Friday’s Column: Brent’s Biblical Bytes 

Friday’s Column: Brent’s Biblical Bytes 

From Common To Crude: “Vulgar”

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Brent Pollard

I am a word nerd. I enjoy looking into the etymology of commonly used words, such as “vulgar.” I noted that modern English translations use the word “vulgar” in 2 Samuel 6.20.  

And David returned to bless his household. But Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David and said, “How the king of Israel honored himself today, uncovering himself today before the eyes of his servants’ female servants, as one of the vulgar fellows shamelessly uncovers himself!” (ESV) 

How are we to interpret Michal’s words? Was David acting crudely or like a commoner? Perhaps, the Amplified Version gives us a clue. It uses the term “riffraff.” The implication, then, seems to be that David was conducting himself as a commoner rather than the king. Yet, Michal specifies that uncovering oneself was a “shameful” act. In other words, a refined person, like a king, would not behave crudely like an ordinary person.  

David did not argue with her, but it is interesting to note that she had no children following this incident, implying that she and David became estranged because of this incident (2 Samuel 6.23). (Commentators disagree about whether Michal was made barren by God or that she and David never had children together. The Septuagint and Josephus indicate that Michal did have five sons. Hence, she bore no children with David, at least from the point of this confrontation. Fortunately, salvation does not require our understanding of the truth regarding this statement.) 

“Vulgar” is a Latin word derived from “vulgus,” meaning “common people.” 1 By the 17th century, however, it had come to mean “coarse” and “ill-bred.” 2 The noun form, “vulgarity” was employed to describe “crudeness” by the 18th century. 3 So, obviously, wordsmiths associate the behavior of the masses with something or someone unseemly and lacking refinement.  A king, therefore, would not behave in that way. (To believe that, of course, you would have to ignore the histories of the many monarchies existing throughout the world’s past.)  

A synonym for “vulgar” is now “pornographic.” 4 Thus, vulgar is not a word well-esteemed in modern parlance. Yet, the Latin translation of the Scriptures is called the “Latin Vulgate.” In this instance, the term “vulgar” pertains to the language spoken by the common man. 5The type of Greek used to write the New Testament, Koine Greek, was likewise the common language spoken by the people. So, we would have to agree that God wants His Will to be easily accessible to the common man, in his common language.  

Herein lies the distinction, however. Jesus describes the rabble as making their way through life on the “highway to hell” (Matthew 7.13-14). There will be many who travel that way. The few, on the other hand, travel the difficult path leading to Heaven. You may have heard the expression, “Might makes right.” It is not that the many are evil because they are common, but that multitudes often justify committing evil deeds within their larger numbers (cf. Exodus 23.2). It is easy to get lost in a sea of faces, but God will judge us individually before His throne (Romans 14.12).  

So, it is acceptable for us to be common, but we should refrain from acting common (i.e., vulgar). From our speech to our actions, we have been called to follow a higher standard. Indeed, we are God’s special people (1 Peter 2.9). Let us then act accordingly.  

 

WORKS CITED 

1 Lexico Dictionaries | English. 2020. Vulgar | Definition Of Vulgar By Oxford Dictionary On Lexico.Com Also Meaning Of Vulgar. [online] Available at: <https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/vulgar> [Accessed 24 September 2020]. 

2 Harper, D., 2020. Vulgar | Origin And Meaning Of Vulgar By Online Etymology Dictionary. [online] Online Etymology Dictionary. Available at: <https://www.etymonline.com/word/vulgar>. 

3 Harper, D., 2020. Vulgarity | Origin And Meaning Of Vulgarity By Online Etymology Dictionary. [online] Online Etymology Dictionary. Available at: <https://www.etymonline.com/word/vulgarity>. 

4 Lexico Dictionaries | English. 2020. Vulgar | Definition Of Vulgar By Oxford Dictionary On Lexico.Com Also Meaning Of Vulgar. [online] Available at: <https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/vulgar> [Accessed 24 September 2020]. 

5 Lexico Dictionaries | English. 2020. Vulgate | Definition Of Vulgate By Oxford Dictionary On Lexico.Com Also Meaning Of Vulgate. [online] Available at: <https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/vulgate>  [Accessed 24 September 2020]

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