Back | Contents | Forward
Part IIThe Words
The Meaning of Words is to be Gathered from the Scope of the Passage; and not the Scope from the Words.
1. "Private Interpretation."A passage which furnishes a good illustration is 2 Peter 1:20: "No prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation."
These words, taken by themselves, would present no difficulty to a Roman Catholic, because they appear to agree with the tradition he has received. But they present a grave difficulty to a Protestant who has been taught, and who believes, that God's word is for all.
This word from Isaiah 1:2 sums up the ground of our belief; and this is why this text was printed by the Reformers on the title-page of the early editions of our English Bibles.
The question which here presents itself is: How is this apparent difficulty to be solved.
We are studying the "Words," and we desire to know what these two words "private," and "interpretation" mean.
Our first principle now comes in to help us: and it affirms that the meaning of these words must be gathered from the scope of the passage in which we find them. The application of our first Canon to this particular passage is intended only as an illustration of the way in which it may be used to elucidate other passages.
When we speak of the "Scope" we meanwhat it is all about; the one subject which is being treated of, or written about. This will always furnish a key to the meaning of the words employed.
This is not quite the same as "The Importance of the Context," which forms the subject of our third Great Principle or Canon, because the Context has to do with the interpretation and sense of a passage as distinct from the actual meaning of its separate words.
On examination of this particular passage (2 Peter 1:20) in which our words occur,we find that the verse forms part of a larger context the Scope or subject of which is not what Scripture means, but whence it came.
This is evident from the most cursory reading of the whole passage. There is not one word about the meaning, but a great deal about the origin of prophecy; not a word about its interpretation, but about its source.
That this is the scope is quite apparent from the mere surface of the passage; and it is borne out by the Structure, which is the subject of the second great principle we wish to lay down (see Canon II).
This is sufficient to put us on the right track to find out the meaning of the words "private" and "interpretation." And our business, therefore, is to see if they can have a meaning more in harmony with the general scope of the passage.
As to the word rendered "private" we find that it is idioV (idios) and that it occurs 114 times. Out of these 114 times we find that it is nearly always rendered one's own; "his own sheep," "his own servants," "his own house," "his own country," etc.; but not once is it rendered "private," except in this passage. This shows us that the rendering "private" is sufficiently abnormal to be suspected; and that it would be more consistent to render it one's own (or lit., of its own).
As to the word rendered "interpretation" we shall find that it occurs nowhere else; neither in the New Testament, nor in the Septuagint. It is epilusiV (epilusis). We have no guide to its meaning as we had with the word "private." As this noun occurs nowhere else we must go to the verb epiluw (epiluo), which is made up of the preposition epi (epi), upon, and luw (luo), to loosen. We find Xenophon using it of letting dogs loose upon the ground to chase a hare. Another Greek writer uses it of breaking open a letter bearing upon a certain subject. So that its usage is perfectly clear so far. In the New Testament this verb occurs only twice (Mark 4:34 and Acts 19:39). From Mark 4:34 it is evident that it will bear the AV rendering expound* but it will also bear a larger meaning. He spake publicly "with many such parables," but "when they were alone," He broke open the casket which hid His real meaning; He unfolded the treasures that were therein; He let them loose as it were and displayed them before the eyes of His disciples.
* Just as private will bear the meaning of one's own: inasmuch as what is one's own is private; and what is private is one's own.
In Acts 19:39 the Town Clerk said "If ye enquire anything concerning other matters, it shall be made known (or shown) in a lawful assembly."
Any of these meanings will do here in 2 Peter 1:20, 21, and it will be seen how they harmonise with the one matter which is the subject, or scope, of the whole passage.
"Getting to know, this, first:that not any prophecy of Scripture springs* from its own unfolding,
For, not by the will of man was prophecy at any time brought forth
But being borne along by holy spirit,** men spake from God."
* ginomai (ginomai), to begin, come into being, begin to be, become, arise, happen.
** pneuma agion (pneuma hagion), Divine power from on high.
Thus, the words are brought into harmony with the scope, or subject of the whole passage; and we see how they refer to the origin and source of the prophetic Word, and not to its meaning or interpretation.
