SEEKING THE INTENDED MEANING

OF GOD'S WORD

 

A Study Guide by

Gary Ray Branscome

 

 

He who has my Word, let him speak my Word faithfully.”

(Jeremiah 23:28)

 

As Christians, we are not free to make God’s Word say anything we please, or to interpret it according to our own whims. On the contrary, we have an obligation to be honest and truthful about what is said, and a responsibility to search out the intended meaning of the words (2Peter 1:20, Jeremiah 23:28). In making that statement, I realize that the world in general could care less about the intended meaning. Far too many try to get around the words of Scripture by claiming that they are all a matter of opinion. However, the Bible says otherwise, and a refusal to take God’s Word seriously is not going to advance God’s kingdom, or deliver anyone from darkness.

 

Because our God is a God of light, not darkness, the meaning that He intends for us to get from His Word is not hard to find. Far from it, He plainly tells us that the message He wants us to get from His Word is nothing other “than what you read” (2Corinthians 1:13). It is the devil, not God, who wants you to think that the words of Scripture are dark and mysterious (2Corinthians 4:4). In saying this, I am quite aware that we find many statements of Scripture hard to understand. Often we also find what the law says hard to apply. However, the difficulty lies in our ignorance, not in the fact that God has not spoken clearly, on the contrary, He has used “great plainness of speech” (2Corinthians 3:12).

 

Because the meaning that God intends for us to get from His Word is nothing other “than what you read,” the intended meaning is the plain grammatical meaning of the words (2Corinthians 1:13). Therefore, in studying the words of Scripture it is important to pay close attention to what the words actually say, instead of looking for principles, hidden truths, and explanations not included in the text. In doing this, we need to be our own worst critic! We need to be determined to find and eliminate all of our mistakes before anyone else does. And, as we do this we need to realize that any difficulty we have in understanding what is said stems from the darkness in our own heart, for there is no darkness in the Word of God (Isaiah 59:10, Acts 27:17, 2Peter 1:19, Isaiah 55:8).

 

THE GRAMMATICAL MEANING OF GOD'S WORD

 

            In past centuries the grammatical meaning of the words has been called the “literal” meaning. However, today the word “literal” is often confused with the surface meaning, or the nonfigurative meaning of the words. Therefore, let me make it clear that the “literal” meaning, in the historical sense of the word, does not exclude figures of speech but is the meaning that the words would have in everyday conversation. The meaning intended by the writer according to the natural rules of grammar and usage. As Robert Preus put it, “Only the literal sense of Scripture is valid for establishing doctrine and teaching in the church… The literal sense of Scripture is the meaning, or tenor, that the words directly and obviously convey… The literal sense of a Scripture passage or pericope is not necessarily identical with the surface meaning of the words, but the genre of the text or the tropes therein must also be ascertained, when necessary, to determine the literal sense of a text.” (The Theology of Post-Reformation Lutheranism, page 321-322.)

In order to illustrate what I mean consider Jesus’ reference to King Herod as a “fox” (Luke 13:32). The words, “Go, tell that fox” are often cited as an example of figurative language because that same figure of speech is in use today. My dictionary lists three meanings for the word “fox,” and the third, “a sly, crafty person,” is the meaning that Jesus intended, and, therefore, the literal meaning of the word “fox” in that context. We know which meaning was intended because Herod was a man, not an animal. Therefore, I want to stress the fact that it is the context in which a word is used that determines which meaning is intended, and the intended meaning is the literal meaning. Just because the word “fox” has three or more meanings does not mean that we can read whichever meaning we please into the text.

 

Our ability to speak and communicate with one another is a gift from God, and the natural grammatical meaning of the words that we use is the meaning that we all recognize when we hear those words in everyday conversation. Nevertheless, because classical scholars have in the past imposed some elements of Latin grammar upon the English language, many English-speaking people have come to think of grammar as a set of rules that scholars impose on the words. However, that is totally wrong! The grammatical meaning is the natural meaning, the accepted meaning, the meaning that words have in everyday conversation. For example, in English the natural grammatical meaning of the double negative, “Ain’t no way I’m going to do it” is an emphasized negative, even though in Latin it would be an emphasized positive.

