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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Word Meanings

I teach classes in churches and disciple people (men) in the ways of the Lord. I'm also a student of the Bible myself. In all these respects, I find myself continually dissecting a sentence in the Bible to discern its real meaning. I find myself wrestling with a piece of Scripture to discern all of its possible applications. Taking something out of context, for example, seems to make a big difference in what's being said.

Jesus said, "Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, ..." (Matthew 5:10). This is a good example of what I'm referring to. What exactly does "blessed" mean? Some translations use the word "happy" instead of "blessed." Are they really interchangeable? Do they have the same meaning - in the same context? And what does it mean to be persecuted? Does it mean the same thing in all cultures at all times? Moreover, what is righteousness - especially that it would cause persecution?

I believe one of the greatest travesties in Christianity today would be the Christians who read Scripture passages like that and then just accept it at face value. It's as if we know what Jesus was communicating; like we get the full force of His intent. So we read the Bible verse and then go, "Oh, okay." But the truth is we remain ignorant of what Jesus said. It has no practical application for us ... and so it has no particular meaning for us.

Okay, I just let the cat out of the bag, so to speak. I'm one who holds fast to the tenet that for anything to have real meaning it also has to have practical application. Otherwise its just an abstract notion that may be nice to think or say. I might call that a platitude --- something that has words but doesn't seem to say anything.

The point is that if we don't wrestle with Scripture and dissect the sentences and tear apart the meaning of the words, we may never really know what's being said! I met a man once who had read the whole Bible and memorized much of it. He had an impressive command of the Scriptures. Unfortunately, he didn't really know what God was saying in the Bible. He hadn't been transformed by anything he'd read. In fact, he'd read the Bible and not actually met God there. He'd memorized the Bible and not met Jesus. He remained a Hindu. This is what can happen if you read something without having understanding of what it says.

Words seem to change everything. And they are changed by everything. In fact, our language seems to be held hostage by our culture. So the meaning of words changes as culture shifts. Consider, for example, when you tell me something and I respond by saying, "Wow, that's really cold!" I would be expressing an opinion that what you've just told me is sobering, perhaps mean and unloving. But what if I responded instead by saying, "Wow, that's really cool!" Of course then I would be expressing approval, applauding what you've just told me.

These kinds of patterns are repeated throughout our language. Even among the English speaking countries, the same word can have different meanings. And I haven't even gotten into slang, the invention of new words, etc.

When we read the Bible, we really need to consider what it's saying. We need to understand that the English language is the most complex language known to mankind. We need to realize that this could obscure the meaning of Scripture for us --- if we simply try to take Scripture at face value.

God allows the different translations of the Bible to enhance our understanding. (He wants us to hear Him better.) But we have a responsibility to listen. Are you listening responsibly?

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