One valuable lesson I learned in Bible interpretation is this:
- “Words derive its meaning from how it is used in a sentence within a particular context.”
This is not my original idea. I learned this from others who know better than me and I fully agree. Another way of saying this is that:
- “The message of the text is not conveyed through single words alone but through words in relationship with each other as they occur in a specific literary context.”
This is really very helpful and is always a good reminder as we try to understand and interpret the Bible.
Derived Meaning: Same Word, Different Meanings
A good example is the word judge found in the 1611 King James Version of the Bible. In Matthew 7:1 Jesus said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” This is quite a direct statement coming from Jesus himself and is quite clear.
But on the other hand, we find that the apostle Paul seems to be telling the Corinthian Christians that they can and should judge. Here’s the verse in 1 Corinthians 6:2: “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life!”
As we can see, the same English word judge is used in both verses but it seems to be telling us two opposing instructions. And please take note that in both verses, the same Greek word, krino is used translated in English as, judge. Jesus tells us not to judge but Paul tells us that we can and should judge! Is there a conflict here?
Context, Context, Context!
Of course there is no conflict! I explained this matter in another blog post. Most of you will have already figured out by now that context is important in properly understanding the meaning of words whether it be in the Bible or in our daily communication with others.
Although the same word, judge is used, but the contexts are different! There’s a world of difference! Let us therefore not rely on our own “expertise” about the Bible, the Hebrew or the Greek languages. As we have discovered, the Greek word, krino which is translated as judge in both passages in the King James Bible can have different meanings depending on how it is used in a particular context.
Hope this bit of information will help improve our understanding and appreciation of what God is truly saying in the Bible.
Suggested Further Reading: