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  • Writer's pictureKaren Pennington

The Difference Between a Gentleman and a Horse

Words come naturally to me. I use them often. I try to use them well, but sometimes I fail miserably. About 100 years ago, a college summer missions trip to Mexico City taught me the importance of understanding the meaning of the words I use. With my fledgling Spanish I often came so close to using the correct term but fell so far away from conveying the message I wanted to share, the difference being as little as one letter.

I remember the half amused, half confused look on the children's faces the day I thought I had told the famous Bible story about the lame man who took up his mat (lecho) and walked. Instead, I had stressed how he kept getting milk (leche) and excitedly walking around with it. Another young crowd giggled uncontrollably from the other side of the puppet stage where we had unknowingly put on a show about the feeding of the very stupid people (tontas personas) rather than the large crowd of people (tantas personas). One team member, who really was a gentleman (caballero) once proudly claimed to be a horse (caballo). Before one shared, meal, that same person said a fervent prayer of blessing on the Pope's tortillas (tortillas del Papá) rather than the potato tortillas (tortillas de papa) that had been prepared for us.

At the Council of Nicea in 325 the church fathers debated over two words that were one letter apart in spelling. That letter was iota, the Greek i and the foundation of that phrase "Not one iota of difference." But in this case, one iota made a world of difference in regard to our worship and faith in Jesus Christ. To claim that Christ is of the same substance and being as God (homoousious) is a far difference confession than saying he is merely like God (homoiouisious). It is the difference between worship and dependence upon a self-emptying God who temporarily gave up Heaven to do what we could not and honoring a decent man who showed the potential of what each of us could do and be if we just try hard enough (which is the foundation for forms of gnosticism, humanism and many other false religions). The Gospel of John clearly states that "In the beginning ...the Word was with God and the Word was God." (John 1:1 CEB, bold italics added) Along with the entire Gospel's emphasis on the person of Jesus Christ, John 1:14 further emphasizes the dual nature of Christ as both God and human with the phrase "The Word became flesh and made his home among us." If Jesus is even one iota less than this, we would have no cause to worship Christ as our eternal Lord, nor would we have a reason to hope in the eternal reward that come as result of the work that only God could do. I still have to be careful about my words. Even while using English, I can sometimes make small mistakes that lead to immense miscommunication. How comforting to know that God never gets is wrong, not even by one iota. It inspires me to lean into the words of truth that God breathes through the pages of Holy Scripture.

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