Complicating Factors in Language

Language is captivating! It is fluid and at times even volatile. In other words, it changes without notice and is always morphing in different ways. Think of the word “cool.” The common definition of cool is fairly cold. However, subcultures within the United States during the 20th century began to redefine the word. The word has now taken on a separate definition typically meaning stylish or excellent. Another example can be seen in the work of Shakespeare. Did you know that Shakespeare created 2,000 words during his life and work?

As language is so fluid, we sometimes have difficulty defining words that were once commonly used. Nowhere is this more evident than in the vocabulary used in the Bible. A simple example would be meat as it is used in the KJV. When we think of meat, we typically think of the parts we ate that are taken from the carcasses of animals. However, meat once meant in a more general sense, food. There are also other complicating factors. Sometimes language is full of more technical jargon. A brief listing of some of these types of biblical words, found in nearly all versions of the Bible, would include atonement, sanctification, propitiation, etc.

My simple point is that we sometimes miss the meaning of important words used in the Bible and, therefore, miss out on the point the author is making.

What is a Reviler?

A word commonly used in the Bible, and likewise commonly misunderstood, is the term “revile.” To revile means to speak abusively towards and commonly indicates a profane manner of speech toward another individual (VINES). A common English dictionary defines it as a verbal attack with abusive language or, more simply, to insult. A reviler is one who speaks ill towards others and has a spirit of dissension. Revilers are commonly recognized by their bad attitude and ill will.

To give you an illustration of the sheer magnitude of this word, look to the book of Jude. Jude is a short book mainly focused on characterizing false teachers that had “crept in unnoticed.” These same individuals are described as revilers of angelic majesties and revilers of things that they are ignorant of (vv. 8, 10). These revilers are identified as ungodly multiple times, as being ignorant, and as having no basis or recognition of Godly authority.

The Destruction of a Reviler

In 2 Timothy 3, Paul gives a description of people who would arise during Timothy’s ministry. These individuals would claim to be Christians, but their attitude would not align with that claim. Here, Paul gives one of the most distinguishing and in-depth descriptions of these individuals enumerating nearly 30 of their characteristics. These individuals would be bold and brash; they would use their claim to take advantage of others. They would be most noted for their conceit and arrogance, billowing themselves up while they break others down. They would be revilers. They would speak ill against others. They would have a bad attitude towards other Christians and they would allow small differences to be the source of contention.

Christians are told to control their tongues because of the damage and destruction that can be spread through words. James details this great destruction in his letter by stating, “See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity, the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by Hell” (James 3:5b-6). We commonly are told that “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Well, truth is, words do hurt or we wouldn’t have to appeal to this little ditty so often. Words are crushing, discouraging, and disheartening. Therefore we are told to be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger because anger does not accomplish the righteousness of God (James 1:19f).

We Cannot Be Revilers!

Today, I ask everyone who reads this article to look at these verses and make personal application. Are you the person that Paul is describing? Do you speak ill towards other Christians? Do you think before you speak or do you allow ill threats, nasty sarcasm, and disrespectful speech to pour forth freely from your lips? If so, remedy this wrong and change the way you speak to others. Be a source of encouragement in all areas and build others up! Don’t make the mistake of failing to have an attitude that lines up with your claim of being a Christian.