“Then Bildad the Shuhite answered, ‘Dominion and awe belong to Him….’
Then Job responded….. ‘To whom have you uttered words? And whose spirit was expressed through you?'” -Job 25.1-2a, 26.1a, 4
In Job 25, Bildad the Shuhite gave a theological statement that was basically true in form and content, but it was only a categorical burst of words, and for his hearer, it was an ill-fitted word that was totally out of season.
In a culture that has drowned in multi-colored billboards and ads, 24-hour newscasting, and other flagrant profusions of excessive speech, there is a radical need for God-infused speaking. It can only come forth through the Church, for we are the only ones who have been touched by mercy and truth, but “woe unto the world” when the house of God itself has slipped into a categorical mode of speaking and a mechanical mode of living.
It is little wonder that our “small talk” is often laced with gossip and slander. It is little wonder that our meticulous theological conversations and debates often lack the reverence and joy that mark a man who is abiding in a true knowledge of God. It is little wonder that the proclamation of the Gospel has often been reduced to an attempt at “relevance” or a robotic delivery of “logical” Christian truth, devoid of authority and unction from above. It’s no wonder that our casual conversations often slip into sin, for we have diminished our distinctive calling to prayer, and thereby lost the ability to speak rightly of God.
We have been busy speaking and doing, but we have failed to be found in the place of prayer, and this has been the seedbed for all our hollowness. We have run to-and-fro in various works to the neglect of prayer, and we have therefore been unconscious of His present love and untouched by the fear of the Lord. We are not leading the saints into a life of brokenness before God. Failing here, we open the gate for failure everywhere. If we have not gazed upon His majesty in prayer, we will not be able to speak of Him rightly. And if we fail to speak of Him rightly, we cannot speak of anything rightly, for He is the source and essence of truth itself. When He is diminished, all else is distorted. What then can be said of this “Bildadic” mode of ministry and life?
We are like the Shuhite, even using language of “awe,” but falling short of a true proclamation, for we have been unwilling or too busy to give ourselves to the counsel of the Lord Himself. It is in prayer where His truth becomes true in our souls, and His reality is made real in our hearts. We can trot out our doctrinal persuasions, our clever and catchy sermons, or our views in counseling, but the question must be asked:
“To whom have you uttered words? And whose spirit was expressed through you?”
Bildad expressed the “awe” of God, and the doctrine that He alone “establishes peace.” (v. 1) In verse 3 of Ch. 25 he declared the might of God, raising the rhetorical question, “Is there any number to His troops?” He declared the holiness of God and the depravity of man in vv. 5-6: “If even the moon has no brightness and the stars are not pure in His sight, how much less man, that maggot, and the son of man, that worm!” In a word, he gave a theological statement that left little to be corrected or added to. It was commendable in many ways. But is was not the word of God Himself, for it failed to set forth the present testimony of Jesus Christ, and Job detected it. The apostle speaks to us today:
“Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” -Eph. 4.29
Edification is not always given by a happy-go-lucky word. It is given by the present testimony of Jesus Christ, which is the “Spirit of prophecy.” It may be the most encouraging and joy-inducing word we’ve ever heard, or it may be a word calculated by the Lord to devastate our illusions, and shake us from the false comfort of delusion and slumber. Whatever it may be, the present testimony of Jesus is what we ought to covet.
We have the propensity for missing it along these lines, for our hearts are often dull and we see only in part. We are apt, usually based on our personalities, to lean in one direction or the other.
If we are bubbly souls naturally, or have a strong itch to please men and be accepted by them, we are more prone to flattering and complimenting others, and often we can do this without any counsel or anointing from the Holy Spirit.
I might call myself a “Barnabas” and think of my calling to encourage others, but I need to be sure that it is the encouragement of the Holy Spirit Himself, lest I find that I am only feeding my reputation as a nice guy, and even subtly manipulating others to think highly of myself.