God uses the linguistic ability that He has given us, to communicate with us through His Word. Therefore, whenever a figure of speech is used, the literal meaning of the text is the meaning that the figure of speech would convey in everyday conversation. I am talking about the objective meaning of the words, not opinion. Serious theology has no room for subjective opinions. Even though some statements are ambiguous, most are not. And, every sentence has its plain grammatical meaning. If that was not true, you would not be able to understand what I am saying, or what Shakespeare said, or what any school textbook says.

 

To further clarify what I am saying, consider the words, “As the bride walked down the aisle, her train followed her.” As you read those words, I am sure that every one of you knows exactly what is meant by the word, “train”. There is nothing mysterious about that statement, for its meaning is determined by the context in which it is used. However, suppose that a person who knew little English found out that the word “train” could be used to describe the process of learning a skill. Then, on the basis of that knowledge, interpreted the sentence to mean that, “After the bride walked down the aisle (was married) her training in married life began.” While he might think that his interpretation is just as good as anyone else’s, it would be obvious to us that it is not. Nevertheless, I often meet people who interpret Scripture just that way. They look up a Greek or Hebrew word, see that it could have a certain meaning, and then read that meaning into a passage when it does not fit the context.

Those who read false meanings into the text (as in the above example) while ignoring the natural grammatical meaning of the words are rebelling against God by changing the meaning of His words. Sometimes they invent bogus figures of speech, because they are unwilling to accept what the words of Scripture actually say. At other times, they place non-figurative meanings on passages that are clearly figurative. However, in order to be true to God’s Word it is important to allow the literal meaning of the words to stand unless Scripture itself indicates otherwise, and to only call something a figure of speech if it actually is a known figure of speech. [Isaiah 66:2, Psalm 107:11]

 

UNDERSTANDING OUR ENGLISH BIBLE

 

Bible interpretation would be far simpler if we could all speak Hebrew and Greek like a native. However, since that is not the case, we need to know how we can use the resources available to us to determine the intended meaning. At the same time, we need to distinguish between those parts of the Bible that are prose, those that are poetry, and those that are describing dreams and visions.

 

PROSE:

Since the writer of prose is recording a train of thought, you need to follow that train of thought in order to understand what is being said. To that end, it is important to be objective and pay close attention to the words, without reading your own ideas into the text. As an example, let us examine Philippians 3:7, “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.”

As we study the context of that statement, we find that in verses five and six Paul lists several things that are highly esteemed by Jews. He had been circumcised the eighth day, was a descendant of Israel, was zealous, was a Pharisee, and kept the law faithfully. By Jewish standards he had everything going for him. However, those were the things that he “counted loss for Christ.” Therefore, when he speaks of counting “gain” as “loss,” he is not talking about giving up wealth (as some people have taught), but about giving up the things he had previously trusted in, and regarding them as a hindrance to salvation.

 

POETRY:

In poetry the train of thought is not quite so direct, and Hebrew verse generally takes the form of couplets in which a thought is given and then repeated in different words. This repetition clarifies the original thought by rephrasing, contrasting, or enlarging on it. Therefore, when David says, “I acknowledge my transgressions,” and then says, “My sin is ever before me,” he is repeating the same thought, not stating two different things (Psalm 51:3). And, because he is repeating the same thought his two statements explain each other. Likewise, when Mary says, “My soul does magnify the Lord,” and then says, “my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior,” she is repeating the same thought. Moreover, the fact that she used the words “soul” and “spirit” as synonyms, gives us insight into the original language.

