Do words have a fixed meaning?

Discussion in '2004 Archive' started by skanwmatos, Jun 9, 2004.

  1. skanwmatos

    skanwmatos
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    For some reason most of the people on this forum act as if the meaning of a word as they understand it must be the one and only meaning of that word.

    I hate coconut. When I was a kid I ate some cookies with coconut in them and got violently sick. Ever since then I can't eat coconut without becoming nauseated.

    My friend loves coconut. He loves it so much he even calls his wife "my little coconut."

    Is there anyone who actually believes the word "coconut" means the same to him as it does to me?

    If I were to call my wife, "my little coconut" she would be hurt, knowing that I hate coconut, and that it makes me vomit.

    Words have emotional anchors in our background and experience. Thus, they mean different things.

    The word "inerrant" being, as it is, wrapped in the theology of biblical infallibility, now has an emotionally charged meaning to many people here, and they are unable to divorce their emotional background and experiences from the meaning of the word itself. God is perfect, and as the word of God is "inerrant" it must, therefore, be letter perfect, and no other understanding of that word is permitted.

    "I know what I know" seems to be the watchword for many of us. Unfortunately, we know what we know but we really don't know why we know it. We just do. Emotional based certainly, regardless of what reality we must deny in order to enjoy that certainty.
     
  2. Marcia

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    Even if the word coconut means something different to you than to your friend, that does not change the objective meaning of coconut. You are confusing reactions to the word to the meaning of the word itself.

    Inerrant has a meaning: without error. I have no emotional background issues with it. It means what it means.
     
  3. skanwmatos

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    Ah, but you are so wrong! All words are semantic symbols which do not exist in a vacuum. All words have emotional baggage they drag along. To me "coconut" means "something obnoxious and disgusting." To my friend it means "something sweet and wonderful." Those are obviously not the same thing.

    What you seem to not understand is that words are only semantic symbols, they are not the thing being symbolized. Those word-symbols are obscured by our flawed ability to perceive reality, and by our flawed brains which process that perception. If we fail to take that into account we become, as you are, dogmatic about what a word means. What it means to you becomes the only meaning you will accept as "reality." And by so closing your mind to the understanding held by others, you close all possibility of intelligent communication.

    You say, "Inerrant has a meaning: without error."

    So far, so good. I believe that too.

    But then you go on to say, "I have no emotional background issues with it."

    Of course you do! We all do!

    Then you say, "It means what it means."

    What you really mean is "It means what it means to me and nothing else."

    And that is where you err. And, until you can lay aside your dogmatism you will never perceive the reality of anyone else's opinions on this subject. Dogmatism always destroys communication.

    You see, when you say "it means 'without error'" you mentally add "letter perfect" in your mind. And it is that mental addition which is the problem you are having understanding my position which mentally adds the words "of fact."

    Are you beginning to see it now? [​IMG]
     
  4. robycop3

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    I think you're looking for such examples as "let", whose uses 400 years ago were an oxymoron, "allow" and "hinder".

    You won't find 1 in 100 people who will know "let" also meant "hinder" in older times, and technically can still mean "hinder" although it's NOT used in that sense any more except as a technical term in tennis.
     
  5. Marcia

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    Ah, but you are so wrong! All words are semantic symbols which do not exist in a vacuum. All words have emotional baggage they drag along. To me "coconut" means "something obnoxious and disgusting." To my friend it means "something sweet and wonderful." Those are obviously not the same thing.

    What you seem to not understand is that words are only semantic symbols, they are not the thing being symbolized. Those word-symbols are obscured by our flawed ability to perceive reality, and by our flawed brains which process that perception. If we fail to take that into account we become, as you are, dogmatic about what a word means. What it means to you becomes the only meaning you will accept as "reality." And by so closing your mind to the understanding held by others, you close all possibility of intelligent communication.

    You say, "Inerrant has a meaning: without error."

    So far, so good. I believe that too.

    But then you go on to say, "I have no emotional background issues with it."

    Of course you do! We all do!

    Then you say, "It means what it means."

    What you really mean is "It means what it means to me and nothing else."

    And that is where you err. And, until you can lay aside your dogmatism you will never perceive the reality of anyone else's opinions on this subject. Dogmatism always destroys communication.

    You see, when you say "it means 'without error'" you mentally add "letter perfect" in your mind. And it is that mental addition which is the problem you are having understanding my position which mentally adds the words "of fact."

    Are you beginning to see it now? [​IMG]
    </font>[/QUOTE]First off, no matter what a coconut means to you emoitonally, you do not think of a car or a spider if someone says coconut. You know exactly what they mean by that.

    Secondly, your whole post is self-refuting because if everyone brings emotional baggage to words, then your post is dogmatic, too.

    So if I have to lay aside my dogmaticism, you do, too. The only problem is, if we are so dogmatic and can't communicate because words mean different things to us, then who's to say who is being dogmatic?
     
  6. gb93433

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    Gay has always meant what it once meant. But added is another meaning. Language does change over time and so do the meanings of those words. That is one reason why translations must be updated. The word computer has changed meaning in the last 30 years. Words have been added over time too.

