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Thursday, October 22, 2020

Same Words, Different Meanings Based on Context

We've noted in several studies how the same word is used, but clearly there are different connotations. We see this in Greek as well as in English. Let's just take the word and idea of being justified. When scripture states that the Lord was "justified in the Spirit" (1 Tim 3:16), that is quite different than the statement "that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law" (Rom 3:28), "justified by His blood" (Rom 5:9), etc. 

Just as often, we hear words given ecclesiastical (churchy) meanings which have nothing to do with their uses in scripture. 

We've see one or other of these issues with certain words. Here are just a few concepts that Christendom has distorted to one degree or another (with links to direct or tangential posts):

In this post, we'll quickly look at the word "saved."

Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. [Greek: sṓzō]
-Rom 5:9

"But he who endures to the end shall be saved." 
[Greek: sṓzō]
-Matthew 24:13

And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved
[Greek: sṓzō]
-Matthew 24:22

“He saved others; Himself He cannot save." 
[Greek: sṓzō]
-Matthew 27:42

He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. 
[Greek: sṓzō]
-Mark 16:16 

Then His disciples came to Him and awoke Him, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” 
[Greek: sṓzō]
-Matthew 8:25

But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me!” [Greek: sṓzō]
-Matthew 14:30

"Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it. But whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." [Greek: diasṓzō]
-Matthew 16:25
And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. [Greek: sṓzō]
-James 5:15

We see in these verses, that word "save" must be interpreted in its context. Let is look at one more example, this time from the lips of the father of John the Baptist.

Now [John's] father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying:
 “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel,
For He has visited and redeemed His people,
 And has raised up a horn of salvation for us
In the house of His servant David,
 As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets,
Who have been since the world [ages] began,
 That we should be saved from our enemies
And from the hand of all who hate us,
 To perform the mercy promised to our fathers
And to remember His holy covenant
-Luke 1:67-72

We see here the backdrop for the earthly ministry of the Lord. We recognize from a previous post the key phrase "since the world [ages] began." We juxtapose this against the called-out Body of the current age (the dispensation of the Mystery) who are said to have been hidden from "before the [overthrow/foundation] of the world [ages]" (Eph 1:4). 

God's redeemed people, Israel, have an earthly calling and an earthly hope. They look for the Son of David to take the throne in the promised restored Kingdom in the land. They look to be "saved" from gentile oppression, from sickness, from the anti-Christ, from the Tribulation, etc.

Take a look at Matthew 16:25 above. The word translated "life" there is not the Greek word "zoe," but rather the word "psychḗ." This is what we know as "soul." Remember, you do not "have" a soul, you "are" a soul. 

So, let's change "life" to "soul."

"Whoever wishes to save his soul will lose it. But whoever loses his soul for my sake will find it."

In ecclesiastical language (the language used by visible Christendom), it does not register that the Lord is calling on his disciples to "lose" their souls. We say we are about the business of "saving" souls. Again, we must look at contexts. We must discard the ruinous saved/lost dichotomy.

See how Peter uses the words "saved" and "souls" in regard to Noah:

the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls [psychḗ], were saved [diasṓzō] through water... -1 Peter 3:20

diasṓzō is combination of "dia" (by or through) and "sṓzō." That is, "saved through." We would not look at this verse and argue: "Noah and his family were saved from eternal death because of water." But the way "saved" and "soul" in the modern age almost forces us to draw that conclusion. And while we know immediately that is a foolish assumption, we fail to apply the same careful analysis to other verses using either "saved" or "soul."

Let us turn to one of James' uses of "save."

Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save [sṓzō] a soul [psychḗ] from death and cover a multitude of sins. 
-James 5:19-20 

The context here is "brethren" who are "among you." Are these "souls" that lost the free gift of resurrection life because they sinned? Of course not. How does one then "save a soul from death?" To answer, we will look at a similar warning to a similar people in the Acts age.

For he who eats and drinks [the Lord's Supper] in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep [die]. For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged.

-1 Cor 11:29-31


We see some here who not only risk sickness, but death, if they fail to take the Lord's Supper in a worthy manner. First question, is this true today? If so, why would any gathering take the Lord's Supper much at all? I know some locales take it every week (e.g. Plymouth Brethren) and some quarterly (e.g. the artist formerly known as The Southern Baptist Church). 