 

APOCALYPTIC IMAGERY:

In the Bible, dreams and visions often convey prophetic truth with highly symbolic imagery. The Book of Revelation is an example of this, but so are the dreams of Joseph, Pharaoh, and Daniel. However, one mistake that people make when they read those portions of Scripture is to assume that the words of Scripture which describe those dreams and visions cannot be taken literally. This is a mistake because it is the dreams and visions, not the words of Scripture, which are figurative. For example: In a dream Pharaoh saw seven fat cows come up out of the river. Those fat cows were then followed by seven thin cows, which ate the seven fat cows (Genesis 41:18-27). Now, because the Bible explains this dream, we know that it was highly figurative. However, the words that describe that dream are not figurative at all. On the contrary, those words give us a literal description of the dream. The Bible tells us that Pharaoh saw seven fat cows because that is what he literally saw. The figurative imagery is in the dream, not in the words of Scripture. The point I want to make is that we need to clearly distinguish between 1- dreams and visions and 2- the words that the Bible uses to describe those dreams and visions. This holds true, not only for Pharaoh’s dream, but for the Book of Revelation as well. 

In Chapter twelve of the Book of Revelation, we are told that John saw “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet”. Those words are to be taken literally, because that is exactly what John saw! However, that does not mean that the vision itself is to be taken literally. On the contrary, because the vision is figurative, we can only know what it means if the Bible tells us what it means. That was true of Pharaoh’s dream, and it is true of the Book of Revelation as well. Having said this, I want to make it clear that we can be absolutely certain of what the Bible says. Just because some people cannot agree as to what the woman represents does not mean that the Bible is not perfectly clear. On the contrary, if they cannot agree it is not because the Bible is unclear, but because Revelation 12:1 does not tell us who the woman is. In other words, they are disagreeing over what the Bible DOES NOT SAY, not over what it does say. We can be absolutely certain that it says that John saw “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet”. And, the words, “we have not written to you anything other than what you read,” tell us that is all that God intended for us to learn from that passage.

Now, having said this, I want to point out that there are other passages of Scripture that give us more information about the woman in Revelation 12:1. For example: In Revelation 12:17 we are told that those who trust in Christ are “her children”. When we compare that information with the words, “The Jerusalem above is… the mother of us all,” we learn that the woman signifies the heavenly Jerusalem (Galatians 4:26). Then, looking over to Revelation 21:9-10, we learn that the heavenly Jerusalem is, “the bride, the Lamb’s wife”. That is why I believe that the woman of Revelation 12 represents the church, which is the bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:22-33).

 

Because the Book of Revelation is describing a highly figurative series of visions, it would be dishonest for us to just make up explanations, and then teach them as fact as if they were the Word of God. Yea, it would be more than dishonest it would be satanic! Yet that is what we find going on all around us. American churches are full of man-made explanations/interpretations. Nevertheless, the words, “No prophecy of scripture is of any private interpretation,” tell us that any explanation not given to us in Scripture itself, is not of God (2Peter 1:20). And because they are not of God, we need to eliminate them. All of the dreams and visions that are recorded in God's Word - including the Book of Revelation – need to be interpreted in the light of those truths that are plainly stated in Scripture in clear, matter-of-fact, language. And, the explanation of Revelation 12:1 given above shows you just how that is done. No made-up explanation is of God!

We know that the dragon that is mentioned in Revelation 12:3 is the devil, because Revelation 12:9 plainly tells us that he is. We know that the first resurrection (mentioned in Revelation 20:6) is the resurrection from being dead in our trespasses and sins to new life in Christ, because the Bible says, “he has given you life, who were dead in trespasses and sins… and has raised us up together with him” (Ephesians 2:1,6). And, we know that Christ will never physically reign as a king on this earth, because He plainly said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). Those who make up explanations of Bible prophesy that contradict what the Bible explicitly says are rebelling against God (Isaiah 8:20, 1John 4:6).

 

LET SCRIPTURE INTERPRET ITSELF

 

            I have just given you some examples of how the Bible interprets itself. The clear statements cast light on what is unclear, and we reject as false any interpretation that contradicts what the Bible explicitly says. This rule seems simple enough. However, never underestimate the deceitfulness of the human heart (Jeremiah 17:9). I have run into people who claim to be letting Scripture interpret itself, when in reality they were interpreting one passage in the light of their own private interpretations of other passages. As I pointed out before, we need to be our own worst critic. And, as we seek to find and eliminate our mistakes we need to be honest with ourselves.