Likewise, if I am a somber type, serious and critical toward all that is opposed to my personal preference, I may not flatter others too often, but I may also be in error. I may find it easy to correct or rebuke men, or to speak out against doctrines that I presume to be false, but I may just as well be totally devoid of the life of God. I may consider myself a “straight shooter”, and I may not feel as if I am pursuing the approval of men, but I might be guilty of self-glorification just the same.
Not many have been willing to come into this radical circumcision of the heart, though it is the call upon every saint. We have a mandate to speak as a prophetic people who have “tamed the tongue,” who are not consumed with our own opinions and the blab of our subjective ideas (even religious ideas), but whose speech is God-suffused, and leads men to the knowledge of Jesus Christ. It was said of Spurgeon that men who came to hear a sermon from the famed preacher, often left the meeting declaring, “O, how glorious is the Man, Christ Jesus!” They went to hear from the prince of preachers, and left consumed with a new vision of the Prince of Peace. Are our words and lives having that effect on the souls of men?
“…. where can wisdom be found?
And where is the place of understanding?
Man does not know its value,
Nor is it found in the land of the living.” -Job 28.12-13
The answer is not in leaning to one side or the other, nor is it to look for that “happy medium.” The word of the Lord is not found in what we can calculate as nice and encouraging or bold and confrontational. The word of the Lord transcends our wisdom. It is not one side or the other, it is from above; it is “that which proceeds from the mouth of God.” It is “spirit and life.” Do not look on the earthly plain, or weigh out the possible effects of your speech. We must instead allow the Lord to lay the axe to the root of our self-glorification, and go to prayer and to the Scriptures for the present testimony of Jesus Christ.
It is only found when we, in the temple of prayer like Isaiah, “see the Lord high and lifted up,” and the fiery coal is taken from the altar and put to our lips. When Uzziah dies, namely, when we stop seeking the approval of men and our own self-glorification, only then are we permitted to see the exalted Lamb. And when we see Him in His present exalted reality, we realize the uncleanness of our lips, and He is ever-willing to purge and send us. It is set into motion when we are willing to come to Him on that holy ground. This is His mercy.
And when the coal comes from that altar, since it is not initiated and performed by our wisdom but is a holy work of God, our speech will not only be singed or improved upon. Our high opinions will be torched, and our whole view of life and truth will be totally reforged. And seeing the Lord high and lifted up, being jealous only for His glory, we will be granted the authority and power to speak “as one who is speaking the utterances of God.”
The world is perishing and the Church is languishing for want of a true knowledge of God. The voices that will convey the present testimony of the Lord will be those who have given themselves to prayer, shutting down all other activity until they have met with the Lord in reality. The world needs desperately to hear that which is “of Him, through Him, and to Him,” and it will only hear that note sounded by those who have prostrated themselves on the heavenly threshold, eager only for God Himself, and the word which proceeds from Him.
“Behold, these are the fringes of His ways; And how faint a word we hear of Him!” (Job 26.14a)
O God, set Your people apart in this late hour. Deliver us from hollow living and shallow speaking. In Your boundless mercy, bring us into the present testimony of Jesus Christ, that we might live and speak as true voices, and not mere echoes. Confront us in our smug categorization of the faith, and let us be marked as those who “live, move, and have our being” in You, and You only. Give us earnestness after You, and a deep-seated jealousy for Your glory. Amen.
Bryan Purtle is the founder of the Antioch Prayer Society in Kansas City, MO.
