Volume 3 May 15, 2004 Issue 7

Edify? — or — Edify?

Edify or edify???? What kind of title is that? It's the same word! Well, it may be the same word but by the time you finish reading this Diligence we hope to have explained the difference between the two words — and there is a difference — a big difference.

We'll begin by going to some Dictionaries and listing some definitions.

To inspire with hope, courage, or confidence; hearten

To give support to

To lift the spirits of

To provide a source of joy or happiness

To promote good spirits or cheerfulness

To raise from a depressed state; to cheer; as, to elevate the spirits

The act, process, or result of raising or lifting up

The act of giving hope or support to someone

To produce feelings of ease or security

To raise to spiritual or emotional heights

To cause to feel happily refreshed

These definitions were taken from five different Dictionaries. So while we're at it let's go to Roget's Thesaurus and look at some synonyms.

encouragereassuresupportcheerbuild uppraise
cheer upliftassistemboldeninspireprop up
comfortpraisefosterenergizelift uppsych-up
gladdenfortifybolsterenliveninspireperk up

Lots of good synonyms and definitions, huh? Only one problem. None of them are for the word "edify." They're for a variety of other words — words like elevate, encourage, comfortable, uplift, exhilarate, boost and cheer. But, nevertheless those definitions and synonyms may quite possibly sum up what many of us seem to think "edify" means. So it seems then that there are two very different meanings that surround the word "edify." First, there is the meaning that many of us have assumed is what that word means. And then, there is the meaning of the word that one will find if he or she goes to a Dictionary and looks it up. Let's take a look at the difference between the two. Let's take a close look because it could significantly impact the application of many of those familiar Bible verses that include some form of the word "edify."

So, that's where we'll begin — by looking in a Dictionary to find the correct meaning. To be absolutely certain that we had a correct definition we consulted five different Dictionaries. The following is the definition of "edify" that we found in each of those.

  • The American Heritage Dictionary — To instruct especially so as to encourage intellectual, moral, or spiritual improvement.
  • Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary — To instruct and improve, especially in moral and religious knowledge; to teach; To teach or persuade.
  • WordNet of Princeton University — Make understand.
  • Webster's New World Dictionary (College Edition) — To instruct; especially to instruct or improve morally or spiritually.
  • Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary — The improvement of the mind and understanding, especially by learning.

Notice that every one of these definitions has the connotation of either teaching, improving spiritually or increasing knowledge. But, you say, that's not being edified. Being edified is when individuals attend a worship service and go away from that service feeling "all warm and fuzzy inside," encouraged, uplifted and with a happy heart. They wouldn't be edified if they left that service carrying a feeling of guilt because of sin in their lives or if they were told in some manner that they held an incorrect belief of some sort. Individuals attending worship need to feel the love of God and the love of others at that service — certainly nothing negative should be imposed on them. Right? Let's read a Scripture.

"Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ. When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, 'Brothers, what shall we do?' Peter replied, 'Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.'" (Acts 2:36-38 NIV)

When Peter told them that they had crucified The Christ, they were "cut to the heart." Would we normally think of that as being "edified?" Probably not! But look at the definitions above. Were they instructed? Yes. Were they made to understand? Yes. Was their religious knowledge improved? Yes. Were they encouraged to improve their spiritual condition? Yes. So by the proper definition of "edify" were they "edified"? Yes. Now take another look at that list of definitions back on page one — the definitions that are not for the word "edify." Do you think that as Peter was speaking to those individuals they were inspired with confidence? Probably not. Were their spirits lifted as he was speaking? Probably not. Do you think they felt happily refreshed? How about joyful? Were they being raised from a depressed state? Peter did offer a message of hope but his sermon was to convict them of the wrong they had done so that they would accept his message of hope. Filling them with "warm, fuzzy feelings" wasn't going to "cut them to the heart." His sermon was "to instruct; especially in moral and religious knowledge." Peter "edified" those to whom he spoke but he didn't encourage, cheer up, comfort, gladden, or any of the other synonyms listed on page one that we sometimes think are synonyms for "edify." True edification might sometimes be hard to accept. It may sometimes be difficult to "swallow." It may often be something we don't want to hear. But the fact is that when one is "edified," one is taught or persuaded to improve — either morally, spiritually or in knowledge.

