A general word about words and word studies

Discussion in 'General Baptist Discussions' started by ReformedBaptist, Sep 7, 2007.

  1. ReformedBaptist

    ReformedBaptist
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    Dear brethren,

    In a previous post I mentioned having obtained a book by William Mounce entitled "Mounce's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words." In his introduction I found many things to resonate in my own heart, having studied as my major in college communication, and I find what Mounce brings out to be profitable for all.

    One of the side points I have brought to the board concerning the meaning of words. Of this Mounce writes, "While words have meaning primarily in the context of sentences and paragraphs, we still tend to cling to individual words. They guide us; they help us; sometimes they tease us when their meanings are elusive and flexible, especially when they come from other languages and from people immersed in different cultures." Into, pd. i

    He could not be more correct. If have some measure of an understanding of the orginal languages of the Bible, we may yet fall short due the flexibility of the use of the word, or its use in the culture when it was written.

    Because God chose to reveal Himself and His will to a large degree with words, it is important for us to have a care for each one of them. If your like me, having the ability or time to learn Hebrew, Greek, and to some degree Aramic would be difficult at best. Therefore, dictionaries and word studies become an excellent tool to this end. Allen in other thread , although we disagreed, brought out an important point which Mounce affirms:

    "The OT was written primarily in Hebrew, with parts in Aramaic; the NT is in Greek. But because the Old and New Testaments are one revelation, these words are tied together and can only be explained together. YOu cannot understand teh NT concept of "mercy" (GK1799) without understanding the OT word hesed (GK2876)"

    Words have various meanings, or as Mouce's phrase "bundles of meanings." What is meant by this is that individual words typcially have a wide range of meanings and it is through the context of a sentence or paragraph that the determines what the word means in each case. Mounce contends that etymology is not sufficient enough, which looks at parts of a word. He sites the example of "butterfly" in that it is not a dairy product with wings!

    Mounce identifies 4 steps to doing word studies. Before I enumerate them, a word on semantics. Words have what Mounce calls a "semantic range." Semantics deals with the meaning of a word, and the range refers to the possible meanings. He uses the following example for the word "run":

    I scored six runs today.
    Could you run that by me again?
    My computer runs faster than yours!
    I left the water running all night.
    He runs off at the mouth.
    He ran tot he store.
    et.

    You get the point.

    Because of this Mounce proposes 4 steps to word studies.

    1. Decide what English word to study. If time was spent trying to study every single word, we would run out of time and patience. Look for repeated words, theological terms, a word which the passage must "hang" on, meaning a sentence may have a word that is central to the meaing of it. Mounce sites Rom 10:9 and the central word being "Lord"

    2. Identify the Greek word. Interlinears are the tool to do this. This tool shows the Greek and English above/below one another. It enables you to identify which Greek word and what English words were used together. I use Spiros Zodhiates' Word studies for this purpose. Not just the Bible, but the complete word studies and NT dictionary.

    3. Discover the semantic range. As mentioned before you want to know a words range, not in English, but in Greek. This is where Mounce's dictionary will be an aid.

    4. Context. Mounce has a lengthy section on context. I am sure the majority of BB members understand the importance of context.

    I hope this will be of some use to you as I believe word studies can have great benefit to the Christian. Learning something about how it ought to be done should help us to keep from making mistakes. Often the discussions on these boards deal with one "contextual" argument vs. another. Perhaps the controversy could be solved if one or the other knew they were making an exegetical fallacy. To this end Mounce recommends reading "Exegetical Fallacies" by D.A. Carson (Baker, 1991). (going to amazon right now...lol)

    May the Lord bless you all today.

    RB
     
  2. Charles Meadows

    Charles Meadows
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    RB,

    I highly recommend the "Exegetical Fallacies" book by Carson. As I have admitted before I am but an "armchair theologian", possessisng no formal theological training. But I have found the study of general linguistics to have been very helpful in my language studies.

    It seems that many biblical language books approach Greek and Hebrew as though they are code systems and not actual languages. The idea that a particular word always carries a certain nuance or that two instances of the same word must be related are indeed fallacious. One need only to listen to his/her own speech for a few minutes to see just of language is "colloquial" or somehow idiomatic.

    I think it is important to realize since mishandling the languages in exegesis can lead to bad doctrine! Seemingly the more I learn in any language (I'm now trying to learn German and Spanish) the more aware I am of my limitations. I do agree that Christians can benefit from study of the original languages. But I am not in agreement with those who assert that the average believer can significantly improve his/her grasp of scripture by studying the "original Greek". It is my opinion that the level of knowledge necessary to get to that point is more than the average layman will likely attain. That mentality would also seem to imply that the Bible we have is somehow not good enough! I can only urge those studying the biblical languages to do so with great humility.

    I would also recommend a cursory familiarity with the major theories in contemporary linguistics. I have found that a small dose of Noam Chomsky, Michael Halliday, Kenneth Pike and James Barr has helped my perspective immensely.

    Just my 2 cents worth...
     
  3. ReformedBaptist

    ReformedBaptist
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    I don't think that a student of Scripture should be put off by language studies. I don't believe either that somehow our translations of Scripture are insufficient, or not the Word of God. The translations are fine enough that by the Grace of God a man may take and read and understand the Gospel and so be saved.

    When it comes to matters of controversy or difficult passages, the original languages, not the translation, should be appealed to. The semantic range of for a word in English and Greek may overlap, but they are not identical.

    A Christian will be able to sufficiently grow in his/her faith without language studies, but can be greatly benefitted by studying them. The teacher/preacher IMO MUST study the original languages. I would disagree with you concerning your estimation that such study does not significantly improve our lives and doctrine. The mere understanding of translation would be enough to convince me of that, but the fact that GOd the Holy Spirit was pleased to use the languages He did, has been the primary motivation for me to know them as best I can.
     
  4. Pastor Larry

    Pastor Larry
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    I add my second to Carson's Exegetical Fallacies. I am rereading right now. In fact, I should be reading that rather than this. I also recommend Moises Silva's God, Language, and Scripture as well as a number of other works by Silva.

    Both these men point out the nature of linguistics and identify many major fallacies people use in preaching and teaching.
     
  5. ReformedBaptist

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    Awesome. I ordered a copy last night. If I have some questions can I message you?
     
  6. Charles Meadows

    Charles Meadows
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    I don't think that's quite what I meant.

    I would then be a hypocrite since I am an avid studier of biblical languages!!

    The thrust of my argument is that we must have tremendous humility in biblical language study. In my estimation the stakes are fairly high and the margin for error thin. If we apply languages wrongly then we have done more harm than if we didn'y apply them at all. From a practical standpoint I think that most who dabble in the languages will not (for whatever reason) get beyond the stage where they know just enough to "be dangerous". By no means is that a reason to shun them - but rather to use caution and humility.

    From a practical standpoint those who can speak a second language fluently have a leg up on those of us who do not. Perhaps someone like John of Japan can offer some better perspective on this.
     
  7. ReformedBaptist

    ReformedBaptist
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    Sorry for misunderstanding you. I agree to the caution and humility. That's why I am using Mounce's work and saying he said this, he said that, et. So at judgment it will be his fault, not mine. :laugh:

    I am just kidding. I look for good scholarship from those who know and love Jesus Christ. I visited the website for the church Mounce pastors. Looks like a great group of believers, sound in doctrine and love of God :)
     

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