After first seeing the need to evaluate a passage’s context, the second principle of biblical interpretation we’re going to look at is the importance of understanding the meaning of words used. This has to do with the true content of words. Gordon Fee writes, “Content has to do with the meaning of words, their grammatical relationships in sentences, and the choice of the original text where the manuscripts differ from one another.” 1 It is important, especially in biblical interpretation, that we apply the correct meaning to words that are consistent with the original texts.
Some words from the original texts of Scripture do not translate into English as well as others. One simple solution to this issue is to consult a Bible dictionary, which will often shed additional light on even very common words in the English language. This is a good practice to make a habit out of. One area in which this is extremely helpful is in defining sin types from the New Testament so that we are certain to use them rightly. If we are to properly understand what God says about our sin, we must be careful to define that sin rightly. A proper definition will provide greater clarity to the biblical instruction God gives us. The Apostle Paul lists several sins that believers are to put off…
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. (Ephesians 4:31)
Many of the words Paul uses here are translated into common English, yet we may not understand the nuances between them. Randy Patten, Executive Director of NANC, has put together a list of these words with their proper definitions for greater clarification. 2
Paul continues his letter to the Ephesians with a list of actions and attitudes that believers are to put on…
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32)
Simply taking the time to understand the full meaning of words that are used is very helpful and instructive. It can play a major role in keeping us from error in our biblical interpretation.