A few more thoughts to solidify an accurate meaning of the word "edify" — if we look for the word "edify" in Roget's Thesaurus, we will find it listed as a synonym for these words:

brief (as to advise of)civilize (as to develop)
inform (as to communicate)enlighten (as to explain)
educate (as to explain or train)illuminate (as to give insight to)
tutor (as to instruct or coach)teach (as to give instruction to)

Again, all of these words indicate teaching or explaining rather than an idea of comforting or making one "feel good." This becomes very important as we look at Scriptures that have become so familiar to many of us. It's quite possible that some of those verses have a completely different meaning when we insert the proper definition for "edify" into them. We'll list several here. Read each of them slowly and decide if they take on a new light in view of the correct definition of "edify."

  • Romans 14:19 — Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.
  • I Corinthians 10:23 — All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.
  • I Thessalonians 5:11 — Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.
  • Rom. 15:2 — Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification.
  • I Corinthians 14:3 — But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.
  • II Corinthians 10:8 — For even if I should boast somewhat more about our authority, which the Lord gave us for edification and not for your destruction, I shall not be ashamed.
  • II Corinthians 13:10 — Therefore I write these things being absent, lest being present I should use sharpness, according to the authority which the Lord has given me for edification and not for destruction.
  • I Corinthians 14:5 — I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied; for he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, unless indeed he interprets, that the church may receive edification.
  • I Corinthians 14:12 — Even so you, since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel.
  • I Corinthians 14:26 — How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.
  • II Corinthians 12:19 — Again, think ye that we excuse ourselves unto you? we speak before God in Christ: but we do all things, dearly beloved, for your edifying.
  • Ephesians 4:12 — For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
  • Ephesians 4:16 — from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.
  • Ephesians 4:29 — Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.
  • I Timothy 1:4 — Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith:

A study of "edify" wouldn't be complete if we failed to mention that the Greek word used in the New Testament that is translated as some form of the word "edify" is also translated as "building(s)" six times in the King James version. Thayer's Lexicon defines the word as "the act of one who promotes another's growth in Christian wisdom, or a building or edifice" Many newer translations of the Scriptures omit the word edify and use the phrase "to build up." Unfortunately, this phrase is often understood to mean any or all of those incorrect definitions used on page one of this article.

Perhaps you already had a firm grasp of the meaning of "edify." If that's the case, we hope this issue of Diligence has simply encouraged you to take another look at the Scriptures that include some form of that word. If however, your idea of "edify" always came closer to those incorrect definitions listed on page one, we ask that you give some thought to whether or not your studies in the Word have been skewed when that word is used. If so, re-read those verses listed above and contemplate how their application might have changed as a result of this information.

In summary, we might say that "to edify" is "to bring to spiritual maturity." All of us who are parents are well aware that bringing our children to maturity is sometimes a difficult and perhaps even at times a painful task. But we understand, that because we love them, it is absolutely necessary to endure those difficult experiences. As we read earlier in Acts chapter 2, Peter was well aware of that on the day of Pentecost as he spoke to those whom he wanted to start on the road to spiritual maturity. He understood that there is sometimes pain involved in recognizing a need for God. His goal was "to instruct and improve, especially in moral and religious knowledge; to teach, or persuade" those who were listening to him. Peter did "edify" those who were listening to him. We should pray that we have the courage to do the same as we speak to others and that our preachers and teachers have the courage to do the same for each of us.

"Diligence" is a privately funded publication of:
Dennis and Sherri Owens — Cincinnati, Ohio