Biblical Words

Does your Bible come with a glossary? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Today, I happened to view a remark someone made to me in a Christian debate on the meaning of a certain word in the Bible as stating that it was very interesting that I was going outside of the Bible in order to find the meaning of a biblical word. A lot of people have a similar position looking at this as something scandalous to the faith. The question that needs to be asked is “What about this is so terrible?”

Let us go back to say, Moses, although Job is supposedly our oldest book in the Bible. He begins to write the words of Scripture. Can we picture him saying “Lord. Please show me a list of words that I am allowed to use!”? No. Not at all. Moses used the words that his people used and that would be understood by the culture. It is the same thing we all do. It is what I try to do every time I sit down and write a blog.

When we come to the NT, do we really think Paul was going around with a glossary of “Accepted words to use when writing Scripture”? No. Paul did the exact same thing. He spoke and wrote like a man of his time. In fact, if it is the case that we can’t use outside sources, we will be in a quandary when it comes to hapax legomena. What are those? Those are words that only occur one time in the writings of a writer. Paul has a few of these. The only way we can really tell what they mean is by seeing them used in other works or comparing them to other words.

Let’s suppose we go through the NT and we find Greek word X. Now let’s suppose we go through the writings of Josephus and find the exact same Greek word. Then, we go through the writings of another Greek writer and find the exact same word. Are we to assume right off that the word when used in the Bible has a totally different meaning? No. It would make sense to study this word as it shows up in other texts and see if that can tell us anything about how it would be used in the biblical text.

The position that is held here is one that is a kind of Gnosticism in fact that says that no study should be done. God will just tell you what the word means and you need not defile the text by looking at the meaning of words outside of the Bible. Now of course the Bible is more than just a book of words, but it is certainly not less. It is a book and it has words and we should use the basic rules of understanding and word meaning that we would use anywhere else.

If we are to be diligent students of Scripture, we should seek information about the words of Scripture wherever we can find them. To do otherwise is to isolate the Bible not just from other texts, but ultimately from being the revelation it was meant to be. The original hearers of the Bible would all hear words that they knew in every day language that they used or at least could determine the meaning of. It does not require any super secret ability to understand the words of Scripture. If we want to say God spoke to the populace of the world in the 1st century, we need to realize He spoke in their language. If He spoke in their language, we can go to that language to find out what the words mean. If He did not speak in their language, then it would seem that they received a message of nonsense. Do we really want to say the apostles were going around speaking words that could not be understood and the epistles did the same?

Such would be a kind of unthinking that is too common in evangelicalism. Let us treat the Bible highly as we should, but let us remember to not deify it at the same time and treat it like a Gnostic work.

In Christ,
Nick Peters