Good writers have a way of communicating ideas in a variety of creative ways. This makes reading them exciting, right? No one wants to read the same thing over and over and over again. If you have to repeat the same idea, do it in a way that is creative and communicates that idea in a fresh way. At least that was something I was told when I took creative writing classes in college.
For some of us, that’s a lot more difficult than we’d like, right? But it’s certainly helpful if we want to write things that people will actually read.
One of the reasons why I love reading OT poetry (e.g., Psalms) is because Hebrew parallelism is beautiful. The way that the psalmists communicate the same ideas without sounding repetitive really blesses me. I mean, how many ways can you say “I’m frustrated,” right? In Psalm 69, David finds quite a few ways to express that feeling (e.g., David writes that the waters have come up to his neck, he’s sinking in deep mire with no foothold, and that the flood waters are sweeping over him).
As you’re probably aware, the OT authors are not the only biblical writers that communicate ideas in creative ways. The NT is full of examples where Paul, Peter, or John use a variety of words to communicate essentially the same concept. But not everyone reads Scripture aware of this truth, which leads them to embrace what Osborne calls the word fallacy. He writes,
“None of us ever uses the exact same words to describe our thoughts. Rather, we use synonyms and other phrases to depict our ideas. Therefore, a truly complete picture must cluster semantically related terms and phrases… We would do an injustice to the topic by ignoring passages dealing with the same theme but using other related terms. Here a semantic field approach is needed to determine all the terms and phrases which express a concept.” (The Hermeneutical Spiral, 92-93)
Osborne points us to Anthony Thiselton’s examples: “wind” (such as anemos, lailaps), “spirit” (s?ma, sarx, psych?), “seat of emotion or insight” (kardia, etarachth?), “the whole person” (to emon, me). Each of these concepts are communicated in the Greek New Testament by way of a variety of Greek words. Thus, if we only look for concepts to be communicated in one word, we commit the word fallacy that Osborne mentions.
A simple way to avoid this fallacy is to remember that the biblical authors were good writers. I mean, they were inspired by the Holy Spirit after all! Right? But beyond the issue of inspiration, they demonstrate through their writings that key concepts and theological ideas find expression in a variety of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek words/phrases. If you remember this, you’ll avoid falling into the word fallacy.
Do you have any examples of biblical concepts that are expressed in a variety of ways?