[box]RVWD is my abbreviation for Religious Vocabulary Word of the Day. (You can read my introduction to the RVWD series here.) I do not intend for these word investigations to be exhaustive, but I hope they stimulate some thinking about assumptions. Possibly they will help with honest evaluations about what is truth and what is unnecessary baggage in life. [/box]
The word theology is not in any of the 8 most common English translations or paraphrases of the Bible. Still, one must ask, “Does the lack of a specific word nullify or diminish the concept, or the application of the concept?” To consider this, let’s begin by breaking down the word itself.
The parts of the word theology are very basic and easy to define. Theo- does, in fact, mean “God” or “god.” It is said to be derived from the Greek theos, but that word is of uncertain Indo-European origin, of which there is not written record. This unknown Indo-European word dhewes is surmised to mean “to storm, breathe.” As words, none of these has a primary usuage connection to the God of the Bible.
Any student is familiar with the suffix -logy, and has probably been told it means “to study.” This is an implied meaning. It more specifically means
1) “to speak of (something in particular)” or
2) a “science, doctrine, or theory.”
I suggest that 2) could be expanded to: “all the words used to speak of certain subject in an attempt to study or explain it.” In reality, the word theology is most often used to designate “that someone has obtained an academic degree which gives them an honored position of expertise that others are in need of benefitting from.”
What should be discussed is whether this is the perspective presented in the Bible and if it is a useful approach for those who would seek the God of the Bible.
The case could be made that we all “study” someone we love, in order to know them and love them better. In that sense, we should all be pursuing theology. And, surely, along the way, we all get encouragement and advice from those around us on the best way and attitude for proceeding in relationships.
The fact remains that no one can have the relationship for us. There is no one who can become an expert in marriage, for example, and then create our marriage relationship for us. Even if a couple goes in for weekly counseling of some sort, or gets regular words of encouragement from friends, the bulk of the time and effort has to be the couple’s or all is for naught. The commitment to the marriage has to be on the part of the two people involved or it simply doesn’t exist. To say it another way, there is no degree in psychology or family therapy that can empower an outsider to impact other people’s relationships to the same effect as their commitment to each other.
Yet, the Bible says “some will be teachers,” so doesn’t that imply that we need experts to teach us about important spiritual issues? Well, it also says a lot about parents teaching their children, and pretty obviously parents are not expected (by God, anyway) to go to school to get a degree in parenting. The model is more that those experienced in and matured by the rigors of life are to pass on their knowledge to those who will ask and listen. There is also the strong suggestion that such will happen based on meaningful relationship with the mature person, because any truly helpful advice has to come from a place of real insight into the details of a person’s life. No two situations, children, or marriages are exactly the same. Principles are good, but people most often need help getting through the nitty gritty of challenges, and a source of personal kind words, as well as advice.
All that being said, the crux of the matter is that if the use of the word theology:
- distances you from God, because only experts can really know Him, or
- keeps you from helping others, because only experts can really help, or
- repels you from God, because experts are often pompous
then its use is detrimental.
If the use of the word theology is inconsequential to your understanding of who God is, that is okay, because there are plenty of other words that do a better job of describing
- how and why God made us, and
- how He wants us to know and follow Him.
Jesus’s words as recorded in Mark 12:30 are “AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.” I don’t think anyone needs a degree in theology to do that.
Resources I used for this word study:
Webster’s New World College Dictionary, Indexed Fourth Edition
New American Standard Bible
Cruden’s Complete Concordance (Zondervan Classic Reference Series)