by Barry Newton
This past week week I encountered it again. We have all heard it. I have lost track of the times I have seen it in print.
If we’ll be honest perhaps we may have even said it ourselves while discussing the Bible. “According to Webster, this word means …”
No longer is it just Webster’s authority to which people appeal. This past week during a discussion on what the Bible teaches about faith and works, someone pointed me to Encarta, an online dictionary, as providing reliable definitions.
Good dictionaries or encyclopedias will accurately describe all of the ways an English word is used today. But our English dictionaries can fail miserably to inform us about the message in our English Bibles.
Translators select English words to accurately convey an idea from the original languages of the Bible into English. Unfortunately, many times our English words carry additional meanings foreign to what the biblical word meant. It is these additional English meanings which can create havoc.
Several popular arguments utilize a type of shell game in order to claim as biblical, messages foreign to the text in the original language.
What do you find when you look up the word baptize in a dictionary? A good one will describe various modes of applying water such as sprinkling and immersion, as well as several other ideas. If people today were to use baptize to signify eating a hamburger, that too would be listed.
To use an English dictionary as the basis of arguing that the Bible promotes sprinkling water as a form of baptism would be irresponsible.
Others still argue that Acts 2:38 teaches people should be baptized *because* their sins have already been forgiven. It is true that in English we say, he is wanted for murder to indicate someone is sought *because* he is accused of having already committed murder.
However, the Greek word *eis* which is accurately translated as *for* in our Bibles to indicate purpose, never means *because*. Thus Acts 2:38 can not mean that we are baptized because our sins have been forgiven. It teaches us to be baptized that we might be forgiven.
Sometimes this shell game regarding *for* has been taken to a new level by pointing to “Christ died for our sins.” (1 Corinthians 15:3) Although English translations might use *for* in both this verse as well as Acts 2:38, they are completely different words in the Greek. Therefore a person can not legitimately argue on the basis of 1 Corinthians 15:3 what is meant in Acts 2:38.
If we want to understand what a Biblical word means, we need to consult a Hebrew or Greek Lexicon, or a good Bible dictionary or encyclopedia. We do not need to be looking at Webster’s.