WORD’S MATTER: A THEOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVE

What is it about something that is “new” that makes us happy and satisfied? Well, at least for awhile, and then the new becomes old and we look for the next new thing. Is it the smell or the shine; the freshness or the cool update to the technology that consumes us?  New cars, new houses, new cell phones, new careers, and even new relationships are often great for a season, but eventually the promised benefits of the new thing tend to fade away and what once drew our attention, eventually subsides.

The manner in which people of any culture think and relate to their language often times transfers itself into the way in which they read and understand the Bible. As a people, we are prone to imply on the scriptures definitions that are not necessarily correct, linguistically or otherwise, and in so doing we miss out on the varied nuances and meanings of the original writers.

For example, when we employ the word new in reference to a car, we are using that word to describe its newness in relation to time. If we compared the 2018, 2019, and 2020 models of a particular vehicle we understand this to be true. The 2020 model is the younger, fresher, or we can say the most recent. We understand that the “nature” of the car has not changed, it is still a car. It has wheels that move, an engine that gives the axles the power they need to rotate the wheels, and it has new seats, modernized technology, and a host of other things that make us desire to own it. But its nature always remains the same.

Now, if we take that understanding of the word new into our bible study and place only that definition into every text that speaks of new things, we quickly run into some serious problems. For example, Revelation 21:1 talks about a new heaven and a new earth. By importing our definition into those texts we would be led to believe that these things are only new in relation to “time,” but not “nature.” That would be a serious mistake. John, In Revelation 21:1 states that the first heaven and the first earth passed away, being utterly destroyed, and were replaced by a “new” heaven and earth (cr. 2 peter 3:10-13). This is actually promised in the Old Testament (Psalm 102:25; Isaiah 66:22)!  Peter, in his epistle, is speaking about the same thing as John, and both Apostles use the same Greek word for new (Kainos) which is the word used for something that is new in quality and therefore of a different nature from the old. 

The Bible uses several words in relation to new, newness, to make new or even renew. Not understanding which word is being used within a specific context can quickly lead us away from the original point of the author. Our English language is no different. According to Merriam Webster, the word new has various definitions and those meanings our defined by how the word is used within a sentence or particular context. The word new can be used as a noun with various meanings, or as an adverb. It can also be used as an adjective (newness, newish). Throw “Knew” and “anew” into the mix and you begin to see how important it is for us to understand that words are important; they mean what they say and say what they mean. I am using this example of word usage to quickly and simply bring to light the point I am making, i.e., we need to go a bit deeper in our study of God’s Word in order to understand what He is saying to us, based on the word usage within its own particular context. Thankfully there are many bible study aids available to us today!

Two Greek words of importance for our study are the words “Neos,” and “kainos.” Neos is the word used by the New Testament writers when speaking of something that is new in time, fresh, such as the “new lump” of 1 Corinthians 5:7, or the new wine being put into old wineskins in Mark 2:22. It is used less in the New Testament than the word kainos. We see it being used to contrast the new with the old in Colossians 3:9-10 and Hebrews 12:24. And it does not appear to have any eschatological (end times) content in the New Testament, but rather refers to a new reality or present salvation.

Kainos, is however a key theological term in eschatological promises. I mentioned this above in relation to the new heavens and new earth of Revelation 21:1 and 2 Peter 3:10-13. It is used in reference to the New Jerusalem as well in Revelation 3:12; 21:2. It is also used by Mark in his gospel (14:25) speaking of Jesus not drinking of the fruit of the vine “until the day that I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” This speaks of a different quality or nature of the event. 

Let’s go back to the new car example mentioned at the beginning of this post. If the amazing miracle of regeneration, by the Holy Spirit, in the life of a person that is “dead in their trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1), is understood to mean something that is only new in relation to time, space, and matter without a different, better quality about it, than what makes it something to be desired? Why would a sinner look unto God for forgiveness if He/she is still going to be strapped down with their old nature? What would make them believe that there is “victory in Jesus?”

Thankfully, God led Paul to write 2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” Both Greek words for “new” are kainos! Paul had the choice between the words Neos and kainos and he chose the latter because it is the word that expressed his point well. Not recognizing this distinction hinders our ability to fully grasp the meaning of the writer and affects our ability to rejoice at the miracle of regeneration.

Because of the supernatural work of regeneration by the Holy Spirit, redeemed sinners now have the Holy Spirit indwelling within them. A new divine nature and life are given to them (John 3:3-8; Titus 3:5). Now, with their new life and new nature, they can resist temptation and flee evil because of the Holy Spirits work within them to conform them to the image of the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18)!

This is only one example of many related to word usage in the Bible that we could study. I am purposely not being exhaustive here because my goal in writing this is simply to encourage the reader to seek the understanding of the biblical writers as they intended themselves to be understood, and not to insert our own definitions into the text. Our newer translations are great, but still at times require us to look deeper into the Word to understand how the writer is using a particular word within the  portion of scripture that we are reading. My hope is that you have a better grasp of the importance and value of seeking to understand the Bible in relation to how the God inspired writers intended to be understood.

Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance is a must have for any one seeking to understand the Bible better. As an Amazon associate I earn from qualifying purchases. This helps support the ministry, thanks.

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