            Often one passage does not explain, but simply supplements, what other passages have said. For example: The words, “a man is justified by faith without the works of the law,” tell us that we are justified by faith (Romans 3:28). The words, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness,” tell us that faith is believing God’s promise (Galatians 3:6). The words, “Scripture… proclaimed the gospel to Abraham in advance,” tell us that what Abraham believed was the gospel (Galatians 3:8). And, the words, “That the promise might be given to those who believe through faith in Jesus Christ,” tell us that the faith that receives God’s promise is faith in Christ (Galatians 3:22). Now, even though these statements of Scripture are perfectly clear, I realize that unless you read these verses in context, and follow the train of thought that goes through the text, it might look like I am just picking out statements to support my own beliefs. Therefore, I urge you to read the passages for yourself.

 

BIBLE STUDY

 

Since our aim in studying the Bible is to learn the message that God intended it to convey, study guides written by those who have a thorough knowledge of the original Hebrew and Greek can be a great help. However, because there is no guarantee that everyone who knows (or professes to know) Hebrew and Greek is free of the spirit of error, we need to check a variety of sources. It is also a good idea to beware of pop-theology, for some of the most popular Bible study guides are the worst (Luke 6:26). Solid, reliable works have usually been around for more than one generation, and even then you need to know something about the education and background of the writer.

 

R.C.H. Lenski, was a meticulous student of the Greek. His commentary gives good insight, and, in my opinion, every serious Bible scholar needs to have a copy. The Keil and Delitzsch commentary on the Old Testament is also good. Kittel’s Theological Dictionary is an excellent work, but it is not easy to use, at least for someone who does not know Greek. However, you will need a good Bible dictionary.

 

Another book worth having is “Young's Analytical Concordance to the Bible.” As you look up English words it will tell you which Greek or Hebrew word they are translated from, provide a brief definition, and help you to find other verses that use that same Greek or Hebrew word. However, as long as your knowledge of Greek and Hebrew is limited, you need to look at more than one translation of the Bible. Since every translation should be saying the same thing, namely what the original text says, if you compare different translations as you would compare parallel passages in the Bible, you will gain insight into the intended meaning.

In saying this, I realize that translators are not perfect, and because they are not perfect we need to compare the newer translations with the ones that have stood the test of time. And, we need to compare all of them to the original text. Now, I realize that some people are opposed to any translation other than the King James. The King James is a good reliable translation that has stood the test of time, and gives us an objective rendering of what the original text says. However, many of its statements have become obscure, and some that seem perfectly clear have changed meaning. Therefore, we need to compare it to other translations. In fact, anyone who has a limited knowledge of Hebrew and Greek needs to compare different translations in order to get a better grasp of the intended meaning.

 

Nevertheless, there are some problems you need to look out for. One of these has to do with differences in manuscripts. Another with the fact that some translators have worded a verse here and there to say what they think it should say, rather than what it actually says. Nevertheless, the differences in manuscripts only affect a small percent of the readings. And, most translations will be will be trying to say the same thing, but saying it in different ways. Therefore, just as we sometimes clarify what we mean by rephrasing what we have said, we can get a clearer understanding of God’s Word by seeing the same thought expressed in different ways.

In saying this, I want to make it clear that as we compare different readings it is important that we do not put them in opposition. We can only profit from comparing translations if we look for what they agree on, rather than trying to pit them against each other. Therefore, instead of magnifying their differences, and interpreting them to contradict each other, look for what they have in common. Look for the same thought expressed in different words. Just as we interpret the parts of a Hebrew couplet to agree, and interpret parallel accounts in Matthew with Mark to agree, we should look for what the translations agree on. We are certainly not going to learn anything by interpreting them to contradict each other. In fact, whenever a number of translations agree on the essential meaning of a passage [even if they word it differently], their agreement probably reflects the original meaning of the words. In contrast, an oddball translation may reflect a private interpretation.

