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Q33 : Single Meaning

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Q33 : Single Meaning

Thanks for the well structured and delivered Biblical Interpretation coursea.

With a background in linguistics and grammaticalization in particular, I have some questions about the rule from the first session that a term in a context can have only one interpretation. I also endorse the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture so I need to know how that rule is required. Can you give me some references for that idea?

To say that God gave us language does not entail the claim that forms in a language do not change and develop their meanings does it?

My preliminary formulation of my problem follows.

The term 'will' in English has developed over time a series of senses that are related but distinct. For instance, the current sense of future as in 'It will rain tomorrow' develops as a sense that develops from the sense in John will come tomorrow' which develops from a sense, many centuries old, of 'I will do it' which comes from an even earlier sense as in 'I will to do it'. The volitional flavor is an element of the senses up to the present quite purely future sense as in 'It will rain tomorrow'. (See the Oxford Unabridged for historical data.) To say that the sense of will in 'Jane will come tomorrow' is the same as the sense of will in 'John will come tomorrow' does not preclude a carry over from the historical volitional flavor in one or the other uses. In fact, it may be invited in one but not be intended or warranted in another; for instance in 'John will come tomorrow if he possibly can' versus 'John will come tomorrow even if he doesn't want to'.

In a way that is saying, I think, that 'will' can have two senses that may not be clearly distinguished by context alone, one with the volitional flavor and one without. Many if not all terms in languages develop, I think in a similar way with the sense of a form at a particular time in history including possible flavors from earlier uses of the term that may or may not be intended by the author. This is not very clearly formulated here but may be enough to communicate my problem.

I have read the Bible since my conversion more than twenty years ago but am wanting to study more intelligently.


A33 : by Steve Lewis

Regarding the idea that a word can have only a single intended meaning in a specific context, I would refer you to some sound hermeneutics texts.

Michelsen's text has very good chapters on context and language, as well as a chapter worth considering on the errors in hermeneutics throughout church history. As he readily admits, there are cases in the biblical text when the interpreter receives absolutely no help from the context. But even in these cases, and as a general principle, the biblical author had a specific word meaning in mind when he used a particular word in a specific place in one of his sentences. This is the position I have taken in the introductory Bible Interpretation materials that you have seen.

I certainly acknowledge your point that words tend to develop over the course of time. And I also acknowledge that (at a deeper than "introductory" level) it is part of normal communication for authors to use "double entendre" and other figures of speech that make interpreting certain texts a little more challenging. In this regard, Roy Zuck's Basic Bible Interpretationc has a good overview of the different approaches to "double meanings" in Scripture. I tend to agree with a statement like this one from the Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneuticsd:

We affirm that the meaning expressed in each biblical text is single, definite, and fixed....What a passage means is fixed by the author and is not subject to change by readers.

I hope this information will be helpful to you, but I am certain that the Lord Jesus Christ by His indwelling Holy Spirit will continue to give each of us increased understanding as we submit ourselves to His teaching ministry in our lives.


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