E. W. Bullinger
Part IIThe Words
Having considered the study of the WORD as a whole, we now come to the study of the WORDS of which it is made up. The Lord Jesus said, not only, "I have given them Thy WORD" (John 17:14); but, "I have given unto them the WORDS which Thou gavest me" (v 8).
In the former of these two solemn statements logoV (logos) is used; in the latter it is rhma (rhema). There is this difference between the two: logoV (logos), generally speaking, is taken as meaning a word as made up of letters; and rhma (rhema), a saying as made up of words.
It is worthy of note, that it is in this latter connection our Lord speaks of all that He uttered as being given to Him by the Father to speak: He spake nothing of, or from, Himself. Seven times did He declare this great and solemn fact:* so that those who charge our Lord with ignorance of what He said, or with knowingly accommodating Himself to the traditional belief of the people, are charging this home upon God Himself; for the words of Christ were, He says, "not mine, but the Father's which sent me."
The "higher" critics, therefore, who say that David did not write Psalm 110 really "make God a liar." But this is not our point here, though it would be unwise to pass it by.
The "Word" as a whole, Christ speaks of in His last prayer to the Father as "THY WORDS"; and the matter, and the words of which it is made up, are the words given Him, by the Father, to speak. Whether "sayings" or "words," a revelation, in writing, is impossible apart from words; hence the importance of studying, not merely the Word as a whole, but the actual words in which it is given to us.
When, of course, we speak of the "words" it must be borne in mind that we mean Hebrew and Greek words; for in these, the original languages, have the words been given to us. We cannot hold the Spirit of God responsible for the way in which individual men have chosen to translate the original words in their respective languages.
It was truly said by Archbishop Whately that "the Bible consists of the Old Testament in Hebrew and the New Testament in Greek; and a translation of them is only an Interpretation according to the best judgment of the translator." Each, doubtless, has done the best he could, and has brought to bear upon the work his highest powers.
But, unless he has been guided by principles such as those which we have laid down in the first part of this work, his best efforts will be of little avail for us; for he will have given us only his own judgment and his own views.
Those views are, very largely, traditional. He comes to the work of Bible study with his views already more or less fixed. These have been derived from what he has first, and already, received from a man like himself. He may perhaps be more widely read in what others before him have said, but still he is more or less tied and bound by traditional views.
It is surprising, when we really come to examine ourselves closely in this matter, how much of what we already believe has been "received by tradition from our fathers." How little has actually been derived from our own direct personal study of the Word of God itself. We believe what we have received from man; and we do our best to get it confirmed by the Bible. When we are unable to get the confirmation we are in search of, then we find what we call a "difficulty." But the difficulty is not in the Word of God itself; it is in our own minds. The real difficulty is in giving up our own views because we fail to make the Bible conform to them. It does not, at first, occur to our minds that we may have to abandon some of our views if we would get rid of the difficulty.
Even where there is no difficulty, and our view is indeed in accord with the Word of God, we shall find it better to study the Word of truth afresh, and learn it again direct from the Scriptures. This is what we must do if we would really profit by the Word so as to enjoy it. It is better for the truth to hold us, than for us to hold the truth. The two things are very different. Hence the importance of our great subject, how to study the "WORDS which the Holy Ghost teacheth" (1 Cor 2:13).
As to the original words we must consider them further on. Though, in one sense, that consideration should logically come first, yet, as we are writing for English readers, we may well defer the Hebrew and Greek words to our section on "The Usage of Greek Words" (Canon III), and "The Place of Various Readings" (Canon XII), in which we shall put our English readers in possession of all that is essential for them to know.
Our concern now is with the words in the English versions: and our object is to see how far they accord with the words in the original, without a specific knowledge of that original. That is to say, how far an English reader may, by observing certain principles, which we propose to lay down, find out for himself the meaning of the original, and discover the mind of God, who is revealing Himself therein.
Our task is not easy, because often, while we are discussing one particular principle, the passage in question may require the application of several of these principles, or Canons, in order to our full and proper understanding of it. We would therefore lay down our first great principle that the meaning of words is to be gathered from the scope of a passage, and not the interpretation of a passage from the words.