2. "The Spirits in Prison."1 Peter 3:19 is another passage which has been wholly misinterpreted and misunderstood, because it has been taken, not only apart from the Context, but apart from the larger question, viz., the scope or subject of the whole chapter.
This verse does not stand alone. It is not an illuminated text we hang on a wall; but is made up of words which God has placed in immediate connection with other words, on which they depend for their right understanding.
The question we have to ask ourselves, as to the whole chapter, is this: What is it about? What is the great subject which is being treated of?
The smaller passage itself commences at verse 18 with the word "FOR." "For Christ Himself also suffered, the just for the unjust." Verse 19 is therefore part of a reason which is being given to explain or illustrate something which has been already said. It is not a new and independent subject which is being introduced.
We must ask therefore, What is this something which has been said, and has to be thus illustrated, and explained?
It requires only care and common sense to see, what the Translators themselves saw, when they put at the head of the chapter "exhorting all men to unity and love, and to suffer persecution." This is right so far as it goes, but it is not all. On reading the whole passage we do indeed see that it is an exhortation to suffer persecution, and especially if the suffering and the persecution be for "well-doing." "It is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing than for evil doing." This is the scope. This is what it is all about. This is verse 17; and then, verse 18 goes on to give us the reason why it is "better"; "For." What follows, must be interpreted by the sense of this scope. It is to show us why it is BETTER to "suffer for well-doing."
Now, verse 19 about "the spirits in prison" is usually taken by itself apart from the scope as referring to people who have died, and as teaching that after death they have "a second chance."
But our simple question is, In what way would this be a reason for, or proof of the fact that it is "better to suffer for well doing than for evil doing"?
If these were dead men, they must have been evil doers, or there would be no reason for their needing this "second chance." It would, therefore, be an excuse for evil doing, seeing that they have this hope to lean upon.
We can see at once, that this common interpretation must be wrong, as it is inconsequent and illogical. It has no connection with or relation to what has gone before; and takes no account of the word "For" which introduces this statement.
We have, therefore, still to look for a reason, why "it is better to suffer for well doing, than for evil doing."
The reason given is that Christ suffered for well-doing. All he did was "just." He "suffered for the unjust," to bring us to God. That was "better." But "He was put to death in the flesh." What then? Where does the "better" come in? What happened after that? Ah! He had a glorious resurrection. He was "made a quickening spirit" (1 Cor 15:45). "He was put to death indeed as to the flesh." He was "quickened" (or made alive again) as to spirit.*
* All the Critical Greek Texts omit the article here.
What does made alive mean? What can it mean but resurrection? How can anyone who has died be made alive again except by being raised from the dead?*
* As in Revelation 20:5, where the rest of the dead lived again, only in resurrection after the thousand years.
It is the very expression used in 1 Corinthians 15:45. "It is sown a natural (Greek, psychical or soulical) body; it is raised a spiritual body." And so also it standeth written, the first man Adam "became, or, came to be, a living soul";* "the last Adam was made to be a quickening spirit." How? The verses that follow go on to explain that this was in resurrection.
* The Greek has the Preposition eiV (eis) in both clauses. Its use in this connection is Hebrew idion, and expresses the object in view. Man was made for, or as, or with a view to his being a living soul. See Acts 13:22, "he raised up unto them David to be their king," i.e., as their king. So Acts 7:21, "for her son"; Acts 13:47, "to be a light," i.e., as, or for, a light; 19:27, "to be despised"; Greek, to be "reckoned for naught." Compare Romans 2:26, for circumcision; 9:8, for the seed.
But here, in 1 Peter 3 there is more than resurrection. It was that which made it "better" for Christ to have suffered for well-doing. He had a glorious triumph as well. He went in His resurrection body (en w, en ho, by, or, in which) and made proclamation* of it to "the in-prison-spirits."
* The word is khrussw (kerusso), to herald, i.e., to proclaim as a khrux (kerux), a herald, not euaggelizw (euangelizo), to preach the Gospel.
