Monday, April 29, 2013

Scripture Master Tip #19: Define Words and Terms.

19. Define words and terms. 

The language of the scriptures can be difficult to understand. You have probably noticed that the King James Bible (and to a slightly lesser extent the other standard works of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) use a form of English that may seem to bear little resemblance to the language that we speak today. You may even feel intimidated by the strange syntax, and the thee, thou, thy, and thines that fill the scriptures. You are not alone. Many people have great difficulty getting past the language itself when first approaching the scriptures.  It is natural that you will come across words that you don’t understand as you study the scriptures. That is nothing to worry about. There are many words in the scriptures that have fallen out of common use, or whose meanings have changed over the years. This is especially true of the Bible, but it also applies to the other standard works.  In addition, there are many words employed throughout the scriptures that may have a special and/or selective meaning that is unique to their context within the Gospel. For these reasons it is handy to have, not just a reliable standard dictionary, but also a source that defines many unique Gospel terms.  Beyond that, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (like many other churches and their surrounding cultures) maintains its own selective definitions for terms that may differ in significant (or minor) ways from the dictionary definition of terms, or the definition of those terms as commonly understood by other faiths.

A reference book such as True To The Faith (which happens to be published by the Church) can be an excellent resource for enhancing you scripture comprehension, as well as enlarging your Gospel understanding as a whole. It deals a little more directly with current church stances on certain questions and policies, which is makes it a reliable source for obtaining a  fairly up to date understanding of procedure and belief as currently defined by the church.  It also contains many terms or definitions which are unique to the LDS church.  True To The Faith is an official church publication, and it is one of the few books that is a part of the official "missionary library."

The Bible Dictionary that is contained within the LDS edition of the Bible is usually a good source for enlightenment concerning specific words and terms.  It is a wonderful resource for study needs, but there are many other excellent stand-alone Bible dictionaries, concordances, and commentaries that are also excellent and which you can purchase at your local bookstore.  Depending on which ones you decide to use, they may offer helpful insight into the Hebrew or Greek meaning of the text, which can help you to understand the intent of the original writers of the scriptures in their choice of words and phrases.  Just remember that the LDS Bible dictionary (naturally) contains definitions and references unique to LDS scripture and doctrine and most Bible dictionaries that you can buy at a bookstore will present a more generalized understanding that may not be entirely in harmony with church doctrine.

The same caveat also applies to alternate translations of the scriptures.  You might consider a more modern translation of the scriptures if the obsolete language of the King James Version is a barrier for you, but just understand that there may be some changes to meaning and doctrine that were made to suit the opinions and views of the modern translators.  The King James Version is not immune to this flaw, but it is useful to avoid modern political or social colorings by using a much older translation.  It isn't a contest though, and newer translations can be a big help by providing a more plain rendition of a word or a phrase or rendering a verse more accurately in light of more recent scholarship.  Of the many newer translations I think I prefer the New International Version, but you may develop a different preference.

I also find it enlightening to use a standard English dictionary to define words and terms that a person steeped in the Gospel might take for granted, like repentance, or faith. I find it useful to actually understand the words themselves, and not just their special meanings. I feel that this practice helps me to gain insight into the fundamental relationship between many different aspects of the Gospel, as well as helping me to truly ponder things that I might only think that I understand.  Here is a wonderful example of this technique in action, as explained by Elder David A. Bednar:
"The first thing I did as I began my study of this verse [D&C 45:32] was to look up in the dictionary three words: stand, holy, and places. Here is what we learn about the word stand: "To rise to an upright position; to remain stable, upright, or intact; and to remain valid, effective, and unaltered" (The American Heritage College Dictionary, 3rd Edition, Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston New York, 1997, p. 1324). Please think of those definitional elements together--upright, stable, valid, effective, intact, and unaltered. The word holy suggests "to be associated with divine power" or "sacred" (Ibid., p. 649), and the word place refers to "a bounded area or a portion of space" (Ibid., p. 1043). Thus we are to rise to an upright position, to remain stable, intact, valid, effective, and unaltered in a sacred, bounded area, i.e., stand ye in holy places and be not moved. These are the key elements that I first identified and tried to understand as I researched those three words in the dictionary."  (David A. Bednar, "Stand Ye in Holy Places," BYU-I Mothers' Weekend, Mar. 22, 2002).
Be careful not to limit yourself by assuming that the full meaning of a scriptural term is contained within the limits of one commentary or dictionary.  Doing so may cause you to become blind to the subtle promptings of the Spirit which can show you the full range and depth of subtle nuances of meaning and insight that may not be available from a book written by a man.
"One trouble with commentaries is that their authors sometimes focus on only one meaning, to the exclusion of others. As a result, commentaries, if not used with great care, may illuminate the author’s chosen and correct meaning but close our eyes and restrict our horizons to other possible meanings. Sometimes those other, less obvious meanings can be the ones most valuable and useful to us as we seek to understand our own dispensation and to obtain answers to our own questions. This is why the teaching of the Holy Ghost is a better guide to scriptural interpretation than even the best commentary."  (Dallin H. Oaks, “Scripture Reading and Revelation,” Ensign, Jan 1995, 7).
With this in mind, it is also a helpful study technique to watch for definitions within the text as you read the scriptures.  This can grant you great insight and will help you to understand the scriptures without the need to go through a third party filter.  Examples of definitions found in the text of the scriptures include:
Revelation 19:10  And I fell at his feet to worship him.  And he said unto me, See thou do it not: I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God: for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.

D&C 93:24  And truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come;
If you get stuck, or even if you don't, always remember to prayerfully seek the Lord's guidance and answers as to the true meaning of all things, expecially those things you read in the scriptures.
Matthew 7:7-8  Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.

James 1:5-6  If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.  But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering.  For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.

Jeremiah 29:12-13  Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you.  And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.

Jeremiah 33:3  Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not.

Psalms 119:103-105  How sweet are thy words unto my taste!  yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth!  Through thy precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way.  Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.
Next tip:  Scripture Master Tip # 20: Search, Ponder, and Pray

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