Saturday, November 3, 2012

What's a Word to Do? (Communion)

Keep in mind I am no language expert but I have been poking around with the etymology of the word "communion."  One the biggest issues with translation is that thoughts can't necessarily be easily converted to one language from another.  I think that people who advocate word-for-word translations get lost in trying to find the "Truth" and generally miss the underlying significance of what they are reading.  Of course, conversely, when you translate something thought for thought you tend to get the bias of the translator.  It really makes translating the Bible a slippery slope.

The best scholarly scenario for us would be to learn all of the ancient languages, intimately, that the Bible is written in and try to read from the earliest texts we can.  I don't know about you, but the chances of me accomplishing that feat is nearly nil and even if I did I am learning dead languages through a lens of modern research and I could never hope to fully understand the original idioms that make a language what it is.  Instead I enjoy picking apart certain words from time to time and trying to understand their full context.

  1. an act or instance of sharing
  2. (capitalized) : a Christian sacrament in which consecrated bread and wine are consumed as memorials of Christ's death or as symbols for the realization of a spiritual union between Christ and communicant or as the body and blood of Christ
  3. the act of receiving Communion
  4. (capitalized) the part of a Communion service in which the sacrament is received intimate fellowship or rapport : communication
  5. a body of Christians having a common faith and discipline *the Anglican communion*
Four out of the five of the definitions on Merriam-Webster regard Christ in some form.  That is, to an extent, my point in all of this.  That isn't the origin of the word.  The origin, also from Merriam-Webster is this:

Middle English, from Latin communion-, communio mutual participation, from communisFirst Known Use: 14th century
We can also find this from the Online Etymology Dictionary which lists the venerable Oxford Dictionary as a primary source:
late 14c., from O.Fr. comunion "community, communion" (12c.), from L. communionem (nom. communio) "fellowship, mutual participation, a sharing," used in L.L. ecclesiastical language for "participation in the sacrament," from communis (see common). Used by Augustine, in belief that the word was derived from com- "with, together" + unus "oneness, union."
Mutual "participation", "sharing", "common?"  Are these the words you tend to think of when you hear the word communion?  How about Koinonia, a Greek word?
1: fellowship, association, community, communion, joint participation, intercourse      A: the share which one has in anything, participation      B: intercourse, fellowship, intimacy         1: the right hand as a sign and pledge of fellowship (in fulfilling the apostolic    office)      C: a gift jointly contributed, a collection, a contribution, as exhibiting an embodiment and proof of fellowship
Now given that the Greek New Testament has something like 20 instances of this word which roots to basically the same thing, it gives you the impression that our Communion should be something larger and smaller, all at the same time.  It isn't just an act, but an invitation to to be in the presence of God but it also more worldly than that.  Communion should be our time to fellowship with our brothers and sisters of Christ.  It is our time to invite the Lord into our presence so that he can be with us while we are with each other.  Give this some thought, take it to your small groups and encourage others to try and expand their joy with being together.  God Bless!

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