An Introduction to Biblical Interpretation with Solutions to Bible Difficulties
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An Introduction to Biblical Interpretation with Solutions to Bible Difficulties

Chapter V:


   Words mean different things to different people. Bible verses have been misunderstood because a wrong meaning was given to a word that was not intended by the writer.
   Or the meaning of some phrases and passages may appear obscure.
   This obscurity, in many cases, is due to our ignorance of some illustrative fact, or of the exact meaning of words; and many a misunderstood text has been cleared up by larger knowledge and deeper study. (Joseph Angus, The Bible Handbook, p. 260.)
   Knowing how words are used in the Bible is essential before finding their correct interpretation. Seeing how words are used in the Bible is more important than what meanings have been given to them by lexicons, dictionaries, and commentaries. These types of books are often based merely on etymology — the origin of words — or on the meaning put on words by tradition, or on how the words were used at some time other than the time at which they were written or spoken in the Bible.
   As Angus further says:

   The sense of Scripture is to be determined by the words; a true knowledge of the words is fixed by the usage of language. Usage must be ascertained whenever possible from Scripture itself. The words of Scripture must be taken in their common meaning, unless such meaning is shown to be inconsistent with other words in the sense, with the argument or context, or with other parts of Scripture. (Ibid., p. 180.)

   The usage of a word may change throughout different periods of time. Words are much like coins in that they can differ in meaning between different countries. Their meaning even changes at different periods of time in the same country.
   Therefore, we must take great care when we try to find the meaning of words used in the Bible. We must know which English words are no longer used, which usage of English words has been changed, and also which usage of some Greek words has changed.
   Not only have there been mistranslations, some English words used in the King James Version have gone out of use altogether!

Some English Words Now Obsolete

   When studying the authorized King James Version, we need to keep in mind that it was translated from the original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts in 1611 — over three hundred fifty years ago! Many words and expressions used at that time have since changed in meaning or become totally obsolete and archaic — have gone out of use altogether.
   When we come across these words and expressions in the Bible, the correct meaning of the scripture will not always be clear. This is where modern translations are very helpful. All such obscure scriptures should be checked in a modern translation such as the one by James Moffatt or the new Amplified Version.
   Some English words have not become obsolete, but have changed in meaning since the King James Version was translated. The word "prevent" is a good example. This word was originally meant to precede or go before, but now means to hinder. I Thessalonians 4:15 should therefore be corrected according to today's English thus: "We which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not precede them which are asleep."
   The word "charity" is frequently used in the thirteenth chapter of I Corinthians. This word meant love in 1611 A.D. It comes from the old French word charitet which means dearness. This dearness of affection gradually evolved into the mercenary act of giving money which is the origin of our word "charity" as we use it today. But "charity" no longer represents the Greek word agape which should be correctly translated "Love" in I Corinthians 13 instead of "charity."

The Usage of Some Greek Words Changed

   Greek is a living language that has changed down through the centuries. When the Holy Spirit inspired the apostles to write the New Testament in Greek, it inspired them to use old Greek words with a new and expanded meaning attached to them.
   The meaning of the Greek word ecclesia was expanded in this way. The Greeks used it only when referring to a town's meeting of its citizens (Acts 19:39), but the New Testament applies it to the assemblies or churches of God's people and to the people in the Church of God themselves. The Greek language was in use at least 1,000 years before Christ during which changes occurred. Regarding these changes of Greek usage made by man, Bullinger says:
   But in the course of time the laws which operate to affect and change the usage of words wrought the same inevitable changes in many Greek words. For this reason classical Greek usages are no infallible guide to the usage of Biblical Greek. (E. W. Bullinger, How to Enjoy the Bible, p. 235.)
   This is why lexicons may not have the correct meaning of a word if the definition is based on classical Greek. Classical Greek differs in many ways from the koine or "common" Greek used by the apostles. Papyri of documents of all kinds have been dug up in Egypt that are in Greek and belong to mostly the first and second centuries before and after Christ. They have been a great help in affirming the exact sense and usage of Greek words used during that period.
   This information that is continually coming to light sometimes clarifies and gives added meaning to the Scriptures. The Greek word apecho, for example, is generally defined as meaning to to have from, to receive or be (distant) from. But the papyri show that it was the common form of giving a receipt in full. This is the way it is used in Matthew 6:2, 5 and 16.
   When the hypocrites prayed, they did it to be seen of men. When men had seen them, therefore, they were given their receipt in full, or as the Amplified Bible has it, "they have their reward — in full already." There was nothing more for them to receive. They could expect no real answer to their prayers. Just to say they have their reward does not convey this more accurate sense of the Greek expression.
   The papyri have also expounded the meaning of the Greek word charagma which means "a mark."
   In the papyri this word (1) is always used for a mark connected with the emperor; and (2) it always contains his name or effigy, and the year of his reign. (3) It was necessary for buying and selling. (4) It was technically known as charagma. (Ibid., p. 241.)
   This word is found in all kinds of documents — even on "a bill of sale." In the Book of Revelation, it is used for the "mark" of the Beast who will be the Overlord of that day.

