language and words in the news

Thou Shall Not Starve

© CorbisBig news today in the UK. A Church of England Priest has rocked the Christian community by announcing publicly that it is OK to steal, if you really need to. Tim Jones is quoted in the Guardian newspaper as having said “My advice, as a Christian priest, is to shoplift.”

So I just thought I’d check the Macmillan Dictionary’s definition of shoplift. Sure enough, it tells me this means to “steal from a shop”. Now, I’m no expert on the bible but I’m pretty sure there were a few basic rules laid out in there that suggested that stealing wasn’t really cool. This is where the clergyman at the centre of this tempest may have overstepped the mark.

Or has he? Isn’t this all about interpretation of language? The commandment “Thou shall not steal” as it appears in the bible is a collection of translated words that profess to convey a certain message. It is widely believed that this means ‘don’t take things that aren’t yours’. However, Mr Jones takes his interpretation slightly further. His take on this phrase is ‘don’t take things that aren’t yours, unless you really need to’.

He makes a good point. It’s easy to see how empowering knowledge of language can be but we must be careful not to shackle ourselves to narrow definition.

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Shane Rae

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