Before we can enter profitably into discussion with one another on any particular subject, it is important to ensure that we are all using our words in much the same way. Words are not the fixed objects which people often imagine them to be. Many words change their meaning over a period of time. Even at one particular time a word may possess not just one meaning, but in fact hold together a whole family of meanings. One meaning may be intended in one place but at a later stage another meaning implied. Because words sometimes depend upon their context for their exact meaning, even the speaker himself may be misled, not realizing that the new verbal context has given the word a slightly different meaning from what it had in an earlier context. This ambiguity in the very nature of the verbal language with which we communicate means that the value of our discussion or debate may be greatly reduced if, unknowingly, we are using one or more of the key words in different ways. Where difference of opinion rests solely on the different uses of words, it is called a merely verbal argument.
Some verbal battles can be avoided at the outset if we simply take more care with our use of words. But they are not so easy to avoid wherever it is a question of that small number of basic words in the language, which by their very fundamental nature are either difficult or impossible to define in terms of others less basic. One such word, for example, is the basic term ‘God’ and the problem to which we have been referring often causes the modern debate between atheist and theist to be fruitless, for there is little use in discussing whether God exists until there is some agreement about the precise meaning to be given to the word.
Lloyd Geering, Resurrection: A Symbol of Hope