Sunday, December 16, 2007

I don't think that word means what you think it means

One of the temptations of life is to understand the world from our own history. The problem with this is that each of us discovers major aspects of life in a different order, and has different groundings of meaning. In its own way, this semantic journey would ultimately mean we can't talk to each other, because words would be idiosyncratic, rather than having a common meaning. I've heard people talking about the rise of cable television as removing the common experience base from the current generation that was available to my generation (and those older). With only a few broadcast TV channels, most people saw the same shows, and thus could talk around the water cooler at work about a shared experience of a limited number of shows. Now, with the multiplicity of channels, internet sites, and books, it is harder to find someone with the same background to communicate with. Of course, the counter argument is that birds of a feather flock together, which means we will find common ground using either the internet, to find someone on the same sites we read, even if they live across the country from us, or we will tell each other better stories about our individual experience to make a common history to share.

One thing the Bible historically has done, is bring a regularity of spelling that didn't exist before. When the printing press provided duplicate copies of scripture to multiple parts of the country, it allowed people who taught themselves about God from the same resource. This was an immeasurable contribution to society and literature. It also meant that there was a regularity of spelling that didn't exist previously. In the same way, a shared translation of the Bible, (the King James Version of 1611) meant that words like "love", "grace", "redemption", "faith", "mercy", "imputation", "atonement" all were based on the same semantic base of core words.

One word that I have found has a different meaning when defined based on scripture than I thought it meant is the word "obey" or "obedience". In Greek, there are two words for obey used far more commonly than any others, in Hebrew there is one word used over forty times more commonly than any others. The two meanings in their repective languages, are tied together, hence my understanding/explication will be based on these words.

The first Greek word is "hupakoe" which is roughly translated "below+listening" is from the second meaning, which is from the act of someone who listens at a door, to open it when a visitor comes. This has been expanding to include the ideas of someone who lowers themselves to compliance and submission to the teachings of another person, and by structure, to the teachings of scripture.

The second "hupakouo" is the aforementioned constructed meaning, and is close in meaning to the Hebrew word "shama" ( translated as hear 785, hearken 196, obey 81, publish 17, understand 9, obedient 8, diligently 8, shew 6, sound 3, declare 3, discern 2, noise 2, perceive 2, tell 2, reported 2, with a finaly miscellaneous meaning 33)

I usually translate "shama" as hearken as it has the idea (of hearing and and "ken" == understanding). As pastor Richard Baker pointed out, once you hear and understand, the only proper action is to do the action associated with hearing and understanding the truth. This kind of "obedience" is a significant difference from many people's definition of obedience as being a form of blind submission to someone else, allowing the leader to do all the thinking and with the follower to merely be hands which act on the will of another.

This kind of obedience is stronger, and has more impact on our lives, because it requires us to take an active role in hearing with understanding, depending on the Spirit of God to lead us to Truth, rather than fallible second-hand interpretations.

In conclusion, rather than understanding scripture and life from our sometimes limited experiences, we have a richer understanding when we go back to the original writings and learn to "obey" (hearken) to the word of God as it was actually written.