Language abuse – “mistake”

A simple way to feel like a true scholar is to do a quick Bible search for “mouth” in your Libronix library or concordance and then scan through the passages. You too will then be able to speak authoritatively on the connection between one’s state of salvation and the operation of one’s words. Here’s a goodie: “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.” (James 1:26, ESV).

A word I’ve been seeing in the news recently is “mistake.” It’s a word I notice a lot because for all the sins of my mouth, the dishonest use of “mistake” is not one I often make – and it’s easier to see others’ sins in areas where one is not normally tempted. Mistake as a noun means either an error from poor judgment or else a misunderstanding. The connotation is that it is not the deliberate choice to do something that is wrong, but is unintentional. Thus, walking out of the library with a book that is not checked out is a mistake if you didn’t know you had the book or if you didn’t know you needed to check books out. But it is not a mistake if you deliberately hide the book in order to avoid checking it out.

A mistake is an unintentional error.

The problem results from the “error in judgment” part. Any deliberately wrong action on our parts is an error in judgment, because it is not good judgment. And so the word is twisted to define any wrong judgment. But it is not meant to be that way. Abusing the word in this way would excuse the sin of Adam and the crucifixion of Christ as “mistakes” because both actions were based on bad judgment. Using the word this way misses out on the required lack of intention or lack of knowledge. And these are necessary.

The moral of the story: don’t deceive your heart. Don’t deceive others with gentle words that are merely technically correct. A mistake is either the result of unintended actions (I mistakenly knocked the glass onto the floor) or ignorant misunderstanding (I didn’t realize when I bowed that I was bowing in honor of Buddah). It is not a mistake if you did it deliberately and with knowledge. In that case, it is a sin.