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The Hundred-Eighth (Religion)

I have had a pretty good week, how about you? This week is an interesting topic that I have alluded to previously. The word "religion" is used a lot in various ways, and it's even used in scripture. But what does its scriptural context mean? We're going to take a look at this word, with a little bit of how it's used today and more of how it's used in scripture.

When you think of the word religion, what comes to mind? Is it strict adherence to traditions, rules or laws? Is it belief in a deity or deities? Or is it simply having a certain set of beliefs, whether they be supernatural or natural? The Merriam-Webster dictionary, if that holds any weight for you, has a few definitions. One of these definitions uses the word "religious," which in my opinion is poor form, but that's just me. It gets worse, because both of its definitions of religious (the noun and the adjective)....also include the word religious...

Interestingly though, the "archaic" definition of religion given is "scrupulous conformity," meaning strictly adhering to a specified standard or authority. To go along with that, one of the definitions for religious is "scrupulously and conscientiously faithful." It doesn't specify to what the individual is faithful.

Let's look at a slightly better definition from dictionary.com: "a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs." I consider this better because it's a more generalized definition that doesn't necessarily require either supernatural or spiritual involvement.

The reason I think this is an important distinction is because I believe there are religions that don't include those aspects and if those set of beliefs are not properly characterized it's easy for believers to be led down the path of deception when it comes to them. I'll get a little more detailed on what I mean later, but first, let's see what the humanists think of this word.

Back in 1989, the Humanists International organization decided to formalize their view on the words religion and religious. Apparently, there was some contention with the terms, likely because some viewed them as requiring a belief in the supernatural while others took a more general approach like I do. Naturally, they decided to get together and write down some points about the words that all humanists agree on.

The long and the short of it is, all they did was write down the different ways the words are used and how those ways relate to humanism. Surprise, if the words are used in the context of the supernatural, they say that usage can not be used to describe humanism. Whereas, if the words are used in the context of what they call a, "life stance," they can be used to describe humanism.

So, even our friends the humanists, who make it a point to deny any sort of deity or supernatural/spiritual involvement in the world, agree with the use of the words religion and religious when it comes to their beliefs...as long as it doesn't imply that they believe in any deity or what they call a "non-naturalistic reality," of course. Clearly, a belief in deities and spirits is not a prerequisite to being in a religion, having religion, or being religious.

Now, with this variety of usage for the words religion and religious, let's look at what scripture says. Before we get too far into it though, just understand that the origin of these words wasn't until the 5th century AD. So, translators didn't have a Hebrew or Greek word equivalent to translate from. As a result, there are multiple Greek words translated to them based on the scriptural context as well as what the translators understood as the meaning of the words. Additionally, these words don't even exist in the Old Testament (at least in the KJV).

Depending on which version you search, KJV or NKJV, the first occurrence of one of these words is different. I'll be using NKJV, but you're welcome to do your own study on this topic using whatever version you like. In Acts 17:22, you find the word religious, and you'll see that the original Greek is deisidaimonesteros...quite a mouthful! The HELPS word studies definition tells us this word comes from deidō, "to dread" and daimōn, "a deity," however that second word might look familiar to you if you have a good memory.

If we look at that second word, we actually find that it means demon, which is something different than a deity as we know from previous studies. A deity is defined as a god or goddess, and some fallen angels fall into this category based on how certain portions of mankind have idolized them. You won't find angels inhabiting people anywhere in scripture as demons do, however. So, this compound Greek word tells us it means fearing a spirit, because that's what demons are.

The next occurrence of either of these words is Acts 25:19, where you'll find the word religion. In this case, the Greek word looks very familiar: deisidaimonia. So it's just the noun version of the word we just looked at. These are the only two instances of these words, and we'll find that the other words translated to religion and religious also have a small number of occurrences.

The other words translated to religion and religious are threskeias and threskos, respectively. We find the first occurrence in Acts 26:5, where Paul is talking about when he was a Pharisee. The next one is interesting because rather than translating to religion it was translated to worship (Colossians 2:18). However, I think religion works in the context of this verse as well. Paul is referring to the religion of elevating angels to the status of gods and subsequently worshipping them. These are the Roman and Greek gods like Aries and Athena.

Now, the next one is a compound version of this word which means self-imposed religion (Colossians 2:23). Look at the context, though. Paul's talking about the world-imposed (meaning not God-directed) traditions and regulations, which look intelligent and insightful on their face, but don't do anything to control a person's fleshly desires.

The last occurrences of these words are from James 1:26-27. Here, he tells us religion, pure religion, is taking care of widows and orphans during their tribulation and keeping yourself untainted of the world. None of those things involve the supernatural or spiritual, other than that this description is what Yehovah considers religion. It also makes no strict mention of following any of His commandments.

So, as we can see, religion does not require belief in a deity or spiritual view of what occurs in the world. It's simply living a certain way, the basis of which is from beliefs an individual has. In other words, in the context of the explanation in James, you wouldn't take care of widows and orphans if you didn't believe in Yehovah since you wouldn't be motivated by a supernatural being you don't believe exists. In my opinion, this goes the other way as well. What I mean by that is if your beliefs include a complete trust in man, for example in the context of science and scientific discoveries, your religion includes living in a way that follows all the guidelines, expectations and requirements man develops as a result of that science.

As we get closer to the return of Yeshua, our Lord and Savior, it is more and more important that we ensure we are fully and completely disciples of Him and our religion is not defiled by things of this world. We cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:24), and while Jesus specified God and money, He started with that general statement which still holds true. We cannot serve man and God. Take the opportunity to figure out what worldly things you are living by, or what worldly things or people you are following, and cut them out of your life so you can walk in the spirit, focusing only on Him.

Shabbat shalom and God bless you!

-Rob and Sara Gene

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