‘Etymology’ is the study of how words are used over a period of time. Sometimes a word’s meaning/use does not change. Others seem to suffer from lack of use. Still others fall from use altogether.
I’m a sort of ‘geek’ when it comes to how words are used. Because one of my daily routines is studying how Bible words are used, this fascination with ‘terms’, ‘meanings’ or ‘uses’ has served me well. But I have always been curious about how some Bible words fall completely out of use.
While reading the Bible as a youth, I was often interested in the use of such words as ‘froward’, ‘untoward’ or ‘wimple’–none of which still remain in the Bible. Centuries of use has given way to the adoption of words with a more modern equivalence. Another example is how we’ve dropped the use of ‘thee’, ‘thou’ or ‘thine’. After all, don’t we all know who ‘you’ is? Pardon the grammar. 🙂
And though some of this change is appropriate, other similar changes are a bit more troubling. Say, for example, the use of some of the words in wedding ceremonies. Case in point. When was the last time you heard an officiant ask the congregation gathered for a wedding ceremony, ‘If anyone present can show just cause why this couple should not here and now be joined together in Holy Matrimony, let him speak now or forever hold his peace’? Has it been a long time? Have you ever heard it? How about the words, ‘wedlock’ or ‘betrothed’?
Sadly, these statements have begun to suffer from lack of use. And while I have no beef with upgrading our word’s usage in order to clarify our meaning when we use them, some words seem to have been set aside precisely BECAUSE of what they mean. Could it be that the word ‘wedlock’ reminds us that a wedding is a ‘locking’ of a man and woman together into one indissoluble union? And could it be that such an understanding challenges our desire to have marital options in place if we ever become disgruntled in our marriages?
How about the use of the word ‘matrimony’. It literally means ‘to join a man and woman in marriage’. It’s meant that since it was first used in 1300 in France. Little wonder our culture doesn’t like that one. Maybe the SCOTUS should have been asked to uphold ‘matrimony’.
Similarly, the word ‘holy’ is rarely used in marriages. Have we, because of its lack of use, forgotten that marriage is ‘sacred’–holy–before God? And have we understood that marriage is one of God’s most useful tools in helping us become more ‘holy’ in our lives?
We might do well to take God’s advice offered through Jeremiah the prophet: ‘Stand by the road and look and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; walk in it and find rest for your souls’. Jeremiah 6:16.
Whenever appropriate, let’s renew the use of words that remind us of the sanctity of marriage and that remind us of our accountability to Him for how we live out our marriage vows.