Greek Words Translated With More Than One Meaning

   The Bible uses many Greek words in different connections and with various meanings. Different words in the original Greek (and in Hebrew as well) are often rendered by the same word in English.
   Here is where the use of a lexicon and concordance will be a great help. Both Young's Analytical Concordance and Strong's Exhaustive Concordance are excellent for this purpose. With the use of these concordances, the Bible student can see at a glance, under the English word, the Greek word from which it is translated. The index will tell him whether the word is translated otherwise elsewhere — and if so, under what renderings he can find them.
   He should turn to every passage where the Greek word is used and note how the Bible, inspired by the Holy Spirit, makes use of that word. When he has all the information before him, he will soon discover whether the usage is uniform or whether one Greek word has been translated as two or more different English words.
   This type of study requires a spiritual understanding from God (I John 5:20; I Cor. 2:14), common sense, and strength of mind to follow the leading of God's Word in spite of what beliefs we have received from tradition.

The Meaning of "Parousia"

   One particular sect teaches that Christ is already ruling here on earth. To back up their belief, they state that the word "coming" was not correctly translated in the New Testament and that it should be "presence."
   The original Greek word for "coming" is parousia, and can be translated correctly as "presence." But whether this word should be translated "coming" or "presence" really doesn't matter as long as we understand the context of the verses in which this word is used. We can substitute the word "presence" for the word "coming" in the following scriptures: Matthew 24:22-27; I Thessalonians 4:15 and II Peter 3:10-12.
   All these scriptures show that the coming or presence of God and Jesus Christ will be accompanied by supernatural events to be seen by everyone on this earth. When Jesus Christ returns to this earth, this world will know when this world-shaking event takes place. It will not be a "secret rapture" or only known to a select group.
   Nowhere does the Bible speak of an "invisible second presence" of Jesus Christ. Obviously, Christ's presence cannot be achieved without His coming. Jesus Christ will come in all His power and glory to put down all opposition and to rule all the nations of the earth with supernatural force. When Christ begins to rule the world, everyone will KNOW it!

