The Bible is a Book Full of Words:
So Shouldn't Bible Readers Learn How Words Work?
By Jim Myers
It was in August 1980 and I was preparing to enter a Bible College to train to become an ordained minister when it happened! I could have never guessed how much it would influence the course of life for the next thirty-nine years and hopefully many more. I had just returned home after purchasing a new Bible to use in my studies. I opened the box, took it out, opened it and prayed this prayer:
“Dear God, please show me what You want me to learn. Amen!”
Immediately the following words popped into my mind:
“Unless you know how words work,
you cannot understand the words of the Bible.”
My first thought was, “What in the heck does that mean?” The second thought was, “Was that from God or just some random thought that came out of thin air?” So, what did I do? I forgot about it – or at least I thought I had. But four years later, when I read an advertisement for a new book I received in the mail, I remembered that prayer. The title of the book is “Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus” by Roy Blizzard and David Bivin.
I ordered the book and when it came in the mail I read it in one day. It was my first encounter with the words, “Jewish Jesus.” I was amazed to discover that words I knew by memory from my Bible did not mean what I had been taught they meant, for example Christ, Son of God, repentance, righteousness, faith and saved. I was a preacher and I had been telling people what the words of Jesus meant to me instead of what they meant to him. That was a pivotal moment for me. Those people were not only members of my church, they were my friends.
They came to me to not only want to know what God’s will was, they also wanted confirmation about very important things like where they would spend eternity. It was very important for me to know I was giving them the best info possible. I wanted to be sure I was giving them the right answers. My top priority became finding out how words work!
So I decided to go to a very good library at local Adventist University and campout until I could accomplish my goal. I was there when the doors opened and stayed all day every day it was open for an entire month. I began in the linguistics section and ultimately ended up in the references section after discovering the massive Encyclopedia Judaica. By the end of the month I had created what I called “The Law of Language” -- today we call it the “BHC Linguistic Guideline for Bible Study.”
A word or phrase consist of symbols or sounds with an attached bundle of associations.
Those associations are a product of the Source’s culture, historical time period,
geographical location and personal experiences.
Below are explanations for terms in the guideline above:
Discovering those associations requires finding the answers to these questions:
1. Who is the Source?
2. What is the Source’s culture?
3. When did the Source live?
4. Where did the Source live?
5. What important personal experiences did the Source have?
Below are the results when I applied this process to the words of Jesus:
1. The Source is Jesus.
2. His culture was Late Second Temple Period Judaism.
3. He was born around 6 BCE and was crucified around 27 CE.
4. He lived in Galilee and Judea.
5. Some of his important personal experiences were being raised by Joseph, being at the Temple at age twelve and interacting with important teachers, being baptized by John the Baptist, spending time in wilderness after the baptism, understanding that he is the Anointed One prophesied by Isaiah, discovering his Kingdom of Heaven message -- and his interactions with members of other Jewish sects, leaders of the Temple and Roman officials.
So now you probably understand why I ended up spending weeks with the Encyclopedia Judaica. I took my initial list of very important words - Christ, Son of God, repentance, righteousness, faith and saved – and did the following:
1. Wrote down my bundle of associations for the word.
2. Look up the word in the Encyclopedia Judaica.
3. Found information related to the word in the Jewish culture at the time of Jesus.
4. Wrote down what those bundle of associations were.
5. Compared #1 to #4 and considered the implications of the differences.
At the end of my month long library adventure I had created my own personal dictionary for some of the most important words of Jesus. I had a very different understanding of who Jesus was, what he taught and what his movement was than I had just a month before.
I was very excited about the things I had discovered and wanted to share them with everyone. However, it didn’t take long to discover a lot of people, including members of my church and fellow pastors, really didn’t want to know. That’s another story and will be part two in my education of understanding how words work. But if you simply learn how to do the things above in your Bible studies, they will transform your understandings of the words of your Bible. I have met a lot of people that disagree on many things in the Bible, but everyone agrees on this -- the Bible is a book full of words! So, if for no other reason than that, shouldn't all Bible readers make it their top priority to learn how words work?
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