A couple of friends of mine told the following story from an experience on the mission field in Mexico:
As Samuel was preparing to set up a plastic table for the youth lunch we were hosting, I mentioned to him that the table’s “piernitas” (little legs) were in the next room. He smiled, and I knew that I had used the wrong word. “So they’re not called ‘piernitas,’ are they?” I asked him. “No,” he said, (really laughing now), “only humans have ‘piernas’. Animals and tables have ‘patas’ (paws). But calling them piernitas sounds curious.”
…A great example of how the Spanish idiom is ‘funny’ (or foreign) to the native English speaker. We don’t call table legs ‘paws’, but they do in this area of Mexico.
Biblical Languages Work the Same Way
For example, in the New Testament, the Greek term meaning word (logos) can refer to a variety of things, including a simple statement, a command, the Scriptures, the Gospel message, etc. So how do you know which it means? Context!
Take the following English example: “Load the trunks.” What does it mean given the following contexts?
- At the zoo, load the elephant trunks with medicine.
- In the living room, load the chests for storage.
- In the parking lot, load the cars with groceries.
- At the swimming pool, fill your swimming trunks with candy.
- After cutting down some trees, load their trunks on the trailer.
We know language works this way; It’s obvious. The friends I’ve mentioned above are working diligently to understand local idioms in the spoken language. They make mistakes, learn the language better, and then move on with greater precision. The same should be true with those who study the Bible. Unfortunately, I’ve known many who receive training and acquire tools to accurately study and teach the Scriptures, but later they leave their tools in the tool shed to rust and deteriorate.
Pastors are called to build up the church. Use the best tools you can afford. Not all will be scholars. Not all will have the time or money to acquire degrees. But most possess tools that must not be shelved. Polish the square, the measure, and the level. Sharpen the saw blade. Do the hard work of building…no shortcuts. Working harder now will prevent the number of necessary repairs in the future. The greater the precision in studying and teaching the Word, the greater the conviction will be in the lives of your hearers.