The Need for Precision

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At the recent Apologetics Canada Conference, we heard speakers carefully and clearly delineate methods, arguments and tactics for defending Christianity. One thing that struck me was the precision with which they defined terms and the importance placed on accuracy, even in the minor details. J.P. Moreland mentioned the philosophical terms epistemology and ontology; however, before proceeding to the next point, he took a moment to define these terms for his listeners. This ensured that everyone understood what he was talking about, as well as granting him initial credibility.

Consider for a moment how little credibility would be granted to a Doctor who, instead of saying pass the scalpel, says, ‘I need that sharp thing over there.’ Is this not also true for us when we write or speak about the gospel or Christian theology? Will we be taken seriously if we are ambiguous, imprecise, incapable of defining the terms or if we make foundational mistakes in our claims?

An unfortunate example of this is found in something I was listening to in a church context. The speaker made reference to a Greek word for sin, τωμ, and defined it as ‘missing the mark.’ The troubling part is that there is no Greek word τωμ. ἁμαρτία conveys this sense, while παράπτωμα (παραπίπτω) conveys ‘to loose footing or make a false step.’ 1William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, p.50 and p.770 From this point onward, anyone with knowledge of the biblical languages will not trust the speaker when other Greek or Hebrew words are presented.

When we are talking about the gospel the stakes are high, therefore, we must ensure accuracy in all of our statements. As an exegete, I think this accuracy must start with our biblical analysis and interpretation. A recent study has suggested that atheists and agnostics have a better knowledge of Religion in general, and even Christianity and the Bible, than Christians. 2 http://articles.latimes.com/2010/sep/28/nation/la-na-religion-survey-20100928 (Accessed 27/04/12)  This means that many atheists – and I am speculating here, but think the more passionate ones would have done their research – will know as much as we do about the Bible and Christianity.

My point is our legitimacy in a discussion is helped by demonstrating we know what we are talking about. We will not be able ‘to demolish arguments’ or make a ‘reasonable defence’, if we make errant claims at the outset. This means we must do our homework to ensure we have the best resources at our disposal. Our goal is not to dazzle people with what we know or how smart we are, but to show them we have thought through our beliefs, worked through the text or know the contrasting opinions. The more trust we build the longer we can continue our discussion. The longer the discussion the more likely we can arrive at our intended outcome, whatever that might be.

by Mat Lortie

Photo: “Perfect Shot” by TheMarque (Flickr)

(Editors note: If you are having trouble displaying the Greek language text in this article, you probably have your browser set to a non-unicode font. Please see the following article for more information: http://www.teknia.com/freegreekfont/unicode )

Notes   [ + ]

1. William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, p.50 and p.770
2.  http://articles.latimes.com/2010/sep/28/nation/la-na-religion-survey-20100928 (Accessed 27/04/12) 

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