biblical-hermeneutics

Word Meaning: First, I would like to note that the reader of Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek have a small advantage over the reader that only knows English. The reader of the original languages can ascertain what the writer meant to convey by the words he used, while the English reader can only ascertain what the translator meant by the rendering of his English words. In an attempt to understand any given word within Scripture, one must keep some simple basic points in mind:

  • A word can have several meanings. For example, the English word “hand” can mean the thing at the end of our wrist, or a hand of cards, or a worker, and so on. It is the context of a sentence that will establish which meaning was intended.
  • A word will only mean what the writer meant to convey by his use of it within the context of how he chose to use it.
  • Along with the above point is the fact that the writer is going to use words in such a way that his audience will understand. In other words, “house” is not going to mean a “river.” This may sound ridiculous at this point, but it will pay dividends when we begin looking at word meaning.
  • The range of meaning will be found in a lexicon, and the context will tell us which one the writer intended.

Etymological Fallacies: Some of this will be repeated again later in this chapter and other chapters, as repetition for emphasis. A word’s meaning must come from its use at the time of the writing. To find the origin of a word and its historical meaning throughout history is not going to add anything to its meaning. Moreover, the form of a word has nothing to do with its meaning. This would also mean that most compound words do not attribute to the meaning of a word by looking at the two separate words that have been combined. For example, the word “pineapple,” if broken apart into “pine” and “apple” add nothing to its meaning. Another fallacy would be to look at how a word is used centuries later, but in all likelihood, the word’s meaning will have been altered over time.  In 1611 the English word “let” meant to “stop” or “restrain.” Today it means “to allow.” (See 2 Thess 2:7 KJV/ESV) The only time the history of a word may be some help is when there is no possible way of knowing its meaning at the time of use, or with names. (Louw, 1982)[1]

Concordance: While the lexicon will give us the range of meaning, another approach is how a writer uses a word. We may look up a word that Paul has used and see where he has used it elsewhere. It is best if it is in the subject matter that we are dealing with, or at least in the same book. However, one could go to the book of Romans to consider a word in Galatians, if it is dealing with the same subject matter. One may even consider the New Testament as a whole, or even the Septuagint (The Greek Old Testament). However, a word of caution, the further removed that we get from the writer and the area our word is found in, the more danger we are in, coming away with the wrong meaning. There is no reason to believe that just because Paul and Peter used the same word that they must have intended the same meaning by its use.

Stage One: Prayerful Attitude

At this point, one has a verse or a portion of Scripture that they are attempting to understand. For convenience sake, we will pick one to be used throughout each of our stages, as an example. We will be using Leviticus 3:17. In stage one, we want to get our heart right by going to God in prayer, asking for understanding, asking that he bless our efforts to garner the correct mental grasp of what his word is saying and to be able to apply it in our lives thereafter, as well as share it with others.

Leviticus 3:17

17It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations, in all your dwelling places, that you eat neither fat nor blood.”

Stage Two: Reading of the Text

As was stated in the above, one of the barriers for the modern-day reader is that he does not know Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek. Therefore, he is one-step removed from wrapping his mind around the correct meaning. This barrier can be overcome somewhat by following the reading below. Before we look at that, let us consider some terms about the different types of Bible translations and the interlinear tool, which will help us to invest our time appropriately.

Bible Translation Excursion

Interlinear Translation

The interlinear Bible[2] page is set up with the left column where we will find the original language text, with the English word-for-word translation beneath each original language word; generally, the right column contains an English translation like the ESV, NASB, or the NIV. The interlinear translation in the left column and the modern-day English translation in the right column are parallel to each other. This allows the student to make immediate comparisons between the translation and the interlinear, helping one to determine the accuracy of the translation.

The interlinear and the English equivalent in the left column is not generated by taking the English word(s) from the translation on the right, and then placing them under the original language text. Whether we are dealing with Hebrew or Greek as our original language text, each word will have two or more English equivalents. What factors go into the choice of which word will go under the original language word? One factor is the period in which the book was written: as the New Testament was penned in the first-century, during the era of Koine Greek, as opposed to classical Greek of centuries past; the context of what comes before and after the word under consideration.

Therefore, the translator will use his training in the original language, or a lexicon to determine if he is working with a noun, verb, definite article, adjective, adverb, preposition, conjunction, participle, and so on. Further, say he is looking at a verb, it must be determined what mood it is in (indicative, subjunctive, imperative, etc.), what tense (present, future, aorist, etc.), what voice (active, middle, passive, etc.), what case (nominative, genitive, dative, etc.) gender, person, singular or plural. In addition, the English words under the original language text are generated from grammatical form, the alterations to the root, which affect its role within the sentence, for which he will look to a Hebrew or Greek grammar reference.

The best lexicon is the 3rd edition Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, (BDAG) ten years in the making, this extensive revision of Bauer―the standard authority worldwide―features new entries, 15,000 additional references from ancient literature, clearer type, and extended definitions rather than one-word synonyms. Providing a more panoramic view of the world and language of the New Testament, it becomes the new indispensable guide for translators. The second best lexicon is the Greek-English Lexicon: With a Revised Supplement, 1996: Ninth Revised Edition – Edited By H.G. Liddell, R. Scott By: H.G. Liddell & R. Scott. Each word is given in root form along with important variations, and an excellent representation of examples from classical, Koine and Attic Greek sources follows. This lexicon is appropriate for all classical Greek and general biblical studies. By far the best traditional Hebrew lexicon currently available is The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (HALOT) (vols. 1-5; trans. M. E. J. Richardson; Brill, 1994-2000). However, the price is beyond most students and scholars. A more affordable edition, which I highly recommend, is available, Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Unabridged 2-Volume Study Edition) (2 vols. trans. M. E. J. Richardson; Brill, 2002).

There are numerous lexicons on the market, which would be fine tools for the Bible student. Many scholars would concur that Biblical lexicons have four main weaknesses:

  • They are geared toward the translations of the 20th century, as opposed to new translations.
  • They primarily contain only information from the Bible itself, as opposed to possessing information from Greek literature overall.
  • They are too narrow as to the words of say the New Testament, attempting to harmonize a word and its meaning. The problem with this agenda is that a word can have numerous meanings, some being quite different, depending on its context, even within the same author.
  • Most Biblical lexicons have not escaped the etymological fallacy, determining the meaning of a word based on its origin and past meaning(s). Another aspect being that the meaning of a word is based on the internal structure of the word. A common English example of the latter is “butterfly.” The separate part of “butter” and “fly” do not define “butterfly.” Another example is “ladybird.”

