Historical Revisionism in Webster’s Dictionary
By: James W. Ware
Where do we look for the definition of a word? The answer is quite straightforward: the dictionary. The dictionary the primary source for the true meanings of words. However, the historical revisionism prevalent in our day and age has even reached into this book. To view this disturbing shift we need look no further than the Webster’s dictionary. For this article I will be looking the definitions of three words faith, God, and religion in Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language (hereafter “1828 Webster”) and the definitions presented on Merrian-Webster’s website www.merriam-webster.com (hereafter “Webster Online”). [The original spelling and grammar of the dictionary entries has been quoted exactly as it appears in the dictionaries. I have gotten a couple of messages concerning the supposed spelling and grammatical errors in this article. I should have properly noted why it appeared so when I initially posted the article. Please forgive my oversight -James W. Ware 12-01-2014]
First let’s look at the word “Faith.” Webster Online defines religious faith as: “belief and trust in and loyalty to God; belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion; firm belief in something for which there is no proof; complete trust” This is quite a departure from 1828 Webster’s definition, “Evangelical, justifying, or saving faith is the assent of the mind to the truth of divine revelation, on the authority of God's testimony, accompanied with a cordial assent of the will or approbation of the heart; an entire confidence or trust in God's character and declarations, and in the character and doctrines of Christ, with an unreserved surrender of the will to his guidance, and dependence on his merits for salvation. In other words, that firm belief of God's testimony, and of the truth of the gospel, which influences the will, and leads to an entire reliance on Christ for salvation.” The wording of these two definitions is quite different. Webster Online uses the term “no proof” to describe faith. 1828 Webster uses “the assent of the mind to the truth of divine revelation.” Webster Online seems to believe that faith in God has no factual backing. Webster Online presents faith as a belief with little to no substantial support. This is very different from 1828 Webster’s emphasis on assent (i.e. surrender) to the truth of divine revelation (i.e. the Bible). 1828 Webster indicates that the Bible serves as support for faith.
The definition of “God” has also been modified. Webster Online defines God as “[T]he supreme or ultimate reality:…the Being perfect in power, wisdom, and goodness who is worshipped as creator and ruler of the universe …a being or object believed to have more than natural attributes and powers and to require human worship” 1828 Webster defines God as “The Supreme Being; Jehovah; the eternal and infinite spirit, the creator, and the sovereign of the universe…; A false god; a heathen deity; an idol.” Webster Online’s definition of God purports the Cosmic Humanist idea that God is the “supreme or ultimate reality.” Webster Online also puts all monotheistic gods I the same camp when it defines God as every “Being…worshipped as creator and ruler of the universe” 1828 Webster makes it clear that Jehovah is the only true God and all other gods are false and it dose not address the belief that God is merely a force controlling the universe.
Finally, the word “religion” has also been revised. According to Webster Online, region is “[T]he service and worship of God or the supernatural; commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance; a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices.” As with every other word, 1828 Webster has a drastically different definition, “[R]eligion in its most comprehensive sense, includes a belief in the being and perfections of God, in the revelation of his will to man, in man's obligation to obey his commands, in a state of reward and punishment, and in man's accountableness to God; and also true godliness or piety of life, with the practice of all moral duties. It therefore comprehends theology, as a system of doctrines or principles, as well as practical piety; for the practice of moral duties without a belief in a divine lawgiver, and without reference to his will or commands, is not religion…;Any system of faith and worship. In this sense, religion comprehends the belief and worship of pagans and Mohammedans, as well as of Christians; any religion consisting in the belief of a superior power or powers governing the world, and in the worship of such power or powers. Thus we speak of the religion of the Turks, of the Hindoos, of the Indians, etc. as well as of the Christian religion We speak of false religion as well as of true religion.” (Emphasis added) In 1828 Webster’s definition of religion Webster makes it very clear that the only true religion is Christianity. He also makes it clear that the mere practice of following moral guidelines without reverence for the Lawgiver (i.e. God), is not religion. Webster Online lumps all religions (true and false) together and has no warning about following a set of moral laws without following the Lawgiver.
We have seen that Webster’s dictionary, once a source for truth and Christian definitions, has been secularized to the point where it makes no claim to a Christian background. Like history textbooks, Webster’s Dictionary has forgotten its Christian roots. If only the modern editors of Webster’s Dictionary would remember the words of Noah Webster in the preface to his 1828 Dictionary “I present it (the dictionary) to my fellow citizens, not with frigid indifference, but with my ardent wishes for their improvement and their happiness; and for the continued increase of the wealth, the learning, the moral and religious evaluation of character, and the glory of my country.” (Emphasis added)