Determining the Meaning
Any type of communication involves three expressions of meaning:
1) What the speaker or writer meant by what he or she said
2) What the recipient actually understood by the statement
3) What meaning is actually encoded in the text itself
So we have to deal with meaning in the text itself and the humans involved as well.
Without a context, words become meaningless. In fact, when it comes to interpreting and applying the Bible context is crucial. Context determines meaning. When we ignore the context, we can twist the Scriptures and “prove” almost anything. By honoring the context of Scripture, we are saying that we would rather hear what God has to say than put words in His mouth. Within the Bible there are different types or genres of literature. For understanding to take place, we must be on the same page as the author in terms of genre. Also, we cannot ignore the surrounding context. We have to understand how the sentences fit together in a book to communicate the larger message. In doing so, we are saying that above all, we want to hear what God has to say to us through His Word.
The words also play an important role to the point that until we know the meaning of certain words, we will not be able to grasp the meaning of the whole passage. So we may have to do a word study to try to understand as precisely as possible what the author was trying to convey by his use of this word in the context. So we look for words that are crucial to the passage, repeated words, figures of speech, and words that are unclear, puzzling, or difficult. Using resources, we then determine what that word could mean in the original language. After that, we then determine which meaning fits best in the context. We must understand how the biblical languages function if we are to understand what the writers meant to say.
If we are seeking the meaning intended by the author to the original recipients, that meaning must be the meaning they could understand at that time. We have to recreate how the writers understood things and the impact their words had on their original recipients. We must understand that the intended meaning of the author is the true meaning of the text. So if we believe that the Bible is God’s Word to us and that the Scriptures function as communication from God to us, then we should interpret the Bible by looking for the meaning that God, the author, intended. We do not create the meaning. Rather, we seek to discover the meaning that has been placed there by the author. We can find the meaning as we prayerfully dig into the text and search diligently for the meaning God has placed there.
Let me know what you think!