John 3:7 (1881 Westcott-Hort New Testament)*

7me thaumases hoti eipon soi dei humas gennethenai anothen

not to be astonished that I said to you it is necessary you to give birth to from above

7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘It is necessary for you to be born from above.[3]

As we can see the interlinear translation reads very rough, as it is following the Greek sentence structure. The Lexham English Bible rearranges the words according to English syntax. Do not be surprised that at times words may need to be left out of the English translation, as they are unnecessary.  For example, The Greek language sometimes likes to put the definite article “the” before personal name, so in the Greek, we may have “the Jesus said.” In the English, it would be appropriate to drop the definite article. At other times, it may be appropriate to add words to complete the sense in the English translation. For example, at John 4:14, the LEB has “But an hour is coming—and now is here*—when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for indeed the Father seeks such people to be his worshipers.” *The word “here” is not in the Greek text but is implied, so it is added to complete the sense.

Literal Translation

Once the interlinear level of translation has taken place, it is now time to adjust them into sentences. Each word will possess its own grammatical indicator. As the translator begins to construct his English sentence, he will adjust according to the context of the words surrounding his focus. As we will see shortly, in the examples below, the translator must transition the words from the Greek order, to correct English grammar and syntax. This is the delicate balance faced by the literal translation team, and how close we cling to the Hebrew or Greek word order in our English translation. The reader will find that the KJV, ASV, ESV, RSV, NASB and the UASV will allow a little roughness for the reader, for them an acceptable sacrifice, as they believe that meaning is conveyed by the word order at times. An overly simplified example might be Christ Jesus as opposed to Jesus Christ, with the former focusing on the office (“Christ” anointed one), while the latter focuses on the person.

Even though it is impossible to follow the word order of the original in an English translation, the translator will attempt to stay as close as possible to the effective and persuasive use that the style of the original language permits. In other words, what is actually stated in the original language is rendered into the English, as well as the way that it is said, as far as possible. This is why the literal translation is known as a “formal equivalence.” As the literal translation, “is designed so as to reveal as much of the original form as possible. (Ray 1982, 47)

It should be noted that this writer favors the literal translation over the dynamic equivalent, and especially the paraphrase. The literal translation gives us what God said; there is no concealing this by going beyond into the realms of what a translator interprets these words as saying. It should be understood that God’s Word to man is not meant to be read like a John Grisham novel. It is meant to be meditated on, pondered over, and absorbed quite slowly; using many tools and helps along the way. There is a reason for this, it being that the Bible is a sifter of hearts. It separates out those who really want to know and understand God’s Word (based on their evident demonstration of buying out the opportune time for study and research), from those who have no real motivation, no interest, just going through life. Having said that, there are two weaknesses of the literal translation, if taken too far.

There are times when a literal word-for-word translation is not only in the best interest of the reader, and could convey a meaning contrary to the original.

  • As we have established throughout this chapter but have not stated directly, no two languages are exactly equivalent in grammar, vocabulary, and sentence structure.

Ephesians 4:14 American Standard Version (ASV)

 14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery [lit., dice playing] of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming

The Greek word kybeia that is usually rendered “craftiness” or “trickery,” is literally “dice-playing,” which refers to the practice cheating others when playing dice. If it was rendered literally, “carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery dice-playing of men,” the meaning would be lost. Therefore, the meaning of what is meant by the ‘dice playing’ must be the translator’s choice.

Romans 12:11

11Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent [lit., boiling] in spirit, serve the Lord.

 When Paul wrote the Romans, he used the Greek word zeontes, which literally means “boil,” “seethe,” or “fiery hot.” Some very serious Bible students may pick up on the thought of “boiling in spirit,” as being “fervent in spirit,” or better “aglow with the spirit,” or “keep your spiritual fervor.” Therefore, for the sake of making sense, it is best to take the literal “boiling in spirit”, determine what is meant by those words, “keep your spiritual fervor”, and render it thus.

Matthew 5:3 New International Version (NIV)

   3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:3 (GOD’S WORD Translation)

   3“Blessed are those who [are poor in spirit] recognize they are spiritually helpless. The kingdom of heaven belongs to them.

This one is really a tough call. The phrase “poor in spirit” carries so much history, and has been written as to what it means, for almost 2,000 years that, even the dynamic equivalent translations are unwilling to translate its meaning, not its words. Personally, this writer is in favor of the literal translation of “poor in spirit.” Those who claim to be literal translators, should not back away because “poor in spirit” is ambiguous, and there are a variety of interpretations. The above dynamic equivalent translation, God’s Word, has come closest to what was meant. Actually, “poor” is even somewhat of an interpretation, because the Greek word ptōchoi means “beggar.” Therefore, “poor in spirit” is an interpretation of “beggar in spirit.” The extended interpretation is that the “beggar/poor in spirit” is aware of his or her spiritual needs as if a beggar or the poor would be aware of their physical needs.

  • As we have also established in this chapter a word’s meaning can be different, depending on the contextthat it was used.

2 Samuel 8:3 Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)

 3 David also defeated Hadadezer son of Rehob, king of Zobah, who went to restore his control [hand] at the Euphrates River.

1 Kings 10:13

 13And King Solomon gave to the queen of Sheba all that she desired, whatever she asked besides what was given her by the bounty [hand] of King Solomon. So she turned and went back to her own land with her servants.

Proverbs 18:21

21 Death and life are in the power [hand] of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.

The English word “hand” has no meaning outside of its context. It could mean, “end of arm,” “pointer on a clock,” “player’s cards,” “round in a card game,” “part in doing something,” “round of applause,” “member of a ship’s crew,” or “worker.” The Hebrew word “yad,” which means “hand,” has many meanings as well, depending on the context, as it can mean “control,” “bounty,” or “power.” This one word is translated in more than forty different ways in some translations. Let us look at some English sentences, to see the literal way of using hand, and then add what it means, as a new sentence.

  • Please give a big hand to our next contestant. Please give a big applause for our next contestant.
  • Our future is in our own hands. Our future is in our own power. Our future is in our own possession.
  • Attention, all hands! Attention, all ship’s crew!
  • She has a good hand for gardening. She has a good ability or skill for gardening.
  • Please give me a hand, I need some help.
  • The copperplate writing was beautifully written; she has a nice hand.

At times, even a literal translation committee will not render a word the same every time it occurs, because the sense is not the same every time. The only problem we have is that the reader must now be dependent on the judgment of the translator to select the right word(s) that reflect the meaning of the original language word accurately and understandably. Let us look at the above texts from the Hebrew Old Testament again, this time doing what we did with the English word “hand” in the above. It is debatable if any of these verses really needed to be more explicit, by giving the meaning in the translation, as opposed to the word itself.

who went to restore his hand at the Euphrates River – who went to restore his control at the Euphrates River

she asked besides what was given her by the hand of King Solomon – she asked besides what was given her by the bounty of King Solomon

Death and life are in the hand of the tongue – Death and life are in the power of the tongue

Dynamic Equivalent Translation

Translators who produce what are frequently referred to as paraphrase Bibles, or free translations, take liberties with the text as presented in the original languages. How so? They either insert their opinion of what the original text could mean or omit some of the information contained in the original text. Paraphrase translations may be appealing because they are easy to read. However, their very freeness at times obscures or changes the meaning of the original text.

