Word Studies

In Sermon Tools by Rachel Schultz

Word Studies
Photo: MorgueFile

Bible study is really an exercise in word science. To arrive at an honest evaluation of Scripture we must be willing to lay aside our preferences and prejudices and be able to see the Bible’s words in their naked form.

American Indians painted pictures on the walls of caves. The Chinese drew unique characters, each character representing an idea. The Egyptian hieroglyphs were pictures (we call them pictograms) chiseled in stone or written on sheets of papyrus. The civilizations of Mesopotamia began to use a system of wedge-shaped marks called cuneiform. These marks were pressed into wet clay with a sharpened stick called a stylus. The cuneiform marks represented sounds rather than ideas, markings that have developed into what we call the alphabet.

That brings us to our own day. We see little blobs of ink printed on paper and bound into a book. How do these “blobs of ink” convey meaning to our minds?

By the time Moses wrote the first books of our Bible about 1,500 years before Christ, a phonetic alphabet had been perfected in a language we know as Hebrew. He probably wrote his thoughts on papyrus sheets glued together to form a scroll.

Since these blobs of ink imprinted on papyrus by Moses were in Hebrew, a language most of us do not understand, they must be translated into words we do understand.

Translating words

Each language has its own peculiar rules of grammar and ways of expressing ideas. To arrive at a readable translation, we cannot translate word by word. For example, Genesis 1:1 in our English Bible, New International Version reads, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Ten English words. In the Hebrew Bible we would find only seven words. Literally it would say, “re’shiyth (pronounced ray-sheeth’) “First” bara’ (pronounced baw-raw’) “created or cut” ‘elohiym (pronounced el-o-heem’) “God” ‘eth (pronounced ayth) “self” shamayim (pronounced shaw-mah’-yim) skies ‘eth (pronounced ayth) entity ‘erets (pronounced eh’-rets) “earth.” Or, “First created God self skies entity earth.”

To use a familiar New Testament verse in Greek let’s look at John 3:16. houto “so” gar “for” agapao “loved” ho “he” theos “God” ho “the” kosmos “world” hoste “so that” ho “the” huios “son” ho “this” monogenes “only” didomi “he gave” hina “so that” ho “the one” pisteuo “to have faith in” eis “into” autos “this man” me “not” apollumi “die” alla “but” echo “hold” zoe “life” aionios “perteptual.” Literally it would then read “So for loved he God the world so that the one to have faith into this man not die but hold life perpetually.” Can you see why we need help?

Unless we are experts in the study of languages, especially in Hebrew and Greek, the languages in which the Bible was written, we must have the help of men and women who have made a lifelong study of these languages.

But even language experts have their own preconceived biases that might misconstrue the meaning intended by the original writer. We can protect ourselves from these biases by comparing translations made by different experts. The least reliable translations are what we call “one-man translations” or paraphrases. There are a number of one-man translations in English. James Moffat, J. B. Phillips, James B. Rotherham, Richard Francis Weymouth, and others created one-man translations.

These may be enjoyable to read, but we can be surer of the meaning if we depend on translations by groups or committees of men and women working together. The King James Version of the Bible was translated by a committee, as were the English Revised Version, the American Standard Version, the Revised Standard Version, the New International Version, the New English Bible, the Jerusalem Bible and many others.

Many options

Fortunately, we have at our disposal literally dozens of English translations. By comparing them we can get an overview of the different possible meanings of the Hebrew or Greek words used in the original manuscript.

In our modern computer age, we also have CDROM study guides to aid us in understanding the Bible. One such help is the PC STUDY BIBLE. This CDROM contains the complete King James Version of the Bible, The New King James Version, the American Standard Version, and the New International Version. It also has a word concordance for each of the versions.

Included also in the CDROM are the Nave’s Topical Bible, the Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, Nelson’s Bible Dictionary, Fausset’s Bible Dictionary, Wycliffe Bible Commentary, Seiss’ Apocalypse, Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, Strong’s Greek/Hebrew Definitions, Interlinear Bible, Brown-Driver-Brigg’s Hebrew Lexicon, Strong’s Greek/Hebrew Dictionary, Englishman’s Concordance, Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, Spurgeon’s Encyclopedia of Sermons, plus Bible maps and Bible photos of the Holy Land.

The study of the Bible is a challenge and a joy, though it’s like paddling in the surf at the edge of an ocean of thought. You will never reach the other shore.

Copyright © 2001-2008. Written by Bob Edwards, Malibu, CA. Better Sermons © 2005-2008. Click here forusage guidelines.