[box]RVWD is my abbreviation for Religious Vocabulary Word of the Day. (You can read my introduction to the RVWD series here.) I do not intend for these word investigations to be exhaustive, but I hope they stimulate some thinking about assumptions. Possibly they will help with honest evaluations about what is truth and what is unnecessary baggage in life. [/box]
The word ordain in the Bible is closely related to the word appoint. In fact, out of the six Greek words listed in Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words (Vine’s) which are sometimes translated as ordain or ordained, five of those are simply linked back to the explanations for various (and some of the same) Greek words that are translated as appoint or appointed. Even with this close connection, though, forms of the word English word appoint are used many more times in the five main translations I compared. (click on photo/chart to enlarge)
The English ordain comes from the Latin ordinare, meaning “to arrange.” Hence, its first meaning in Webster’s New World College Dictionary, 4th edition (Webster’s) of “to order; arrange; prepare.” Webster’s explains in its “Guide to the Dictionary” section that definitions are listed in the order of appearance in history.
The contemporary religious use of ordain is listed as third in the dictionary. Etymonline.com indicates that using ordain in the sense of establishing official spiritual authority did not begin until around the 13th century. Interestingly, the King James Version of the Bible (KJV), based on translations made soon after that, relies much more on the word ordain, to the point of using it rather freely. Vine’s includes a paragraph of examples of the KJV using ordain in ways that tend to make the Bible sound more officious and high-handed.
Etymoline.com says something similar about appoint, in that it was not meant as “putting someone in charge” until the early 15th century. This agrees with the assertion in Vine’s that these words did not indicate any kind of formal authority-driven role when they were orginally used in the Bible. Rather, the character and reliability of certain mature (in spirit, not age) followers of Jesus Christ was “agreed on, or settled upon.” Like “making an appointment” with a friend or service provider, it was a decision mutual to the best knowledge of all involved.
I’m not going to list all the Greek vocabulary that is translated as forms of appoint or ordain. The more important thing is to understand how to read those definitions without superimposing Latin ecclesiastical meanings that were not there when the Bible was written, but that many people have trouble disassociating from.
The lack of any scholastic or hierarchal qualifications for an “elder,” or any person to be respected, is obvious in the Bible. Experience was gained from living a life that could be observed and evaluated by all. Normal, everyday activities, interactions, and responsibilities were used to measure a person. There was no gaining favor within a political structure in order to rise to position, hidden behind veils of secrecy. Recommendations were not taken lightly or simply as job interviews.
The history of the word disappoint is intriguing to examine in light of all of this. It is apparently used because of the frustration felt when someone did not show up at an appointed meeting. Something formerly agreed upon was disregarded by one of the parties. Both parties have equal say in making an agreement, but either one can disrupt the agreement, good or bad reasons. May you never truly be disappointed by those you trust in core matters of life, but if you are, know that you have both the opportunity and responsibility for your own appointments about whom to respect.