Posted in Featured Articles, The Kingdom of God Tagged with: brokenness before god, calling, holiness, Knowledge, majesty, prayer, the Holy Spirit
Editor’s Note: The text below was written by Adolph Saphir in his work Christ Crucified; Lectures on 1 Corinthians
“…To know “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” is not the minimum of knowledge but the maximum of knowledge; it is not to know little, but to know all; that here is not a descent from a loftier region, but an elevation into the highest sanctuary; that “in Jesus Christ and Him crucified” all doctrines, all God’s teachings, and man’s experiences culminate; and from “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” all duties, all works all ministries are to emanate and to be evolved. Here is the hidden, the perfect wisdom of God. No doctrine is seen clearly and truly unless it leads to the cross; no work is God-pleasing, no experience or attainment genuine and vital, unless it has its source, root and strength in the cross; no waiting for the second Advent is healthy and purifying unless it is called forth by the contemplation of the great God and Savior, who gave Himself for us, and redeemed us from all iniquity. He who longs after wisdom, deep and broad, profound and comprehensive, lofty and real, heavenly and entering into the earthly life, let him learn from the Apostle Paul, that to know Jesus Christ and Him crucified is Alpha and Omega, that here are hid all treasures of wisdom, and knowledge, and spiritual understanding. No other fervor or activity is pleasing to God, and useful on earth, but that which proceeds from beholding the Lamb that was slain. That which appears to the world as an obstacle is a channel, for the weakness of God is stronger than man.
Idolatry substitutes ideas and things for the Divine Person. The world speaks of the true, the good, the beautiful; an element, an abstraction. This is not the language of revelation. The Pagan asks, “What?” The God-taught ask, “Who?” Ideas however sublime, laws, however pure, cannot bring peace to the heart and life to the soul. Salvation can only come through a Savior; life can only be given from the source of life, the living God. And this is the greatest mystery of Godliness, that God Himself has come down to earth; that God Himself has visited His people; that the Son of God became man. “God manifest in the flesh.” Higher than this we cannot rise. Greater gift that this God could not bestow on us. The Eternal has allied Himself with our finite existence.” (Adolph Saphir, “Christ Crucified” Lectures on 1 Corinthians chapter 2, page 13)
Posted in Featured Articles, Revival & Prayer Tagged with: bible, crucified, God, Jesus, Knowledge, Paul, Public Domain: Adolph Saphir, spirituality
Blameless On That Day
Holiness and Love
Justified believers are urged to pursue holiness. We are promised that the pure in heart shall see God. (Matthew 5:8) We are warned that without holiness no one will see the Lord. (Hebrews 12:14) In the hope of seeing Him as He is we are exhorted to purify ourselves as He is pure. (1 John 3:3) Our hearts’ holiness is analogous to God’s heart: we are commanded to be holy as He is holy. (1 Peter 1:16) This pursuit of holiness is really a response to the wooing of God. He is seriously courting us and looking for our commensurate, loving, consecrated commitment. (James 4:5)
Remember, our holiness doesn’t save; the blood of the incarnate Holy One saves. (Romans 5:9) Our consecration is a result of His atoning blood purifying us so we may, with open hearts, encounter God as He is. (Hebrews 1:3, 9:14) The Bible relates many instances of people who came face to Face with true holiness. Practically every occurrence of this happened to someone who was already in a relationship with God. For example, Isaiah and John were in covenant and communion with their creator before they heard heaven’s courts cry out, “Holy! Holy! Holy!” (Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8)
I believe there will always be increasing revelatory light which exposes the motives and works of every growing believer. Yet, for us this light has a red tinge. It is “light through the blood.” It is life giving light. (John 1:4) God desires to give a deep rooted security which absolutely rests upon the work of Calvary. (Ephesians 3:17) As this happens, He brings us into increasingly frequent, deeper, lasting encounters with His purity. Lest we shrink back, to avoid feeling “undone” and falling at His feet like a dead man (Isaiah 6:5, Revelation 1:17), we must consider that we are not saved through our response. We are saved through Calvary. (John 3:16) It is in the light of Calvary that we must bring to mind that the Messiah is going to judge every soul who ever lived.
