About words (2)

Words are obviously important when we seek to understand written language.  Consider this passage as an illustration of what could happen when we are called on to interpret the words of scripture.

What does the word “score” mean?  And what does it mean “to score”?  The meaning depends, doesn’t it?  How many ways are there “to score”?  Scoring in football is completely dif­ferent than scoring in—say—ping pong. . . .  There are multiple ways to score in American football, but not in baseball (the only way is to have a base runner touch home plate).  Every sport is different.  On the other hand, if a high school teenager were asked if he “scored” after an evening out with the prom queen, the picture is quite different.  And—to continue the rela­tional (or should I say sexual) image—a young Don Juan might scratch a mark into the side of the bed­post or headboard to keep tally of his conquests.  Teachers give us scores on tests; musicians compose scores. Sometimes, the word refers to a degree of indebtedness (what you owe me), and I just might “even the score.”  Do you remem­ber that a “score” can refer to a group of 20—”Four score and seven years ago . . .”  How about a groove cut in wood for a rope, or a crease or perforation so you can fold or tear a piece of paper?  It can refer to the state or facts of the present situa­tion, or a suc­cessful robbery or drug deal.  And there’s more. By itself the word is pregnant with poten­tial meanings, but we don’t know the specific length, weight, health, even the sex of the child to be born.

Bottom line:  you have to have more context to know what’s really intended.

– Greg L. Fay (adapted)

There’s no doubt about it:  interpretation happens.  It happens when Bible versions are produced; it happens when commentators write and when preachers preach; and it happens when you and I read our Bibles.

I would say that the following items are part of well-founded interpretation:

  • Awareness of the “range of meaning” of a word
  • Ability to define that word through understanding of its literary context

(To be continued . . . )


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