From The Editor’s Notebook: Unscriptural Expressions

From The Editor’s Notebook

W. Ross Rainey

Unscriptural Expressions

Have you ever thought about and perhaps even questioned in your own mind some of the more or less unscriptural expressions used by Christians and sometimes passed along from generation to generation?

For instance, we frequently hear in both praying and preaching the desire stated that sinners might be brought to “a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.” Without nitpicking, it seems to me that this is not an altogether scripturally accurate expression. Multitudes of people have “a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ,” yet they are not saved. I know many such individuals personally, and undoubtedly you do also. In other words, those to whom we refer know the facts of the Gospel, but they have never personally come to know Christ as their Saviour and Lord.

When in my early twenties, someone pointed out to me that it is Scripturally accurate, and therefore much better, to use the term “saving faith” rather than “saving knowledge.” After all, it is not our factual knowledge of Christ that saves us, necessary as some knowledge of Him is, but it is our personal faith in Him that saves.

Another unscriptural expression I have heard from the time I can remember is linked with the Lord’s Supper —namely, that as often as we eat the bread and drink of the cup “we do show the Lord’s death till He come.” To this day we frequently hear this expressed in both prayer and spoken word. Its use, of course, stems from a poor translation in the King James Version (1 Corinthians 11:26). The word “show” should have been translated “declare” or “proclaim.” When we remember our Lord in His death we do not “show” it; we “declare” or “proclaim” it. And this is why the Lord’s Supper is as much a Gospel meeting as any meeting expressly convened for the preaching of the Gospel.

Browsing through some of Walter Scott’s articles in his now long out of print book, Selections from Fifty Years’ Ministry, he commented on a number of unscriptural expressions prevalent in his day, several of which have carried down to the present time.

Among those cited are the following:

1. “The righteousness of Christ.” This common theological phrase is not once employed by any of the sacred writers. “The righteousness of God” is scriptural language and thought (Romans 3).

2. “Jesus on the cross forsaken by His Father.” On the contrary, that relationship was unbroken, for Jesus said, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” On the cross it was a question of glorifying God in His holy nature in respect to sin, hence the cry of agony was addressed to God, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” This, by the way, is the only instance recorded of our Lord directly addressing His Father as God (Mark 15:34).

3. “Jesus came from the bosom of the Father.” He never left the bosom of the Father. Morally He was ever there. On earth after His coming from God, it is said, “The only begotten son, who is (not was) in the bosom of the Father” (John 1:18).

4. “The debt is paid.” Scripture never so speaks. The penalty has been endured, and the sins are forgiven. What you as a creature in common with angels owe to God is OBEDIENCE — that is not, cannot in the nature of things be paid, but “when they had nothing to pay, he frankly” — paid (?) — no, “forgave them both” (Luke 7:42).

5. “A risen Christ.” Why reverse and twist the order of the beautiful words of Scripture? Is there a Christ not raised? “Now is Christ risen from the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:20; etc.).

6. “Archangels.” There is only one such referred to in Scripture (1 Thessalonians 4:16; Jude 9).

7. “Streets of gold.” “Street” not streets (Revelation 21:21).

8. “Christ our Elder Brother.” This is a most irreverent expression. He is not ashamed to call us brethren (Hebrews 2:11), nor is God ashamed to avow us as His people (Hebrews 11:16). What marvelous and condescending grace! But to speak of Christ, “Who is over all, God blessed for ever,” as our elder brother is an unpardonable impertinence, and an insult to the preeminent dignity and glory of Him who is our Lord and Master (John 13:13-15).

9. “The song of angels.” We would not say that angels do not sing. There are two things not predicated of angels: it is not said they love, nor are loved; neither is it on record that they sing. In Revelation 5, the redeemed sing; the angels say; see also Luke 2:13-15, the angels say. The first song recorded in Scripture is contained in Exodus 15 — a grand celebration of vistory accomplished by Jehovah and sung by the redeemed host of Israel.

10. “We shall cast our crowns at His feet.” The crowns of the redeemed are cast before the throne (Revelation 4:10), while they themselves fall down before the Lamb (Revelation 5:8). How exquisitely beautiful! Our crowns before the throne, for that is the source of our royal dignity, and thus we acknowledge it, but we owe all to the Lamb — to His precious blood, and hence we fall down before Him.

A Scholarly Squelch

Not until recently did I learn from my father that as a young missionary in China he had enjoyed personal contact with the then well-known Christian scholar Dr. Robert Dick Wilson (1856-1930). Dr. Wilson was a Presbyterian philologist and theologian. He was the author of many scholarly works and had a distinguished teaching career. From 1900-1929 he was professor of Semitic philology and Old Testament introduction at Princeton Theological Seminary and was co-founder of Westminster Theological Seminary in 1929. Whenever I hear or read this celebrated scholar’s name, I usually recall an incident from his experience which has been published in leaflet form, entitled, “Snowed Under.” Its substance is as follows:

A man once said to Robert Dick Wilson: “Dr. Wilson, how can you hold the position that the Bible records are absolutely dependable? They are not in keeping with what I conceive to be scholarship.”

Dr. Wilson said to him: “Do you read Hebrew?”


“Do you read Greek?”

“A little.”

“Have you read the original records?”


“Do you speak French?”


“Do you speak German?”


“Do you speak Persian?”


“Do you know astronomy?”


“Are you a chemist or physicist?” “No.”

“What is the claim of scholarship you are making? I read Hebrew, I read Greek; I speak French; I speak German; I speak Persian; I know Sanskrit; I know astronomy; I know most of the sciences. I claim to be something of a scholar. On what basis of scholarship do you put your doubt of these records? On my basis of scholarship I put my affirmation that these records can be depended upon.”

By the time Dr. Wilson got that far, the man had sneaked out of the room.

The moral of the account is: do not let anyone claiming scholarship scare you away.

Advice to Young Preachers

W.H. Griffith Thomas said it: “Think yourself empty, read yourself full, write yourself clear, pray yourself keen — then enter the pulpit and let yourself go!”