 

Now, there will be times when translations do not agree. However, that does not mean that one is right and the other is wrong. The disagreement may stem from the fact that we are unsure of the meaning of a particular Greek or Hebrew word or phrase, or from the fact that it can be interpreted both ways. For example: In 2Corinthians 3:12, where the King James Translation says, “we use great plainness of speech,” some other translations say, “we use great boldness of speech” (ASV). However, because the original Greek word conveys the idea of “openness”, both translations are correct. To speak openly is to speak both boldly and plainly. I personally emphasis the plainness of speech, because one of the ways Satan blinds people to the truth of Scripture is by leading them to believe that the meaning of its words are deep and mysterious, and, therefore, that what it says cannot be taken at face value.

For that reason, focus on what the Bible plainly says. Even though translations may vary, as long as the translator has not deliberately tried to alter what the Bible says, it will convey the message that God intended for it to convey. As Dr. Francis Pieper put it:

 

“The whole Christian doctrine is revealed in Scripture passages that need no exegesis, but are an open book alike to the learned and the unlearned and can be so readily translated that the translator cannot go wrong unless he has made up his mind to depart from the original.” (“Christian Dogmatics”, Vol. 1, pg 347)

 

Try to understand that translating is far more difficult than merely saying the same thing in different words. The work of a translator is complicated by differences in grammar between the original language and the language it is being translated into. As to be expected there are difficult decisions to be made in which the translator seeks to maintain a delicate balance between clarity and objectivity. At times, that comes down to a trade off in which clarity must either be sacrificed for the sake of objectivity, or objectivity for the sake of clarity. Therefore, those who react to every difference in wording by proclaiming one translation right and the other wrong, only show their ignorance while undermining faith and sowing discord.

 

By comparing translations, we can learn how those who have a good working knowledge of the original language think a particular word or phrase should be understood. If one translation errs, it is unlikely that other translations will make the same error, so check two or three witnesses [i.e. translations]. At the same time, when translations differ, we need to know if the differences stem from differences in the Greek text, or differences in translation. To that end, you might want to have an interlinear version of both the “Received Text,” and the “Nestle Text.” In saying this, I realize that the controversy over texts is heated. However, we are not going to advance the cause of Christ by remaining ignorant of the differences between texts. Besides, all of the Greek Bible manuscripts agree over ninety percent of the time and most of them are in agreement ninety-nine percent of the time.

 

I also want to make it clear that when I talk about comparing translations, I am talking about legitimate translations, not cultic attempts to rewrite the Bible. The Watchtower “translation” arrogantly changes what the Bible says, and their interlinear version even changes some of the words in the Greek text. The “Living Bible” adds to and takes from what is written, and some other translations have been doctored to appease liberal or feminist bias. Therefore, you need to be well informed. There are several revisions of the King James translation, and, in my opinion, the “Amplified Bible” can be used along side of it almost like a commentary — although it sometimes goes beyond translation and inserts interpretations into the text. The “Online Bible” developed by Larry Pierce is also a valuable tool, and the basic edition can be downloaded from the internet at no cost (www.onlinebible.net).

 

SUBMITTING TO THE INTENDED MEANING OF GOD'S WORD

 

I pointed out earlier that the intended meaning of the words of Scripture is the literal meaning of the words. We know that, because whenever you say something to someone, unless you are being dishonest, the meaning you intend to convey will be the literal meaning of the words you use. However, to better illustrate what I mean by “the intended meaning,” let me offer another illustration using the word train. In the statement “As the bride walked down the aisle her train followed her,” the word “train” could mean either the train of her gown, or her locomotive. However, that does not mean that our interpretation of the sentence is all a matter of opinion. On the contrary, even though the word “train” has more than one meaning, usage and context determines which meaning is intended. In this case, our knowledge of usage makes it clear that the word “train” refers to the train of her gown, not a locomotive.

 

Now the point I want to make is this. The intended meaning of that statement about the bride is perfectly clear to anyone who is willing to obey the truth. However, there are no arguments compelling enough to convince someone who does not want the truth. The same could also be said for many statements of Scripture! The truth is there for those who want it, but you will never convince someone who does not want it. Therefore, if you are to study the Bible profitably, let me say it again, you need to be your own worst critic. You need to look for and eliminate your own mistakes! You need to base what you believe on what is solid and certain, not the shifting sands of human opinion. And you need to look at context, not just the meaning of words.

