What about theological terms?

220px-Sandro_Botticelli_050 One of the reasons why Christians tend to disregard theology are theological terms. A barrier that is caused by language and illiteracy. Many also thought that since most of those words are not in the Bible, we should not bother studying them. Theological terms most of the time has an impression to the “laity” that such words can make the study of God’s word more and more complicated and confusing.  But I think that is not the case. The great theologians in church history have never intended to confuse us nor to make the study of the scripture complicated. In fact the very reason theologians use terminologies is to give distinctions and clarity. So how does this terms help us on understanding the scripture or distinguishing between heresies and the truth ?

It captures a whole doctrinal concept or teaching in one word or a phrase.

Words or phrases were used to preserve a Biblical concepts accurately and clearly. A good example would be the concept that God is one in essence and God is three in person, by which we know by the term Trinity. The word Trinity is not biblical. Nevertheless we believe that the concept behind it is taught all through out the scriptures. Another would be the concept that the second person of the triune God became flesh by which we know by the term Incarnation, derived from the latin incarno, meaning “to make into flesh” or “to be made flesh”. Or the concept that both those who were “dead in Christ” and those “who are alive and remain” will be “caught up in the air” to meet our Lord Jesus Christ, known by the term Rapture. Or the words or phrases such as Omniscience, Perseverance of the Saints, Christophany, Imputation, Original Sin and more. Just because the actual terms do not appear in the Bible, it does not necessarily mean that the concepts by which the terms represent do not appear in the Scriptures either.

It clears out the fog of studied ambiguity.

Studied ambiguity is a carefully planned wording to obscure one’s true meaning. In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin wrote:

“These slippery snakes escape by their swift and tortuous windings, if not strenuously pursued, and when caught, firmly held. Thus the early Christians, when harassed with the disputes which heresies produced, were forced to declare their sentiments in terms most scrupulously exact in order that no indirect subterfuges might remain to ungodly men, to whom ambiguity of expression was a kind of hiding-place.”

Heretics used the church’s language ambiguously as a hiding-place for their false teachings. The church then use terms that are more precise and clear so that heresy will have nowhere to hide. Again, a good example would be the formulation of the doctrine of Trinity.

During the third century up until the fifth century, there has been numerous attacks to the orthodox beliefs of the church with regard to the nature of our Lord Jesus Christ, His divinity, relationship of the three persons in the Godhead and the being of God.False teachers will easily choke on precise, and clear words because they are not accustomed to telling the truth.-@enriquetosabio Heresies like Modalism, Arianism, Monophysitism and Nestorianism forces the early church to make fine distinctions as to what actually the Scripture’s teachings  about God.

Sabellius, who was the chief proponent of Modalism believed that our Lord Jesus is divine, the Holy Spirit is divine and that the Father is divine. However he believed that they are but one person. He believed that God is but one person manifested only with different modes. He used to compare God with the sun as a way of analogy to illustrate his point. The analogy goes something like this; The sun has three modes, so does God, its form in the sky is the Father, its light is the Son, and its warmth is the Holy Spirit. It may sound plausible and like the Trinity but it is not our biblical understanding of the nature or being of God. Not even close!

Arius, the proponent of Arianism, did not hesitate to worship Jesus, to call him lord, or even to call him Son of God. He even said that Jesus was like God, but nonetheless a creature. You see, one can sound orthodox just by merely using the language of the church and putting his own meaning into it.

In Monophysitism, Eutyches stated that Jesus only have one nature, that is a mixture of or a fusion of being human and divine. Now, that made Jesus neither man nor God. He is then lesser than being God and higher than being man.  In Nestorianism however, Nestorius believed that Jesus has two natures, human and  divine. But he argued that the two were not just distinct but also separated by two personalities. We have on one hand affirming that Jesus have one personality with one nature and on the other hand affirming that Jesus have two personalities with two natures.

To resolve all this heresies the church has to come up with a term that will accurately represent the church’s view about the nature and being of God. All the term Trinity does is to capture the concept that God is one in substance, in essence or in nature but is three distinct persons. All of them being co-equal, co-eternal and consubstantial, and each is fully God.

Also implied in the Trinitarian formula is the nature and person of Christ, having one personality with two natures, truly God and truly Man. One divine nature that is fully divine and one human nature that is fully human. As stated in the Chalcedonian Creed :

“Following, then, the holy Fathers, we all unanimously teach that our Lord Jesus Christ is to us One and the same Son, the Self-same Perfect in Godhead, the Self-same Perfect in Manhood; truly God and truly Man; the Self-same of a rational soul and body; co-essential with the Father according to the Godhead, the Self-same co-essential with us according to the Manhood; like us in all things, sin apart; before the ages begotten of the Father as to the Godhead, but in the last days, the Self-same, for us and for our salvation (born) of Mary the Virgin Theotokos as to the Manhood; One and the Same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten; acknowledged in Two Natures unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the difference of the Natures being in no way removed because of the Union, but rather the properties of each Nature being preserved, and (both) concurring into One Person and One Hypostasis; not as though He was parted or divided into Two Persons, but One and the Self-same Son and Only-begotten God, Word, Lord, Jesus Christ; even as from the beginning the prophets have taught concerning Him, and as the Lord Jesus Christ Himself hath taught us, and as the Symbol of the Fathers hath handed down to us.”

That is just for Trinity and how it is distinguished from early heresies encountered by the church.

Nowadays you will hear preachers affirming that or ambiguously using the phrase “God is in control” and at the same time does not really believe in the “Absolute Sovereignty of God”. Some use “Justification by faith” but not by the means of “Imputation” of Christ righteousness. Some would use the phrase “It is the plan of God” but  what they meant by it is that God is merely making use of what He knew in advance. Or, they would not even hesitate to affirm the doctrine of “Election” but not in the same sense of “Unconditional Election”. It is quite shocking that even words in the Bible that are not obscured were being used ambiguously. Words like repentance(metanoia), turned into “having a positive or right perspective” ,  Gospel(euangĂ©lion) into “Health , wealth prosperity”, and Faith(pistis), into “faithfulness”, to name just a few.

I hope you are seeing now how important theological terms are. False teachers will easily choke on precise, and clear words because they are not accustomed to telling the truth. Worshiping God with a wrong view of Him will not glorify Him but slander His holy name and holy word! Hold fast with the historic biblical teachings and know what you mean by them.

Quits Sabio
Founder and President of Reformed Exegetes Society. Serving as an elder and sunday school teacher at Sovereign Mercy Evangelical Church Inc. at Caloocan Metro Manila Philippines. Quits is currently working as a Senior Lead Game Developer at Funguystudio(A Game Development studio at Makati Philippines). He is a musician playing various styles and genres(jazz,blues,classical,rock). A husband to Malou and a father to Amara.
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