Consider the way that one paraphrases Bible translates Jesus’ famous model prayer: “Our Father in heaven, reveal who you are.” (Matthew 6:9, The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language) A more accurate translation of Jesus’ words renders this passage: “Our Father in the heavens, let your name be sanctified.” Note, too, the way that John 17:26 is rendered in some Bibles. According to one free translation, on the night of his arrest, Jesus said to his Father in prayer: “I made you known to them.” (Today’s English Version) However, a more faithful rendering of Jesus’ prayer reads: “I have made your name known to them.” Can you see how some translators actually hide the fact that God has a name that should be used and honored?

Paraphrase Translation

A paraphrase is “a restatement of a text, passage, or work giving the meaning in another form.”[4] The highest priority and characteristic is the rephrasing and simplification. Whatever has been said in the above about the dynamic equivalent can be magnified a thousand fold herein. The best way to express the level this translation will go to is to select some paraphrases and set them side-by-side with the dynamic equivalent and literal translations. It is recommended that we read Isaiah chapter 1, verses 1-4 in the Message Bible, then in the New Living Translation, and then in the English Standard Version. Thereafter, read verses 5-9 in the same manner, followed by verses 10-12, and 13-17. This way we will taste the flavor of each with just a small bit at a time, so we do not lose the sense of the previous one by too much reading.

Literal Contrasted With Dynamic Equivalent

In short, the dynamic equivalent translator seeks to render the biblical meaning of the original language text as accurately as possible into an English informal (conversational) equivalent. Alternatively, the literal translation seeks to render the original language words and style into a corresponding English word and style.

Before we delve into the basics of Bible translation, it would be best to define a couple common acronyms that are commonly used in these sorts of technical discussions. We are going to offer more terms in an appendix at the end of this section, which will be beneficial to us as we move throughout this book and others on Bible translation. Source Language (SL) is the language into which a translation is being produced in another. Therefore, if one is translating from Hebrew into English, then Hebrew is the SL. Receptor Language (RL) is just the opposite; it is the language into which the translation is being produced. Therefore, if one is translating from Greek into English, then English is the RL.

As we can see from the above, the terms Source and Receptor language have the acronym SL and RL respectively. Also, keep in mind that the text that the translator is rendering into another language is the source text. Please do not confuse the Source Language with the Original Language. True, the Source Language can be the Original Language of say Hebrew or Greek. However, if there is a case of a translator making a Chinese translation of the New Testament, but has chosen to make it from English, the Source Language would be English. Yet, the Original language of the Old Testament is Hebrew, and the New Testament is Greek.

We will get more into the differences in translations in chapter 2 and 4, but for now, know that there are two major divisions as mentioned above. We have the word-for-word and the thought-for-thought. A literal translation is one-step removed from the original and something is always lost or gained, because there will never be 100 percent equivalent transference from one language to the next. A thought-for-thought translation is one more step removed than the literal translation in many cases and can block the sense of the original entirely.  A thought-for-thought translation slants the text in a particular direction, cutting off other options and nuances. A literal word-for-word translation makes every effort accurately to represent the authority, power, vitality and directness of the original Hebrew and Greek Scriptures and to transfer these characteristics in modern English. The literal translations have the goal of producing as literal a translation as possible where the modern-English idiom permits and where a literal rendering does not conceal the thought.

Comparison of Word-for-Word and Though-for-Thought Translations

Literal Translation[5] Dynamic Equivalent[6]
Focuses on form Focuses on meaning
Emphasizes source language Emphasizes receptor language
Translates what was said Translates what was meant
Presumes original context Presumes contemporary context
Retains ambiguities Removes ambiguities
Minimizes interpretative bias Allows for interpretative bias
For serious Bible study For commentary use
Awkward receptor language style Natural receptor language style

1 Kings 2:10 Literal Translation (ASV, RSV, ESV, NASB)

And David slept with his fathers, and was buried in the city of David.

And David slept with his fathers, and was buried in the city of David.

Then David slept with his fathers and was buried in the city of David.

Then David slept with his fathers and was buried in the city of David.

1 Kings 2:10 Though-for-Thought Translation (GNB, CEV, NLT, MSG)

David died and was buried in David’s City.

Then he died and was buried in Jerusalem.

Then David died and was buried with his ancestors in the City of David.

Then David joined his ancestors. He was buried in the City of David.

One could conclude that the thought-for-thought translations are conveying the idea in a more clear and immediate way, but is this really the case? There are three points that are missing from the thought-for-thought translation:

 In the scriptures, “sleep” is used metaphorically as death, also inferring a temporary state where one will wake again, or be resurrected.  That idea is lost in the thought-for-thought translation. (Ps 13:3; John 11:11-14; Ac 7:60; 1Co 7:39; 15:51; 1Th 4:13)

Sleeping with or lying down with his father also conveys the idea of having closed his life and having found favor in God’s eyes as did his forefathers.

When we leave out some of the words from the original, we also leave out the possibility of more meaning being drawn from the text.  Missing is the word shakab (“to lie down” or “to sleep”), ’im (“with”) and ‘ab in the plural (“forefathers”).

 Psalm 13:3 (American Standard Version)

Consider and answer me, O Jehovah my God: Lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death;

John 11:11-14 (American Standard Version)

These things spake he: and after this he saith unto them, Our friend Lazarus is fallen asleep; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep. The disciples therefore said unto him, Lord, if he is fallen asleep, he will recover.  Now Jesus had spoken of his death: but they thought that he spake of taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus therefore said unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead.

Acts 7:60 (American Standard Version)

And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

1 Corinthians 7:39 (Updated American Standard Version)

A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband fall asleep (koimethe) [in death], she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.[7]

1 Corinthians 15:51 (American Standard Version)

Behold, I tell you a mystery: We all shall not sleep, but we shall all be changed,

1 Thessalonians 4:13 (American Standard Version)

But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning them that fall asleep; that ye sorrow not, even as the rest, who have no hope.

Those who argue for a though-for-thought translation will say the literal translation “slept” or “lay down” is no longer a way of expressing death in the modern English-speaking world.  While this may be true to some extent, the context of chapter two, verse 1: “”when David was about to die” and the latter half of 2:10: “was buried in the city of David” really resolves that issue.  Moreover, while the reader may have to meditate a little longer, or indulge him/herself in the culture of different Biblical times, they will not be deprived of the full potential that a verse has to convey. (Grudem, Ryken, Collins, Polythress, & Winter, 2005, 21-22)

A Word of Caution

The dynamic equivalent can and does obscure things from the reader by overreaching in their translations. This can be demonstrated on the moral standards found in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10.

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 (The Message)

 9-10 Don’t you realize that this is not the way to live? Unjust people who don’t care about God will not be joining in his kingdom. Those who use and abuse each other, use and abuse sex, use and abuse the earth and everything in it, don’t qualify as citizens in God’s kingdom.

1 Corinthians 6:9-10

 9Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

If we compare the MSG with the ESV, we will notice that the MSG does not even list the specifics defined by the apostle Paul on precisely what kind of conduct we should shun are not even mentioned.