    In my study of scripture I have come to believe that the words often used in scripture had a different intensity than we would read into some of them.

    People from other cultures may use English words with how they perceive that word from the standpoint of their culture. But we would interpret those words differently because of our culture. Idioms are very much this way.
     
  7. skanwmatos

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    But, the point is, you don't! To me "coconut" means a foul, sickening, disgusting food. To my friend it means exactly the opposite.

    If you cannot see that, then your mind is so closed to further discussion that communication is impossible.
    The fact that everybody brings emotional baggage into their understanding of words is the point so it can hardly be "self-refuting." As to my post being "dogmatic" I am not the one insisting that "inerrant" can only mean what it means to me. It is you that is doing that.
    I can see that "inerrant" has too much emotional baggage to be understood in only one very limited way. That is being as open minded as it is possible to be. You, on the other hand, insist the word means only what it means to you and you don't even know why you believe that or where that belief came from, you just believe it! That is the best illustration of dogmatism I have seen on these forums. Even more so that the authoritative pronouncements of the KJVOs. [​IMG]
     
  8. gb93433

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    That same point could be used as many ask the question in a Bible Study, “What does that mean to you?” It is not what does it mean to me, but rather what does it mean.

    A coconut has an objective meaning and the word brings out a subjective response by you. But it still does not change the fact of the objective description of a coconut.

    Scripture is not to be interpreted according to the reader’s response but rather the authors intent and message in light of its historical context. I do not believe reader response criticism has any validity in interpreting scripture.

    I believe to call scripture inerrant is an aberration of what scripture really is. Scripture is much more than just inerrant.

    Sometime read Hebrews 4:12.

    Heb. 4:12, “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

    Know of any inerrant documents that can make that same claim as scripture. I can write an inerrant document and it can be worthless for spiritual development.

    To call scripture inerrant is severely limiting God when He cannot be limited.
     
  9. Ed Edwards

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    President Reagan dying reminds me of the term "fundamentalism".
    Here is an entry from a 1976 dictionary:

    FUNDAMENTALISM - 1. religious beliefs based on a literal interpertation
    of everything in the Bible and regarded as fundamental to Christian
    faith and morals
    2.the 20th cent. movement among some American Protestants,
    based on these beliefs

    Of course FUNDAMENTALIST means one who believew in fundamentalism

    During the presidency of Regan the liberal press made
    the term "Fundamentalism" to mean:

    FUNDAMENTALISM - 3. religious beliefs based on a literal interpertation
    of the written works of the base religion
    4. a movement based on these beliefs

    So all of a sudden you could have phrases like:
    "fundamentalist Islamic terrorist"

    OF course, the night is darkest just before you get your
    lights punched out :(

    During the the presidency of the First Bush the liberal press
    took a whole new approach to undermining the term:

    FUNDAMENTALIST - 5. a bigot of whatever leaning
    FUNDAMENTALISM - 5. bigotry of whatever leaning

    The net result:
    A good descriptive term like "fundamentalist"
    stolen to fit a slot for which we already
    had a term "bigot".

    BTW, "bigot" comes from the French understanding
    of what the English were saying
    (back when the English occupied part of
    France called "Normandy") when they
    said "BY GOD". I guess the Normans said
    it a lot back in the days of Joan De Ark,
    cause the French started a term called
    "bigot" which has it's same meaning now
    as it did then.

    But why is it necessary to ruin a good
    term like "fundamentalist" to do the same
    job as "bigot"?

    Anyway, language changes as time progresses,
    sometimes with great rapidity.

    [​IMG]
     
  10. Ransom

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    skanwmatos said:

    But, the point is, you don't! To me "coconut" means a foul, sickening, disgusting food. To my friend it means exactly the opposite.

    Marcia's point is, no matter whether it is vomitous or heavenly, both your friend and you use "coconut" to refer to the big brown seed that comes off a palm tree. You do not mean brussels sprouts. He does not mean candy. You have differing and subjective opinions of coconut, but you both understand objectively what a coconut is.

    To put it in the language of grammar, the word "coconut" has a certain connotation to you or your friend that is in addition to its denotation.

    If it were not so, then to be consistent you could not associate illness with "coconut" because you could not know what someone else meant by the word. Hence all verbal communication would be useless.

    Similarly, regardless of its misuse by KJV-onlyists and others, "inerrancy" has a particular technical meaning as expressed in such statements as The Fundamentals and the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy, for example. Just because some people misuse a word does not mean its definition is not objectively knowable.
     
  11. skanwmatos

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    But if it means two different things to two different people, how do you dogmatically assert that your understanding is the one, and only correct, understanding?
    Of course, but remember, our fallen nature causes us to have a flawed perception, and a flawed processing of that flawed perception, so "coconut" cannot be understood apart from our inner emotional response to the word.
    But, again, how do you dogmatically assert that your understanding of the author's intent is the one and only correct understanding?
     
