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The Words In The Word

Link to words_in_the_Word.mp3

Hello and God bless you.

As a child, when my mother found me in the middle of one of my shenanigans, my mother used to exclaim: “My Word!”  When I heard those words I knew I was in trouble.

The Bible is a book of words!  One of the basic principles of “rightly dividing the Word of truth” is to understand the individual words.

Read with me starting in verse 15:

15 Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman      that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the          word of truth.
16 But shun profane [and] vain babblings: for they will          increase unto more ungodliness.

I would like to talk about the words in the Word.

A word is a combination of specific sounds that represent a specific though or mind picture.  The specific sounds of a word are represented by symbols that we call letters, formed together in order to communicate a thought.  A written word then, is a communication packet, sent out to transport a specific thought or mind picture to whoever reads the word.  The original thought that was attached to the word was associated with the author’s culture, historical period, geographic location, and personal
experiences.  In a manner of speaking, every word is a figure of speech because the word is a symbol or representation of a thought, concept or mind picture.

Everyone understands words based on their cultural and personal experience, historical period and geographic location.   We should be aware that our mind picture and thoughts about a word may not be the same as the writer’s.  Even within the same language group, the meaning of words develop and change over time. 

For instance the word “boot:”  In Roman times a boot was an open sandal, tied securely on the foot.   A boot became a leather shoe that covered the whole foot and ankle.  In England a boot is what Americans call the trunk of a car.  Over the past 20 years we have come to know about cold boot and warm boot in relation to computers in addition to a vast array of footwear referred to as boots.  And then there are idiomatic uses of “boot:” To "give someone the boot" means to remove someone either literally or figuratively.  And of course the flexible rubber covering at the base of the gear shift in your car is called a boot.  So if I say or write boot, what did I mean and what did you understand?  It all depends on our personal perspective unless there are more words strung together with boot to explain the context of the word.

To understand a biblical word we must figure out what the author understood the word to mean and how he expected for it to be understood.  The author had a specific mind picture or thought, packaged in each word to transport a singularly specific message.

The meaning of words change over time and from culture to culture.    The words of the Bible have been studied and classified more than any other words in the world.   There are multiple concordances, lexicons and word study libraries.  The cultures of Bible times have been studied, recorded, cataloged and confirmed by archeology.  The computer age with the internet has produced a vast array of information accessible to anyone with access to a computer.  The original languages of the bible are readily available to any who care to

discover the real Bible.  The real Bible is the words that were originally written to launch the mind-pictures and intents of God for us.  It is more available to us to understand the packets of  thought being communicated by the writers of the bible than any other time since they were written. 

Bible words can be a challenge to understand.  If you are reading the King James or one of the versions based on it, you must take into account the culture, understanding and language of the King James translators in addition to the culture and language of the writer.   Never assume that any given word in the bible means the same thing to us as it did to the KJ translators.  Since the NIV and related translations and versions are not word-for-word translations the words may or may not carry the author’s intent.  Every word in the bible provokes a word-study if we desire to rightly divide the word of truth.

Each individual word represents an opportunity to misunderstand.  When a group of words are strung together in a sentence the opportunity of misunderstanding is increased expedientialy.    It is similar to a mathematical formula.  To illustrate mathematically:  Each individual word represents a value.  When another word is placed in the formula the value of both words are modified to produce a result.  The structure of the sentence determines whether the individual words should be multiplied, divided, added or subtracted to get the intended result.  If the structure and order of words are changed, the formula changes and we may subtract where we should have multiplied.  The more words in the formula the more complex the modification of the result; and the more likely an error will occur. 

We tend to perceive things as we have been taught to see them.   We bring our belief system into play when we read or hear a word, sentence or thought.   Misunderstandings and disagreements happen between people of the same culture who speak the same language because of differing understanding of what a word means.

For instance in our modern American culture the word “gay” has taken on a very different meaning than it historically has had.  In the King James Version in James chapter two verse three, “gay clothing” is mentioned.  If we were to read the modern American TV cultural understanding of the word “gay” into the verse we would become a bit confused.  This usage has a totally changed over the past few years.   We have to be ever mindful that our personal cultural understanding is not the same as the authors of the Bible.

Let me illustrate what I mean in a different way.   In the mid 70’s I was a Project Superintendent building a large condo project in Virginia.   The pressure was “on” and we needed to build quickly.   The foundations were complete for six buildings, so I brought in three separate Carpenter crews.  Each crew was working on a separate building.   I had one set of blue prints and each morning the three foremen would meet with me to get the plan for the day.  There was one set of very detailed drawings and they all heard the very same instructions and specifications in our meeting.  I was shocked to find there were many understandings for what I had said.  I spent most of my time catching the private interpretations of the carpenters and re-explaining the architect’s design.  One crew was from California, one from Virginia and one from Texas.    They each had a different understanding of the same words.  Each knew how to build a wall corner but the method was different for each.   I found out that the simplest of terms had to be re-defined and agreed upon so that all three buildings were built the same.  

