Alibris Secondhand Books Standard

Sunday, July 26, 2009

is jesus a sinner? an etymological survey

The ninth chapter of the Gospel of John tells the story of Jesus healing a man who was born blind. Because the healing happens on a Sabbath, the Pharisees accuse Jesus of being a sinner. The man who was healed tells them a sinner wouldn't be able to cure blindness. The Pharisees tell the man he can't possibly know that; his blindness is a sure sign that he is a sinner too. The story ends with Jesus telling the Pharisees that they are the ones who are truly blind.

According to Gary Amirault of Tentmaker Ministries, most of us are the blind Pharisees. Amirault's logic is as follows:

The word "to sin" in the Hebrew is the word "chata" which literally means "to miss," as in missing a target with a bow or sling. The Greek word is "hamartano" which means "to miss the mark (and so not share in the prize), to err." It means to fall short of a goal or a purpose.

Amirault explains that Jesus' goal or purpose was to save everybody. So, if even one person is not ultimately saved, Jesus missed the mark; he "sinned". Therefore, if we don't believe in universal salvation, we must believe Jesus is a sinner.

Amirault, on the other hand, is above all that:

I once was blind to the Truth and like most Christians, I declared Jesus a sinner like the religious people in Jerusalem did. I said He was not going to save everyone. Then one day He opened my eyes and I saw clearly that He had to save everyone in order to fulfill His mission of doing the Father's will. My eyes were opened to the Scriptures in a new and exciting way. I saw Jesus not "missing the mark," but perfectly completing everything He planned from the foundation of the world. "If I be lifted up from the earth will draw (drag in the Greek) all mankind unto Myself." (John 12:32)

It all sounds beautiful. In the end, love conquers all and everybody goes to heaven, where we all live in sweet harmony. Unfortunately, there are so many flaws in Amirault's logic, it would take several posts to deal with them.

Today I'm going to consider Amirault's definition of sin. Is Jesus a sinner unless he saves everyone?

Amirault defines sin as, "to fall short of a goal or a purpose," based on the etymology of the word. But how reliable is etymology as a guide to a word's meaning?

Let's look at a few words to see:

cabinet: From Old French cabinet meaning "small or private room". It's not hard to see how this could morph two ways into today's terms "kitchen cabinet" (which is rather smaller than a room) and the Cabinet, the President's top-level advisors (who meet with him in a private room). But the original definition no longer matches either sense of the word.

sunrise: From Old English sunne meaning "sun" + risan meaning "to go up". This one looks fine, until you consider that the sun does not rise the way an airplane or a rocket rises into the sky; the earth spins on its axis creating the optical illusion of the sun's movement. It would be a mistake to take the meanings of the two words as evidence of a geocentric universe.

tofu: From Chinese dou, "beans" + fu, "rotten". OK, that one's probably accurate.

strike: From Old English strican, "pass over lightly, stroke, smooth, rub," or "go, proceed". None of the modern definitions of the word quite match; the closest is probably the baseball term for a swing and a miss. But the same word "strike" has acquired many additional meanings: to hit with a fist, to mark something out, to collide, to stop working, to knock down all the pins in bowling. These are all derived from strican; the etymology is completely unreliable as a guide to meaning.

Etymology can be dangerously misleading: The word pedophile is derived from the Greek words for "child" and "loving", but I wouldn't recommend hiring one as a babysitter.

And sometimes even when a word does mean the same as the term it was derived from, it doesn't. We get the word neighbor from Old English neah "near" and gebur "dweller", someone who lives nearby. But in Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan, neighbor has an entirely different meaning.

So is Amirault being fair when he claims that to say Jesus will not achieve his goal of saving everybody is to say that Jesus is a sinner? My answer is a word derived from the Old English na, meaning "no, never".

Labels: , , ,