Encouraging, Living, Reaching

Are We Speaking A Foreign Language?

Are We Speaking A Foreign Language?

It is possible to speak English and yet not communicate. Communication is the exchange of words. One person speaks and another listens. Implicit in the process is that there is a level of comprehension.

Languages change

Unlike dead languages that are static, living languages continue to grow and change. This is obvious to anyone trying to read a copy of the 1611 King James Bible. The original spelling, grammar, and meaning of many of the words are different from today.

One example of a change of meaning is the word “let” used twice in 2 Thessalonians 2. The word originally meant, “to hinder” now “let” means, “to allow,” (2 Thess.2:6, 7, KJV). Another is in 1 Thess. 4, “prevent” meant “to go before” now the word means “to hinder,” (1 Thess. 4:15, KJV).

Christian talk

There are many words and expressions used in our circles (assemblies) that mean little or nothing to the unsaved or the “uninitiated”. Some people call these words or phrases – tongue in cheek, “Christian-eze” or by some as “Brethren-eze”.

This is probably a non-issue in assemblies with a demographic of fifty year olds or older. If there are younger people, immigrants who speak English as a second language or unsaved coming in it may be good to consider what words are used. This may also be important if there are new converts or the possibility of new believers coming into the building.


Here are some examples of phrases that would be foreign to the uninitiated. Expressions such as, “if there be some here that know not the Lord,” or “if the Lord be not come “or,” the next service will be…” convey little to strangers.

Some words that convey truth to many of us would be foreign to those in view in this article. Words such as sanctification, glorification, propitiation, atonement – are all good words but convey concepts which need explanation. There are words in the KJV which are beyond most of us – dissimulation, profligacy, dissipation, and prodigal to name a few.

A good test

It is good to consider what people are really hearing in our meetings. It makes sense to explain an idea or a concept in simpler terms. A test to see if you understand a word is – can you define the word without using that word in your definition?

By way of illustration, if I had started this article using obscure words you would not likely have read this far. Words like elocution, erudite, verbosity, etymology would cause most to accuse the author of hubris and verbiage. The reaction of many would be,”Why doesn’t he speak plain English?”

Gary McBride

Gary and Gloria were commended into full-time work in 1981 by Grace Bible Chapel in Timmins, ON.  They were first commended to Zambia then went to Northern Ontario and were involved in camp work for 28 years. They now resides in Southern Ontario and Gary serves as itinerant Bible teacher, as well as helping with New Life Prison Ministry (nlpm.com). Gary has authored several book and loves to writes. He has a passion to see young men develop and mature in the Lord.

8 Responses to Are We Speaking A Foreign Language?

  1. John Gaddye

    I read the book listed below, and the description of ‘Wal-Mart English’ is great. I think we should apply the same view of language in our communication of the Gospel. How would I explain it if I ran into a friend at Wal-Mart and had a conversation? If it were necessary to use a word that my friend wasn’t familiar with, I would first explain what it means. Or when I’m talking to my son, I might use a word, then ask if he knows what it means and explain it so his vocabulary grows without leaving him bewildered about what I’m talking about.

    An Anchor for the Soul
    “In 2000 Ray Pritchard wrote a little “gospel book” called An Anchor for the Soul that explains how to go heaven for those who don’t go to church and don’t know much about the Bible. He wrote it in “Wal-Mart English” to reach a wide audience. ”

  2. Chuck

    Thoust brether (singular of brethren) of mine, forsooth. A conspiracy is afoot, me thinks. Doth thou thinkest in thine soul to thus commandere the holy language of yore to profane mine ears and thy tongue also. Methinks you align with the knaves who whilst and with utmost innsinciritude (no to mention, incertitude) turn upon the head of the hoi poloi astray to join company with the rabble. Woes is me. I am undone. But, alas, I speaketh with tongue planted with the firmness of terra cotta in the side of my vocal orifice.
    PS. Your article is well said, brother.

  3. David Gray

    The gospel needs to be plain, clear and easy to understand. To those not familiar with scripture terms like “the Lamb of God,” and hymns like “are you washed in the blood” carry no meaning and certainly need to be explained. The preaching of the gospel needs to be simple but solemn.

  4. Jerry Albert

    Most disturbing to me is the use of profane and and unthinking terms such as OMG, Jesus, gee, and Holy____by my fellow believers in their everyday conversations.

  5. Tom

    Funny thing is, talk to the same folks in the parking lot about the hockey game or how their kids are doing in school and there is no difficulty whatsoever in communicating from either side.

    We only seem to use church jargon in church or when speaking to Christians about something to do with our common faith. Even at the dinner table when explaining scriptural concepts to our children most of us avoid using terms that would be incomprehensible to them, or we at least take the opportunity to translate for them.

    We can all do it. We just need to be conscious of what we actually sound like to people who have not moved in our circles for a couple of decades.

    Important subject, Gary, well put.


    Gary’s post related to communication – more specifically comprehension – is a good read. It is encouraging to read that topics like this are being addressed.

    I am not entirely sure, though, that “Christian talk” is a non-issue in assemblies with a demographic of fifty year olds or older. While I do not fellowship at an assembly anymore, when I think back to when I did, I do remember wondering if some of those who were part of that demographic really understood the words and expressions they were using and saying. Perhaps they did. Perhaps they didn’t. God knows.

    Many, who were raised in homes where the Bible was taught, are familiar with Christian lingo, but I do wonder if the comprehension of what that lingo really means is there.

    More concerning, at least to me, is the level of comprehension (or lack thereof) of Scripture itself; not just the language used in the teaching of Scripture. I heard a lot of propaganda when i was in the assemblies, and still hear it when I read and listen to some assembly teaching.

    The issue of “Christian talk” will resolve itself when we fully comprehend what Scripture is actually saying.

    Thanks again, Gary, for the encouraging post.

  7. Ian

    I agree to a point. It is clear that we need to be understood at first. 1 Corithians 14:7-9

    “And even things without life giving sound weather pipe or harp except they give a distinction in the sounds how shall it be known what is piped or harped? For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound who shall prepare himself to the Battle? So likewise ye except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood how shall it be known what is spoken? For ye shall speak into the air. ”

    But perhaps as we grow in understanding we can learn the meanings of some of these words. It is not practical to continually explain the meaning of words for which one appropriate word would then convey the desired truth. Every profession has a vocabulary associated with it as does the bible. For principle maybe Hebrews 5:11-13

    “of whom we have many things to say and hard to be uttered seeing ye are dull of hearing. For when for the time you ought to be teachers ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the articles of God; and are become such as have need of milk and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. ”

    I quote this only to show that there ought to be growth and maturity in the believers development in spiritual understanding and life; understanding that the passage is speaking of spiritual concepts and not merely words.

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