Some have argued that we must not use non-biblical words to define biblical doctrines and theology. The point seems to be that if we use words found in the Bible, then we will be more biblical. Generally, however, such arguers will affirm the doctrine of the Trinity or inerrancy, both of which are words that do not appear in the Bible.
For this reason and others, the argument that we should only use biblical words not only does not work practically, it is nearly impossible to accomplish.
Any word we use in English does not appear in the Bible since the biblical authors wrote in Hebrews, Aramaic, and Greek. English words are translations, and a translated word is a very short summary that approximates the original word. Put another way, all translation inserts a non-biblical word to describe with varying levels of success what a Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek word means.
Here’s an example to illustrate the point. In Greek, the word pistis means something like faith, allegiance, trust, faithfulness, and so on. English translations often choose one of these options to communicate what the word means—often the word faith. Yet in English faith refers to one’s internal belief about the existence of something. That’s certainly part of what pistis means, but pistis can also communicate allegiance to a king or faithfulness in terms of one’s commitment to another.
The verb form of pistis is pisteuw, which English translates as “I believe.” Yet pisteuw can mean “I think” or “I consider.” It can also mean “I entrust” something to someone (See BDAG, 816–818). In other words, the English summary of the word makes sense in English and approximates what pisteuw means.
Even simple nouns suffer from this same fate. In Jonah 1:3, the prophet enters into an aniyah, which English translates into a boat. What is a boat? We might conceive of a barge, a schooner, or perhaps a trireme. But what would a boat look like 2,800 years ago? Would it be 10 feet long and 4 feet wide? Would it have a sail? Would it have a cargo hold?
Certainly, we know that an aniyah constitutes a craft that floats on water and can transport people. But we really do not fully understand the object to which the word “boat” points in Jonah 1:3 unless we know Hebrew—grammatically and historically since we need to know what Hebrew words meant at a particular time in history.
Let’s take one more example. The world of the Bible looks much different than our world seems to look. Old Testament authors saw heaven and earth intersect at the temple. And they understood signs on earth like the tabernacle as pointing to heavenly realities.
Today, we tend to assume that the world is flat. We see historical realities and don’t tend to see heavenly patterns behind them like the Hebrews did. We live in a naturalistic world.
All this to say, we operate all the time by using words to describe the Bible that do not exist in the Bible. In fact, the word “Bible” itself never carries the meaning of the “the sixty-six books that comprise God’s word” in the Bible. So if we follow through on the reasoning that we ought not to use non-biblical words, then we’d have no way to refer to the Bible itself. And that just won’t do.
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