Principle #4: The Phraseology Principle for Interpreting the Bible
Words are very important. Think about “red” verses “crimson.” Which one grabs your attention? Under God’s guidance, our biblical writers struggled with words, sentences, and styles of literature as they wrote. Understanding the use of these will help you interpret the Bible in accurate ways.
The Phraseology Principle, or the linguistics principle, helps us consider words and how they are used in sentences and in styles of literature. Since most of us cannot read the Bible in Greek or Hebrew, we can see how important it is to use a good translation. Many Greek and Hebrew words may be translated in various ways. Most translations of the Bible will have an introduction section which will help you see why the translators made grammatical decisions as they prepared that Bible translation.
As we study the words of a passage, we first ask what kind of literature is this passage. Our Bible contains several literary forms:
- Wisdom literature
- Apocalyptic literature
- Biographical literature
As we read and study the Bible, we need to remember the literary form. Each has its unique traits. Gospels are theological biographies of Jesus. Poetry uses word pictures. Law states God’s commandments. Mixing these up may result in trouble interpreting the passage.
We must also be familiar with our language. We need to be familiar with the eight parts of speech in English so we can understand the translation we are using:
Here is a site to help you review those old English lessons from school.
Let’s look at an example. Read Matthew 28:19-20. Here is a familiar verse. The literary form is a gospel. What is the main verb? The main verb is translated as “make disciples.” When we understand the main verb we can see the main message of this passage. Jesus’ command is “Make disciples.” “Go,” “baptizing,” and “teaching” help us see how to make disciples.
Words have power. This is never truer than when we study the Word of God.
Reflection: Look at John 1:1. Practice the Phraseology Principle by identifying the part of speech that fits each word.
Learn More: Look at your favorite Bible. If it is a modern translation, it will likely have an introduction by the editors and translators. Read it to see the unique approaches used in your translation.