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: (2 Timothy 4:1)
Here are two pictures of this awesome Day:
A stream of fire issued and came out from before him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened. (Daniel 7:10)
And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. (Revelation 20:12)
One day every justified believer “will give an account of himself to God.” (Romans 14:12b) This does not have to be a threat. In 1 Corinthians Paul writes a lot about the Lord’s return and coming judgment. (3:11-15; 4:1-5; 5:5; 6:2,3; 11:26-32; 13:10; 15:24-28) Please read the following verse and find a surprising promise:
… the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God. (1 Corinthians 4:5b)
Many live with fear of coming condemn-ation. How can we live in a way that we are assured of coming commend-ation? Paul was not insecure about the coming judgment. He looked forward to a “crown.” (2 Timothy 4:8) I believe Paul employed a key which opened a door to anticipatory confidence. This key is not a mystery. Look:
And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ (Philippians 1:9-10)
and may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you; so that He may establish your hearts without blame in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints. (1 Thessalonians 3:12-13)
In these prayers it is revealed that our love for others is a key to being established, “blameless in holiness.” Holiness looks like the fulfillment of the two great commandments. (Matthew 22:37-40) Lest we forget, Jesus added another:
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you (John 13:34a)
In the same way we must consistently enter into the experience of God’s love for ourselves, so we should cultivate and consistently express our love for other believers. This love, fulfilling every moral standard, is the heart of holiness. (Romans 13:8-10) We will love because He loved us first.
So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4:16-21)
Let us set ourselves apart and highly prioritize loving the brethren. (1 Peter 1:22) As we abide in Jesus’ love (John 15:9) we will be transformed by His perspective and love others in a way that glorifies Him in the day of visitation. (1 Peter 2:12) We will be blameless, holy, in the presence of the living God.
Jesus commanded this. Paul prayed for its fulfillment. Let us confidently ask the Lord to perfect this love in our lives.
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)
Posted in Scripture Tagged with: consecration, David Harwood, holiness, Jesus, judgment, Knowledge, Matthew, Paul
The Angel in Acts 11 told Cornelius to send for Peter “Who shall tell thee words, whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved.” There is an incredible power in words. James says that “Life and death are in the power of the tongue…” and in no context is this more explicit then in the preaching of the Gospel. On Peter’s words hung the eternal destinies of Cornelius and his entire family. What a solemn and most severe responsibility we have to communicate the Gospel with clarity and irresistible persuasion.
In Matthew 13:19, Jesus is telling the parable of the sower. He says, “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is the one on whom the seed was sown by the way side.” This is what I call, “Way-Side Evangelism”. Some preachers preach to hear themselves talk. Paul said that the time would come when people would want their ears tickled, but I think some preachers only care about tickling their own ears. These “Way-Side” preachers are infatuated with their own brilliance and charmed by their own eloquence. They love to impress people with their deep insight and advanced theological understanding. Meanwhile those listening to their message are as confused as a rabbit at an Easter egg hunt. What good is a message like that!? Preacher – save your cacophony of hermeneutical mendacity for the elephant-waxing tournament! We want to understand The Message!
Jesus said that when a person hears our message, but cannot understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. The Gospel is salvation articulated. If the world could only understand it, I am sure that they would find it utterly irresistible. But if we don’t make it plain someone listening to our message might walk right past the narrow gate to eternal life and never know that they missed it! It happens everyday…what a crime. We must not give the Devil an opportunity to snatch the seed away by preaching a Gospel that is confusing or hard to understand. When we preach with clarity, with poignancy and with precision, we stomp on the Devil’s grubby, pilfering fingers, the sown Word takes root and produces fruit that will remain in the lives of those to whom we minister.
Arriving on the Battlefield
I would be remiss, if I failed to address the other, equally significant side of this coin. It is not only the message that is important, but also the medium. For much of the world’s history the major medium for communicating thoughts and ideas was verbal transmission; anecdotes and parables passed down from one generation to another. This began to change however around time of the Protestant Reformation. Neil Postman points out that, 1“Beginning In the sixteenth century, a great epistemological shift had taken place in which knowledge of every kind was transferred to, and made manifest through the printed page. ‘More than any other device,’ Lewis Mumford wrote of this shift, ‘the printed book released people from the domination of the immediate and the local;…print made a greater impression than actual events…To exist was to exist in print…’ 2” The Church was on the cutting edge of this shift with the very first printed book being the Gutenberg Bible. The following generations would see the Bible translated into more than 1,000 different languages and become the best selling book of all time.
