“Vain Jangling”

Neal Pollard

The English language has done some changing in the 400-plus years since the King James Version was made available. Within its pages, you’ll find phrases like “straitened in your own bowels” (2 Cor. 6:12), “superfluity of naughtiness” (Jas. 1:21), “bloody flux” (Acts 28:8), “filthy lucre” (Ti. 1:7), and “the thick bosses of his bucklers” (Job 15:26). There is a beauty and picturesqueness to the Elizabethan English, though. One example of this is in 1 Timothy 1:6, which warns against “vain jangling.” To me, that’s a vivid way of translating a compound Greek word translated elsewhere as “fruitless discussions” (NASB), “idle talk” (NKJV), “vain discussion” (ESV), “meaningless talk” (NIV), and “empty talk” (MEV). Have you ever heard anyone jangling keys or coins in their pockets? It’s usually a nervous tic and mindless habit, but it can loud and annoying. In the 17th Century, the word meant to “talk excessively or  noisily, squabbling” (Apple Dictionary, 2.2.2).

In context, Paul gives the culprits, the creed, the consequence, the contrast, and the cause of this “vain jangling.” The culprits are “certain men” (1:3) or “some men” (1:6). Their creed is “strange doctrines” (1:3), “myths and endless genealogies” (1:4), and this “fruitless discussion” (vain jangling). The consequences are dire, as such will “give rise to mere speculation” (1:4). The contrasts are “the administration of God which is by faith” (1:4) and “instruction (in) love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1:5). The cause is revealed in verse 7, that “they want to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions.” Paul had a particular circumstance in mind, but is there an application to us today?

In 2018, there are numerous platforms and avenues to communicate. It can be easy to forget that James’ warnings about the tongue are not limited to words which are audibly heard, but whatever we speak. I need to be cautious about being a religious noisemaker, banging and clanging with reckless abandon. My words have meaning, and they hold the power of spiritual life or death within them (Prov. 18:21). Thus, great restraint, copious forethought, and thoughtful execution ought to permeate my speech, wherever it is “heard.” Otherwise, I may simply be declaring my thoughtless ignorance, both uninvited and unwelcome, and come off sounding like three dollars of pennies churning in the pocket of a champion fidgeter.

Paul speaks of Christians as “ambassadors” for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20). We must represent Him righteously and accurately. We may be the first and only megaphone through which Christ is proclaimed, so let us speak accordingly. Let’s make Him proud, for His message is “words of sober truth” (Acts 26:25), not vain jangling.

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