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Saturday, January 11, 2014

Bible Study 04 – Comparison [Part 4]

Another instalment in an ongoing series about studying the Bible using methods deduced from the Bible itself. The series introduction can be found here.

The first Bible study tool we are discussing is comparison, specifically comparison of words and phrases in the original language.

WORD / PHRASE COMPARISON (Continued)

My last post used Genesis 3:16 to illustrate how there is often more than one possible meaning for any particular word or phrase:
“To the woman he said, ‘I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.’ ” (Genesis 3:16)
The meaning of the phrase “Your desire shall be for your husband” seemed unclear and we began to look for the most reasonable interpretation.

Four possible interpretations were chosen at random from a Google search:

i)       desire for a husband and family;
ii)      desire to be led by or occupied with a male rather than with God;
iii)     desire to contest leadership of the man/wife relationship; or
iv)     desire for intimacy.

Of course all these interpretations could be wrong. Looking at commentaries and other people’s opinions is usually a bad place to start in Bible study. It’s preferable to determine one’s own convictions from the actual text before comparing them to those of others. Language-based interpretations tend to be less polluted by our own assumptions, culture or political correctness. And choosing from a menu of possible interpretations will tend to limit your search for other good ways of reading the text.

Tools

We’re going to need some tools for this:

1.    a regular concordance (I like my Strong’s hardcover but the online version will do fine) 
2.    a numerically coded concordance (I use Wigram Englishman’s Hebrew-Chaldee Concordance of the Old Testament for OT passages like this one, but there’s also a Greek New Testament volume, neither of which is online, I’m sad to say)
3.    a King James version of the Bible (if you’re using the online version of Strong’s, there’s an NASB option to circumvent the potential confusion of old English — regrettably there are no concordances keyed to the English words in other modern translations, at least not yet)
4.    Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words can be helpful but is not a ‘must’

The difference between the two concordances is this:

Strong’s:
Strong’s is an alphabetical list of English words (from the King James or NASB) translated from Greek or Hebrew words in the original text or texts on which that version is based. That’s your starting point. You’ll get a list of every use of that English word in the entire Bible, with a three- or four-digit number assigned to each different Greek or Hebrew word.

For the English word “telleth” [I did mention the original Strong’s was based on the old KJV, right?] there are 7 verses listed, 6 from the OT and 1 from the New. These listings tell us that “telleth” was used to translate 3 different Hebrew words and 1 Greek word and it gives us the three- or four-digit numbers to reference each one.

Wigram:
Wigram gives a list of Strong’s numbers assigned to each particular Greek or Hebrew word with every use of that Greek or Hebrew word in the entire Bible. After each number, he gives you the actual word in Hebrew or Greek, an English phonetic pronunciation guide and a list in order from Genesis to Malachi (or from Matthew to Revelation).

For the first Hebrew word translated as “telleth” (5046, found in 2 Sam 7:11), Wigram tells us the Hebrew word in the original is nahgad, and follows that with a list of every single time this word is used in the Bible, no matter how it was translated or what tense of the verb was used.

For instance, nahgad is variously translated as “declared”, “has showed”, “reported”, “told”, etc. Each reference displays a few words of the verse to indicate context.

The Value

Word study may or may not be useful, depending on the situation. For very common words like “the”, you are simply wasting your time. Strong’s lists them, but what’s the value, and why would you need to look? The real value is to assess the meaning of words that are less frequently used and more likely to require some digging.

The particular value of the Wigram concordance is that, assuming the Holy Spirit wanted to draw our attention through the repeated use of a particular word (not something I’d assert dogmatically; you’d have to look for yourself and draw your own conclusions), it’s Wigram that would most easily confirm that. A similarity between words in our English Bibles is no guarantee that it reflects a similarity in the original language.

And of course, we continue to remember that the same word in the original language may bear different meanings depending on the context in which it occurs. Word study is not magic or math.

Back to our Example

Let’s look up the word translated “desire” in Genesis 3:16.

Online Strong’s: 
·         Type “desire” into the search box, change the drop down menu on the right to “New American Standard”, and click “Search”
·         Click the link to Genesis 3:16
·         Check the box on the right above the verse that says “Strong’s numbers”
·         Click the highlighted word “desire” in the verse to get the Strong’s number and a very abbreviated definition of the word

My Strong’s number for “desire” is 8669 (and the phonetic spelling of the Hebrew word is “tesh-oo-kaw”, for whatever that’s worth to me).

Hardcover Strong’s:
·         Look up “desire” just like you would in any dictionary
·         Same result, 8669

But you can also very quickly see by glancing down the list that this particular word is not the Hebrew word most frequently used to translate the idea of “desire”. Many other Hebrew words are frequently translated “desire” too.

Since we’re interested in this particular one, on to Wigram:

Wigram:
·         Flip pages until you come to 8669. Not tough.

And voila, the Hebrew word is t’shookah and it is used only three times in the entire Bible.

Again, let me say that word comparisons will not be a useful way of determining meaning in every instance. There are other kinds of comparison that may be more effective, depending on the situation.

But you won’t know that unless you do the legwork. So on to some actual comparing.

Next: Analyzing the results

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