My Debt to the Colonel

One of the things I’ve most appreciated about Colonel Thieme’s teachings was that he defined words that often were left to assumption. In fact, I think one very big part of his ministry was either to specifically define  or abandon altogether much of the standard “vocabulary” of Christianity. The baggage that many Christian words carry with them is immense and many times obfuscates their original meanings. It was one reason I chose to write in the genre of fantasy so I could get away from those words.

Love, for example is one such word. In the Greek (unlike in the English) there are two words for love and each has different meaning: agape and phileo. Agape is a system of thinking more than an emotion and is based on showing grace and kindness and maybe just not sinning against another person. It is based on something in the subject doing the loving. Phileo on the other hand, is a personal emotional response toward some element of attractiveness in the object.

Heart is another example. Heart has all kinds of conotations in English. Love the Lord with all your heart, for example.  I think a common conotation there is that it’s an emotion. A feeling. But the Greek word kardia much more than that. Thayer defines it as the centre and seat of spiritual life; the soul or mind, as it is the fountain and seat of the thoughts, passions, desires, appetites, affections, purposes, endeavours; of the understanding, the faculty and seat of the intelligence; of the will and character.  Many times the word is translated mind as well as heart.

This in contrast to nous  which is also sometimes translated mind, but more in the sense of understanding. Col Thieme taught that nous is where you perceive and understand things. But it’s the things you really believe and that are important to you that are in the kardia and the kardia is where you do your living from. (My paraphrase). 

This corresponds to another pair of Greek words that each are translated with the single English word knowledge: gnosis and epignosis. Gnosis is just knowledge; epignosis is full knowledge or wisdom. Gnosis is the kind of knowledge one has in the nous, whereas epignosis is what drives the kardia.  (I think it’s usually employed in connection with knowing God)

Instead of just popping over things, or teaching what he’d always heard, Col Thieme stopped and thought things through. If he had questions he tried to answer them. He dug deeply into the word, the history, the original languages. He thought about things like what comprises the soul, and how do we acquire knowledge? What’s the difference between the acquisition of natural knowledge and spiritual knowledge? What about the sin nature?

He asked questions like, if God told Adam and the woman that they’d die if they ate of the fruit, why didn’t they just drop dead as soon as they did? What was the change that occurred there? Why does the Hebrew say, “Dying you shall die?” Is the word for death doubled for emphasis? Or were there actually two deaths? One at the moment of the transgression (spiritual death) and another later in old age (physical death).

He really dug into the Angelic conflict, a doctrine Lewis Sperry Chafer had introduced him to, and which he built upon.  And as part of his teaching, part of his effort to get people to break out of their tradition-bound way of thinking about the spiritual life, he came up with innovative terms for complex concepts…  Rebound, Cosmic System, Angelic Conflict, GAP, Human Viewpoint, Divine Viewpoint. Nor did he shy away from teaching advanced doctrines to his congregation — doctrines like the depravity of man,  justification, the Hypostatic Union, election, pre-destination, eternal security, expiation, propitiation, divine decrees, the essence of God…

Many people might think those doctrines are fit only for those attending seminaries. Pastors need to know such things, they think, but not the common people. I disagree. If God put that stuff in His Word, He intends for us to seek to know it. And I can say that after years of studying it, when all the pieces finally begin to come together, I see how the doctrines of election and predestination, grace, eternal security have very real and very relevant appliaction to my every day life. More than I ever imagined they could.

So I owe a deep debt of gratitude to the man who poured out his life digging through the Word of God and teaching to his congregation the things that he found. It changed my life profoundly. I cannot imagine anything else, frankly. Nor would I want it.

4 thoughts on “My Debt to the Colonel

  1. Beth

    I, too, have studied under the Col. for many years. My mother introduced me to R. B. Thieme when I was about 15 years old. I introduced him to my now husband, and our two sons were brought up under his pastoralship. I am now 58. I can truthfully say that he is the best pastor teacher I have ever heard. I have many cassette tapes that will be listened to over and over through the years. I appreciate your website and tribute to such an outstanding man. He will be missed by so many. Beth, Mobile, AL

  2. Hank

    This morning I was reviewing some Scriptures that had impacted me profoundly and had cause to do a search on epignosis and Berachah and by happenstance I came across your blog. I’ll have to come back to this as I’m under a bit of a time crunch but I wanted to briefly say I look forward to coming back and seeing what you’ve got posted here.

    I was a young Corporal in the Marine Corps stationed in Panama when a Sergeant First Class in a Ranger Battalion and his wife had taken me under their wing so to speak. Through them among many important events in my life I came to hear/study some of Col Thieme’s teachings.

    Affirming that I could study God’s word, trust in its veracity as ‘God breathed’ and actually have a chance to mature was extremely critical to me.

    Semper Fi, Hank
    p.s. Look forward to coming back by.

  3. menley

    “In the Greek (unlike in the English) there are two words for love and each has different meaning: agape and phileo.”

    Have you read “The Four Loves” by C. S. Lewis? It is about the four ancient Greek words for love: storge, phileo, eros, and agape. I don’t know if Bob Thieme acknowledged Lewis’s scholarship.


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