Greek Words With a Uniform Usage

   Not all Greek words have different usages. The vast majority have but one uniform usage and this should not be departed from in the English translation. Even though the violation of the principle may not lead to a misunderstanding or a wrong interpretation of a passage, it could cause great and unnecessary confusion.
   As an example, if we were to make a study of the word "temptation" in the Bible, we would find that it has been translated from two Greek words — peirazo and peirasmos. We would find that the latter Greek word occurs 21 times and is rendered in all but one (I Pet. 4:12 where it is rendered "try").
   But peirasmos is always used in the Bible in the sense of trial and especially in the sense of trouble or tribulation, because it is that which really tries a man better than anything else. This is clearly its use in Luke 8:13, "in time of trial, or trouble [not temptation in the sense of enticement, the normal usage of the word] fall away."
   From this we can see that the word "temptation" is incorrectly used in Christ's prayer outline when He said, "And lead us not into temptation" (Mat. 6:13). Christ actually said, "Pray that you be not led into TRIAL." Or it could also be translated tribulation which can even include the Great Tribulation.
   God will tempt no one (James 1:13). But God does allow trials to come upon us as Christians so that we can overcome and grow in the grace and knowledge of Him. The Israelites were put to trial in the wilderness (Deut. 8:15, 16). God led them into that TRIAL in order to test them.
   But, do we need to be constantly led into trials? Can we learn to obey God without Him bringing some trial upon us to help us grow as we should? We should pray that God would give us the strength to obey Him without having difficult trials come upon us. We should pray that God will not have to lead us into TRIALS. If we obey Him and live by His laws, this will not be necessary. But whatever God does will be for our good — whether it be through trials or not (Rom. 8:28).
   Sometimes the same original Hebrew or Greek word is rendered by different words in English where it was thought important to have variety. This may lessen the effect of the sentence or suggest a difference in meaning where none exists.
   As an example, the Hebrew word sheol and the Greek word hades are rendered thirty-one times as "the grave," thirty-one times as "hell" and three times as "pit."
   On the other hand, different Greek words have been rendered with the same English word. An example of this is found in John 21:15-18. The English word "love" was translated from two entirely different Greek words used in this passage. One is agapas and the other is phileis.
   Agapas is used to always mean love — any kind of love. It was this word that Jesus used when He addressed Peter in verses 15 and 16. But both times Peter used the word phileis when answering Him. This word simply means friendship or affection — the kind that Peter would naturally have had towards the rest of the disciples. In effect, Christ asked, "Do you love me, Peter?" And Peter replied, "Yes, I like you." But Jesus wanted Peter to love Him with a true spiritual love, with agape, not merely philia.
   The third time Jesus put the question to Peter, He used the word phileis, the same word Peter had used to answer Him on the two previous occasions. Peter again used the same word in reply. The great commission that Christ was giving Peter, that of feeding God's people with the true spiritual knowledge that would lead them towards eternal salvation, required the greater, the agape, kind of love. But Jesus knew that Peter would soon have that deeper, spiritual love after He sent the Holy Spirit.
   This real meaning of the original Greek is lost in the King James Version. The Amplified Bible, however, expands the translation and shows the variation.
   The peculiarities of the Greek language are nowhere more instructive and beautiful than in the use of the article. But some misunderstand how it is used. The interlinear of the Diaglott, used by the Jehovah's Witnesses, translates John 1:1 as, "In a beginning was the word, and the word was with the God, and a God was the word."
   There is no indefinite article in Greek. There is a definite article, however, and whenever it is used, the noun is designated as being specific and is pointed out as a certain one of a class or group. Therefore, "the God" is specifically God the Father in this verse — not just any God.
   When the article is not used in the Greek language, noun then becomes indefinite and generalized. It should be understood, however, that whenever the Greek word Theos is written without the article, this does not mean that it should be translated "a God." When we understand that there is a family of God or a group of God-beings, we can understand the meaning of John 1:1. It should be correctly translated thus: "In a beginning was the word, and the word was with the God, and a God-being was the Word."
   This verse is describing Jesus Christ as being the Word who was with God the Father in the beginning and it shows that Christ also was in the family of God. He was a God-being — a person in the God-family, but apart from the God, God the Father. He was not "a god" or merely one of the innumerable gods of the pagan religions of that time, but He was the One who became the only begotten Son of God. When all these facts are put together, the meaning of this verse becomes very plain.
   The rule to remember when trying to solve this type of difficulty is: Get the most reliable text, find the exact and literal meaning of the text and then note the exact force and precise meaning of each word used.
   The precise meaning of words can be important in understanding some scriptures. Notice that II Corinthians 3:7 is about the ministration of death written and engraven in STONES — not TABLETS of stone on which the Ten Commandments were written. These whole stones are mentioned in Deuteronomy 27:1-6 on which was written the CIVIL LAW — the statutes and judgments — which included the administration of the death penalty (see the article by Mr. Meredith, Is Obedience to God Required for Salvation?).
   In Ephesians 4:26 it says to "Be angry and sin not." This is not anger in the ordinary sense, but rather righteous indignation. Christ felt this kind of anger at the hardness of men's hearts (Mark 3:5). But even righteous indignation must not exceed proper limits. If one must be angry — that is, righteously indignant — let it not become sin.

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Publication Date: 1969
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