Word Study #206 — “Religion”

This study was precipitated by a conversation with a dear friend who was summarily excluded from a forum on “Science and Religion”. He had not attacked either “side”, but simply pointed out that the two purported opposites are concerned with different questions, and therefore use different approaches, and come up with different answers.

Another brother pointed out that various “religions”, also, address different questions and therefore come up with different answers: Buddhism, he suggested, seeks the path that leads to the cessation of human suffering; Taoism seeks to know how man can live in harmony with nature; Confucianism seeks how to create an orderly society. All of these may well be legitimate questions, the answers to which will understandably produce different results, both theoretical and practical. Some view Christianity as attempting to describe the fundamental nature of God, or man’s relationship to him. This has been the “playing field” for all sorts of theological speculation, often producing more heat than light.

It occurred to me that I could not recall that the New Testament spoke to the subject of “religious questions” at all, so I decided to investigate. You may be as surprised as I was, to find that the term “religion” appears, even in the traditional KJV, only three times as a noun, and once as an adjective. The only other use of the original term is once translated “worshiping”. Even more interesting is the observation that all but one of these (Ac.26:5, Jas.1:26 – 2x; and Col.2:18) have a distinctly negative flavor. Only in Jas.1:27 is there any hint of commendation!

Do we perhaps need to recognize that for those who choose to follow the Lord Jesus Christ, “religion” has very little if anything to offer?

This question is enhanced when one turns to the classical dictionaries.

Liddell /Scott (Oxford) lists, regarding the noun threskeia: “religious cult, worship as ritual, religious formalism, superstition”, and for the adjective, “religious or superstitious.”

Bauer (Arndt and Gingerich) concurs, with “religious service or cult”.

Thayer points out a connection with the verb treo, “to tremble with fear”, and includes the observation that the rituals referenced constitute efforts to appease the anger of the gods!

Do you recall any instance of Jesus himself advocating such a need? Interestingly, the word “religion” does not appear a single time in any of the four gospels!
Jesus did have a lot to say about the reasons for his coming. Please refer to Word Study #23 for a summary of these. He said absolutely nothing about either “answering questions” or “appeasing an angry god”!

Instead, he graciously invited people to enlist in the Kingdom that he had come to establish! Please see Word Study #172, and the little book, Citizens of the Kingdom for more on this subject.

Regarding the word threskeia, traditionally translated “religion”:

In Ac.26:5, Paul describes his former life as having carefully followed the Jewish “religion”

In Col.2:18, he remarks upon the futility of the pagan “worshiping of angels”

James (1:26) speaks of the folly of arrogantly considering oneself “religious” while ignoring the needs of others.

Only in Jas.1:27 is the term “religion” redefined as involving one’s response to the needs of those in distress, and avoiding the uncaring ways of the “world” – the uncommitted.

In the light of this study, I am about ready to conclude that although “Christianity” (another term that does not appear in the New Testament — although “Christian” is used once to describe the folks at Antioch) as it is commonly represented, might indeed fit the classical definitions of “religion”, genuinely following Jesus in one’s life assuredly does NOT.

I submit that Jesus did NOT come to “start a new religion,” or to appease an angry God. (Just ask him! See his own statements in W.S.#23, or even better, dig them out for yourself!)

He came rather to inaugurate his welcoming Kingdom, where all sorts and conditions of people are invited to come and have their lives transformed (See Word Study #97) to serve his purposes in the world!

One Response to Word Study #206 — “Religion”

  1. James Mellinger says:

    Amen! Thanks for the study.

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