            For example: In an attempt to prove that some wine is not alcoholic, one man argued that one of the three Greek words translated as “wine” in the New Testament, (“gleukos”) denotes something sweet. However, even though there is truth in what he said, if he would have looked into the way that word is used, he would have discovered that the New Testament uses it in reference to drunkenness (Acts 2:13). There is nothing non-alcoholic about a beverage that causes drunkenness. He simply based his conclusion on a dictionary definition of one word, while ignoring its usage.

 

            In trying to determine the intended meaning it is important to follow the train of thought that the author is trying to convey. We need to pay careful attention to the message that unfolds word by word, sentence by sentence. For example: A man once told me that he was not sure what was meant by the words, “Do not look upon the wine when it is red” (Proverbs 23:31). However, if you look carefully at the train of thought you can see that the passage is warning us not to be enticed by eye appeal. In other words, it is telling us not to look upon the “wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the wine glass, when it goes down smoothly” (Amplified Bible), because eye appeal can easily lead us to take more, and more, until we are drunken. And, drunkenness often leads to other sins.

At the same time, I realize that the idea that it is speaking of “eye appeal” is an interpretation, not something explicitly stated. While that interpretation agrees with the text, and does not contradict anything that the Bible says, it is important to make that distinction. Our doctrine must rest on the bare words of Scripture, not interpretation. We then eliminate false interpretations by rejecting every interpretation (assumption, explanation, conclusion) that contradicts an explicit statement of scripture (Isaiah 8:20).

 

APPLYING WHAT WE HAVE LEARNED

 

In order to get a better grasp of how these rules should be applied let’s look at some specific passages.

There are a few places where the King James Bible uses the expression “faith of,” in a context where we would say “faith in”. However, since newer translations usually translate the same phrase as “faith in,” a comparison of the King James with one of the newer translations will tell you that the meaning is the same. [See Romans 3:22 and Galatians 3:22.]

 

Some people assume that when Christ “went and preached to the spirits in prison” He was preaching the gospel to Old Testament saints (1Peter 3:19-20). However, a quick look at the context tells us that the “spirits” in “prison” were those that God destroyed at the time of Noah, not saints. Furthermore, this passage says nothing about the gospel being preached. In fact, a quick look at Young's Analytical Concordance will reveal that the word translated “preached,” is “kerusso,” a Greek word that means “to proclaim as a herald.” It is the same Greek word that would be used if a king conquered a country, and then sent out heralds to tell everyone that the country had a new ruler. Therefore, Christ was proclaiming His victory to His enemies, not offering them salvation. That is why the New American Standard translates that same verse as, “He [Christ] went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison.”

 

            The words, “For this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit” are sometimes wrongly interpreted to mean that salvation was offered to people after they had died (1Peter 3:19-20). However, as Lenski’s Commentary points out, the words “in the flesh” make it clear that the gospel was preached to these people in their lifetime. That is why the New International Version translates that same verse as, “this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead” (1Peter 4:6). And, why and the Amplified Bible says, “this is why the good news (the Gospel) was preached [in their lifetime] even to the dead.”

 

While some of the newer versions translate the word “blessed” as “happy,” that rendering often seems incongruous to say the least. For example, the Jerusalem Bible’s rendering of Matthew 5:11 reads, “Happy are you when people abuse you and persecute you”. Now, if you have never met anyone who was happy about being abused or persecuted, you may wonder why the translators chose that wording. You may even be shocked to learn that the Greek word being translated as “happy” actually means “happy.” However, that is only part of the story! What is not being said is that the Jews and Greeks thought of happiness more in terms of success or fulfillment [i.e. with being blessed] than emotion. That is why the Hebrew word “ashere” (happy) is used as a synonym for “barok” (to bless), and is translated as “blessed.” For example: Psalm 84:12 says, “Blessed [ashere] is the man who trusts in You,” while Jeremiah 17:7 says, “Blessed [barok] is the man who trusts in the Lord.” (See “Young’s Analytical Concordance”.)