But to our point, in that age, you could "save a soul" through self-judgment and/or correction of behavior. Is that what we mean when a "soul" is saved from the penalty of sin either then or now?

Let's circle back to the beginning. We must get past the "saved/lost" mentality. We must understand what "soul" constitutes. We have to understand that just because a word is used in scripture, it does not mean we are bound to interpret it the same way in every case, in every age, for every group.

I leave you with the word "ekklēsía" [translated as "church" often in the KJV].

To the church [ekklēsía] of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
-1 Cor 1:2-3 
This is he who was in the congregation [ekklēsía] in the wilderness with the Angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our fathers, the one who received the living oracles to give to us...
-Acts 7:38

Now when they heard this, they were full of wrath and cried out, saying, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!” So the whole city was filled with confusion, and rushed into the theater with one accord, having seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians, Paul’s travel companions. And when Paul wanted to go in to the people, the disciples would not allow him. Then some of the officials of Asia, who were his friends, sent to him pleading that he would not venture into the theater. Some therefore cried one thing and some another, for the assembly 
[ekklēsía] was confused, and most of them did not know why they had come together.
-Acts 19:28-32

The translators tried to be slick. I guess they just didn't know what to do with the word "church" when it was applied to Israel or to an angry mob. 

Two quick final points. 

First, we must note that there are "churches" in the "church" during the Acts age (and in the age to come as seen in the Revelation), yet only a single "church" in the current age. The plural is used in 6 of Paul's Acts Age epistles as well as in the Book of Acts and in the Revelation. 

There was a body of believers in the Acts age, and that body had its own head. As described in 1 Cor 12, in that body, some members functioned as "eyes," others as ears and noses. Yet in the One New Man body of Ephesians (Greek: sussomos, only use by Paul), we see that Christ is the Head of the "church." This reflected in the Post Acts epistles of Colossians as well.

And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church, of which I became a minister according to the [dispensation] from God which was given to me for you, to [complete] the word of God. 

-Colossians 1:18, 24-25 


One enters this Body by understanding the current age. This is not the focus of this post, but I do want us to see this. Paul has a warning in Colossians 1 regarding the "gospel" of this age (there are multiple gospels in scripture) which was entrusted to Paul alone: "if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister."

Again, Paul does not threaten the loss of a free gift of resurrection life, but rather the loss of spiritual blessings in the far above the heavens. Paul is pleading for Christians to enter into this body of blessing by faith. We've covered that elsewhere, so we'll move on to our final point.

Our second point in regard to what we construe as the church takes us back to James. Let's look again at how the KJV translators chose to handle the word ekklēsía in Acts 19.

Then some of the officials of Asia, who were his friends, sent to him pleading that he would not venture into the theater. Some therefore cried one thing and some another, for the assembly [ekklēsía] was confused, and most of them did not know why they had come together.
-Acts 19:32

They chose the word "assembly" for the mob. Where else did they choose to use "assembly?"

My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. For if there come unto your assembly...

-James 2:1-2a

We're back in James, the epistle written to "the twelve tribes scattered abroad" (1:1). Is it ekklēsía we have in James 2 as we had in Acts 19?  No, it is not. we have a very familiar word, synagōgḗ, that is, "synagogue," a place of gathering for Jews. This word is used 57 times in the Greek New Testament and is translated "synagogue" 55 times. Only in Acts 13 ("congregation" in context of Jews there) and here in James 2. We must ask why the KJV translators (or anyone else) would choose to depart from the obvious? It cannot be context as we've noted the context is "the twelve tribes" of Israel. That is, Jews.

We must be careful with our words. The KJV translators cast some confusion over the setting of James by choosing to discard "synagogue" for the safer "assembly," and by doing so, they muddy the interpretive water. 

We must let scripture speak for itself. When we impose the saved/lost or Israel/church or old testament/new testament dichotomies on our theology instead of letting our theology be informed by scripture, we fall into tradition and error. 

When we read a word, we must Rightly Divide (2 Tim 2:15) that word, we must compare the things that differ (Phil 1:10). We must note the age it is given and the audience to which it has been addressed. We must understand the context.