Word Study and Author’s Intent

One of the joys of scripture study is engaging with the interpretations of various commentators. I’m grateful for their deep knowledge of Greek and Hebrew, a gift that I do not have. But I have a question. How significant is it to endlessly parse noun endings and verb tenses according to the various ways in which a word might be understood in order to more precisely tease out the author’s meaning?

After all, we don’t have an original text. The writers of the gospels were known to be a bit rough in their use of Greek. Moreover, they had to translate into Greek a story whose origins were in Aramaic. I thought of that as I considered some of my own writing. How eager would I be to have some linguistic expert try to explain the real meaning of what I wrote based on a close examination of my choice of certain words? Not much! I’m not that good a writer. I write fast. I make mistakes in verb tenses and sentence structure. Even after I do my best to edit things I find stupid little errors. I write something so clearly that even a five year old could understand it, and my wife tosses it back as unintelligible.

It all reminds me of the Paul of my imagination. Pacing to and fro, I see him rapidly dictating his letters, sometimes veering off into half finished ideas before returning to his main theme. I imagine his secretary(ies?) doing the best he can to keep up, throwing in an extra word here and there, failing to catch another, and scrambling to get the essence of what Paul was saying even if he couldn’t capture each syllable. He didn’t have spell check, white-out, or even a decent pencil with a good eraser.

I wonder how accountable we can hold Mark, Matthew, Luke or John for writing ‘has come’ instead of ‘came’ or whether a given word should be closely interpreted as ‘hence’ instead of ‘because’?

One easy way out is to assert the God inspired inerrancy of Holy Scripture, which works pretty well as long as you have only one copy of one text and treat it as the original. A local pastor does that with the 1611 edition of the King James Bible that he holds to be the last, final and perfect version of scripture. Frankly, I love reading commentators who delve into word study. It helps me to hear the words, as we have them, in new ways. But I am highly suspicious of ascribing too much to the author’s intent. It’s more about our intent: the commentator’s and my own listening to new meanings.

6 thoughts on “Word Study and Author’s Intent”

  1. Good points. It is mainly some fundamentalists (of various very different religions) who value the exact, subtle wording of a text. They usually, whether Fundamentalist Christian, Orthodox Jewish, or Muslim, really believe that God is the real author, anyway. Very Orthodox Jews even count the words, each letter of the Hebrew, even the paragraph blocs to find hidden, mystical meanings. Conservative Muslims deny vigorously that Muhammad was the author of the Quran (despite the many local and topical references in the text), or even that he was able to read and write! You allude to a local minister, who believes that the King James translation, and only it, is the true Word of God. There is an old joke in Texas about a minister who said, \”If English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it's good enough for me\”. The Mormons claim that Joseph Smith did not make up anything, but just translated the Book of Mormon from golden plates written in \”Reformed Egyptian\”. As to how he knew that language, he replied that he used to \”Urim amd Thummim\” to translate it, which he seems to think was a type of eyeglasses. But the authorities of the LDS Church \”corrected\” a racist passage in the Book of Mormon that had become embarassing in 1978 as being \”a mistranslation\”. How would they know???

  2. I have been distracted by the individual words, translations and interpretations, but (I hope!) no longer. It's all just a distraction, keeps us from doing the REAL work that Jesus calls us to do.Hear, hear and keep spreading the Word, dear Country Parson1

  3. You've identified the very reason I just can't buy into a literal interpretation of the Bible! I find much more important the repetitive \”themes\”/messages throughout. There's a real hazard of not seeing the proverbial forest for the trees, i.e., miss the point entirely, when we delve too far into hair-splitting interpretations. I'm looking forward to more discussions on these and other topics with you soon. We leave tomorrow morning early, very likely during a rainstorm. Will keep in touch with you and SS along the way.

  4. Ah, Dr B (Anon), it is not just the KJV but the 1611 KJV and only that edition that our local pastor claims to be the final word of God. Since there are several versions of the 1611 edition, I 'm not sure which one he means.CP

  5. It was certainly interesting for me to read the post. Thank you for it. I like such themes and anything connected to them. I would like to read a bit more on that blog soon.

  6. It is rather interesting for me to read this post. Thanx for it. I like such topics and anything connected to this matter. I would like to read a bit more on that blog soon.

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