Thursday, May 13, 2010

Say What You Mean – The Trap of Jargon. Part II: What is being ‘Born Again’

The Genesis of Jargon Revisited: The Hand of Man

As I stated in my last post, there is no diabolical force at work with the changing of word usages and meanings. This is a phenomenon of the evolution of language itself. Certainly there are words in any language that have lost their true application or meaning to its slang usage. There are even words that have been essentially lost to the language itself. This is a normal flow of any language. In a closed group as many dysfunctional groups or sects are concerned, they themselves evolve the language and usage of terms as it fits their micro-society. This is why when one is talking to someone within the group it is very important that words exchanged have a common application and meaning. Unfortunately this is rarely the case with such groups. Their world view and biblical point of view are set in the environment in which they operate. This is why there are communication breakdowns when dialog is attempted. Essentially while common words are being discussed, it is a different language because there is no common meaning. It is important to have discipline when discussing such words and their conceptual application and meaning. This is the nature of the field of apologetics. To understand what a person in the group means when they use a word is essential. Then one can ‘work them back’ to more basic application of the word. At face value their usage of a word seems innocuous but keep on probing and you will usually discover an entire realm of meaning and application beyond the basic definition and application – this is the manifestation of jargon.

It has been my observation that in some groups their interpretation of the Bible may lead to wrong conclusions and so at some point leads to the development of flawed doctrine. One must be realistic when it comes to interpretation of scripture. We are essentially reading an ancient script written by those in a different society and perspective. If one does not fully appreciate this and incorporates what is known about the author, place, time, audience and even grammatical style, the conclusion that can be reached is what I like to call ‘flat’. In other words, the application of the scripture can from its initial point of origin veer off into error because of the truncated meaning inferred by the one who has not done their homework. What is a good indication of error as it concerns this conversation? When application of biblical texts cause separation and are motivations for a group to pull away from the mainstream. So, how does one recover from such a state? The Scriptures themselves hold the answer. However what must be understood is the context upon which a scripture can be applied. That is, proper groundwork is done to provide perspective and context to one’s application of the verse. Fortunately, these hurdles one must overcome have been overcome by scores of scholars who have done this depth of analysis for us in the form of commentaries, exegetical analysis and the clear use of hermeneutics. So, one should confirm the following as checkpoints:

1> does one have a grasp of the perspectives of the ones involved? For example, if we are analyzing a scripture regarding the Pharisee, do we understand what they believed and practiced?
2> Has one done the research on key words upon which the teaching rests upon as a foundation. How are they used? How many times are they used? Where are they used and to whom?
3> Do we understand the author’s style? How do they use certain phrases and even a grammatical pattern of usage that confirms the verse’s meaning?

This requires much effort but yields a solid application of the words and constructs a strong foundation from which to live and to build upon. I would venture to say that for the most part the shattered nature of Christendom in our time is only fruit of not doing the above. We essentially have not done the homework necessary in order to come to fair, clear and balanced applications of the scriptures we consider vital to our faith and spiritual orientation.

Return to the Jargon of ‘Born Again’
With all this said, we can now use the above in a working example that focuses on the phrase being ‘born again’. It is true that whomever you might talk to on this subject, there is a plethora of answers, yet if we remain focused and with a proper perspective we might arrive at a more definitive conclusion. It must be stated that we are not debating the merits of any act here, we are simply looking at the phrase as it is used in the bible most clearly in the Gospel of John.

