6 Weirdly Meaningful Words Christians Have Forgotten

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Sometimes I feel like the Professor on Gilligan’s Island, alone in random thoughts that probably matter only to me. Today, I ache a little over the lost of a common Christian vocabulary — the great words of theology, like justification, and propitiation. In addition to those theologically dense words, many of us grew up with other words, transliterations from Hebrew, Greek, or Aramaic. Yesterday, I had to spell the word Maranatha for a young Christian gentleman who had grown up in church. He had never heard the word and had no idea of its connotation. No, the world hasn’t stopped spinning, and the message of Christ advances undeterred. However, I can’t shake the feeling that something’s been lost. A measure of understanding, maybe. Or a depth of insight. Or maybe it’s just a common experience of learning the vocabulary of the faith from the King James Bible.

Or maybe my Inner Curmudgeon is just feeling feisty. So, I offer you 6 weirdly meaningful words of a bygone era — words that many Christians have forgotten.

1. EBENEZER

Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Ebenezer, saying, Hitherto hath the LORD helped us. (1 Samuel 7:12, KJV).

What old-timer doesn’t remember singing, “Here I raise mine Ebenezer / Hither by Thy help I’m come…” (Come Thou Font)? Samuel erected a monument to the faithfulness of God — something of a place marker. He did it to commemorate a mighty victory over the pesky Philistines. Look how far God has brought us! Let us never forget! God hasn’t brought us this far to let us down now. He has helped us to this point, and he will help us still.

Ebenezer (EBB-en-eez-er) combines two Hebrew words: eben (stone) and ezer (help). A stone of help… another spiritual milestone to celebrate the unerring faithfulness of God. Oh that God’s people would erect their Ebenezers along the way, constant reminders of a constantly faithful God.

2. ICHABOD

And she named the child Ichabod, saying, The glory is departed from Israel: because the ark of God was taken, and because of her father in law and her husband. (1 Samuel 4:21, KJV).

No good news in this story at all; just disaster, death, calamity, and sin. The birth of Ichabod (ICK-uh-bod) came immediately on the heals of four tragic deaths: 1. his father, Phineas — a corrupt priest. 2. his uncle, Hophni, an equally corrupt priest. 3. his grandfather, Eli, a sincere but failed judge of Israel. 4. His mother (unnamed) who died shortly after giving birth. The occasion of the name is the great tragedy that the ARK OF THE COVENANT had been LOST in battle to the arch-enemy Philistines. As her dying act, she named her newborn son ICHABOD, two Hebrew words meaning NO (i) GLORY (chabod). [Some make it mean “where is the glory?” but I lean with those who interpret NO GLORY.]

Ichabod is a name of spiritual devastation. When a person, or nation, or family, or church so completely turns its back on God, it has adopted this infamous name. The luster of the divine presence is dimmed; God’s reflection is marred. In the late 1800’s, when a church once known for clear gospel preaching called a universalist to its pulpit, someone painted “ICHABOD” in giant letters across the wall above the pulpit. Spurgeon wrote, “Ichabod is written across our house if thou [God] be gone, for thy presence is our glory and thy absence will be our shame.”

Ichabod is a word of warning: tend to the heart of your life with God, nurture your walk with him, and the sense of his presence. Stay in his Word, that his glory might rest on you.

3. MARANATHA

If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha. (1 Corinthians 16:22, KJV).

I’ll save Anathema for the next weirdly meaningful word. Maranatha (mare-uh-NATH-uh) is a reminder word. Paul put it at the end of his first letter to the Corinthian church. It is not Greek, and it is not Hebrew. It is the language most likely spoken by Christ and his disciples: Aramaic. The first part of the word, Maran, means Lord. The second part, atha, means to come. So this can mean, The Lord is coming! or The Lord has come! or O Lord, Come! Take your pick, because the scholars debate it.

Given the context of a curse on those who don’t love Jesus, I lean toward, The Lord is Coming! It is a warning.  A clock is ticking. The countdown has begun. You don’t have forever to choose what you will do with Christ. He is coming! Turn to him in faith and trust and love. Maranatha is a word of promise and hope: keep yourself in the love of Christ, knowing he is coming again.

4. ANATHEMA

If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha. (1 Corinthians 16:22, KJV).

But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:8, KJV).

Anathema (uh-NATH-uh-muh), a Greek word, means cursed by God. Another word of warning. Let such a person be damned, is really the idea. I guess the omnipotent God of infinite justice doesn’t subscribe to the philosophy every kid gets a trophy. As a father’s fury is riled over disrespect to his child, as a mother bear protects her cub, so God the Father stands furious guard over the reputation and name of Jesus. To disrespect him is to grab a lion by the tail.

Anathema is another word of warning. Though God is love, he is not only love, and he never makes war in his own character to make peace with you.

