Wednesday, September 10, 2008

How to do a Bible word study

Word Studies

Biblical word difficulties fall into many categories:

1. A Greek or Hebrew word or phrase which has been translated differently in different parts of the Bible.
The Greek word “pistis” for belief is sometimes translated as faith. The Greek word “sozo” is sometimes translated as salvation, sometimes as deliverance, sometimes as healing. The phrase for “full of grace” used with Mary is translated in Ephesians as “accepted in the beloved” an elsewhere as highly favoured.

2. For those who use the King James Version: words which have changed in meaning from Elizabethan times. It is a good idea to use two modern translations in addition to the KJV.
For instance if we look at the word “ascended” The word “ascended” in Elizabethan times meant something more like “taken up” or “actively rising one’s self up or climbing up.” Thus ascending into heaven means something different than actually being “in” heaven. Thus Acts 2:34, “David is not ascended into heaven”, does not mean that David is not “in” heaven. Rather, it means David did not rise up bodily against gravity into heaven in the way that Jesus did. Ephesians 4:9-10 clarifies this meaning and so does John 3:13, Psalm 68:18, Judges 20:40 and Revelations 11:12 among others. In fact, the Bible makes it clear in Ephesians 4:8-10 that ascensions into heaven began when Jesus led captivity captive.

3. Slangs are translated but because these slangs are not connected to their culture misunderstandings occur.
The phrase “add coals of fire to their head” doesn’t mean putting someone in hell. In many cultures, ancient and modern, hot coals would be carried on the head for various reasons. The phrase therefore means “warm a person up” or “enlighten their brains.”
use the Bible to interpret itself. “Precept to precept and line to line." (Isaiah 28:10) In order to use this method, one must believe that the Bible does not disagree with or contradict itself. This is an article of faith, I agree, and many people who do not believe that the Bible a book sent from God will have trouble accepting it. Nevertheless traditional Christian belief states that God's Holy Spirit spoke through holy people as they wrote the books of the Bible. (2 Peter 1:20)
The books in the Bible are written by writers who lived centuries apart. Yet, amazingly, these books all say the same things about human nature, God, faith, and sin. Moses concepts of sin, human nature and faith are the same ones held by later prophets and by Jesus. In order words, the requirements and definition of faith in Genesis are the same requirements and definitions as those in the Book of Revelation and all the other books in between.
This means that if the meaning of a particular passage eludes a reader, then that reader must compare verse to verse, phrase to phrase, word to word, and concept to concept. A concordance is necessary for this kind of comparison, like a dictionary, a Bible concordance lists words but only those found in the Bible. Words are listed alphabetically and their locations in the Bible are shown.
One can do a search for any words found in the Bible. Words such as house, home, homes, land, men, thousand, left, right, great, etc. If a word exists in the Bible, a good concordance will list it. (Most concordances don’t index words such as the, but, if, or and, however. Those words are too common.) A concordance to the NIV (New International Version) of the Bible will be translated somewhat differently from the KJV (King James Version.) The important thing is that if you are not familiar with the Bible or the King James Version, your concordance should reflect the same version as your Bible. If you know your Bible well, you’ll get a hang of maneuvering through translations, synonyms, etc.

Comparing words to words, concepts to concepts, and actions to actions help to fine-tune the meaning of a passage.

Let’s look at the verse: “Our God is a consuming fire.”

What exactly does it mean? To be honest, it can mean whatever you want it to mean. I have no doubt this verse has been used in many a hell-fire sermon. But if you really want to know what it means, you will not only have to read it in context, but you will have to do a concordance search of the word “fire.” You will find many Bible verses that contain “fire.” Sometimes a literal fire is being described; at other times, a symbolic fire or a spiritual fire that purifies the soul. Sometimes God is physically described as being partly made of fire. He was the fire that burned the burning bush and yet did not consume it. He is a purifying fire.

But God is often compared to water: a fountain of life, living water. Or to wind, as in the Hebrew word “Ruach” which is sometimes translated as wind, breath, spirit, depending on whether the Bible passage is meant literally or symbolically. (For more about translations, cultural slang, etc please seen the section on slang later in this book.) So then words, concepts, and phrases can be compared with each other throughout the Bible.

Actions can also be compared throughout the Bible. Here is an example:
In St John’s description of the Passion, Pilate washes his hands in front of the crowd. From the text alone, assumptions can be made about Pilate’s reason for such a symbolic action. But if we are to understand the full import of Pilate’s action, we have to bring all shades of the meaning to the forefront. Why not see if this action has appeared anywhere else in the Bible? Picking up the concordance, what do we look for? Wash? Washed? Hands? All of them. Remember, knowing what to look for depends on the translation you are using and whether your concordance is a concordance to the King James Version or to another version. So then, what have we found? The sixth verse of the twenty-first chapter of the book of Deuteronomy also refers to washing of the hands and guiltlessness. Interesting. Is it possible that Pilate knew this verse and was using a symbol the high priests knew? Maybe, maybe not. Is it possible that the symbol was Pilate’s own symbol of guiltlessness? Maybe, maybe not. You are free to give any opinion as to the meaning of the verse, but you will not be too far off because you have done some research on the action.

Knowing when to use your concordance to compare other actions depends on how well you know your Bible and how much delight in discovering spiritual insights. Delight should not be taken lightly, especially if you don’t want to rehash the insights of others. Serendipity, mindfulness, and insight often are helped by a good concordance.
Let’s consider this: the Bible uses the phrase “old and advanced in years” about six times. But five of the six times this phrase is used to describe someone who is about to do accomplish the most important adventure of his life. Sarah and Abraham are described as “old and advanced” in years. But then, suddenly childbirth. Caleb is also similarly described. But then a new spiritual accomplishment. The concordance has helped you notice this pattern. Noticing this pattern a writer could create a good devotional or Bible study entitled “The Best is yet to be” which might explore usefulness to God, perseverance, retirement, or whatever insights you want to discuss.

Another example: Many of the patriarchs (or their representatives) met their future wives beside a well. This is culminated in Jesus’ meeting of the Samaritan woman, which hints at the symbolic marriage relationship between Jesus to the Church.

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