Words are very dangerous instruments, but because they are the only tools the Bible teacher has with which to transmit the truths of God’s Word and the only tools the Bible student has with which to learn these truths, we have to use them. With words we attempt to convey ideas, and ideas are the things that trigger our behavior. This makes words very important for if they are misused or misunderstood, then the behavior caused can be quite other than what the teacher intended.
One of the big problems is that people have a tendency to believe that words have meaning. They do not. Words are very capricious and can mean a lot of things. The meaning is never in the word but always in the head of the one using the word. In the comic strip Peanuts by Charles Schulz, when Charlie Brown says, “Rats”, we do not look around in the strip for four- legged rodents. We smile at Charlie’s frustration. If the Pied Piper of Hamlin says, “Rats”, we look for rodents. Both use the same word, but the meaning in their heads is quite different. So when one uses any word, the listener needs to give much thought to the context in which the word is said and to the message the one using the word is trying to convey.
This is especially important in Bible study, for in the Bible we are not talking about tangible objects but spiritual matters which are not readily understood, not examined in our laboratories of science, nor defined by our logic in a world limited by space and time.
Jesus recognized this problem, and to solve it, He taught in parables so the point He was making or the word He was using could be really understood in the way He meant it. All of you have heard arguments in which a person says, “But you said etc., etc.”, and the other person answers, “But I didn’t mean etc., etc.”. To make sure this does not happen, Jesus used parables.
An excellent example of this is the story of the Good Samaritan. Next to the love of God, the most important thing for every Christian to do is to love his neighbor as himself. This is especially difficult, but it would be virtually impossible if Jesus had not carefully explained to us who our neighbor is. I grew up thinking of the neighbor as the man who lived next door, and even now, we speak of people in our neighborhood as the people who live nearby. In Jesus’ parable He asks, “Who proved neighbor to the one who fell among thieves?” The obvious answer was, “The Good Samaritan”. However, you must also note that the Good Samaritan considered the injured man to be his neighbor also. In other words, my neighbor is any one of God’s children who needs my help, or any one of God’s children that I can do something for. I must consider that I am an instrument of God to improve the lot of any of His children, no matter who they are. God loves me in spite of my sinful ways, and He wants me to feel the same way toward all His children.
In this way Jesus defined the word neighbor. How many of us would have really understood, “Love your neighbor as yourself”, if He had not defined it for us?
So, when you study, stop and ask yourself what the writer was trying to get across with the words he is using. Do not impose on any writer or speaker a definition of a word that he does not mean for it to convey. This requires the Bible student to do more than read his Bible. It means, if I want to know the will of God, that I must take time to give much thought to the words I am reading. Know who is doing the writing in each instance and what that person is trying to convey.
One of the problems with many Bible students and even preachers is that they read too much and think too little. That way words become the master, and real meaning never is translated to the student or to the one who consumes too many words in the mistaken idea that they have obvious meaning.