Matthew 7:13 (Today’s English Version)

 13“Go in through the narrow gate, because the gate to hell is wide and the road that leads to it is easy, and there are many who travel it.

Matthew 7:13

 13“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.

The Greek word apōleian means “destruction,” “waste,” annihilation, “ruin.” Therefore, one has to ask, ‘why did the TEV translation committee render it “hell”? It has all the earmarks of theological bias. The translation committee is looking to promote the doctrine of eternal torment, not destruction. The objective of the translator is to render it the way that it should be rendered. If it supports a certain doctrine, this should be accepted, if not, then this should be accepted as well. The policy is that God does not need an overzealous translator to convey his doctrinal message.

1 Corinthians 11:10: LGNTI (Interlinear)

Because of this ought the woman authority to have on her head because of the angels

1 Corinthians 11:10: NASB (Literal)

Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.

1 Corinthians 11:10: TEV (Dynamic Equivalent)

On account of the angels, then, a woman should have a covering over her head to show that she is under her husband’s authority.

1 Corinthians 11:10: CEV (Dynamic Equivalent)

And so, because of this, and also because of the angels, a woman ought to wear something on her head, as a sign of her authority.

Note the interlinear is completely and literally carried over into the Source Language word for word, keeping the exact form. This is called a gloss in the world of the Bible translator. While this does not convey much meaning to the average English reader, it does to one who has studied Biblical Greek. However, the serious Bible student would have a literal translation as a study Bible. The literal translation will keep the form as far as is possible, as well as the wording. The Dynamic Equivalent advocates will argue that this does not sound natural. Well, for those that want the Word of God in its undiluted form, as accurately as possible, we will accept a little unnatural sounding at times. Soon, our example will convey the danger of going beyond translation into interpretation.

Our literal translation contains ambiguity. Is the writer talking about women or wives? Is the woman to have her own authority, or is something or someone else to have authority over her? This is actually just fine because its ambiguity is actually beneficial. First, as a quick aside, the work of interpretation will weed out those pseudo-Christians, who do not want to put any effort into their relationship with God, who do not want to buy out the time to understand. Now, the reader has the right to determine for himself or herself which is the correct interpretation. This right should not be stolen from him or her by the translator, for him or the committee could be wrong, and life or death may hang in the balance.

Seeing two dynamic equivalents side-by-side helps us to see that they have arrived at two different conclusions, and both cannot be right. The Today’s English Version believes that the “woman” here is really the “wife,” as it refers to the “husband.” It also believes that the wife is to be under the husband’s authority. On the other hand, the Contemporary English Version does not commit to the argument of “woman” versus “wife,” but does understand the verse to mean the woman has her own authority. She has the authority to act as she feels she should, as long as she wears something as a sign of this.

A good translation will do the following:

Accurately render the original language words and style into the corresponding English word and style that were inspired by God.

Translate the meaning of words literally, when the wording and construction of the original text allow for such a rendering in the target language.

Transfer the correct meaning (sense) of a word or a phrase when a literal rendering of the original-language word or a phrase would garble or obscure the meaning.

In considering the first three points here, as far as possible, use natural, easy-to-understand language that inspires reading.

Are there such translations available on the market? Yes, this book recommends the following translations below, as every Bible student should have multiple translations, and at least one from every style.

Stage Three: Word Study

Word study is a valuable tool in our getting to understand the Word of God, but we must understand that there are a correct way and a wrong way of doing word studies. One primary concern is that many words have multiple meanings.

Two Principles to Keep in Mind

  • The first principle is that many words in all languages have a range of meanings. The technical term for this is semantics, which is defined as, the study of how meaning in language is created by the use and interrelationships of words, phrases, and sentences.

Let us just chose one word, the English word “grace.” There are numerous uses for that word: elegance, beauty, and smoothness of form or movement; dignified, polite, and decent behavior; a capacity to tolerate, accommodate, or forgive people; a grace period in one’s finances; a pleasing and admirable quality or characteristic; in Christianity, the infinite love, mercy, favor, and goodwill shown to humankind by God. To have the word “grace” written on a piece of paper by itself, it would carry no meaning, we must have it in a sentence, like the following: She fended off queries with her usual grace, or so good of you to grace us with your presence.

  • The second principle is that the context will determine the meaning of any word. Contextis by far the most important principle in Bible study.

There is no way to determine the meaning of a word without all of the material that surrounds it. If we were asked what does the word, “grace” mean? We would have to say, ‘well, it all depends on the context.’ In considering the context, we may want to move outwards, in a sort of spiral. Of course, we will want to look at the immediate context, the surrounding words, sentences, and paragraphs. We will then want to consider how the text is being used. It may be beneficial to look at how the word is used elsewhere, such as Paul’s use of the word in the book of Romans, and the book of Galatians. In addition, we may want to consider the rest of the New Testament, if it is a New Testament word. However, I would offer a word of caution, in that just because Paul uses a word 20 times, does not mean that he always uses it in the same sense, context determines that.

Do Not Become Sidetracked With Word Studies

This is not encouragement to not do words studies. However, One can become bogged down in word studies if they attempt to study every word in a reading that may make up 10 to 20 verses. Imagine having to do an extensive word study on several hundred words. Therefore, it is best to focus our energies on the more important 4-5 words in each text, such as the verbs. It is the verb that moves the action along, so they may be important. In the latter part of chapter 3 and chapter 4 in the book of Hebrews, the word “today” shows up numerous times. “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” (3:15) Other words that would be important are difficult words or theological words. We will want to read the passages repeatedly, looking for those words that the passage seems to hinge on, as well as figures of speech, and words that come across as different.

While there are those that are still using books, tablet and pen, today’s Bible student have access to software tools that make word study a simplified task. What would take hours before, can now be done in minutes or even seconds? At the end of this chapter, I will recommend some software programs that run from free to somewhat expensive. The only need is access to a compatible computer.

Word-Study Fallacies

One of the primary fallacies comes from those that only use one specific Bible translation, like the King James Version only Bible students. If we are only studying or reading on the surface, we will never discover what is behind some of those English words. The other aspect of this is the reader is thinking with his or her modern day mindset.

Philippians 2:5-8 King James Version (KJV)

 5Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: 6Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: 7But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: 8And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

Philippians 2:5-8

5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Philippians 2:5-8 (New American Standard Bible)

 5Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Looking at the King James Version, and our English mindset, how are we to understand that Jesus made himself of no reputation? It can give us the impression that he was simply attempting to avoid fame, to avoid a reputation. This is certainly not the case, and by exploring more than one translation, it can wake us up to a misunderstanding, or at least a difference that needs to be investigated. While there seems to be no end to the line of new English translations, it must be said that there will always be a need for new translations. ‘Why’? We may be asking. If we were to turn to the many translators in the field of Bible translation, they would offer at least three good reasons: (1) the manuscripts that have been discovered over the centuries are always being studied and better understood, and this increased knowledge may mean adjustments in the translation. (2) Our knowledge of the Bible languages just keeps improving over the years, and once again this can lead to more accurate translations. (3) Languages are living and growing and changing over time, altering the meaning of words, and in some cases, to the opposite. In 1611, “let” in “I let John go to school” meant “stop” or “restrain.” However, it is not just the need to have something other than the King James Version.

