In case you’re wondering what Christianese is, it simply refers to Christian-speak, that is, the body of language that Christians understand and use amongst themselves colloquially. Let’s examine some Christianese phrases and where they come from; I’ll be using the New King James Version (NKJV) unless otherwise stated.
- It is well
If you live amongst Christians, especially in Nigeria, you must have heard this phrase tacked on at the end of a sentence or a lamentation.
Origins and Meaning: A childless woman in Shunem hosted the prophet Elisha and he prayed for her, resulting in the birth of a son. One day the little boy suddenly complained of a headache and then he died. His mother went to see the prophet and when his servant asked her what the matter was, she didn’t tell him what had happened. She simply said, “It is well.” When she saw the prophet face to face however, she fell apart, telling him what happened and even accusing him in her grief. Elisha prayed for the boy and he came back to life, but our focus here is that she said “It is well” even when he was still dead (2 Kings 4:8-37).
Also, Isaiah 3:10 says, “Say to the righteous that it shall be well with them, for they shall eat the fruit of their doings.”
Abuse: Some people who don’t want to face reality, get the help they need, or step up to their responsibilities just sit around and say “it is well.” This is unbiblical behaviour. Nowhere do we see God’s people neglecting action and simply saying “it is well.” When the walls of Jerusalem were broken down, for instance, Nehemiah didn’t sit and say “It is well.” He got up, researched, came up with an action plan, and mobilized the people for nation building.
- Deep calleth unto deep
In other words, there are levels to this thing.
Origin and meaning: This phrase is found in Psalm 42:7, “Deep calls unto deep at the noise of Your waterfalls; All Your waves and billows have gone over me.” Let’s look at it in a simpler translation like the New Living Translation: “I hear the tumult of the raging seas as your waves and surging tides sweep over me.” The guy was in pain and used the imagery of sea movements to describe the tides of his tribulations.
Abuse: In our university days, my cousin who was the liaison officer in his school campus fellowship was sent to invite a minister to come and speak on campus. The minister asked why the president of the fellowship had not come himself, instead of sending an ordinary liaison officer. “Deep calleth unto deep,” he said. Such humility!
- The anointing breaks the yoke
This is an invitation to come and have oil poured on you so that the yoke in your life can be broken.
Origins and meaning: Isaiah 10:27, “It shall come to pass in that day that his burden will be taken away from your shoulder, and his yoke from your neck, and the yoke will be destroyed because of the anointing oil.”
See the English Standard Version: “And in that day his burden will depart from your shoulder, and his yoke from your neck; and the yoke will be broken because of the fat.” So where did “oil” come from? You know how we have the fatty part of meat which we call “oil”? That’s basically what this passage refers to, and the Hebrew word is rendered fat/fatness/oil in various translations. It uses the imagery of the yoke put around oxen’s necks breaking because of the fat (oil). In essence, they have become too fat for the yoke.
Abuse: It has nothing to do with being bathed in olive oil, please. Anointing oil has its purposes.
- One shall chase a thousand, and two ten thousand.
Most of us have attended a wedding where this phrase was used to extol the virtues of marriage.
Origins and meaning: The Israelites sinned against God their Rock, and He took His protection off them, leaving them very easy prey for their enemies. Deuteronomy 32:30, “How could one chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight, unless their Rock had sold them, and the LORD had surrendered them?”
Abuse: Most people who use that saying have never read it; they simply heard others say it. It doesn’t even say “…two shall chase 10000…” here or elsewhere in the Bible. Some have even gone as far as saying if one chases 1000, and two 10, 000, then your wife’s value is worth 9000. Sigh.
- Heap coals of fire
Ah, this one is sweet. Be good to your enemies, heap coals of fire on their heads. Let them burn!
Origin and meaning: Proverbs 25:21, 22 says, “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; For so you will heap coals of fire on his head, and the LORD will reward you.”
Abuse: It turns out that coals of fire were used to purify, resulting in pure metal. So if you’re being good to your enemy hoping to see him burn to death, you are in error. The purpose of your goodness is to overcome his evil and win him over to God. Ouch. Sorry!
- Born again
Does this one need any introduction?
Origins and meaning: In John 3:3, Jesus said to Nicodemus, a Jewish teacher, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” In 1 Peter 1:23, the apostle Peter also reiterated this while speaking to his fellow believers in Christ, “having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever.”
Abuse: Sadly, “born again” has now come to refer to a particular section of Christianity where people behave a certain way. Even other Christians (Catholics, Anglicans, etc.) who have actually been born again reject the phrase because of what it now connotes. Some people even use “a” before it, “Are you a born again?” This is total rubbish. There is nothing like “a” born again.
What other Christianese phrases do you hear often?