we will import 21st century Western meaning into ancient Eastern words, confusing ourselves and others.

So, how do we understand the theological words, phrases and concepts of the New Testament? Where do we turn?

The first question
While we may get some light from Greek lexicons, our main dictionary should be the Old Testament. When we come to a word, phrase, or concept in the New Testament, our first question should be, “What does the Old Testament say about this?” Remember, the New Testament was originally written by Jews, and much of it was written to Jews. It assumes a knowledge of the Old Testament, and builds upon it. Therefore, we must always read the New Testament with the dictionary of the Old Testament in our hand.

Tomorrow I’ll give some examples of how we can use the Old Testament as a dictionary of Christian vocabulary.


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15 reasons why the greatest suffering is better than the smallest sin

You have a choice.

Option 1: The tiniest sin imaginable, a sin that would bring you tremendous wealth and other material pleasures.

Option 2: The greatest suffering imaginable, for rejecting that one tiny sin.

Your selection, please. Or maybe you want to read this first.

In his sermon on Moses’ choice of Christ’s reproach instead of the pleasures of Egypt (Heb. 11:25), the Puritan Thomas Manton argues that the healthy Christian will choose the greatest affliction before the least sin. He then gives a number of reasons “why the greatest affliction is better than the least sin.”

1. In suffering the offence is done to us, but in sinning the offence is done to God; and what are we to God?

2. Sin separates us from God, but suffering and affliction doesn’t, and therefore the greatest affliction is to be chosen before the least sin.

3. Sin is evil in itself, whether we feel it or no; but affliction is only evil in our sense and feeling.

4. Affliction brings inconvenience upon the body only, and the concerns of the body; but sin brings inconvenience upon the soul.

5. An afflicted state is consistent with being loved by God; but a sinful state is a sign of God’s displeasure.

6. Affliction may be good, but sin is never good.

7. There is nothing that debases a man more than sin.

8. Afflictions come from God, but sin from the devil.

9. Affliction is sent to prevent sin; but sin must not be committed to prevent affliction.

10. The evil of suffering is for a moment, but the evil of sin is forever.

11. In sufferings and persecutions we lose the favor of men, but by sins we lose the favor of God.

12. To suffer is not in our choice, but to sin, that is in our choice. Afflictions are inflicted, sins are committed.

13. An afflicted man may die cheerfully, but a man in sin cannot.

14. Sin is contrary to the new nature; but affliction is only contrary to the old nature

15. When you deliberately choose sin, it will within a little while bring greater affliction.

Still want to stick with your choice?

Read Manton’s full explanation below (Vol. 14, 450-454), or access the 22 volumes of his Collected Works in different online formats here.  


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