Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Bible's "Dictionary" - Itself!

For anyone even remotely familiar with the bible, and what it has to say, it is no secret that the bible uses many words that, quite simply, need to be defined for us - hence, when reading/studying the bible, one often uses a Webster's dictionary, a Strong's concordance, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera (sorry... accidentally slipped into "The King and I"), in order to try and better understand what we are reading. For example, what do the words "holy", "righteousness", "grace", "mercy", "love", "repent", et al mean? Unfortunately many today have not been taught how to study their bibles. We are told to read them daily (if we have a decent Pastor, the likes of which are becoming rarer day by day, though there are still some good ones left! ;). The art and practice of systematic, deep bible study is quickly going the way of the Dinosaur. This is not surprising if you know your bible, for we are told in it that:

"Behold, the days come, saith the Lord GOD, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD: And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the LORD, and shall not find it." Amos 8:11,12

"For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables." 2 Tim. 4:3,4

This is in direct contradistinction to the command given to all disciples of Jesus Christ by Paul, an Apostle of the Lord:

"Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." 2 Tim. 2:15

So, despite the fact that we (believers/followers of the Lord Jesus Christ) are commanded to study to show ourselves approved unto God, many are turning away their ear from the teaching of sound doctrine, and willingly submitting themselves to a famine of God's word (and what does one do during a famine? Become starved, emaciated, and pathetically malnourished). They chase false teachers like a dog chasing the chrome bumper of a moving car - case in point: the multitudes that follow Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, Joel Osteen, Jesse Duplantis, et al, and not only listen to their nonsense, but send them hard earned money by the shovel full (the Todd Bentley fiasco is another prime time example!).

So what does all of this have to do with the Bible's dictionary? Much indeed. You see, one cannot rightly determine what is "evil" and what is "good"; what is "darkness" and what is "light"; what is "bitter" and what is "sweet" (cf. Isaiah 5:20) if one does not even read their bible! And even if you are one of the ancient, "prudish" relics out there that takes down one of the 10 or so bibles that they own off of the shelf, dust off the cover and read it (Charles Spurgeon once said "There is dust enough on some of your bibles to write 'damnation' with your fingers" - ouch!), do you know how to study it? Do you know how to interpret a verse using the bible as the source of definition? Can I tell you that the bible is it's own best dictionary? Do you know how to find the "definitions"?

There exists a method of biblical interpretation that scholars call "hermeneutics." Hermeneutics are simply put, the "rules" of biblical interpretation. There are varying lists of hermeneutic principles, but some of the rules seem to transcend all of the various interpretive traditions. One of those "rules" concerns the defining of biblical terms/words. Basically speaking, words in the bible need to be defined by looking to examples of how the word is used throughout the bible, and taking into account phrases that may explain the word. One example is the word "love." There are many definitions and ideas in the world as to what love is. But the biblical definition is pretty clear:

"...And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments." Ex. 20:6

"Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him. Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD." Lev. 19:17-18

"And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him. But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God." Lev. 19:33-34

"...And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes." Deut. 6:5-8

"But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him. " 1 John 2:5

"Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?
My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth." 1 John 3:16-18

"If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?" 1 John 4:20

"By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments." 1 John 5:2

These are just a small sampling of the many times that the bible uses the word "love" in conjunction with an action, actions, or attitudes. Therefore, the bible itself defines the word love for us.

Words like love, faith, grace, righteous, mercy, holy, etc. are concepts - ideas. They are simply words that, taken apart from any kind of action do us very little good. As in the verse above (1 John 3:16-18), we see that if we see another person in need, but turn a blind eye to it, we are not "loving" our neighbor, regardless of what we say.

Today we are living in a time when not only the world has decided to create their own definitions for things, people who claim to love Jesus, and believe in Him do as well. This should not be for the person who says that he is a follower of Jesus, the Son of God.

One of my most urgent messages to fellow Christians is that we need to be reading our bibles daily. But more than that, we must study our bibles. We need to allow it to explain itself to us.

We must take pains to not redefine the words of the scriptures to suit our ideas and doctrines. We must, if we truly love God and His word, to let the bible define itself for us, and then walk according to what it says. This is not always easy to do, for if we are truly willing to do this, we may find some of our previously held ideas overturned - something not easily swallowed! Are we willing to do this?

Let me simply end with a simple recommendation. If you are reading the bible, and come to a word that seems hard for you to put into practical terms, look for where that word is used in other places in the bible in which an action is associated with it. Our various concordances can indeed be helpful, but they often define one word with another word that is equally abstract - in other words, not very helpful! We need abstract words like love, grace, etc. coupled with a verb in order to truly begin to understand it. And this is exactly what the bible does.

If the two greatest commandments in the bible are to "love God, and love your neighbor as yourself" as is often quoted, the shouldn't we look throughout the bible, and find the verbs that accompany these commandments in order to rightly determine how to do so? As the Psalmist stated in Psalm 119:9 "How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word." And again in Psalm 19:7-11 "The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward."

Let the bible define itself - after all, it is it's own best dictionary!


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