What I recommend is that for the study of God’s Word, use 2-3 very good literal translations, and 2-3 dynamic equivalents as a sort of quick commentary on Scripture. As to the literal translations, we would recommend the English Standard Version, 2001 (ESV), The Updated New American Standard Bible, 1995 (NASB), the American Standard Version, 1901 (ASV), the Holman Christian Standard Bible, 2003 (HCSB), especially the Updated Amerian Standard Version (UASV). As to the dynamic equivalent, we recommend the New Living Translation, 2007 (NLT), the Good News Bible, 2001 (GNB), and the Contemporary English Version, 1995 (CEV). However, the dynamic equivalent are not to be used as Bible translations, whch they are not, but rather mini commentaries.

The Root Fallacy

The basis of this fallacy is that I acquire my understanding of the Hebrew or Greek word by its root. The root of a word is the simplest possible form of a word, the smallest meaningful element of speech or writing. An English example for runners is run. This fallacy assumes that every word has a meaning that is derived from its shape or parts. It is often said that the person who has only learned enough Hebrew or Greek to be dangerous commits this mistake. However, once we read enough commentaries, we will find that the scholars commit this fallacy as well.

A verbal cognate is a noun that functions as the object of a verb that is from the same etymological root, as in “to dream a dream” or “to think a thought.” The pastor regularly says that the verbal cognate of apostle (apostolos) is “I send” (apostellō); therefore, the root meaning of “apostle” is “one who is sent”, “send forth” or “send off.” A leading Bible dictionary, Holman has it this way, “APOSTLE Derivation of the Greek word apostolos, one who is sent.”[8] This meaning is established by breaking apostellō apart, apo + stellō. It is likely that ‘sent out’ is an aspect of apostolos (apostle), it is not the primary meaning. The word apostolos primarily means ‘a special messenger, a representative,’ with the idea of being sent out as an implication from the background.  (Louw 1982, 27-28)

This is not how language works. If we turn to an English example, it may clear things up for us. Say 2,000 year from now, a linguist is trying to discover the meaning of our English word “pineapple.” He discovers that the document that he is holding was written in a part of the United States that had a lot of pine trees, with many apple tree orchard nearby. The linguist suggests to his colleagues that the scientists back in the 20th and 21st century must have combined the genetics of these two fruits to produce a pineapple tree. The parts of a word do not determine its meaning. Just because an ice cream truck brings us ice cream, are we to expect that a firetruck brings us fire? Does the word “parkway” mean a large parking lot? No. Does a “driveway” infer that it is a place for driving a vehicle? What would linguistic scholars 2,000 years from now think of our English language?

Having made a case for the above, one must say there are no absolutes, as some words carry a meaning based on their parts that make them up. The way we should hold this within our thinking is this way, ‘largely, words do not derive their meaning from their parts, their internal structure. However, at times, this can be te case. Yet, the key is what did that word mean to that culture, those people at that time, how was it commonly used, and in what context was it used?’ An example of this is the fact that at times a preposition was added on the form of a word for intensification purposes. An example would be gnosis, which is the Greek word for “knowledge,” with the preposition epi (meaning “additional”) added to the front, giving us epignosis, meaning complete, accurate or full knowledge.

The Time Frame fallacy

This fallacy is the act of taking the meaning of a word hundreds of years before or after the time of the writing and applying that meaning to the word under consideration, to get the meaning we want. For example, the teacher may take the meaning of the Greek word hades, as it was understood in classical Greek (“netherworld,” hundreds of years before) and apply it to the New Testament meaning of hades (grave).

The apostle Paul tells us in Romans 1:16 that the ‘gospel is God’s power for salvation. The Greek word for the English “power” is dynamis, which means “power, might, strength, and force.” However, the pastor will say that dynamis is where we get our English word dynamite from. Then he will go on to say that ‘the gospel is the dynamite of God.’ We the reader can obviously see the fallacy in this from a timeframe standpoint. The apostle Paul was not aware of the word dynamite and the meaning it conveys is not what was going through his mind as he penned the word dynamis. What word pictures do us the reader draw at the idea of dynamite? It is used to blow things up, to destroy things, and terrorists use it. There is really nothing about the word that can be read into what Paul meant by dynamis.

To say that the gospel is “power” is to acknowledge the dynamic quality of the message. In the proclamation of the gospel God is actively at work in reaching out to the hearts of people. The gospel is God telling of his love to wayward people. It is not a lifeless message but a vibrant encounter for everyone who responds in faith. Much religious discourse is little more than words and ideas about religious subjects. Not so the gospel. The gospel is God at work. He lives and breathes through the declaration of his redemptive love for people. To really hear the gospel is to experience the presence of God.[9]

The Overload Fallacy

As we have discussed, every word has more than one meaning, and the context that determines that meaning. Those who are guilty of this fallacy take a word that has multiple meanings and attempts to incorporate all of those meanings into this one word. The word has one meaning in its context, that the author intended by its use in that context he placed it in, at the time and place of the writing. Worse still, the person chooses the meaning that he likes and applies that to the word, regardless of its context.

How to do a word study

  • Determine which English word in a given text that you wish to know more about. As was said in the above, you do not need to do every word, as it will lead to burnout from boredom.

Let us choose Ephesians 1:7 as out test passage. We are going to investigate the English word “grace.” The first thing we want to do is look at numerous translations, to see if the word is rendered the same way each time. “Grace” is a theologically important word, so as was expected, it is the same in all the translation I considered (ESV, HCSB, NIV, NLT, NASB, and the ASV). However, I came across a highly dynamic equivalent translation that tends to render what they believe a word means, not what it is, so I will include that below as well. The Contemporary English Version has determined that “grace” means “kindness” here at Ephesians 1:17.

Ephesians 1:7

7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace

Ephesians 1:7 (Contemporary English Version)

7-8Christ sacrificed his life’s blood to set us free, which means that our sins are now forgiven. Christ did this because God was so kind to us. God has great wisdom and understanding,

  • Now we need to determine the Greek word behind our English word “grace.” It is charitos (charis). The easiest tool to use at this initial stage is the interlinear. I would personally recommend the Word StudyGreek-English New Testament for the student.

The interlinear will seem somewhat confusing as was discussed earlier. The word order of Greek is not the same as the English, so it will come off as somewhat garbled. However, we are just looking for our English word and the Greek word beneath it. If we look into our word study interlinear, we find our charitos, but we also find that the interlinear has rendered it “favor.” My, it seems the further that we dig; the more confusion is becoming heaped upon us. However, let us stay the course, and see if the dust settles, clearing things up for us. Anyway, we find that it has Greek number 5485, which will help us make sure that we are considering the right word in our tools as we move along.

