Where Are All the Word Studies?

Often in modern expository preaching, the interpretations of so many words and phrases hinges about the fruit of the word study. Rich illustrative treasures are to be found in searching the manyfold depths of meaning carried by individual words. Word studies and original language references can be used to bring out shades of meaning not found on the surface or to add a dimension of depth not to be found by ‘surface’ reading. The teacher of God’s word who is constrained by the shackles of grammatico-historical hermeneutics need not feel suffocated or unduly constrained by the limited and narrow literal sensus naturalis of a given text.

– Is your theological system threatened by a particular text, Pastor? Resort to original language studies! Certainly you are working from a poor translation and the original adheres to your system much more clearly.

– Does the plain literal sense of a passage lack a certain force or pizzaz? Study the semantic range of a word so that you can use that word or phrase to paint a rich portrait with 3D and techni-color.

The problem with such endeavors is that they are foreign to the way the Biblical writers themselves used Scriptural texts. Matthew, Mark, and John each translate Aramaic and Hebrew words and phrases into common Greek so that their readers could understand: Mt 1:23, Mk 5:41, Mk 15:22, Jn 1:38, 9:7. Luke does the same for his non-Hebrew speeking readers in the book of Acts: 4:36, 9:36, 13:8. In these passages, the role of the interpreter is simply to give the most simple, plain and straight forward interpretation of what has been said without the use of embellishment or adornment.

Although speaking on the use of tongues, the Apostle Paul has sober advice regarding the plain, simple, decent, and orderly manner in which to edify the body of Christ by way of prophesing the Word of God in the 14th chapter of the book of First Corinthians. Let us remember the words of the Apostle when he said,

So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? …Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me. (I Cor 14:9-11)

I don’t mean to say that the Pastor informed by original language study is resorting to tongues-speaking, but only to point out that the conservative vulgar Bible translations themselves are the plain literal and sound translation of God’s Word to the hearer/reader and in most cases a discussion of background and a plain and judicious exposition of the plain sense of a passage will go further to edify a believer than a jumble of grammatical jargon which the pastor but feigns to have a handle on. Remember, Paul didn’t resort to lexicons and word studies – you don’t need to either! The word of God is self attesting, self authenticating, and self adorning, by the Spirit of God, in the heart of the believer. The role of the expositor is that of Ezra the priest when he proclaimed the law of God before a restored Jerusalem, as described in the book of Nehemiah:

And Ezra the priest brought the law before the congregation both of men and women, and all that could hear with understanding, upon the first day of the seventh month. …So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading. (Nehemiah 8:1-8)

The following words from AW Pink’s book on Biblical Interpretation are helpful in this regard:

If the expositor confine himself rigidly to the technical rules of exegesis ..he will afford little practical help to the rank and file of God’s people. To discourse upon the chemical properties of food will not feed a starving man, neither will tracing out the roots of the Hebrew and Greek words (necessary though that be in its proper place) the better enable Christ’s followers to fight the good fight of faith. That remark connotes neither that we despise scholarship on the one hand nor that we hold any brief for those who would give free rein to their imagination when handling the Word of God. Rather do we mean that the chief aim of the expositor should be to bring together the Truth and the hearts of his hearers or readers, that the former may have a vitalizing, edifying, transforming effect upon the latter.


3 thoughts on “Where Are All the Word Studies?

  1. You may find some things of interest on my site at pioneernt.wordpress.com. There is a section of instruction for responsible word study, as well as essays regarding the riches available there, and cautions on the hazards of misunderstood words. I have noted in the entry on teachers and teaching, that it should be incumbent upon anyone who teaches, to “correctly handle” the Word of Truth. This would correct many “doctrines” and attitudes! Would enjoy conversation.

    • Thanks Ruth. I’ll take a look at your articles. I certainly see the value of word studies. I’m overstating my case somewhat for rhetorical effect.

      Thanks for your comment.

  2. Pingback: In the Original Greek… « Abraham's Seed

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