  12. Pastor Larry

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    Words have meaning in context, both literary and social. Words have no meaning outside of teh context in which they are used. Anyone who doesn't understand a foreign language should grasp that.

    Some words have a more common meaning than other words do. The meaning is whatever the author intends it to be. If he wishes to communicate, then he should use a word that his hearer will understand as he intends it.

    Anyone have the passage from Alice in Wonderland? If you do, post it. I don't have it handy here ...
     
  13. skanwmatos

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    Exactly! We are never entirely subjective (as much as we would like to think we are). Everything we hear is filtered through our background and experiences. When I hear "coconut" I cannot be objective about what it is, but the word brings to mind all of my past experiences, both negative and positive.
    I agree. But, for some, there is so much emotional baggage associated with the word they are unable to objectively apply the historic theological meaning, but rather dredge up all the emotional baggage associated with the "God is Perfect so His word must be perfect in exactly the same way" thought processes they were indoctrinated with. [​IMG]
     
  14. rsr

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    For Pastor Larry:


     
  15. gb93433

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    Of course, but remember, our fallen nature causes us to have a flawed perception, and a flawed processing of that flawed perception, so "coconut" cannot be understood apart from our inner emotional response to the word. </font>[/QUOTE]I understand what you are saying and I agree with you in many ways. I think that is the reason why we have good people with strong convictions on both sides of the issue of tongues. But if we extend that beyond a little then we are stepping into a subjective theology dependent upon relative truth. Truth is not relative or dependent upon what I think. Truth is from God and He does not change.

    To understand “what it means” we must study. But there are times when I cannot be so dogmatic because I really don’t know. That is the reason why we must listen and gain the understanding of those whom God has gifted. We must also take a look back in history and try to understand the historical background of each book and passage. Sometimes when we do have all the information it is difficult to make a decision. We must extend grace to those we disagree with.
    If we had all the answers we would be God and there would be no need for grace or salvation.

    I think you have hit upon a very important element the church must strongly apply. So often it seems those who think they know really do not know but little if any. A I have gotten older it seems that I know more but there is also so much more to know. Reflecting back there have been times I have been very wrong and didn’t know it until someone pointed it out to me.

    Certainly I can appreciate the issue you have brought up. It ought to make all of us think about extending grace to those we disagree with.
     
  16. skanwmatos

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    Excellent. What I am driving at, in my own way, is that we have to learn to separate our emotional responses from our intellectual responses. We must learn to do as our parents told us "count to ten first." Give our reason a chance to catch up with our emotions. Allow our cortex to rule rather than our thalamus.

    Once we learn to communicate without the emotional charge being present, and learn to respond, even to emotionally charged words, with our reason in stead of with more emotion, we will find that we are much better at communicating than we ever were before, and we will be able to learn far more than we knew before and thus impart far more information to others. [​IMG]
     
  17. Charles Meadows

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    Skan raises a good point.

    Marcia is right in that we can say that IN A PARTICULAR PASSAGE a given word has one intended principal meaning.

    Two things complicate this. The first was mentioned by Robycop3 - meanings of given words can change over hundreds of years.

    I think a more significant one is that we cannot always make distinctions of meaning between two words. In the end of John's gopsel Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him. He uses phileo and agapao. Is there a difference here or is it stylistic? Remember back to high school English and the "elements of style". We're often taught not to use the same word rerpeatedly. That why some of us have a thesaurus around.

    Really knowing a language involves ALOT of TIME and ABILITY. In evengelical circles we're encouraged to learn a little Greek and maybe even Hebrew. This is good! The problem is that many seem to think that reading Vine's little Greek book or something similar renders one able to intelligently comment on the Greek NT. "The original Greek word here actually means this! So we miss some of the picture in English". I hate to hear this! In actuality it is MUCH more complex than this. Words can change in meaning, may have different meanings, and may be substituted for no other reason than whim! These people know just enough Greek to be dangerous!!
     
  18. skanwmatos

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    Amen! Well said! How many "experts" have we seen right here on this forum who have an antiquated copy of Strong's Concordance and think that makes them experts in Greek and Hebrew?

    And all words, even those we consider ourselves intimately familiar with, still have connotative meanings which are unique to our background and experience. Learning to communicate those words effectively is a full time job.
     
  19. Scott J

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    How very post-modern of you...

    Yes, I do. Your emotional baggage not withstanding, words mean things. Yes definitions sometimes change but that isn't really what you are talking about.

    Regardless of what someone "feels" about a word, the word has an understood meaning or else language is useless.

    BTW, I agree with the definition of inerrant that you gave on another thread. The gist of it was "without error of fact" rather than the common misconception of KJVO's- without deviation of wording.
     
  20. skanwmatos

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    May I suggest some good reading for you Scott? Anything published by the Institute of General Semantics would be a good place to start. It will rapidly disabuse you of the notion that words have intrinsic meanings. The word is not the reality just as the map is not the territory. The word is just a semantic symbol weighed by the hearer and understood in the context of the totality of his background and experiences. [​IMG]
     

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