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Letter and Spirit
pp. 47, 48
"So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the
sense and caused them to understand the reading" (Neh. 8: 8).
We read that Daniel, after he had received a vision "sought for the meaning"
(Dan. 8: 15), and Zechariah is found continually asking "What be these?" The
Scriptures are valueless if they are meaningless. Their message is mediated through
human language, and the first step to ascertaining "What is the mind of the Spirit" is to
make sure of the meaning of the words that the Spirit has used. We hope to take up a
number of expressions and key words, and give what light we possess or can discover
upon their meaning. In the first place, we must have some idea of `the meaning of
meaning' before we can proceed (see the series "Go ye and learn what that meaneth").
Meaning cannot be settled by the etymology of a word only, although that is the first
thing we investigate. The quest for meaning must also take into account the usage of any
word under consideration so that dictionary and concordance will represent the
irreducible minimum of apparatus necessary. In addition to this we must give a place to
the context in which any particular word is found, and this will often be the first thing to
take into account. We will make our meaning plain by an illustration. Suppose the word
before us is the word "light". Now it is useless to commence our investigation into the
etymology of the Greek word phos, which means `light' in the sense of radiance, for the
word might be the Greek word elaphros `not heavy', and both of these words occur in
II Cor. 4: In verse 6 we have phos, and in verse 17 we have elaphros. Even if the
context decides that the word `light' refers to the natural agent of vision, even then the
word may not be phos, light itself, it may be luchnos a lamp (John 5: 35), or lampas a
torch (Acts 20: 8) or phengos a shining (Matt. 24: 29); or phoster a light giver
(Phil. 2: 15) or photismos illumination (II Cor. 4: 4) or hapto to kindle (Luke 8: 16),
or kaio to burn (Matt. 5: 15) or epiphaino to shine upon (Luke 1: 79); or apokalupsin
an unveiling (Luke 2: 32). We need, therefore:
Etymology found by intelligent use of the dictionary, with the consciousness that it
is only too easy in this subject to jump to conclusions.
Usage, found by a survey of the concordance and an examination of the context.
Illustration--as we have tried to illustrate the problems by the examples given
above. We hope to apply this fourfold method in the elucidation of a number
of words the meaning of which is essential to the true understanding and
ministry of the Word of God.