Accurate Hermeneutics: Interpreting the Bible Correctly (3)
Let’s say that you uncovered your great-grandfather’s last will and testament, written way back in the 1920’s. As you peruse through it, you are thrilled to discover that he had set aside a vast sum of money for his great-grandchildren. “That’s me!” you think excitedly. “I’m the only great-grandchild he ever had! I’m about to get a lot of money!” Thrilled, you keep reading, only to discover that he had set some parameters in place as to whether you would actually receive the wealth. In fact, he had set only one stipulation in his will, and it reads, “The money shall be awarded to any and all great-grandchildren I would have, given that it be proven that they live lives which are profoundly gay.”
You sit back, disappointed. “Well, so much for me getting all that money,” you think to yourself. “I’m NOT gay, I never have been, and I never will be. I’m happily married, I am completely in love with my spouse of the opposite sex, I’ve never even been attracted to anyone homosexually, and I never will.” You then wonder what in the world would have possessed your great-grandfather to make such a stipulation in his will. “Was great-grandpa secretly gay?” you might wonder. “Is that why he was willing to give so much money to his relatives only if it could be proven that they also were homosexual?” Puzzled, you put his will away and forget all about it…and thus unwittingly deprive yourself of a lot of money.
Why? Because you overlooked a very important principle of hermeneutics when it came to interpreting your great-grandfather’s will and testament. You read the term gay and immediately applied to it the modern-day definition of that term (one who is homosexual.) However, what you failed to remember is that you were reading a document that was written long ago, in a different culture which had different definitions to words which might still be used today. Back in the 1920’s, the term gay had only one meaning (happy, joyful.) It was not until recently that the homosexual movement took the term and applied it to themselves in an effort to culturally legitimize their sin. However, that change was still years to come when your great-grandfather sat down to write his will. So when he wrote the stipulation about being “profoundly gay,” he had in mind his wish that his great-grandchildren be “profoundly happy.” The fact that you didn’t think of these facts is too bad for you, considering that you, his only great-grandchild, ARE in fact easily proven to be “profoundly happy” in your life.
God’s Word, the Bible, was written by Holy Spirit-inspired men a long time ago (2 Pet. 1:19-21), the last of it being written about two thousand years ago. None of it was written in English; the Old Testament was written predominately in Hebrew with a minority in Aramaic, and the New Testament was written in Greek. Since then it has been translated into numerous different languages, including English, and for the most part the translators have done an excellent job in conveying the intent of the inspired authors of Scripture through their translation of the original foreign words. However, it is still easy for us to read a word in our English Bibles and assume that its original definition in the inspired Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek of long ago is the same as our modern-day definition of it in English. Granted, in most cases we would be correct in that assumption due to the stellar work of the translators…but not in every case. And in some of those cases, our error makes all the difference in the world in correcting interpreting the will of God for our lives and thus plays a major role in our eternal destiny (Heb. 5:9; Matt. 7:21).
Take the biblical term baptize (Mark 16:16). The Greek word the writers of Scripture were divinely inspired to use two thousand years ago was baptizo, which literally means “to dip repeatedly, to immerse, to submerge…” Literally, God was telling people in Mark 16:16, “Whoever believes and is immersed will be saved…” However, the modern-day English word baptize has more definitions than simply immersion, some of which include sprinkling or pouring water onto someone. There are completely different Greek words which are defined and translated as sprinkling and pouring, and none of them are used in the biblical commands which mention baptism. So if I have water sprinkled or poured over my head, have I been baptized in God’s eyes? No, because that was not the definition of the word he specifically chose to use in his inspired command when his Word was being written. However, if I am submerged in water I am doing nothing more or less than what the words he chose to use command me to do via their definitions. Countless thousands of people have thought they were being saved by being sprinkled with water, when in reality they were following “the commandment of men” (Matt. 15:9). It all could have been avoided if they had correctly interpreted the Bible by making sure they knew and obeyed the actual definitions of the words which were originally used by inspiration in the commands given to them in Scripture.
While I am not saying that one has to be fluent in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek in order to be saved, I AM encouraging us all to take our study of the Bible seriously and, when needed, investigate further to know for sure what is required of us by our Lord and Savior. There are countless tools available online and elsewhere which give us the original meanings of every word in the Bible, and they are easy to find and use. (Here are two examples.) Remember, every word of God is “tested”(Prov. 30:5), and every word will judge us in the end (John 12:48). Let’s make sure we correctly interpret the Bible by knowing and obeying what he had actually commanded us when the Holy Scriptures were inspired all those many years ago.
(Come back tomorrow, Lord willing, for a continuation of this study on how to correctly interpret the Bible.)