The Problem of language

One major consideration in interpreting the Bible is the problem of language. English versions all have errors in translation including the King James Version (KJV). Fundamentalists claim the KJV is the preserved word of God. It isn’t, it’s just a translation and there are errors in translating the Hebrew and Greek. The preserved word of God is the oldest and best manuscripts we have. The Bible was originally written in three languages, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. A student of the Bible needs to know what the original word was, which definition of a word was intended in a specific passage, and what it meant in context with the verse and the rest of the Bible.

One English word is often used to translate multiple words in the original language. The word love, for example, is used to translate three Hebrew words and 30 Greek words all of which have multiple definitions. Often the definition of a word in the original language doesn’t mean the same thing as the English word used in the Bible. For example, the Greek word thlibo translated as suffer in English could mean to crowd, afflict, suffer, narrow, throng, tribulation or trouble. In the 1400s when the KJV was written the word suffer also meant to permit or allow as in “suffer not a witch to live”. The word no longer has that definition. So the Bible reader needs to know exactly what the English word actually meant in the original definition of the original word used.

The two best ways to find out what a word actually meant are by using a concordance like Strong’s or by using an interlinear Bible which has the KJV on one line and the original manuscript written just above or below the English. It’s a good idea to use both. And, once the original word is known, the problem of selecting the correct definition for the usage is next. Use a concordance for that. The English word day is used to translate many words in Hebrew and Greek. The word can mean break of day, glorious, kindle, set on fire, or shine depending on the context it’s used in. The word for day in Genesis where it says God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh means age, or period of time, not a 24-hour period as in English.

The next problem with language is the context in which the word is used. Just understanding the context in English can cause errors of understanding. Back when I was in high school a family with two young girls lived next to us. One was about three and the other about five or six. They used to watch at the front window for their dad to come home from work in the evening. One summer evening when my dad was coming home the youngest girl called out through the screen, “Hi daddy!” The older said, “That’s not your daddy”, to which the younger replied, “He is too a daddy!” Both girls knew the correct meaning of daddy, but there was a misunderstanding of the context the word was used in. The younger meant my dad was a daddy, while her sister thought she meant their dad. The contextual difference was significant. The same type of confusion arises when reading the Bible.

English words today often have multiple definitions. The word person can mean an individual human being, living human body, any of three classes of personal pronouns or verbs, or in person meaning physically present, or used to replace the word man in positions open to either gender (The American Century Dictionary). The reader has to know which definition of person is intended, and this is determined by the context in which it’s used.

A major problem in Bible interpretation is taking a verse out of context. This can be done in ignorance, but most often it’s done to impose a person’s subjective meaning on the verse. The way someone may want a verse to mean often isn’t what it really means. Genesis is often quoted to mean that the world was created in seven days, when the Bible says it was created in six and God rested on the seventh day. Another common misquote is that money is the root of all evil. What the verse says is the love of money is the root of all evil. That’s a very important difference. An extremely important deliberate misquote is that Christ is a way to salvation, implying that there is more than one way to get to heaven. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me”. Christ is the only way to heaven.

So, how does a person (there’s that word again) know exactly what the Bible does say? First, get a good version of the Bible. The New King James Version (NKJV) is reasonably accurate. It modernized the language and the language is accurate. The New American Standard Version may be the most accurate translation, although I’ve heard the Revised Standard Version is also accurate. Versions like the New International Version and the paraphrased versions are not accurate and are misleading. A good Bible dictionary such as Unger’s is a necessity. They are fun to read, too. A concordance like Stong’s will give you a listing of every word in the Bible, where it’s used, and the original word and all it’s definitions. If you’re studying a particular topic, you need to know everywhere the keywords are used in the Bible. Also, a good commentary like Matthew Henry’s or Matthew Pool’s is an excellent aid. Make sure the one you buy is true to the meaning of the Bible.

The most important factor in Bible study is you. We all subjectively color our learning and the interpretation of our experiences to suit ourselves. Make the best effort you can to get self out of the way and to understand what the writers of the Old and New Testaments actually said. That’s not easy to do. I’ve had several of my favorite interpretations go out the window after studying the related passages. You’re doing yourself harm by trying to get the Bible to fit you instead of you fitting the Bible.

If you’re out of work now because of the pandemic money can be tight, and books are expensive. I personally buy almost all of my Bibles and study aids from Christian Book Distributors. I’ve bought books and stuff from them for over 15 years, and I’ve never had a problem. Their prices are extremely reasonable and service is fast. I’m not making anything from this recommendation. CBD doesn’t know I’ve written this. I’m just passing on a source that I believe will be helpful to you.

There you have it. You now have a basic understanding of how to correctly study the Bible. It takes a lot of time and effort. Right now most people have extra time on their hands. Why not use some of it for Bible study? There is no better time to start than now.

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