In our generation there is another shift occurring. Today, electronic forms of communication are the dominant voice in the world. In the U.S. nearly 100% of households have a television and on average each dwelling has more than 2. More than a trillion Internet URLs are in indexed with Google alone, which performs over 2 billion searches daily. Consider that if Facebook were a nation, it would be the 8th largest in the world with over 150 million members. Everyday over 100 million videos are viewed on You Tube and the list goes on. In America we have seen a striking example of the power of electronic media in our recent presidential election. It has been said that President Obama won the election, 3“because he understood new media.”
A couple of years ago the Lord spoke to me and said, “Every generation has a battlefield. If the Church fails to arrive on that battlefield, she will loose that generation. Your generation’s battlefield is the world of media.” President Obama showed up in that battlefield and won because his opponent didn’t even know what the battlefield was. Francis Schaeffer said, “Each generation of the church in each setting has the responsibility of communicating the gospel in understandable terms, considering the language and thought-forms of that setting.” Our responsibility of making the Gospel understandable goes beyond simply saying the right words…it demands that we show up in the right forum. As a street preacher I used to look for the most populated place in town to go preach…a park or a street corner, anywhere the people were. I would have been an idiot to set my soap-box up in an deserted parking lot.
Not only must we communicate in a way that the people can understand. We must also take the Gospel to where the people are! Can I tell you where they are? They are in front of the Television and the radio and the computer. But for too long we have downplayed and even demonized these electronic communication mediums. And even those who have taken advantage of them, for the most part, have done so poorly (don’t get me started on Christian television). How can we win the battle, if we are not on the battlefield? How can we reap a harvest if we are not on the harvest field? Reinhard Bonnke says, “If you want to catch fish, don’t throw your net into the bathtub.” The seed of the Gospel is too consequential to be cast by the way side.
In the days of oral tradition, many generations faithfully communicated, with solemn commitment, the scriptures that we still cherish today. In fact it is evident that Biblical oral tradition has been among the most enduring in history. In the sixteenth century, the new world of printed literature was dominated by Christians who seized this medium for God’s glory. Now it’s our turn and I fear that we are not doing as well as our predecessors. We must trouble ourselves to communicate the Gospel with clarity to our generation where they are that we “…may by all means win some.”
1 Postman, Neil. Amusing Ourselves to Death. New York: Penguin Group 1986
2 Mumford, Lewis. Technics and Civilization. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World 1934
3 Lewin, James. http://www.podcastingnews.com/2009/04/16/
Posted in Culture Tagged with: evangelism, internet, Knowledge, media, Obama, preaching, reinhard bonnke, television, the church, the Gospel
“…. no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of the human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” -2 Pet. 1.20-21
Please hear this remarkable word from Nathaniel West:
In the hour of affliction we learn more of God’s word, and God’s way, than in a whole age of sunshine and prosperity, and it is well to remember that the prophecies were spoken first in that moment when Israel’s night was the darkest. Paradoxical indeed, it was then that the light was the brightest, the promise the sweetest, and the devotion the deepest. So will it be again. Israel will be able to say, when emerging from the last great tribulation, as when returning from Exile to build the Temple:
“The Lord hath chastened me sore,
But not abandoned me to death.
The Lord is God. He hath given us light;
Bind the sacrifice with cords,
Even to the horns of the altar!”
Affliction, Light, and Consecration, these are the best handmaids of a true interpretation.
(Nathaniel West, The Thousand Year Reign of Christ; Kregel Publications, p. XVI)
It is often said that we form our theologies and interpret the Scriptures based on the lens through which we look. Depending on the stream of our religious upbringing and our experiences in life, we often interpret passages with our own particular presumption and bias.
It is also said that we often interpret the Scriptures based on the level of willingness we possess to truly hear what they require and promise. In other words, we find in the Word what we want to find, and discard that which demands a higher call to the death of the self-life. We see what we want to see, and no more.
Nathaniel West wrote that “Affliction, Light, and Consecration” are the greatest and most necessary helpers for a true interpretation of the Scriptures.
