Woe to those who call evil good and good evil,
who put darkness for light and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!
Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes,
and shrewd in their own sight! (Isa 5:20–21)
Equivocation, or doublespeak, is not simply a logical fallacy where a speaker or writer wrongly supports an argument using vague language, often through words with double meaning. It can be a dangerous, secretive evil that threatens your soul because it conceals the truth and blinds you to God’s created reality.
There are many examples of equivocation in the world today. Some are more minor and unintentional. A child might write, “If the sun gives off light, then it obviously cannot be heavy.” Some moments of equivocation are intended for humor, as in Abbot and Castello’s famous comedy bit, “Who’s on First.” Others are more insidious. This past summer, shortly after the reversal of Roe v. Wade, my family and I were driving down a street towards our home and noticed a sign that said this: “Women’s rights are human rights.” On its surface, such a statement is blatantly true. To say anything less is to consider women to be less than human.
The problem is not in the words themselves taken at face value, but in what is actually intended by them. The phrase was used by the feminist movement in the 80s and 90s as a slogan to defend equal rights for women, often expressed in the language of discrimination of employment, basic provisional needs, and education. In part, it was also used to defend a woman’s (so-called) right to an abortion. My neighbor knows this quite well, which is why he placed the sign next to his driveway after Roe v. Wade was overturned. The insidious nature of the argument is to describe as a “right” the ability to murder one’s own child in the womb. By calling this a “human right,” the person who used the phrase in this way implies that to be against the so-called “right” for an abortion is to consider women to be inferior and less than human—a notion that those in the pro-life movement adamantly oppose. Not only that, but it seeks to liken abortion to education or basic provisional needs and portrays the opposition to abortion akin to favoring discrimination. The phrase masks evil in the language of good and deceives those who don’t recognize what it is actually saying.
Another example includes the signs that read, “Love is love.” Such sloganeering acts as a cover-up for what is actually meant by this statement. The sentence “Love is love” is intended to communicate that romantic love between any two people outside of the marriage between a man and a woman, such as men committing the sin of sodomy, is still love and to think otherwise is to hate them. Such a statement obfuscates and denies God’s good and gracious design for real romantic love. It also denies God’s call of love upon our lives to wisely call them to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.
Such slogans abound in our culture and the Bible has something to say about them. The prophet Isaiah declares the sinfulness of equivocation in his woe oracles against God’s old-covenant people in Isaiah 5:20–21. He lists three exchanges that highlight three potential ways of equivocating. First, he notes the way that God’s people equivocated about morality. They called what God declared evil to be good. Second, God’s people equivocated about the natural order by claiming that what God had called darkness was actually light. Third, God’s people equivocated about the value system God had put in place by describing something God made bitter as sweet.
These and the surrounding woes serve as the ground of God’s judgment against them in sending them into exile (Isa 5:24–30). To declare something as a “woe” is to declare the anguish of death for someone. In effect, Isaiah is saying, “Death is upon those who proclaim the opposite of what God has declared and made.” The nature of this exchange is further clarified in Isa 5:21. Those who declare God’s good as evil, God’s light as darkness, and God’s sweet as bitter consider themselves wise in their own eyes. Rather than looking to God’s standard for creation, they rely on their own supposed wisdom by superimposing their own value and definitional system over God’s. For Isaiah, to do so brings judgment and death. James likewise warns us away from such doublespeak (James 3:5–12).
As believers, we should respond in two ways. First, we need to adopt God’s declaration of reality. We must not bow the knee to the sin of doublespeak, a doublespeak used by the serpent in the garden regarding God’s promise of death over Adam and Eve if they should disobey him. We must look to the Scriptures to help us understand and see the world as God has truly made it and not be duped by sloganeering intended deceive us into falsehood. Second, not only must we have eyes wide open to the equivocation around us, but we must warn those around us about it. We must call our neighbors to leave their own self-defined wisdom and hold fast to God’s wisdom in his good created order and in his Word.
What hope we have in our God who has given to us the Bible to guide our path (Ps 119:105) and who has given to us his Spirit that we might take captive every thought for Christ (2 Cor 10:3–6)! Please pray that we would equip our students at Bethlehem College and Seminary to be the kind of mature men and women who are able to avoid equivocation and speak God’s wisdom into this world.
Lance Kramer, Th.M.
Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies
- Pray that the Lord would keep each of us from the sin of equivocation.
- Pray for our students and faculty as they settle into the rhythms of the school year.
- Pray for those speaking at Godward Life as they prepare their messages and that the Lord would prepare the hearts of those attending.
- Pray for full support of the Alex Steddom International Student Fund.