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Deeper Into the WordNew Testament: Reflections on 100 Words from the New Testament
By Keri Wyatt Kent
Bethany House PublishersCopyright © 2011 Keri Wyatt Kent
All right reserved.
IntroductionThe Bible is God's Word, but it's also full of words. Unfortunately, most of us do not read the Bible in its original languages. The New Testament was written in Greek, but many of the people whose stories fill its pages spoke Aramaic or Hebrew. As anyone who has read The Little Prince or The Brothers Karamazov knows, things can get lost in translation. Therefore, it is helpful to look at the original languages, as well as the historical and cultural context of those words, to give us insight into the intended meaning of the text.
When trying to understand the New Testament, we must remember that Jesus and his first followers were Jewish. Jesus was the Son of God, but he put on flesh as a Jewish rabbi in first-century Palestine. We must remember that context, and examine the text through that cultural lens.
For example, just before his trial and death, Jesus told his disciples: "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going" (John 14:3-4). Of course, Thomas the doubter replies: "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?" (v. 5). Jesus answers with those famous words: "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (v. 6).
These are verses I memorized as an obedient evangelical child because they explain that Jesus is the only way to heaven—the place he was going to prepare for us. We were told that we could use his words to refute moral relativism: If all roads led to God, then Jesus would have said, "I am a way," or "I'm one of the ways." If I told my unbelieving friends this verse, they would immediately fall to their knees in repentance and ask me what they must do to be saved, and I would tell them: Be born again (John 3:16). Or so my Sunday school teachers told me.
It didn't always work out like that, despite my good intentions. Just because something is true doesn't mean it will be immediately convincing to skeptics. I do think Jesus is the way; I'm not arguing that point. But I never learned the cultural and religious context of that verse, or what it would have meant to the people who heard it at that time. To the Jews who became his disciples, who gathered to hear his teaching or stood at a distance wondering who he was, this statement had radical implications. But he wasn't refuting moral relativism. He was fulfilling prophesy. Understanding the cultural context might actually make Christianity more interesting to skeptics, I think.
Jesus was a Jewish rabbi. The Jewish culture of which Jesus was a part absolutely revered the Torah, God's law. They learned it, memorized it, debated it, and discussed it—not because they had to, but because they loved it. Here are some of the passages they would have thought of immediately when they heard Jesus' words.
Look at Exodus 18:20: "Teach them the decrees and laws, and show them the way to live and the duties they are to perform" (emphasis mine). God's decrees and instructions referred to in this verse were from the Torah. It showed the Israelites the way to live. They often referred to Torah as "the Way." Psalm 119:142 says, "Thy righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and thy law is the truth" (kjv). This verse is talking about God's law, the Torah. The Truth.
In Deuteronomy 32:46-47, Moses tells the people (after reading the Torah to them), "Command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law. They are not just idle words for you—they are your life." The Torah is Life.
So when Jesus claimed to be the way, the truth, and the life, his Jewish audience would have understood that he was claiming to not just have a word from God; he was claiming to be the embodiment of God's Word. He was Torah. He was the Way. It was a radical statement, and people either embraced him as the Messiah or rejected him as a heretic.
This book is a tool to help you better understand both the words and their context so that you can engage in the spiritual discipline of the study of God's Word. As such, it is meant to be used with the Bible rather than on its own. Think of it as a shovel to help you dig deeper, or a light to help you see better.
There are several ways this book can help you connect with Scripture. First, it can be used as a reference volume, to look up words you come across in your own reading. For example, as you engage in daily Scripture reading, you may want to dig deeper. Cultivate the habit of reading slowly. As you read, notice which words in the text stand out to you or give you pause. Rather than trying to get through a chapter or section, read a shorter portion through a few times. When a specific word strikes you or puzzles you, use this book as a reference tool to look up words you've encountered in your daily reading.
Second, this book can be used as a study guide to launch your own study of specific words. If there's a word in your daily reading that is not listed in Deeper into the Word, you can use it in another way: as a tutorial for how to do what has been traditionally called a "word study." By reading a few chapters, you can learn this technique and try it on your own. In a word study, you take one word—say the word love—and by using a concordance, either printed or online, find other verses where love occurs. The other verses will provide insights into the word. You can use commentaries to see what scholars say about it. You can look up the words in various Bible dictionaries or even a lexicon—which gives you the Greek or Hebrew translation of the English words (there are several available online—see the appendix for suggestions).
