We really enjoy our current Bible Study class, yet there are some things about our teacher’s approach to the text that often bewilder me. More often than not, when working through a passage of scripture the emphasis is on word definition. This approach can be beneficial when it comes to understanding the nuance of a word that may seem common to us but in its original language may have had more substance to it. This can be helpful as we allow the word to come alive in our reading. However, definition may not be the key to unlocking the truth of scripture but how a word is parsed. In other words, it’s not so much the word that gives meaning, it is the structure of the word.
Parsing is a technique not commonly used and consequently we may miss many of the great truths of scripture. Unfortunately, to parse a word or to find a words “structure” it requires an original text translation (Greek or Hebrew) that also provides the parsing elements. This may seem more challenging than it is. A simple and FREE program like E-Sword makes these readily available even though one will need to learn the parsing symbols and what they mean. That too is rather easy to do.
Here’s a simple illustration of what I mean and how a words structure carries a great deal of weight.
In John 15 Jesus talks about being the vine and, as the branches, we are to “abide” in him. The word abide is an interesting word in and of itself, meaning to stay, abide or remain. However, its use in the text is not just a matter that I “abide in him.” The structure of the word, as a present active participle means that we bear fruit because we are abiding in him. Thus showing the true intent of the verse. It is not that we simply abide as though it is a one time thing, but that we keep abiding in him and because as we do, we bear fruit. No abiding, no fruit and the text is pretty clear about what happens to branches that don’t bear fruit. That’s powerful stuff.
Too often we color the text with our own theological hues or predisposed understanding of what the text should say. A dangerous trap to both a weak, but perhaps popular, interpretation of the text and an even weaker, but perhaps popular, understanding of God. Letting the text have its own integrity is essential to an accurate understanding of scripture. As good students of the Word it is imperative that we give the text its due. We cannot do verbal gymnastics and expect to uncover the true power of the text.
There are a variety of approaches when it comes to breaking down the text of Scripture in order to determine meaning AND application. Of course, one’s theory of inspiration can color interpretation and often supersedes the text itself. Nevertheless, the challenge of “rightly dividing the Word of truth,” is ever before us. It is imperative that we are good stewards of that responsibility. Whether we are “casual” readers or serious “students” of the text.