What and who can these be? To answer this question we have to go a little further afield. But not far. The same Peter tells us over leaf, in 2 Peter 2:4, of the angels that sinned in the days of Noah, and who are now cast down to Tartarus and there "delivered into chains of darkness to be reserved unto judgment." And when we read further in Jude 6 (a remoter context) of the same historical factthe sinning and imprisonment of these angels; and when we remember that angels are spirits, and are so called in Hebrews 1:7 and 14, then we are at no loss to understand that the triumph of Christ was so great that, in His resurrection body, He went and made proclamation of it; and it reached to the limits of creation; even the angels now in prison for their sin.
Any one can see that verses 20 and 21 are a parenthetical clause, and that the Relative "which" at the beginning of verse 20 introduces a digression about these angels, in order to tell us what their sin was (viz., "disobedience"), and when their sin was* (viz., "in the days of Noah"). And having come round to "the resurrection of Jesus Christ" (at the end of the digression), to the point where we started in verse 18, we are led on now to the end of the Triumph, beyond resurrection; ever to ascension and exaltation and glory, "angels and authorities and powers having been made subject unto Him" (v 22).
* Not when this proclamation of Christ was.
Here was triumph indeed. Here we see the reason of the "For" in verse 18. Yes! It is indeed "better to suffer for well-doing than for evil-doing." It was "better" for Christ, the just; and, it will be better for us. We also shall have a resurrection. If we are judged (according to the will of men) and put to death in the flesh, it is only that we might live again in resurrection (according to the will of God) in our spiritual bodies, as Christ did. This is the argument in 1 Peter 4:6. It is in view of this blessed hope that the Gospel was preached to them that are now dead. This is why it is preached to us; to show us why it is "better to suffer for well-doing."
If we ask, why these "in-prison spirits" should have this proclamation made to them, we have only to follow up the clue already given in the nearer and remoter contexts.
They took part in the gigantic plot to corrupt and destroy the whole human race. The nature of their sin is clear from Jude 6. The time of it is also given in 2 Peter 2:4, 5, and here, in 1 Peter 3:20. The object of it we have in Genesis 6. The great promise and prophecy had gone forth in Genesis 3:15, that "the seed of the woman" should come into the world, and should finally crush the head of the Old Serpent.
Satan's object therefore was to frustrate this counsel of God.
Having as yet no clue as to the line by which "the seed of the woman" should come into the world, his first effort was to corrupt and destroy the whole human race. This he carried out as described in Genesis 6 and Jude 6. "The sons of God" were angels; "the angels who sinned." All beings who are the direct creation of God are called his "sons." Adam was "a son of God" (Gen 5:1; Luke 3:38). We are not. By nature we are sons of Adam begotten in his likeness (Gen 5:3). The New nature in us makes us "sons of God," because that is God's own new-creation work (Eph 2:10; 2 Cor 5:17; Rom 8:14-17). For the same reason also, angels are called "sons of God," because they are the direct creation of God. In the Old Testament the expression always has this meaning. Before Adam was created "the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy" (Job 38:7). An angel was sent to the lions' den to shut the lions' mouths (Dan 6:22), as another was sent to the fiery furnace to deliver Jehovah's servants; this angel is called "a son of God" (for there is no article).
They cannot (in Gen 6) be the seed of Seth, as is generally taught, because they are contrasted with "the daughters of MEN"; which shows they must be of a different nature.
We know from Genesis 6 how nearly that great plot succeeded; how the whole earth was corrupted* (Gen 6:11,12).
* txa#af (shachath), to ruin, lay in ruins, to make good for nothing. Hence txi#a (shackath), a sepulchre, corruption.
All, except Noah's family, were tainted with this uncanny and unholy breed called "Nephilim." Noah was tamim, i.e., "without blemish," as the word for "perfect" here is generally rendered elsewhere. All had to be destroyed by the Flood; but the angels who sinned are "reserved," in "chains" and "in prison" (1 Peter 3:19; 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6), for their judgment at a yet future day.
The aim of Satan was to corrupt, and so secure the destruction of the whole human race. And his plot would have succeeded but for the direct interposition of Divine judgment.