What do we know of affliction? West is speaking of Israel’s affliction under judgment and exile, but is there an affliction that we willingly give ourselves to, and that would make way for a better interpretation of Scripture? I believe, in at least one aspect, that our self-made value systems, bumptiousness from familiarity, and “know-it-all” attitudes must be afflicted before the Light of interpretation can be opened. We’ve got to crucify our own wisdom, and lay our souls low before the same Spirit that moved the prophets. Are you reading the Scriptures categorically and robotically, or are you turning away from your own frozen knowledge and facing the burning bush that the Scriptures constitute?
Next, there is the element of light. When our own wisdom has been afflicted and set aside, then we are postured inwardly to receive the Light of God through the Scriptures. We must receive Light from the Spirit of God, or else the Bible is an impossible book to engage, enjoy, and receive from. If the same Spirit who rested on and moved the prophets does not rest on us, we will not gather from the Scriptures what the Lord has desired to give. We must ask the Spirit to come with His own Light, otherwise we will not be reading rightly. Therefore, dear saint, we ought to pant for the presence of the Spirit in the midst of our reading, so that Light may come, and our reading may itself become an act of Communion with God.
Lastly, the element of consecration. If we come to the Scriptures with no true intention of consecrating our lives to the Light that He gives us, we are not likely to come into a true interpretation. The Scriptures were not merely given for the formulation of eschatological ideas, the constructing of Doctrinal charts, or any such thing. They were given so that the Eternal God, and His great purpose, would be exposed to Israel and the nations, and that men would come into the reality of what He has always intended; namely, the revelation of Himself, and the glorification of His ways.
If we are unwilling to consecrate our lives to the Light that He gives, we will invariably miss what He is speaking. But if we come to the Scriptures in the same Spirit by which they were written, all the glories of His nature and will become intensely available to us.
“Affliction, Light, and Consecration, these are the best handmaids of a true interpretation.”
Posted in Scripture Tagged with: affliction, Christ, communion, consecration, God, judgment, Knowledge, Nathaniel West, prophecy, prophets, Reality, sacrifice, the bible
Science is a somewhat ambiguous word. Often, it is taken to mean the interpretation of empirical evidence indicating a phenomenon, physical effect or biological function. Modern society, to a certain extent, is based heavily on the idea that we should shape our function and everyday living by scientific finding and fact. However, this was not always the way of things…
As an introduction, I would like to say, that it is the way of Man to struggle to believe what can be proved by hard fact. Man is, for the most part, a disbelieving being. While we are children, we are told fairy tales and have facts hidden from us that may be detrimental to our long-term character if discovered too soon (imagine the horror of a two year old finding out the real ‘facts of life’). It is in our youth that we begin to ask questions about what we have heard and we shed the old ‘childlike belief’ for a more rational explanation of things.
Unfortunately, we do not naturally retain a good amount of ‘childlike’ faith and this must be regained through self-examination and grace, but that is not the issue here.
It is also the nature of Man to be in disagreement with one another. Socio-psychological perspectives change our ideas greatly and one man argues from his rational thought process only to be ‘beaten down’ by the ‘trump card’ of scientific observation. In our modern culture, it is almost always the case when discussing the existence of God that the conversation turns to some question on the origin of man. Here, expectations, which are often unrealistic, are placed upon the man who uses a purely reasoned argument instead of a purely empirical one. Regrettably, this can lead to the ‘unscientific’ side appearing weak on fact or, as some insensitively put it, disillusioned.
We sympathise with those who feel ‘blinded by science’ and want to take a chance to re-evaluate the idea that arguments based on scientific evidence can be used as a trump-card against philosophical or ‘reasoned’ arguments, or as Thomas Henry Huxley, an English biologist once put it, “The great tragedy of Science — the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact.”
The Meaning of Meaning
Ironically, the meaning of meaning is complex. Even in the root origin of the word, semantics or the study of meaning means ‘significance’[i]. For example, when Pilate asks Jesus “What is truth?” [ii], he is asking a semantic question i.e. what should I understand to be the meaning behind the word truth?