Say What Nicodemus??
If we glance at the scriptures regarding the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, one might reach the obvious conclusion that water baptism is part and parcel to the ‘born again’ experience. After all, Jesus is recorded as saying, ‘Unless one is born of water and of the spirit, He cannot enter the Kingdom of God.’ What other conclusions could be reached? This is where proper study of the scriptures will yield much to one expending the efforts to do so. Regarding hermeneutics here is what we know: Nicodemus was a Pharisee and from prior scriptures what we know of Pharisees is that they fully understood the rite of baptism as an entry for one into the chosen people. Jesus refers to this himself passing in another scripture where he talks about the leaven of the Pharisees and where they travel around attempting to make proselytes (Mt 23:15). The method for making a proselyte is water baptism after circumcision (for the male). This ‘baptism’ baptism was known as the mikveh. Which was a pool or container of water large enough to immerse a body; the mikveh was filled with living water that is waters that were flowing when they were extracted (e.g. River, spring, etc). In fact in the rabinnical texts, the phrase being ‘born again’ is well documented and were directly associated with the ritual mikveh bath. So, as circumcision was a covenant with God, the mikveh as an entry point of the person as recognition that they had undertaken the covenant and so now a part of the Jewish nation. J.B.Lightfoot, well known commentator and Talmudic Scholar of the 17th century, comments: “[Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit.] He tells him, that the Jew himself cannot be admitted into the kingdom of the Messiah unless he first strip himself of his Judaism by baptism, and then put off his carnal and put on a spiritual state. That by water here is meant baptism, I make no doubt: nor do I much less question but our Saviour goes on from thence to the second article of the evangelical doctrine. And as he had taught that towards the participation of the benefits to be had by the Messiah, it is of little or of no value for a man to be born of the seed of Abraham, or to be originally an Israelite, unless he was also born from above…” So, a proper context is understanding that Jesus at that time was requiring a renunciation from a former life and belief system, that is Judaism. In this perspective, it makes sense and reflects the reasonings of John the Baptist earlier, that being sons of Abraham is no guarantee that one will enter the Kingdom of God. Did Jesus see value in water baptism? Of course, but Nicodemus saw it all the more, he knew Jesus was instructing him to renounce his old life by John’s baptism much the same way that a proselyte did when under Pharisaic instruction. In essence, Nicodemus’ repentance and embracing the kingdom of God was confirmed by submitting to the baptism of the Kingdom aka John’s baptism. Yet Jesus in the context of the scriptures emphasizes the role and purpose of the Spirit of God in the process of being born again in the remainder for the chapter. To ascribe anything sacerdotal to this verse regarding the water is out of context. Baptism was practiced in the early church in many forms, dousing,. sprinkling and immersion yet its true purpose was to mark the transition of the person in entry into a new life already given by the spirit of God. In addition, it was to formerly recognize the convert as having entered the local representation of Christ’s Body – that is the local church. Is this a spiritual event? Absolutely. Is it a sacerdotal event in the sense of intrinsic change of the person? No, it is simply a transition point and milestone. Its power is solely gained from the Christ’s work on the cross. I like to put it this way: it is not the subject, verb, adjective, adverb or any other part of speech used in a sentence, it is merely the punctuation. It is the period at the end of the sentence that frames the purpose of the sentence as complete – it only has meaning as it points to what has gone before it.

Jargon: Straining out the Gnat but Swallowing the Camel

Many doctrines and movements hinge on this concept of post sacerdotal work and experiences after true repentance and surrender to the Savior. Yet when viewed in context, the mystery is lifted and the scriptures can be seen for what they are. The ‘flatness’ of literal interpretation without proper exegesis and hermeneutics added yields wrong conclusions and applications, as the above example conveys. The focus here is jargon and what I have attempted to do is bring a general usage of the term ‘born again’ – as a spiritual birth initiated by the Holy Spirit - while attempting to represent the scriptures ‘as is’ but with a proper point of reference. Without this, the scripture will be applied with very ‘modern’ assumptions that yield wrong conclusions about the rest of the body of Christ that does not hold to the interpretation that they might themselves embrace (e.g To conclude that one is not a part of God’s Kingdom or is ‘incomplete’ because they have not had like experiences as another) . So who is to answer for such things; not the hearer and follower as much as the teacher. Mt 23:15 is a stunning reference to those who proselyte with a private interpretation. It is not only damaging but will incur at the very least reproof by the Lord Himself.

On to part iii: 'The Kingdom of God' - Perhaps this is the most pervasive example of jargon other than the baptism of the Holy Spirit. I am pondering a part iv for this subject but this deserves its own post as does water baptism of which I have only briefly touched on here - I have written a detailed work on Water Baptism -it covers every scripture in the New Testament and those passages in the Old that are relevant to the subject. If you would like a copy of Water Baptism - I would be glad to send you one, just let me know through email. My address is
I am currently working on a document that explore Spirit Baptism at this time and will let you know by post when this is completed.

I might as well mention that I have a document that traces the life-cycle of the Latter Rain Movement of which I was a part of for many years. It is entitled 'Caught in the Rain'. This is available to you as well upon request.

Take care of yourself and remember to do your homework, Trust the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures first and line everything up according to them. This is your right and privilege as a son or daughter of God (oops another lesson on jargon perhaps);)