"The seed of the woman" ultimately came into the world. The Word of God was fulfilled; and now, though His heel had been bruised, and He suffered and died, yet God raised Him from the dead, the token that Satan's head shall in due time be crushed.
This glorious triumph had to be heralded forth. Those who had taken part in that awful plot had to learn that the designs of Satan, their lord and master, had failed. This was the reason why Christ, having risen from the dead, went and proclaimed His glorious triumph.
This is why it is "better to suffer for well-doing than for evil-doing. FOR Christ also suffered" [for well doing], "the just for the unjust." And, it was "better" for Him; for He has triumphed gloriously: and it is "better" for us also; for we are thereby saved eternally.
Not merely saved through* the judgment (as the digression shows); not saved by means of material water; but by the "suffering" of that perfect sacrifice, which has made the comers thereunto "perfect as pertaining to the conscience" (Heb 9:9, 10:1), and given them "the answer of a good conscience toward God" (1 Peter 3:21).
* This is the force of diaswzw (diasozo). See its only occurrences: Matthew 14:36; Luke 7:3; Acts 23:24, 27:43,44, 28:1,4; and here 1 Peter 3:20.
Thus we see how the scope (or one great subject) of the whole passage determines for us the sense in which we are to understand the words which are employed in it; and we see also how this is the only sense which gives cogency and consistency to the whole argument.
Moreover the scope of this passage is in harmony with the scope of the whole Epistle.# We see and are shown throughout how it is "better to suffer for well doing than for evil doing."
* See the Structure, under Canon II, pages 216-219.
In 1:7 the trial of our faith is to be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.
In 1:11 the subject of prophecy was that Christ's sufferings were to be followed by glory.
In 1:13 we are, in our trials, to "hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto us at the revelation of Jesus Christ."
In 1:19-21, when Christ's sufferings were over, and the "precious blood" was shed, God "raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory."
In 2:20 they are asked, "What glory is it if when ye be buffeted for your faults ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God."
In 2:21-24 Christ's example is given to prove this. He suffered for well-doing, and when he died he committed His spirit* unto Him who judgeth righteously (2:23; comp. Luke 23:46). And all this was done in order that we, having died to sins, might live again** unto righteousness, in newness of life here, and of resurrection life which the righteous Judge shall give us in that day (2 Tim 4:8).
* "himself" is in italics both in AV and RV. RV margin suggests "his cause"; but Luke 23:46 shows us what it was He committed to the Fatheras connected with the glorious resurrectionwhich was His reward in consequence.
** zaw (zao), to live, especially in resurrection life, real or typical. John 5:25, 11:25; Rev 1:18, 20:4.
In 4:6, though they might be judged indeed according to the will of men, in the flesh; they might live again in resurrection life according to the will of God, in their spiritual bodies.
In 4:13 they are to rejoice that inasmuch as they were partakers of Christ's sufferings, they would be glad also with exceeding joy when Christ's glory should be revealed.
In 4:19 if they suffered, and this suffering was according to the will of God, they were to commit themselves (in well-doing) to God as to a faithful creator, who was thus able to re-create them in resurrection.
In 5:1 Peter himself was a witness of this great truth, for he had been a witness of Christ's sufferings, and would be a partaker of His glory also when it shall be revealed.
Finally, in 5:10, they are reminded that though they may "suffer awhile," yet, the God of all grace has called them unto eternal glory.
There can be no question, therefore, as to what is the scope of the Epistle as a whole; neither can there be any doubt as to the scope of the particular passage (3:18-22), where the resurrection, ascension, and glorification of Christ after His sufferings, proved that it was "better to suffer for well-doing than for evil-dong." A triumph it was. And, a triumph so great, that He went and proclaimed it to the in-prison spirits in Tartarus to show them that all this triumph was in spite of the Satanic plot referred to and recorded in Genesis 6 and in which they had so great a share, so great a guilt, and so great a condemnation. This is the triumph of Colossians 2:14, 15.