5. PANOPLY

Put on the whole armor [panoplia] of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. (Ephesians 6:11, NKJV).

In one my all-time personal favorites, Charles Wesley (1700’s) taught the church to sing:

Stand then in His great might,
With all his strength endued.
And take to arm you for the fight the PANOPLY of God,
That having all things done,
And all your conflicts past,
Ye may o’ercome through Christ alone,
And stand entire at last.
(Soldiers of Christ Arise)

The PANOPLY (PAN-uh-plee) was the armor of a Roman soldier. It was everything he needed. The pan part means “all.” To take up the panoply was to be fully equipped for war. The Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. The helmet of Salvation. The shield of Faith. The breastplate of Righteousness. The boots of the Gospel. Life is a battle against dark forces, but God has given us all we need to stand strong against the devil’s dirty tricks. Build your spiritual muscle and wear all the armor of God.

6. TSABAOTH

So David waxed greater and greater: for the LORD of hosts [YAHWEH TSABAOTH] was with him. (1 Chronicles 11:9, KJV).

In what might be the greatest hymn the church ever sang, Martin Luther wrote:

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing
Were not the right man on our side, the man of God’s own choosing.
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus it is he!
LORD TSABAOTH his name, from age to age the same!
And he must win the battle!
(A Mighty Fortress Is Our God)

Most churches get tongue-tied at this weirdly meaningful word. The Hebrew word Tsabaoth (TSAH-bay-oath] means armies. The older Bibles translated it hosts. The Lord of Hosts is the Lord of Armies! Jehovah Tsabaoth (Yahweh Tsabaoth, same thing) is God’s fighting name. He takes up the panoply of his own matchless character and goes to war for his children. No fears can harm him. No foes alarm him. You can rest your embattled heart within the mighty fortress that is your God.

What words of this sort have I missed? 
Would it be cool to recover these words in the church? 
Should I just relax and have another coffee?

As always, sharing  on Facebook, Twitter, etc. is appreciated.

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Anathema, Maranatha, Ebenezer… what are we talking about? CLICK TO TWEET.
Funny  words of the Christian faith you might have forgotten. CLICK TO TWEET.

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11 thoughts on “6 Weirdly Meaningful Words Christians Have Forgotten

  1. As long as these words don’t become overly-used Christianese I’m all for it. What bugs me is when going to church sounds like going to an mlm hype meeting where everyone begins using the same language, not used in normal everyday life. That’s probably just a remnant of the huge chip that resided on my shoulder towards Christianity for so many years. Nevertheless, I can’t deny that going into a service where language is used that an unchurched person couldn’t understand is just really annoying.

    • I am with you, Donny! I hate the church’s insider language. And when we invite people to MOPS and AWANA and CR and never decode the language, we make them feel like outsiders, and hardly ever know it.

      That said, the vocabulary of faith must be patiently taught over the years, and when we use these words, a sentence of explanation is important. Thanks for the reminder!

  2. This English teacher thanks you for the vocab lesson! When I committed my life to Christ as a college sophomore, the very first discipleship lessons I had were on Romans, and I learned about justification, sanctification, and other challenging and heady ideas! I LOVED being challenged intellectually.

    • That’s great that you were instructed in these concepts. Without the vocab, we’re always starting at the beginning! With one word, we can conjure a whole concept of meaning and feeling. This is the power of language, and especially of the Word of God.

  3. Ditto to Donny on both comments. I love the deep rich meaning, but also know that it would sound like the language of the “in crowd” and would not be understood by the unchurched. That is why the series you are currently doing is so beneficial. I feel you have a great balance between milk and meat. I love chewing on the meat of your teaching and at the same time know that a babe is also getting fed. We are so blessed by your great gift.

  4. Sitting here pondering why I feel this way I realized something: such words probably wouldn’t have bothered me so much if their meaning had been taught. I think there is something a little dishonest about just using words without understanding their meaning. For example, I heard “Lord of Hosts” a lot as a kid. What the heck is that supposed to mean to a child? I have a feeling the adults in the churches I attended had no idea either.

    You have a good habit of explaining things to people. I think this is the number 1 reason I’ve enjoyed your teachings so much. For one thing, you make the past make more sense. Even if the people who surrounded me in church as I grew up didn’t have a clue what they were saying, and likely only used such terms because they were in the old hymnals from which we sang, I must assume those who wrote the songs we did indeed know what they were talking about.

    Teach on, my friend!

    • I happened to write that last comment before reading the comment you’d written to my previous one. Funny that we arrived at similar conclusions: explanations are key.
      :)

  5. I love that you posted these words….this is what is so great about studying the Bible as well as listening to your messages……if you want to dig deeper you can or if not you will still come away blessed.

  6. Thank you! These words, so meaningful to believers, just aren’t heard anymore. I love it when you quote from the great hymns. I’m so afraid of their being lost to future generations!

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