The Meaning of Shibboleth

Someone recently asked me what was the meaning of the word “Shibboleth” when it came to politics or divisive issues. In Hebrew, the term means “a flowing stream.” But because of what took place between the Ephraimites and the Gileadites in the Old Testament, a new meaning had come about for this ancient word. It now means something that divides two groups of people.

Here is the Biblical reference from Judges 12:

The Gileadites seized the fords of the Jordan before the Ephraimites arrived. And when anyAre you an Ephraimite?” If he said, “No,” 6 then they would say to him, “Then say, ‘Shibboleth’!” And he would say, “Sibboleth,” for he could not pronounce it right. Then they would take him and kill him at the fords of the Jordan. There fell at that time forty-two thousand Ephraimites. Ephraimite who escaped said, “Let me cross over,” the men of Gilead would say to him.

You can see that because of their dialect, the Ephraimites were easily detected and discovered not to be of the men of Gilead because their accent prevented them from pronouncing the word correctly. This lead to their death, which is a good reason to make sure you children know how to pronounce their words correctly!

But, I digress.  Now the word means whatever we use to divide ourselves from those we do not wish to be associated with. I recently discovered that the word “Foxnews” has become a Shibboleth of the left. They use it in this context when they are losing a debate: “Well, at least I don’t watch Foxnews.” It is supposed to mean that because they won’t watch a news channel that actually strives to be fair and balanced, that somehow, they are more enlightened than the rest of us. This merely proves that there are a lot of stupid and uninformed people on the Left.

I’ve even seen some use the term “liberal” in this way, as in, “I’m liberal, but you need to ask me what I mean by that, because I’m so unique in my thought processes that I can be liberal and not be like all the other liberals on the face of the earth.” This makes them just like all the other liberals on the face of the earth. They all think and believe they have come to their daft positions by some unique thought process on their own part.

In theological circles, the words “inerrancy” and “infallable” have become Shibboleths. This is how evangelicals and theological liberals divide themselves, with the liberals taking the position that the Bible is not inerrant or infallable. This leads to all manner of stupidity on their part, but again, liberalism always does. The moment that you distance yourself from these two position involving Scripture is the moment you open yourself up to believing whatever you want. It is how the gay community can insist that being gay is OK, even though the Bible condemns the sin every time it’s mentioned.

This is why there has been such a fight over the issue of inerrancy. To remove it from how we view the Bible is to remove the Bible’s authority. This is never good, because authority is shifted away from its rightful place and person, God, and places it on us. When we understand that God’s word is authoritative and all our freedoms come from Him, then we are wise and prudent. However when we throw off His authority, the authority then shifts to something other than God and His word, and ends up in the hands of corrupt and fallen men. This is what has taken place in our country over the past 75 years. The more and more we distance ourselves from God’s truth, the farther and farther our country will fall into wretchedness, which will and does lead to the loss of freedoms.

The sad truth is that this has really opened up for something like Islam. Everyone inherently knows that there are problems in our country. But instead of turning to the Living and True God, through Jesus Christ, man will take on a false god in allah and Islam, thinking that we have made some sort of social progression because with Islam, comes the chains of religion. Freedom dies with Islam and man’s religion. Only through the gospel of Jesus Christ can there be true freedom. All other religions do nothing more than bind the soul.

I believe that the term “Christian” will become a Shibboleth as well. It will be a dividing point in culture, as it has been for God’s Kingdom all along. Those of us who bear the name will have the true honor of standing for Christ as our culture moves more and more away from the light. As Christians, we must be ready for this reality. Some see this as doom and gloom. But I see it as an opportunity. The more the term becomes a Shibboleth, the more that the Holy Spirit will use it to draw those who truly belong to the Father, to Himself. What a blessing. Let’s look forward to taking advantage of it.


5 thoughts on “The Meaning of Shibboleth

  1. SWilliams

    Probably the least balanced and least thought-out article I’ve ever read. Apparently everyone who is on the left or a liberal is by definition an idiot. This writer has the hubris of a small child crossing the road. What role religion has had to play in the writer’s shockingly unrealistic sense of self-worth is debatable. As a psychologist though I think that the writer might need psychiatric help, albeit there’s not enough information here to make a diagnosis. Delusions of grandeur perhaps! Thanks for teaching me the true meaning of the word Shibboleth though!! Have a good day all.


  2. Timothy (whose name I share), your website is refreshing and beautiful, even if it does employ a deep-black background. Sometimes, that works, but sometimes more light is needed.

    Likewise, your digression on “shibboleth” quickly runs into trouble. Look over the original quotation for omissions, inadvertent deletions and possible POMs (plain old mistakes).

    Lamentably, the deeper trouble comes from your current decision not to welcome and engage with all points of view to your rationale. You appear to post labels and stereotypes far too quickly for a serious reflection on our common humanity.

    Learn to treasure your website visitors, and enjoy their company. You may not agree with all of us, nor we with you, but we can be neighbors on the many things we do share. Differences can be bridged, but it must be done honestly, as between two minds seeking a truth-in-common.


    1. Hi Bob, (You can take a drink now!)

      I understand what you are saying, and the problems with labels. When I wrote this, I was dealing with those discussed in the thread. In other words, there is background to the post and I was being accused of being stupid, ignorant, and uninformed because of things like Foxnews, being a conservative and, most heinous of all, being a Christian to boot. I think the tone of my blog, overall, has softened over time, although my positions, opinions and core values has not.

      I do welcome comments from those with opposing views, but more often than not, those who disagree with me eventually descend into something less that conversational. Please look at Daniel’s comments in the recent posts.


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