Introduction to Word Studies
There are thousands of words in the English Bible. Words are an interesting thing. By themselves, they are just sounds that we make. A race of people will somehow agree that “this” sound is connected with “that” concept. This is done over and over until finally, the race can communicate with each other and comprehend what is being communicated to them.
There is an issue with this, however. Sometimes, 2 people can have 2 specific concepts and associate them with the same word. This causes miscommunication. People sometimes do not know the correct definition of a word, and, therefore, use the word incorrectly.
Also, there are different semantic ranges of words. This is especially true in English. For example: “run” can mean to physically jog, or it can mean to function; as a computer. “Gay” can mean to be happy, or it can mean to be a practicing homosexual. Words can have various definitions.
Words can change meaning over time. A word that means one thing at one point can mean something totally different 20 years later. For example, “Awful” used to mean that something is literally full of awe, but now it means that something is horrible and sad. “Church” comes from a Greek word that literally means the “called out ones.” Eventually, it meant “congregation.” Now it means a “building used for spiritual activities.”
There is also the problem with interpretation. Someone can say a word and it not be the best word to bring about the concept that he is trying to communicate. Someone could say a word, and the person hearing could have trouble knowing if the word was meant to be literal, figurative, or metaphorical. Context always has to determine the meaning.
The Bible is not exempt from these kinds of communication errors; especially since it was translated by humans, and it is being read and interpreted by humans. Obviously, humans are flawed individuals and capable of making any of the before mentioned mistakes. Words are a tool used as a facilitator of ideas, concepts, and truths. A way to transfer information.
The following will be a Scriptural look at 5 words that come from the wisdom literature and how the reader should interpret them. These words are as follows: Love, heart, fear, mercy, justice. The words will be defined, researched, and examined to see what the writers are trying to communicate.
Love is a deep and passionate affection for someone or something. In English, we have multiple types of love that all fit under our one word, “love.” In Greek, love has specific words for specific concepts. There is a “love word” for unselfishness, benevolence, concern, family, romance, and affection. Jesus shows the difference between these different kinds of “love words” in John 21 while eating with the apostles. In verses 15-17 He asked Peter if he loved him (affection and feeling) or if he loved Him (devotion and selflessness). There is obviously a difference between liking someone in a general way and being consumed with a person so much that it is as if you are like David and Jonathan whose souls were knit together.
God says through John, in the epistle of 1st John, that He IS love. He did not say that he is a kind of general love. He did not say that love is simply a characteristic of Him. He said that Love; true and passionate, selfless love, defines who He is. When we share true love with someone, we share God himself with them. This is why Jesus could say “…By this they will know you are my followers…”.
The heart is the deepest part of one’s inner self and how he thinks, feels and decides. The heart is a symbolic term, used to describe our intellectual and emotional bridge. It describes our very being, soul, and presence. It is who we are. “As a man thinks in his heart so is he.”
The greatest command is to love God with all of our Heart. Every bit of our being must be associated with him. Our heart, like our love, is an active thing. Our heart is either full of love, or it is full of hate. Humans look everywhere to see what fills emptiness in their being, but the answer is right in front of them. If we want completeness, if we want our hearts to be full, we must do what Solomon says in chapter 12 of Ecclesiastes. We must devote our very being to God.
Fear is a feeling of awe, reverence, and respect. In Exodus 20, when Moses is on the mountain, God tells Moses to tell the people not to be afraid. There was lightning, thunder, and wind. The people were afraid of God. While God can do terrible things to us if we are not obedient, danger is not the emotion He wishes for us to feel around Him.
Moses tells the people “Do not be afraid, only fear Him.” This is not a contradiction; it is a semantic issue. In Scripture, most of the time, the word “fear” doesn’t mean fright, but awe for the power and wisdom of God.
When Solomon says our completeness comes from fearing God and keeping His commands he is not suggesting that our heart’s fullness comes from being afraid of God and legalistically doing His law. He is saying to revere, respect, and be in awe of God and to follow His commands. Jesus says that all the commands hang on loving God and man. Our completeness is in our hearts, when we revere God, love Him, and show love to others.
Mercy is keeping one from harm, having compassion, and devotion. Not allowing someone to have something negative that they merit. God requires love mercy, and humility above everything else (Micah 6:6-8). He wants us to be fully devoted to Him as followers, and He will count that to us as righteousness. This is our objective goal above all other goals. If you see someone in need and help them, you show them mercy. If you ignore them, you show them hate.
Justice means right, fair, and true. There are two different categories of justice. 1) distributive- this is causing fairness. Helping those who are disadvantaged, and taking from those who are overly advantaged. Giving someone food who is without, for example. 2) Retributive- this is punishment and discipline. This is meant to teach those who are offenders and to protect those who are offended. Sending someone to jail for a crime, for example.
There are obviously many other words in the Bible. Words are important because they help us communicate information. One cannot interpret a passage correctly without knowing the concept behind the words in said passage. This article is meant to be a brief introduction concerning the need of word study before one attempts to interpret God’s will. – Jesse