21 DAYS IN THE WORD - TOOL 18 - OBSERVING LIKE SHERLOCK HOLMES
With each tool we have tried to inspire all of us to realize that there is so much more in scripture than casual readers would imagine. Every word has meaning and all of the words pieced together tell a bigger story. I like to think of myself with my coat, hat, and magnifying glass looking at a setting like Sherlock Holmes the detective might have looked. Like Sherlock I find it very helpful to have a Dr. Watson assisting me. In our Bible study scenario, Dr. Watson would refer to Bible scholars who have written commentaries that help us to go deeper into the historical and literal backgrounds of packages and the meaning of the words. I love the verse in Proverbs 25:11 that says, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” It tells us there is great wealth in each word and the setting makes a huge difference.
There are numerous websites that give access to good commentaries such as Bible Hub, Sword of the Spirit, Bible Gateway. I like to read the Expositors Bible commentary, the Pulpit commentary, and look at word study commentaries like Vine’s expository dictionary.
There are many reasons why this is so helpful. One of the main reasons is realizing that words can mean different things in different settings. In English, for example, I might say, “I’m having a blast.” A person who doesn’t speak English might read that and think I’m blowing up something. An example of a life-changing discovery for me was the understanding of the word “righteousness.” There are actually two meanings of that word in the original language that the New Testament was written in. (Greek) One meaning is what I was familiar with which means “doing what is right.” I always thought of righteousness as behaving right, not being bad. This limited view kept me thinking of my relationship with God as based on my performance. Then I discovered there is another word for righteousness that means “being put in right standing (with God). This is the meaning Paul uses over and over when He talks about what Jesus did to give us salvation. He didn’t just come and tell us how to improve our behavior so God would accept us. He came to take our place on the cross so that we would have His standing and relationship with God as a perfect son or daughter. Do you see how that makes a big difference?
I believe that asking the right questions is the best way to find the right answer. Two of the most important questions are: What kind of a word or expression is this? What would the words have meant to those who were the first to hear them? Figuring this out is called “exegesis.” It’s kind of like the word excavating, digging out the meaning of a passage. Beyond the meaning of specific words and understanding them in the context that they are being used in, which a commentary can help us with, is the understanding of what kind of a statement it is.
I like what Dr. George Ladd said about words and phrases in the Bible. He said, “The Bible is the Word of God given in the words of people in history. It has both eternal relevance and historical particularity.”
Here are some examples of some different kinds of words or figures of speech.
· Proverb - a simple, concrete description of truth based on common experience. They are sayings of wisdom. One of the things to understand is that a proverb is not the same as a promise. It is more general. The saying, “train up a child in the way they should go and when they are old they shall not depart,” is not a guarantee that a child raised in a Christian home will follow the Lord. It is a principle of life that we can get wisdom from. Of course based on other promises it is right to pray and expect children we raise in Christ and pray for to return to the Lord whatever detours they take.
· Simile - a direct comparison of two things that are essentially different.
· Metaphor - An indirect comparison of two things
· Allegory - an extended metaphor that has the form of a story
· Analogy - a rather full comparison allowing several points of similarity between unlike things
· Irony - implying something different, possibly they opposite of what is said
· Hyperbole - exaggeration, not with the intent to deceive but to emphasize and intensify an impression. (you have a log in your own eye)
· Personification - the attribution of life or human qualities to an inanimate object
· Anthropomorphism - the practice of describing God in human terms
· Rhetorical questions - questions posed that the author doesn’t expect an answer for
· Types - a prefiguring symbol such as an Old Testament event prefiguring a New Testament reality (Passover)
· Symbols - something that stands for another meaning in addition to its ordinary meaning
My prayer is that all will discover the exhilarating life-long joy of discovering gold in scripture that utterly changes what you receive, know, and experience in all areas of your life.