Matt 7:26—Is a moros a moron (Monday with Mounce 21)
Some time ago I was listening to a sermon by a pretty good preacher. He was talking about the ending to the Sermon on the Mount and how the builders of both houses were working with the same materials, but one was wise and one was foolish; one built his house on a solid foundation and the other on sand. The storms could not destroy the first, but they washed away the latter. The person who builds on the good foundation is the person who not only hears Jesus’ words but also does them. The foolish person (Greek, moros) hears them but does not do them, does not apply them to his or her life.
The speaker stressed that in a church everyone hears the same words, fills in the same sermon notes, but that does not make them wise. All the people have the same building blocks, but the wise pew-sitter (my word) is the person who takes the words and applies them. Good point.
But in the process of making the point, he committed a basic blunder, a blunder that unfortunately has been repeated in pulpits across this land innumerable times, but one that should never be repeated. It is very easy to prevent: never define a Greek word by its English cognate. Never!
His said the Greek word is moros (the first "o" is an omega), from which we get our English _______, and he let the people fill in the blank. "Moron," they replied, engaging in the sermon and working to turn a monologue into a dialogue. Again, a good practice. And then he added, "That is a good word picture."
Actually, it is a terrible word picture. It is totally wrong, and the pew-sitters may forever have an incorrect understanding of an incredibly important biblical concept.
What is a "moron"? Wikipedia say it is a "disused term for a person with a mental age between 8 and 12," with a slang meaning of a "stupid person." Is that what a "fool" is in biblical theology? When the psalmist says, "The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’ (53:2)," is he thinking of a mentally deficient person? When Proverbs says, "The one who conceals hatred has lying lips, and whoever utters slander is a fool" (10:18), is the author thinking of people with IQ’s below 50? I know of several people who are quite bright (at least in IQ tests) but are unable to guard their mouths against slanderous gossip. Are they fools? When Proverbs says, "The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice" (12:15), does it mean that true biblical wisdom is an issue of intelligence? Of course not. And yet, when you tell pew-sitters that the English "moron" is a good word picture of the Greek moros, that is exactly what you have done.
The fact of the matter is that a fool is not a "mentally deficient" person but a "morally deficient" person. A fool is someone who does not recognize the majesty and grandeur of God, a person who does not stand in fear of God. A fool is someone so blinded by his or her own sin that they cannot see God for who he is and therefore who they truly are. My dictionary defines it as, "ignorance of, an willful rebellion against, God and his will" (Mounce’s Expository Dictionary, 262).
It is such an easy rule to remember. English was not a language until the second millennium A.D. You cannot define a Greek word by what a cognate 1,000 years later meant. How many times have we heard that "dynamis" means "dynamite," and people leave thinking that the "power of God" is explosive? I wonder, does God have a fuse?
I know it is tempting to show a little Greek knowledge and try to create a helpful word picture, but unless you are absolutely confident that your Greek is absolutely right, I strongly urge you not to display your Greek knowledge.
Which brings me to the general point. I encourage my students to never say, "In the Greek …." Why would you do that? To impress the audience with your academic acumen? To convince them that you are right when you can’t prove your point with biblical logic? Perhaps I am being a little harsh, but I am sensitive to pastors claiming to be an authority and putting themselves up on a pedestal. That’s not where servants belong.
I have always found a way to describe what the Greek text says without running the risk of placing myself above the people. Often you can reference the footnote or another translation that will help you make the point. Even saying something like, "the word translated "foolish" has the basic meaning …." Again, maybe I am a little harsh on this point. I remember after one sermon my older son Tyler saying to me, "Dad, I would like it better if you would actually teach us some of the Greek words and what they mean." And in a recent sermon series I did teach two Hebrew words, "Yahweh" and "hesed."
People want to place their pastors on a pedestal (sometimes so they can get a better shot at them, but that is a different blog). Please do not help them do this. Do your homework. Be sure of the meaning of the Greek words. And then proclaim the power of God’s word with humility and care. And please do not give your people an inaccurate word picture that significantly confuses important biblical themes.
Very smart people can still be biblical fools, and many of the wisest people around could never pass a Greek exam. Fools are people who have no fear of God, and wisdom begins with fearing the Lord. Let’s not cloud the picture with issues of intellectual deficiencies.
William D. [Bill] Mounce posts every Monday about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics at Koinonia. He is the author of numerous books, including the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek, and general editor for Mounce's Complete Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testament Words. He served as the New Testament chair of the English Standard Version Bible translation. Learn more and visit Bill's blog (co-authored with scholar and his father Bob Mounce) at www.billmounce.com.
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