A step that is not always necessary is to look the word up in a concordance. “A concordance is a book that lists all the words in the Bible in alphabetical order, and under each word shows you the verses in which that word occurs.”[10] I need to offer the reader a word of caution on concordances. A regular concordance can be misleading to the beginner. We may look up an English word and find a hundred occurrences, and not realize, it is showing us all the occurrences of our English word, but there might be several different Greek words behind those occurrences. Our word study book has a special concordance in the back. It will show us all the occurrences of the same Greek word. We simply move through the numbers until we come to our 5485. We are going to find every place that charitos is used and a short phrase, which encompasses our word. At Ephesians 1:7, we find “to the riches of his grace.” One thing that we discover immediately is that Paul uses charitos with the same meaning all through Ephesians, 12 times.

  • The next step in our word study is to find the range meaning for our word charis.

We will also notice that the word study book has chosen “favor” as a primary meaning, which will be found throughout the interlinear under each occurrence of charis, regardless of how it will end up being rendered in the English Bible translation. Another discovery is that the word is used with a number of meanings: grace, thank, thankfulness, thanks, favor, graciousness, benefit, gift, credit, and grateful. Another tool is the word dictionary, or as the scholar calls them, the lexicon. Here are a few examples of our word charis.

  1. 5485. charis; a prim. word; grace, kindness:—blessing(1), concession(1), credit(3), favor(11), gift(1), grace(122), gracious(2), gracious work(3), gratitude(1), thank(3), thankfulness(2), thanks(6).[11]
  • The next step in our word study process is looking to the context. We have chosen the English word to investigate, discovered the Hebrew or Greek word behind it, and we then determined the range of its possible meaning. Now we need to turn your attention to the context.

As was stated earlier, we are working in a spiral, moving out from the word to the sentence, the verse, the section of verses that encompass the subject, the chapter, and the Bible book itself. What we will do is take the list of possible meanings and plug them into the sentence, seeing which fit the sentence context. If that does not resolve things, we move out to the verse itself. If we are still struggling with the choice, we should then move out to the verse before and after our verse, all of which are dealing with the subject area of our verse. For example, our Ephesians 1:7 would include verses 3-7. What we need to keep in mind is the further removed we are from the initial sentence; the less likely we are to lock down the meaning. Therefore, we will want to ascertain the meaning as soon as possible. On the return trip home after the festivals in Jerusalem, Joseph and Mary may have thought that Jesus was with the family, so at first his not being present had gone unnoticed. Three days later, when Mary and Joseph came to find Jesus, he was in the temple, “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.”—Luke 2:44-46.

Luke 2:46

46After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.

This was no 12-year-old boy question of curiosity. The Greek word erōtaō is the Greek word for “ask,” “question,” and is a synonym of eperōtaō. The latter of the two was used by Luke and is much more demanding, as it means, “to as a question, to question, interrogate someone, to questioning as used in judicial examination” and therefore could include counter questioning. Therefore, Jesus, at the age of twelve did not ask childlike questions, looking for answers, but was likely challenging the thinking of these Jewish religious leaders. What was the response of these Jewish religious leaders?

Luke 2:47

47And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.

Basic Bible Study Tools Needed

Below will be the basic Bible study tools that one needs to dig deeper into God’s Word, and complete the study charts in upcoming chapters.

Bibles

The ESV Study Bible (ESV) by Crossway Bibles

NASB MacArthur Study Bible, Revised and updated By John MacArthur / Thomas Nelson

NIV Archaeological Study Bible, Hardcover By Zondervan

Bible Dictionaries

Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary

New Bible Dictionary

New International Bible Dictionary

Word Study Dictionaries

Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words

Expository Dictionary of Bible Words: Word Studies for Key English Bible Words Based on the Hebrew and Greek Texts

Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words: With Topical Index

Bible Commentary

Holman Concise Bible Commentary

Bible Commentary Volumes

Holman Old Testament Commentary Series- 20 volume set

Holman New Testament Commentary (12 volume set)

Bible Handbook

Holman Bible Handbook

Halley’s Bible Handbook with the New International Version―Deluxe Edition

Zondervan Handbook to the Bible, Revised Edition

Stage Four: Historical Setting

It is at this stage that we begin to take a look at the type of literature that we are considering, and the historical setting in which the letter was written. We can find this information in any good Bible handbook, like The Holman Bible Handbook.

Writer ……………….Moses

Place written ………Wilderness

Time of writing ……1512 B. C.

Written to whom ….The Israelites

Literary form ……….Saga (Sinai), Prose, Ritual Law

 

Purpose of writing: God had purposed to have a holy nation, a sanctified people, set apart for his service. From the time of Abel, faithful men of God had been offering sacrifices to Him. It is here though that He chose explicitly to explain the instruction for the sin offerings. These offerings made the Israelite people well aware of their sinfulness and the need for a better sacrifice. These laws served as a bodyguard, to protect the people from outside nations, leading to Jesus Christ. It is the ceremonial laws that were set in place to keep the people holy as God is holy. – Lev. 11:44; Gal. 3:19-25.

Leviticus 3:17: It is here that we look to Bible background commentaries, like the IVP or the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Background Commentary. In the IVP, we find the following comment: “The suet [fat] is grouped with the blood as the portion belonging to the Lord. Just as the blood is a token of the life of the animal, the suet is a token of the meat of the sacrifice. (p. 122) The fat was regarded as the best or the richest part; this prohibition was in place to impress upon the Israelites that the best belonged to God.―Genesis 45:18.

Stage Five: Theological Context

In Leviticus 3:17, our above verse will likely not show up on the theological radar, especially in isolation. Theology is simply the study of God and His dealings with humanity and our world (Towns, 2002).[12] How does this verse (or any verses under consideration), help us understand God better, help us to draw closer to him? In other words, what does any text we are considering tell us about God, based on what we already know, and as possible new information we may have never considered before? Therefore, we want to garner the ability to see how the parts or aspects of what we know relate to one another, to see the entire matter and not just isolated facts.

Stage Six: Application

This is where we bring the exegetical meaning back to our modern-day world in the same pattern or likeness. Our text simply reminds us that we should give our very best to God. Proverbs 3:9, 10; Colossians 3:23, 24.

Context

The immediate context is the words, phrases, or passages that come before and after a particular word or passage in the Bible and help to explain its full meaning. Of course, the larger context would be the section of Scripture that your word or verse is in, as well as the chapter, the book, the Old or New Testament, or the Bible as a whole.

Preunderstanding is all the knowledge and understanding that we possess before we begin a study session. Thus, we will need to allow the important preunderstanding to affect us (e.g., Bible is inerrant). However, we are not to be biased by the other portions. Therefore, we need to take those unimportant portions and place them on a lower priority or give it less prominence. Preunderstanding is everything that we are, and can be broken down into four categories, as discussed by Ferguson, Biblical Hermeneutics.

