Ever been called an idiot? Ever called someone else an idiot?
Do you actually know what that means? If not, your use of the term may be rather ironic.
Check out these Greek words:
“Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).
The first of these two descriptive terms is the adjective agrammatos, literally, “unlettered.” The second is the noun idiōtēs (pronounced id-ee-OH-tace), the fourth of the five terms listed in the box above. Yes, the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem saw Peter and John as idiots, unlearned men. But they had been with Jesus and, therefore, had a biblical and theological education far beyond anyone in the history of the Sanhedrin. Whatever else they may have been, they were emphatically not idiots.
The basic idea in the idio— root is that of “one’s own.” This comes out clearly when we speak of someone’s idiosyncrasies, that is, the peculiar characteristics, habits, or manners that are their own.
The idiot, it turns out, is someone who has not benefited from the wisdom and knowledge of others and has only his own with which to work. In antiquity it was a word to describe someone who was uneducated in general or untrained in a given area. This is its use in Acts 4:13, which is shaded from the author Luke’s perspective in a basic way and from the perspective of the Jewish leaders in a more pejorative way.
Clearly, an idiot is not something one would aspire to be. Yet many people manage to achieve it.
“How I have hated instruction,
And my heart spurned correction!
I have not listened to the voice of my teachers,
Nor inclined my ear to my instructors!” (Prov. 5:11-12)
Like this fool, many people are going through life armed only with whatever intellectual and sapiential powers they can muster from within themselves. Rather than learn from others, they must do all their thinking and learning and opinion-forming on their own. In other words, they are idiots.
In fact, we have now become a society of idiots. It is an everyday phenomenon to see man-on-the-street interviews in which a TV news reporter sticks a microphone in the face of some idiot to ask him or her what he or she thinks on practically any issue under the sun. Often it is clear that the person has never before put a moment’s thought into the idea under consideration. But that doesn’t matter. All that matters is he or she has a voice.
This is why we must pay careful attention to the “I think” language of ourselves and others. Sometimes it is appropriate to begin a sentence with “I think.” Many times, however, the need to begin that way may betray the fact that we probably do not know enough to comment intelligently and should perhaps refrain from the attempt.
Nowadays, it is common to hear people thinking out loud for the first time about something but doing so with utter boldness and a shocking lack of embarrassment. They have a brain and a mouth and a whole bunch of “rights” to free thought and speech, et cetera; and this, it seems, qualifies them to weigh in on practically anything. “I think…” And off they go.
Yet there is a semi-conscious awareness of many people under, say, the age of thirty that neither they nor their peers are generally qualified to opine about most things. This awareness does not deter them from doing so, but it is there nonetheless. You can hear it in the new popular formula for introducing one’s idiotic thoughts: “I feel like…” or “I mean, I feel like…” Many sentences are now begun with these words, sentences which are not meant to convey feelings at all, but rather opinions: “I feel like the press has pushed this Trump-Russia thing for long enough. I mean, I feel like it’s time to move on.”
Sometimes people even use this rhetorical formula to introduce statements of ostensible fact. “I feel like Oslo is the capital of Norway.” This always freaks me out a little.
And, of course, what troubles me is that we are now getting to hear from idiot theologians in the church. “I think my relationship with God is between Him and me.”
“I mean, I feel like it’s all about relationships.” And so on.
How often do you find yourself responding to questions and concepts of theological significance with the language of “I think”? If I’m honest, I must admit I do it too much. At the very least, there are numerous times when my contribution should be either a sentence that begins “Scripture says…” or just silence; but instead, I say, “Well, I think…” And off I go.
Lord, save me from the wisdom of idiots!… Including the one I too often am.