Words matter. Definitions matter. Our age is hell-bent on changing words and their meanings. To find substitutes for old words eliminates meanings. And when meanings are eliminated, ways of life go with it.
In George Orwell’s famous book 1984, one man named Syme speaks to another man named Winston about how wonderful “Newspeak” is and their intentional work together at the Ministry of Truth:
It’s a beautiful thing, the Destruction of words. Of course the great wastage is in the verbs and adjectives, but there are hundreds of nouns than can be got rid of as well. It isn’t only the synonyms; there are also the antonyms. After all, what justification is there for a word, which is simply the opposite of some other word? A word contains its opposite in itself. Take “good,” for instance. If you have a word like “good,” what need is there for a word like “bad”? “Ungood” will do just as well – better, because it’s an exact opposite, which the other is not. Or again, if you want a stronger version of “good,” what sense is there in having a whole string of vague useless words like “excellent” and “splendid” and all the rest of them? “Plusgood” covers the meaning or “doubleplusgood” if you want something stronger still. Of course we use those forms already, but in the final version of Newspeak there’ll be nothing else. In the end the whole notion of goodness and badness will be covered by only six words – in reality, only one word. Don’t you see the beauty of that, Winston? It was B.B.’s idea originally, of course,” he added as an afterthought.1] George Orwell, 1984 (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017), 49.
Orwell was concerned about thought control that came down from B.B. (Big Brother) and how the destruction of words could bring about compliance. Eliminate a word and you eliminate an idea. Eliminate an idea, and you eliminate a way of life.
The Bible gives us a host of words to use because God has intended that his Word would shape our lives. His Word is not some mere expression or idea; the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). The Word that John refers to in his gospel is the Logos, and from that comes the idea of logic.
Some of the key words of the Bible are familial words: Father, Son, heir, husband, wife, family, adoption, male, female. To lose these words is to lose the logic that God has revealed about himself and about us. And a loss of this logic would deplete us of a fuller vision of life.
As Christians, we don’t hang on to words out of tradition. There are words we hold on to dearly because God has given us His Word to shape us, form us, and enable us to live in a different way – not according to the patterns of this world, but by being transformed with a renewed mind (Rom. 12:2). These words, given by the Word himself, teach us about who God is and who we are. And to lose the meaning of these words, we lose a vital understanding of the reality that God has created so that we would know him and enjoy him.
So let’s not surrender the meaning of words just because the pressure is on. There’s more at stake than a definition. There’s a reality of joy that God holds out to us that’s at stake!
Holding fast to the Word of truth,