Language is nothing but a common schema of words, symbols or actions attached to associated meaning. To demonstrate, if I were to look at an apple on the table and say it looked ‘scrumptious,’ the meaning would be obvious to somebody sitting on the other side of the table that knows the same language as I do. However, one of the great problems that we face in a ‘global village’ world is the language barrier. A recent study showed that there are only 328M English-speaking people in the world, but it also appeared at the same time as the one millionth word mark was surpassed by the English language[iii]. Clearly, the English language is a ‘common schema’ that is not so common.
This creates a problem for us as people who need to communicate and classify things. We have different definitions of words because our language is complex and our understanding of the definition of a word changes both our interpretation of the word and how we apply the classification of the word to our own lives. Continuing in the same stream, let us ask the following question of ourselves, “What do we understand by the word science?”
We will look at this question in three parts:
- We will explore the literal meanings of science
- We will explore the wider usage of the word science
- We shall look at two ‘branches’ of science and particularly at one, which has less value accounted to it in our culture.
As we have already discovered, and deduced from conversations and debates, Science is generally taken to be the empirical basis on which natural processes stand – that is to say, evidence defines Science. Rightly so. Excepting Proto-Indo-European origins, all western usages of ‘Science’ can be traced back to variations on ‘Knowledge.’[iv] Later we will deal with two distinct ‘branches’ of the term, but for now, we will take Science to be the knowledge of some natural process.
Biology, physics and chemistry are the three foundational disciplines of Science. In these areas of study and experimentation, we divine the natural processes and systems behind everyday life through empirical testing and then make an interpretation of them based solely on the findings of our experimentation.
Of course, interpretation and evidence are unhappy bedfellows. They do not go well together at all, one is highly subjective and the other highly objective. It is possible that our perception of the evidence before us is entirely misguided by our individual bias, or as Aristotle puts it, “it is evidently equally foolish to accept probable reasoning from a mathematician and to demand from a rhetorician scientific proofs.”[v]
However, it is also admissible to say that we may eliminate our bias and regard all data in an experiment only for what it is. Although it is not generally an accepted view, it is none the less possible, but remains entirely in the hands of those qualified to obtain accurate evidence through experimentation.
In the light of Aristotle’s writings, we are presented with an interesting issue in the definition of science. The science, of which we have thus far spoken, the knowledge of natural process, is not the only usage of the word. Let us turn to an overview of some other usages.
Findings in a recent study[vi] conducted at Reading University (UK) places the oldest words in the English language to be: I, We, One, Three and Five. The earliest English speakers often had trouble asking for two cups of sugar from their neighbours (i.e. “Do you have two cups of sugar.”) In addition to the difficulties experienced by Anglo-Saxons when baking cakes, the study also demonstrates that words change their meaning over time.
As previously stated, Science is quite a narrow concept in our culture, but the concept has a far wider historical usage than is often accredited it. Let’s look at some examples.
‘Conscience’ is a compound word used to describe the idea of knowledge of right and wrong of some kind. ‘Ideology’ has the ‘science of ideas’ listed as one of its usages. Ironically, ‘sciolist’ is the name given to someone with a superficial knowledge of academic matters but has the same Latin root as Science. For Kant, Aesthetics is the science, which treats the condition of sensuous perception i.e. the knowledge of senses.
Surely, unable to deny our own narrow concept of Science, we should attempt to come up with a more diverse classification of the term.
Next time, we will take a look at a better classification of the word Science.
[i] The word ‘semantics’ is taken from the Greek word ‘semantikos’ meaning ‘significance’ and ultimately, from the Greek word for ‘sign.’
[ii] John 18:38 – Pilate’s intention in this verse is debatable.
[v] Bekker Number: I.1094b24
Posted in Philosophy & Science Tagged with: biological function, biology, conscience, debate, empirical basis, experimentation, freedom, global village, Jesus, Knowledge, natural processes, science, semantics, Sigmund Freud