Which of the crews were right?  All of them, and none of them.  They were all correct in the context of their past projects and learned procedure.    None were correct until they learned the meaning and intent of the architect and writer of the specifications.    God has given us His plan and specifications in the Bible.  He has instructed us to study and rightly divide it.

We are very sloppy with modern English.  We hang participles, slur words and ignore grammar.   However, the languages of the Bible were extremely precise and specific.  The authors connected their words together in a particular order or syntax to create what we call sentences.    Another of the basic principles of rightly dividing the Word of truth is to understand the “close context.  The close context begins with the sentence.  

Sentences are made up of words.  A misunderstanding of a single word within a sentence changes the meaning of the sentence.  The misunderstanding of two words in a sentence compounds the error.   Before a sentence can be understood, each word must be understood.   

Syntax is the study of sentence structure and describes the rules of grammar in a particular language. The structure of English for example has a subject-verb-object sentence order:  “Biff hit the ball.” Alteration of the word order changes the emphasis:  “The ball was hit by Biff.”  In these two examples the emphasis was changed along with the subject of the sentence.  In “Biff hit the ball,”  Biff is the subject and the sentence is about what Biff did to the ball.   In the second example: “The ball was hit by Biff,” the subject is the ball and the sentence is about what happed to the ball. 

English sentence structure rules are different than Greek and Hebrew rules.   The translation process necessitates a rearrangement of the word order  to comply with English syntax.

We blithely declare we believe the Bible is the word of God, but, which Bible are we talking about?  There are hundreds of translations, each different than the next, hundreds of versions, texts, commentaries and concordances.  Are any of them totally accurate?    One of the major reasons for the existence over 22,000 known

Christian religious denominations is they each have their own interpretations for the words of the Bible.  Yet in II Peter 1:20-21 the Bible plainly states:

20 Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.

21 For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake [as they were] moved by the Holy Ghost.

We find ourselves surrounded by an endless number of conflicting religious doctrines, beliefs and organizations eagerly desiring to consume the uninformed Bible reader.   Each organization has their own version of the truth.  They are convinced that they are right and all others are wrong.  Where can we turn for accurate answers?

We have to be always willing to unlearn what we thought we knew to learn what the words in the Word mean.    We are a product of our culture, society and personal experiences.   We bring our preconceived ideas and understanding to the words we read.  We must search and study to shape our understanding and believing into line with the original intent of the author.

We assume we understand the words in the Bible but whose words are they?   For instance many believe some of the books in the New Testament were originally written in Aramaic.   The words of that book were written with the cultural associations of the Jewish culture of the first century with Aramaic idioms and colloquialisms.   Let’s say that this same book was then translated into Greek in the second century by a scribe in Constantinople with the understanding and idiomatic usage of mixed Roman/Pagan culture. In the third century it was translated into Latin in Rome by a Catholic Monk.    In the 15th and 16th century it was translated from the Latin back into the Greek then into English, with the understanding, culture and idioms of Middle aged England and Europe. 

Which of these translations can be relied upon to give us the intent of the writer?   Which of these translations are reliable enough to base doctrines, wars and the life and death question of salvation on?

To some it is a shock to discover that the Bible is not an American Book or even an English book.   Although it is likely that the bible you are reading was published in America it is not an American book.  We read the words in the Bible just like we read the words in the news paper or a novel but they are not the same at all.   The words may be spelled the same and sound the same but they carry a meaning far removed from our cultural understanding.   English words developed in an English speaking culture.   When we as an English speaking people understand the cultural associations attached to English words.  This is true for all people of every language and culture. 

We have all heard the same set of bible words used to teach differing theologies.  The bible has only one correct interpretation.   The correct meaning is the meaning that the author intended as the words were penned.  Anything else is private interpretation and is worthless for understanding God’s intentions.

One of the most popular modern bible study methods is to get together and read a passage and then everyone talks about what the passage means to them.  Using this method a passage may get 10 different interpretations if there are ten people at the get together.   

The truth of any given passage is what it meant to the writer at the time it was written in the cultural understanding of the writer.  I’m going to repeat that:  The truth of any given passage is what it meant to the writer at the time it was written in the cultural understanding of the writer.   If we are to get the truth of the Word we must find out what the words meant in the culture at the time it was written. 

The Bible is a book of words!  Two of the basic principles of “rightly dividing the Word of truth” is to understand the individual words and to understand the close context.  Only then will the larger context of God’s overarching will for mankind be understood.   

Understanding God’s word as a whole begins with one word, then another and then another.  It is not a speedy pursuit but it is a truly rewarding one.  When you have studied out the truth and God has energized it within you, no one can take it away from you because you will know that you know that you know it that you know it.

Workmen! That needeth not to be ashamed ……

God bless you.    

Neil's House