The late U.S. Supreme Justice Antonin Scalia is credited with saying, “Words have meaning. And their meaning doesn’t change.” If that is true, may I suggest we accurately transmit those words? In a speech delivered in 1995 at Stanford University, the Judge remarked, “Words do have a limited range of meaning, and no interpretation that goes beyond that range is permissible.”
While this purest viewpoint may be applicable to legal decisions, we know that language is fluid. Linguistics teaches us that the words we use are a reflection not only of what they are communicating, but the specific time and culture in which they are being used. Words can translate formality, relationships, ethnicity, social stratifications. Words, I’d argue, are so much more than words. And their meanings can be limitless. Consider the word “friend,” for instance. Until recently, this was singularly used a as noun. However, since the advent of social media, it is now widely accepted as a verb. Don’t get me started on “adulting.”
Now let’s look deeper into the study of etymology, which is an interesting word in itself. The word etymology (not to be confused with entomology – that’s the study of insects) is the study of the history of words. America is not only a melting pot of cultures; we have an array of sources of words from unlimited other languages we dragged over to the land of the free. I challenge that many of the immigrant words may have had their original meanings lost in translation.
Nonetheless, I suspect the good judge would end the debate with the final word—the Word of the Lord. Scalia, who was reportedly a devoted man of faith, would know these words, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (John 1:1).” There is nothing that changes that meaning.
Join us this Sunday, February 5th, at 8:00 AM (spoken liturgy), 10:15 AM (traditional worship), or 6:00 PM (Jazz worship), to hear the Word of God. You will know its meaning.