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We could call today’s rule “Words Mean Things”, but that would be too simple.    Rule 5 is Determine Carefully the Meaning of Words, and I think it is doubly important that we take time to do this step.

Sproul begins by pointing out the obvious: the actual meaning of words is crucial to a full understanding of the passage we are looking at.  But this isn’t quite as easy as you might think.  The Bible was written between 1900 and 3500 years ago, across different cultures and in 3 different languages.  It’s a fair point that some of the words used in one of the older texts like Job might mean something different when used in Revelation.

Sproul says that the field of lexicography has been an area of tremendous growth in the 20th century (remember, this book was written way back in the 20th century).  Scholars have compared ancient texts from secular documents and other contemporary writings with Bible texts.  Such cross-references ensure that the Bible is interpreted properly and in the context of its culture.

One of the most common means of understanding words is etymology.  This refers to breaking down a word into its component parts.  It is important to realize that we are talking about the original word in the original language.  A good study Bible will help you understand what the original words were in many cases.

Although we can say with some degree of certainty that we know what words mean today, that does not mean that they will have the same meanings in the future.  For example, the original meaning of the word scan was to look over carefully.  Over the years the meaning of the word has changed to pretty much the exact opposite.  Thus, as we read the Bible, we must remember that the translation we are reading is just that – a translation.  An old version (the KJV, for instance) may use archaic words that do not carry the same meaning today as they did in the 17th century.

Sproul concludes this section with a word of warning about words that become doctrinal concepts.  A good example cited by him is the word “sanctified”.  We understand the process of sanctification to be that lifelong process (concluded only after our death) by which we are made holy.  What then are we to do with 1 Corinthians 7:14?  In this verse we read that an unbelieving husband is sanctified through his believing wife.  If we misunderstand what is being said, we could misinterpret this to believe that we whose wives are Christian can be any kind of person we want.  That is not the case.

Understanding the words used in scripture is of enormous importance, as many have turned to false gods and heresies by twisting the meanings of words.