  • Information: This is the information, right or wrong, that we may possess before we begin reading about the subject.
  • Attitude: This is the mindset that we bring to the study: such as prejudice, bias, or predisposition (i.e., a favorable attitude toward somebody or something, or an inclination to do something).
  • Idealism: This is our worldview of everything, our perspective in life, a particular evaluation of a situation or facts, especially from our point of view.
  • Methodology: This is our way of expressing ourselves on a given subject. In other words, we may at times, explain things by way of science, history, or explaining our conclusions based on our observation.

This preunderstanding of things belongs to all of us, and there is no way to dislodge ourselves from it, the best we can hope for is to garner a measure of control over its influence on us, as we go about the task of Biblical interpretation. An example would be point number (3), idealism. If we are a scientific-minded individual, we may start to set aside some of the supernatural acts of God and his human workers that he gave power and authority, as being impossible according to modern science. Therefore, we start to rationalize how it may have come about according to our understanding of science.

A preconception is an idea that we have in advance, and can be based on little or no information, reflecting bias. For example, one may approach the study of hellfire, a teaching of eternal torment for the damned, one that he has held from childhood, because of going to church with his grandmother. In his research, he will subconsciously or even willfully accept information that supports his preconception, but reject or ignore other information that does not support it. However, there are presuppositions that a Christian will want to accept as true:

(1) The Word of God is inspired and fully inerrant,

(2) The Bible is authoritative and true,

(3) The Bible is full of diverse material (but unified),

(4) The Bible has one meaning that the reader must discover, and

(5) Those meanings have many implications, and so on.

How can we know if our preunderstanding is at odds with Scripture? It would be advisable for us to pray from this day forward that God may give us understanding, that he helps us to place our preunderstanding on a lower priority or give it less prominence until He helps us to uncover the truth of it, or to set it aside as untrue. From then on, work in harmony with that prayer, to establish if that preunderstanding is in harmony with the biblical data.

As we have discussed at length, every word has a range of meaning, and it is the context that will determine what was meant. For example:

2 Timothy 3:17 (King James Version)

The word of God was given so 17 that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.

What is meant by “perfect” in the KJV? Are we to expect that by following the Word of God, we will become sinless? Will we become incapable of erring? While “perfect” is an option in the range of meaning, it a poor choice. Before we visit other translations, let us attempt to work it out by looking at the context.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 (King James Version)

 16All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 17That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.

By looking at what comes before and after our word “perfect,” it is not talking about becoming sinless. It is saying that the Bible is beneficial in helping us live an equipped, competent, adequate, or complete godly life by establishing true doctrine and teaching others, by evaluating ourselves against Scripture in a reproof or corrective way, which will instruct us in the right way to walk with God. Therefore, as you can see in this case, the context alone, corrected any possible misunderstandings. If we visit other translations, we will discern this as well: “that the man of God may be competent” (ESV), “that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped” (NIV), “so that the man of God may be adequate” (NASB), or “so that the man of God may be complete.” (HCSB)

Notice the meaning of our word is easily established by a careful observation of what surrounds it. The entire Bible is open to this form of intensive observation. The context will always disclose the correct meaning.

John was in the backyard working on his car, when he yelled at his wife in the house, ‘Lisa, can you give me a hand for a second?’ While it may seem silly to the English reader, one learning English may ask two questions, (1) ‘surely she is not going to cut off her hand and give it to him?’ (2) ‘Who would need help on something for a second; it is such a short period of time?’ Give me a hand also means help with something, and a second can mean various lengths of time in American English. Actually, it is not that “hand” means “help,” or that “second” means longer than a second does. The technical term for this is metonymy, which is like an extension of that meaning, a word or phrase used in a figure of speech in which an attribute of something is used to stand for the thing itself. My asking a server at a restaurant for a cup of mud is the same as asking for a cup of coffee and is metonymy.[13]

The Importance of Observation

While this may seem like a given in Bible study, it is important that we understand the importance of observation, as we study our Bible and the tools that are out there, for there is no way we are going to arrive at a correct interpretation if we are missing key elements. There are times that we may be looking for something, like our car keys, and spend 30 minutes of desperately searching for them, to find that they have been laying there right before our eyes the whole time. If we were to take one small book, like the book of Jude and read it 50 times, meticulously, over the next month, taking notes, we would discover that we missed many things after we opened a few commentaries. Therefore, our message for this chapter is observation, observation, and even more observation.

This is about slowing down, looking deeper, and pondering the Word of God. The world around us is all about immediate gratification. This is why in Appendix C; it is recommended that we commit to a Bible reading plan that runs for 4 – 5 years, not just 1 year. Once we are a few months into that careful Bible reading plan, we will fully appreciate how much we have been missing. It is like taking a train through the most beautiful countryside in England, observing the beauty of God’s handiwork. Now imagine that same train ride on a bullet train, at 130 mph. The same is true with those who are speed-reading through the Bible, while they are covering much ground, do they really remember what they have read, let alone understand what they have read, and more importantly, can they explain what they have read, or defend what they have read?

Observation: This is paying close attention to the text, so that we can see what Jehovah God has laid out for us, becoming aware, for ascertaining all the details.

Joshua 1:8

8This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.

Let us test just how much we can pull from a verse that is informing us of what was said in the opening paragraphs. First, we see that we need to meditate on it day and night (Psalm 1). The day and night are really hyperbole for reading it every day. The Hebrew word behind meditate (haghah) can be rendered “mutter.” In other words, as we read, we are to read in an undertone, slightly out load, like muttering to oneself. The process of hearing the words increases our retention of the material dramatically. As Bible students, we read to understand and remember what we read, and we are obligated to share this good news with others. Gesenius’ Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon (translated by S. Tregelles, 1901, p. 215) say of haghah: “Prop[erly] to speak with oneself, murmuring and in a low voice, as is often done by those who are musing.”—See also Ps 35:28; 37:30; 71:24; Isa 8:19; 33:18.

The last phrase in verse 8, “you will have good success” can be rendered to “act with insight.” How was Joshua to acquire this ability “to act with insight”? He was to meditate on God’s Word day and night. What is the equation of Joshua 1:8? If Joshua were to read meditatively (in an undertone) from God’s Word daily, applying it in his life, he would be able to act with insight, resulting in his prospering. Of course, the prospering is not financial gain. It is a life of joy and happiness in an age of difficult times. It is avoiding the pitfalls that those in the world around us suffer daily.

The Precision of Observation

The eminent physician, Sir William Osler, made it a point to stress the importance of observation to his medical students. One day he took a bottle off his desk, saying, ‘This bottle contains a sample for analysis. It’s possible by testing it to determine the disease from which the patient suffers.’ Bringing this object lesson home, he dipped his finger into the fluid in the jar and then into his mouth. ‘Now, I am going to pass the bottle around. Each of you tastes the contents as I did and see if you can diagnose the case.’ Thereafter, the bottle was passed from student to student, with each student nervously sticking their finger in the liquid of the jar, and bravely sticking their finger in their mouth, tasting a sample. After Osler had retrieved the bottle, he announced, ‘Now you will understand what I mean when I speak about details. Had you been observant you would have seen that I put my index finger into the bottle but my middle finger in my mouth.’ Let me ask, did you the reader notice that I italicized Osler’s words to do “as I did”? A later chapter will cover this in greater detail.