 

If you have ever dealt with someone who denies the existence of hell, you may have been told that the Hebrew word “sheol” (which is often translated as “hell”) means “grave.” However, even though the Hebrew word, “sheol” does mean “grave,” what they are not telling you is that, like many words, “sheol” has a second meaning, and is used as a generic reference to the afterworld (almost identical in meaning to our English term “the hereafter”). The good news is that you do not have to take my word for it, just look at how the word is used in Scripture. In 2Samuel 22:6, we read, “the sorrows of sheol compassed me about.” Psalm 18:5, speaks of the, “sorrows of sheol.” Psalm 116:3 says, “the pains of sheol got hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow.” Ezekiel 32:21 tells us that some, who have died physically, “speak…out of the midst of sheol.” In Deuteronomy 32:22 we read, “a fire is kindled in My anger, and shall burn unto lowest sheol.” In Isaiah 33:14 we read, “The sinners in Zion are afraid; fearfulness has surprised the hypocrites. Who among us shall dwell [remain/inhabit] with devouring fire?” And Isaiah 66:24, says of the lost, “Their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched.” Clearly, the word “sheol” means more than just a hole in the ground. (See “Young’s Analytical Concordance”.)

 

Because Christ used the phrase “three days and three nights” in reference to His time in the grave, some people insist that He had to be in the tomb for three twenty-four-hour days. However, that creates a problem because He could not have been in the tomb for three complete days if He “rose again the third day.” Therefore, we need to analyze what the Bible says in order to determine the intended meaning of the phrase “three days and three nights.” Mark tells us that Christ was crucified on the “day before the Sabbath,” and buried in the evening (Mark 15:42). Luke tells us that the women then “prepared spices and ointments” and “rested the Sabbath day [singular] according to the commandment” (Luke 23:56). They then came to the tomb “early in the morning” on “the first day of the week” [i.e. Sunday] “bringing the spices that they had prepared,” yet found the tomb empty (Luke 24:1-3). We are also told that the disciples who talked with Jesus on the road to Emmaus, did so “the third day” after the chief priests and rulers “delivered Him to be condemned to death” (Luke 24:20-21). Therefore, when the commentaries of both “Lenski” and “Keil and Delitzsch” tell us that the phrase “three days and three nights” is a known Hebrew figure of speech, the Biblical evidence clearly supports what they say.

 

Some years ago, in a sermon, a pastor assumed that the woman referred to in 2Kings 4:8 as “great” (KJV), was being called “great” because of her works. However, if he had checked some other translations he would have found that the Amplified Bible translates the Hebrew as, “a rich and influential woman,” while the AAT (Beck) translates it as, “a rich woman”. At the same time, Kretzmann’s commentary says, “Where there was a great woman, - one of considerable local prominence”. Therefore, by assuming instead of checking his facts, that pastor wound up misrepresenting the truth of God’s Word, while at the same time teaching the false doctrine of works righteousness.

 

Finally, it would be a mistake to assume that you only need to compare translations if the translation you are using is unclear. On the contrary, even if all the translations you check are perfectly clear and say the same thing, knowing that helps you to have a better grasp of what the Bible is saying. Furthermore, your doctrine should consist of truths so clearly stated in Scripture that there is no debate as to the fact that they are in the Bible (2Corinthians 1:13). I am not saying that everyone will accept that doctrine, just that no one will be able to dispute the fact that the Bible says it, because it consists of what the Bible clearly and explicitly says. At the same time, any conclusions that you derive from a particular passage should be in accord with everything that the Bible says (Isaiah 8:20). Those who contradict God’s Word are doing the devil’s work (Romans 3:4).

 

CONCLUSION

 

Because those who truly care about the intended meaning allow the plain words of Scripture to be their doctrine, they will be able to discuss doctrinal differences in a friendly way, without arguing over who is right. Instead of trying to change each other’s mind, they will be willing to look at what the Bible says, and willing to correct any ideas that are contrary to it. In contrast, those who read their own ideas into the text, jump to conclusions that contradict what the Bible says, and explain away any statements of Scripture that do not agree with their own doctrine are a continual source of conflict and division (Isaiah 8:20, 2Peter 1:20, 1John 4:6).