Language Matters

Well, as Aerosmith once said (please don’t judge me for that, I grew up with it), I’m back in the saddle again. After a short hiatus, I have taken up this blog again for whatever it is worth. I hope it will be some small benefit to you. You may not notice, but I have removed all of the “monetizing” posts that I had previously arranged before my little break. There are several reasons I did so, but one of the most important is simply because that sort of thing gives me an icky feeling in the gut. So, if you would like to support this blog and podcast (which, Lord willing, I will be resuming as well), you can visit the About page. But if not, you won’t hurt my feelings. Let’s begin, shall we?


Introduction

I have recently begun a project going through the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith (LBCF) and the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) to note every single significant difference between the two. This project is part of a larger work to understand and grapple with Baptistic distinctives. A significant difference is one that affects meaning. So, occasionally one of the confessions will read “the Holy Scripture” and the other will read “the Scripture.” That is not a significant difference; both confessions view the Scripture as holy. In this article, I would like to share with you some thoughts I have concerning one of the significant differences.

Creation Ex Nihilo?

One interesting difference is found in chapter 4 paragraph 1 of the WCF and LBCF concerning the words “of nothing.” The WCF reads: “It pleased God…in the beginning, to create, or make of nothing, the world, and all things therein….” The LBCF states: “In the beginning it pleased God…to create or make the world, and all things therein….” The question at hand is: why did the Baptists leave out the words “of nothing?”

It may seem like an inconsequential difference, but there is a good reason to suggest that it is not: it is present. In other words, if it did not matter whether the words were in the paragraph or not, then why did the framers of the LBCF take them out? In the opening letter accompanying the confession, the Baptists wrote: “There is one thing more which we sincerely profess and earnestly desire credence in–viz., that contention is most remote from our design in all that we have done in this matter….” They were not prone to make controversy for the sake of controversy, but rather added and omitted those things in the WCF which they felt needed correction.

The first reason that came to my mind for omitting the phrase “of nothing” was the simple fact that it does not occur in Scripture. There are 221 occurrences of the word “nothing” in the AV, and none of those occurrences are in reference to creation “of nothing.” You can visit the online TBS Bible and check for yourself (and please let me know if I missed something). But upon closer reflection, I highly doubt this factored into the decision to omit the words for two reasons.

Firstly, the confession uses other words and phrases that are not found in Scripture. Words such as Trinity, law of creation, covenant of grace, and so on are not found in the text of Scripture. They are words and phrases that we have made for ease of reference. The concepts are plainly and consistently taught throughout the Bible, but we use these phrases as a sort of short-hand.

Secondly, the Baptists wrote in their opening letter: “And also to convince all that we have no itch to clog religion with new words, but do readily acquiesce in that form of sound words which hath been, in consent with the Holy Scriptures, used by others before us….” They had no interest in rejecting the terminology of the Protestants for the sake of argument. In fact, they utilized many of the same words in order to demonstrate the unity between themselves and the Reformers on key doctrines. So, the omission of the phrase “of nothing” is not because it is absent in Scripture.

The Doctrine Itself

Of course, we know that the Bible teaches that God created all things out of nothing. Genesis 1.1 reads, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” Before the beginning, there was nothing but God; so when he created the heaven and the earth, it was necessarily out of nothing. John 1.3 states, “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.” If God made all things by Christ (which he did), then there must have been no thing (nothing) before all things were made. With the risk of beating a dead horse, consider Col. 1.16: “For by him were all things created….” If he created all things, then no things could have existed before he created them.

To Ex Nihilo or To Not Ex Nihilo?

So why omit the phrase? The only reason I can think of is that it is superfluous. If we say that God made all things, then there obviously could not have been any thing before he made it, which necessarily implies that he made all things out of nothing. A silly example of what I mean by superfluous follows:

I can work on my car. I can change out the alternator, replace a caliper, and even (sarcastic gasp!) replace a serpentine belt. I could also say: I can work on my car with tools. Well, of course I can work on my car with tools. It is impossible to work on a car without tools. In fact, the phrase “work on my car” by definition means that I am using tools to perform the work. So there is no need to say that I can work on my car with tools.

Granted, this difference really is not doctrinally significant. Both the Baptists and the Reformed Protestants believe that God created all things out of nothing. We Baptists are just better because we realized that there is no need to use the words “of nothing.” On a serious note, this points to the heart of the framers of the confession.

The LBCF is not simply a plagiarized, Baptist-ized version of the WCF. The writers of this confession purposely sought to use the language of the WCF where they could to demonstrate unity on crucial points. But the LBCF is a distinctively Baptist work. Every page drips with Baptist thought. In this example, we ought to always be refining our language. We do not need redundant phrases, and we do not need to dress up our speech. We can cut to the chase and get rid of the ornamental language.

Conclusion

Of course, I am not suggesting that there’s anything wrong with saying “God created the world out of nothing.” It is thoroughly biblical. All I am saying is that it is redundant. And while this is not really an important point in and of itself, perhaps we could learn a valuable lesson from it.

What areas do I dress up my language to make myself sound smarter? Do I use big fancy words when simple words work just as effectively? Don’t get me wrong, sometimes we need the big words. There is no replacement for the phrase “penal substitutionary atonement” or the word “propitiation.” But we have to be careful to not put on airs. After all, “Knowledge puffeth up” (1 Cor. 8.1).

The Scriptures are wonderfully deep and complex, but they are also remarkably clear. One paragraph that is exactly the same in both the LBCF and WCF is chapter 1 paragraph 7. This paragraph explains that “those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of ordinary means, may attain to a sufficient understanding of them.” Let us follow the example of the Holy Spirit speaking through Scripture. Let our words be so clear and open that everyone may understand them, so that the gospel message would not be obscured by fluffy speech.

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