Understanding the Words of the Bible

It’s hard to understand God’s Word if you don’t understand God’s words. That is, if you don’t know the meaning of the words you’re reading, you won’t understand the ideas God is trying to communicate. Today, we’re going to start looking at how to overcome the language problems you run in to when you study the Bible. This lesson isn’t really a Bible study – it just sets the stage for our studies over the next couple of days.

Even if you have a good attitude toward becoming a better Bible reader, there are still some roadblocks to understanding its words. Today we’ll look at each problem area, define it and give a quick example. To make these problems easy to remember, I’ve put them in the acrostic W.O.R.D.S.

  • Weak Vocabulary
  • Old Languages
  • Remote Ideas
  • Double Meanings
  • Spiritual Definitions

Weak vocabulary

You don’t understand the words because you need to build a better vocabulary.

Example

“Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator.” (Gal 3:19)

Old languages

You don’t understand the words because they are Old English, or because of how the Hebrew and Greeks words were translated into English.

Example 1 (Old English)

“Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.” (Jam 1:21)

Example 2 (Greek)

“Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.” (Joh 15:2-3)

(Same Greek root word for purgeth and clean.)

Remote ideas

You don’t understand the words because of the historical and cultural differences between our world and the world of the Bible.

Example

“Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.” (Gal 3:24-25)

Double meanings

You don’t understand the words because of the figures of speech the Bible uses, or because the word has multiple meanings.

Example

“Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.” (Mat 18:21-22)

(Hyperbole)

Spiritual definitions

You don’t understand the words because they have special theological meaning.

Example

“For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.” (Rom 8:29-30)

Points to Ponder

  • Are you a good reader?
  • Are you working at becoming a better reader?
  • Have you come across any of the reading problems we talked about today as you have studied the Bible?

Read More About It

Read the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. As you read, make note of the words and phrases that you don’t understand or that you want to investigate. Try to classify each item in your list into one of the five W.O.R.D.S. problems. Don’t skip over that last part, because you’ll be using the classifications in your studies in the days ahead.

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