Third, you could read this book one chapter at a time, devotionally. Don't rush—you may want to spend several days reflecting on a chapter. Look up the verses mentioned in the chapter and read their context. Or use a concordance to find other verses that use that word. Pray and journal about how God might be asking you to live out his words. You can also use this book with others—a prayer partner or a group.
However you choose to use this book, my prayer is that it will help you to more fully understand and love the Rabbi whose story unfolds in its pages.
What keeps you from trusting God? Perhaps you would answer that you don't have enough faith. Or put another way, you have too much fear. The word afraid appears thirty-five times in the New Testament; the related word fear appears eighty-three times. Throughout the Bible, both words are often connected with the phrase "Do not," as in "Do not be afraid," or "Fear not." It's the most-oft repeated commandment in the Bible.
Of all the commands of God, "Do not be afraid" is one of the most reassuring, yet one of the hardest to obey. And it often comes, in the biblical narrative, when God shows up and asks us to take a risk—to trust even when things look very bad, or don't seem to make sense. When the angel comes to Mary to tell her how her life will turn upside down, he begins, "Do not be afraid" (Luke 1:30). When Jairus the synagogue ruler comes pleading for Jesus to save his daughter, and she dies before Jesus can get there, Jesus looks him in the eye and says, "Don't be afraid; just believe" (Luke 8:50).
Most often the word translated "afraid" is phobeo. Phobeo's root word, phobos, is often translated "fear." Phobeo can mean to be scared, but it can also be used to mean reverent awe, as in, "The fear of the Lord." While the latter is more common in the Old Testament, phobeo is used most frequently in the New Testament in the negative sense of being fearful or afraid.
Other Greek words for afraid, used less frequently than phobeo, include emphobos, which means alarmed or trembled, as in Luke 24:5 or Acts 24:25; deilia or its derivative deiliao, which denotes timidity or cowardice (as in 2 Tim. 1:7 or John 14:27); and ekphobos, which essentially means being frightened out of your wits, and is used just once in the New Testament, in Matthew 9:6, to describe the disciples' response to the Transfiguration.
Fear does not come from God. "For God did not give us a spirit of timidity (deiliao), but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline" (2 Tim. 1:7).
As 1 John 4:18 says, "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love" (esv). The antidote to fear is love. And how do we access that love, or be "perfected in love"? Well, this verse says fear has to do with punishment. So love, on the other hand, has to do with grace. When we let go of fear, we can trust God's grace, which makes us perfect in God's eyes.
However, the goal is not just to get rid of fear, but to replace it with love, as C. S. Lewis notes,
Perfect love, we know, casteth out fear. But so do several other things—ignorance, alcohol, passion, presumption, and stupidity. It is very desirable that we should all advance to that perfection of love in which we shall fear no longer; but it is very undesirable, until we have reached that stage, that we should allow any inferior agent to cast out our fear.
Ironically, what we'd label the "scariest" kind of love to give—self-sacrificing, generous agape—is the kind of love that will cast out fear. Agape casts out phobeo every time. That's why the Bible says we can approach the throne of grace with confidence rather than fear (Heb. 4:16).
There's this tension within the text: We're told to fear God, yet not be afraid. The Greek uses phobeo to mean both reverential fear or respect, and simply feeling alarmed or frightened. To "fear God" means to respect, but that's something we give to our peers, our boss, or even, on a good day, those who serve us—the busboy or the dry cleaner. Fear of the Lord is so much more—it is deep reverence and awe.
Fear of God means having a right-sized view of ourselves and God. Paul said, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Phil. 4:13 nkjv). He was not afraid because he was focused on Christ rather than life's challenges. When we fear God, we don't have to fear anything else.
Excerpted from Deeper Into the Word by Keri Wyatt Kent Copyright © 2011 by Keri Wyatt Kent. Excerpted by permission of Bethany House Publishers. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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