Active Reading

Reading is active, not a passive activity. This means that our mind is not wondering about, it is actively involved in the material in front of us. As we are reading a given chapter, see if we are in agreement with the things being said. What is it that the writer is trying to get across? How does what he is saying support his theme? Is this information to be applied in our life (prescriptive), or is it simply historical information to move the story along (descriptive)? If it is prescribed for us, in what way are we to apply it in our life?

As we are reading, let our mind capture the moment, placing us in the midst of the events. Smell the flowers, see the mountains, wade through the rivers, listen to the children as they play, catch the scent of freshly baked bread, take note of the way people are dressed, and be distraught over the injustices.

Reading can be an adventure if we allow it. However, there are deep reasons for active reading, i.e., meditative reading. There are at least five reasons:

  • We want to develop a relationship with our heavenly Father,
  • we want to recall what we have read,
  • we want to apply these principles in our live,
  • we want to share the truths we discover with others,
  • and we want to be able to overturn false reasoning, and save those who doubt.

Live by the Rules

The Rule is to Remember Context

As we know by now, the context is the surrounding verses and chapters, to the text under consideration, as well as the book, and the entire Word of God. Is the interpretation we have come away with, in harmony with the context? Does this interpretation fit the pattern of meaning, of the historical setting? For example, Psalm 1:1-3 tells us that if we do not walk in the counsel of the wicked, or stand in the path of sinner, nor sit in the seat with scoffers, but delight in the Word of God, ‘whatever he does, he will prosper.’ Is that how we are to understand this, whatever we do, we will prosper? No. In psalms, proverbs and other genre, there is an invisible “generally” before these absolute statements. In other words, ‘generally speaking, whatever we do, we will prosper.’

The Rule is Know the Whole of the Word of God

One needs to be familiar with the whole of the Word of God, to not be misled when someone presents us with Scriptures that are out of context. Too many people take a verse by what it says, without looking at what comes before or after it. For example, Jesus said at John 15:7, “ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” This raises the immediate questions: (1) can we simply ask for anything and God will give it to us, (2) and even if it is according to His will and purposes, are we guaranteed of getting it? First, the context of the first part of that verse qualifies what is being talked about here, as Jesus said, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you . . .” Thus, we must be doing A to get B. However, as we have already learned, this is not an absolute, as it has the invisible “generally speaking” before it. In other words, “generally speaking,” if we are abiding in Jesus and his words, the Father will answer our prayer if it is in harmony with his will and purposes.

Scripture Will Never Contradict Itself

If something is ever said in one place in Scripture that is at odds with another text in Scripture, it is being misinterpreted, or the context is being violated or misunderstood. There are verses that say the earth will be here forever, and then 2 Peter 3:7 says “the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire.” This would seem like a contradiction to the many other verses that say the earth will be here forever. However, if we look at the second half of that verse, it lets us know who is going to be destroyed, namely, “destruction of the ungodly.”

We are Not to Hang Our Doctrinal Beliefs on Texts that are Hard to Understand

Do not be ashamed of struggling with passages that are hard to understand, because the apostle Peter even felt this way about some of the Apostle Paul’s letters. “. . . our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.”–2 Peter 3:15-16

Always Literal Interpretation

The Bible is to be interpreted literally, in accordance with what it meant to the original audience at the time of its being written. We are to seek the obvious meaning of the words that the author used, and in the context, he used them, as well as the language he used. This rule does not mean that we are to be ignorant regarding idiomatic,[14] hyperbolic,[15] symbolic[16] or figurative[17] language, where Jesus says he is a door, and Jehovah says he is a rock. Herein, we still take it literally, as to what the figurative language means. In other words, we get a correct understanding of the idiomatic, hyperbolic, symbolic or figurative words, and this is what we take literally. For example, if Jesus meant that he is the way , it is through him that we receive life, we take that message literally, not that we actually believe he is literally some movable barrier used to open and close the entrance to a building, room, closet.

There is but One Meaning, which is What the Author Meant by the Words He Used

This rule has been stressed all throughout this book. The meaning is what the author meant by the words that he used, as should have been understood by his readers, at the time of writing. We must understand that descriptive history to move the text along is not necessarily prescribing what we should do. For example, in Judges Chapter 6, Gideon, desiring evidence that God was with him, requested that a fleece be exposed at night on the threshing floor and be wet with dew the next morning but that the floor be dry. This does not mean that we follow this as an example, to see if God wants us to do something. This was descriptive, not prescriptive.

Not All Commentaries are Created Equal

Sadly, not all commentaries are equal. Sadly, theological bias affects us all, some more than others do. Therefore, it is good to find a few dependable commentary sets (e.g., Holman, New American, and the forthcoming CPH Old and New Testament Commentary volumes) and rely on them, until we discover others just as dependable.

Review Questions

  • What is a riddle?
  • How is the word “riddle” used within Scripture?
  • Explain the riddle at Proverbs 30:18-19.
  • What is one reason God inspired some writers to pen riddles within their
  • What is a word study fallacy?
  • What is the root fallacy?
  • What is the time frame fallacy?
  • What is the overload fallacy?
  • What is the appropriate way to do a word study?
  • Why is the historical setting and purpose of writing important?
  • What is theological context?
  • Explain preunderstanding and preconception.
  • What is a metonym?
  • Why is observation highly important?
  • What is active reading?
  • What rules should we remember, giving the point of each?

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[1] Louw, J. P.: Semantics of the New Testament Greek. Atlanta, Georgia: Scholars Press, 1982, pp. 23-31.

[2] The interlinear is technically not a Bible translation.

[3] W. Hall Harris, III, The Lexham English Bible (Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2010), Jn 3:7.

[4] Inc Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary., Eleventh ed. (Springfield, Mass.: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2003).

[5] Word-for-Word Translation

[6] Though-for-Thought Translation

[7] The ASV, ESV, NASB, and other literal translation do not hold true to their literal policy here. This does not bode well in their claim that essential literal is the best policy. I am speaking primarily to the ESV translators, who make this claim in numerous books.

[8] Chad Brand, Charles Draper, Archie England et al., Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003), 88.

[9] Robert H. Mounce, vol. 27, Romans, electronic ed., Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001), 70.

[10] William D. Mounce, Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), xvi.

[11] Robert L. Thomas, New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries: Updated Edition (Anaheim: Foundation Publications, Inc., 1998).

[12] Towns, Elmer L: Theology for Today. Belmont, California: Wadsworth Group, 2002, p. 901

[13] In Australia, we could ask for “bangers and mash”, and expect to receive a plate containing two or three sausages, some mashed potato, and some peas and gravy.

[14] “Flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8)

[15] “You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” (Matt. 23:24)

[16] “… Israel committed adultery …” (Jer 3:8-9) How does a nation commit adultery? Adultery is symbolic of idolatry.

[17] Jesus said to his disciples, “You are the light of the world.” (Matt. 5:14)