3. Testament and Covenant.Hebrews 9:15-23 affords* another example, showing how the scope of a passage will furnish us with the meaning of the word diaqhkh (diatheke), covenant.
* See Canon II, pp. 220-223, our reason for giving these verses as the context or scope.
In the AV it is consistently, but, as we shall see, wrongly rendered by our word "testament." The RV is certainly inconsistent, for in verse 15 it twice renders it "covenant," and in verses 16 and 17 it twice renders it "testament"; while in verses 18 and 20 it twice again has the word "covenant" (one of the two being put in italics; as the word "testament" is similarly supplied in italics).
All this confusion speaks loudly to us, and tells us that there is something, here, that needs explanation. The note also given by the Revisers tells us that they were perfectly aware of their inconsistency: for against each of the occurrences of the word in question they say in the margin:
"The Greek word here used signifies both covenant and testament."
This statement may be true of Greek classical authors, but this passage is in God's Word.* Greek writers knew nothing of God's covenants with Noah and Abraham, and Israel and David. Here, it is entirely a question of what is the subject or scope of the passage. What is it all about? This is the question we have to ask. And if we look at the whole passage from verse 15 to verse 23, we see at once that the one great subject is a contrast between the NEW Covenant (v 15), and the OLD Covenant (vv 19-22).
* diaqhkh (diatheke) occurs 280 times in the Septuagint, and is used always of a covenant. This must be its meaning throughout the NT. The late Dr. Hatch, in his Essays in Biblical Greek (Oxford Press, 1889), says, "The attempt to give it in certain passages its classical meaning of 'testament' is not only at variance with its use in Hellenistic Greek, but is probably also the survival of a mistake: in ignorance of the philology of later and vulgar Latin, it was formerly supposed that 'testamentum,' by which the word is rendered in the early Latin versions as well as in the Vulgate, meant 'testament' or 'will'; whereas, in fact, it meant also, if not exclusively, 'covenant.'"
This should settle the question for us, once for all. We have no right within the compass of a few verses to change the subject of our own arbitrary will. It is a serious matter so to do, and it leads to grave consequences. Here, it quite changes the scope, and affects the translation of the whole passage.
(1) In verse 17 epi nekroiV (epi nekrois) is rendered in the AV "after men are dead," and in the RV "where there hath been a death." But the Revisers' note against this, in the margin, is "Greek over the dead." This shows that, having changed the subject they are forced to do violence to the translation, and to abandon the plain meaning of the Greek. The marginal note is a confession of this.
(2) In other ways both Versions are compelled to adapt their translation of the words to suit the new subject which they have introduced.
o diaqemenoV (ho diathemenos) means the appointed; and here, the appointed sacrifice, by which all covenants must be made. It is masculine in Gender in order to agree not with the Greek work qusia (thusia), sacrifice, but with the Hebrew thought (xbazaf (zavach), sacrifice, which is masculine).
The word diathemenos is the participle of diatiqhmi (diatithemi), to appoint (see Luke 22:29; Acts 3:25; Heb 8:10 and 10:16; the only places where the verb occurs); and it is specially used of making a covenant (Heb 8:10 and 10:16).
We have said enough to enable us now to give the words their true meaning and force according to the scope; and we are not compelled to adapt them to a different subject.
The scope of Hebrews 9:15-23 is the same as that of Exodus 24:5-8, which describes the old covenant-making.
"For where a covenant [is made, the] death of the appointed [sacrifice] is necessary to be brought in: for, a covenant [is] confirmed [only] over dead [victims or sacrifices]; since it hath no force while the appointed [sacrifice] is living."
The change of the scope in the AV and RV necessitates the bringing in of the word "men"about which there is not even a hint in the Greek. All is about covenants and sacrifices.
This will be seen when we look at this passage again, where we shall see its scope made more clear by its structure. (See pp. 220-223.)
We see sufficient here to illustrate our first Canon: that the scope of the passage must determine the meaning of the several words employed in it.
4. Another example of a different character is found in Genesis 24:63: "And Isaac went out to meditate in the field at the eventide."
This is a case in which the context must give us the meaning of the word xaw@#& (suach), which is rendered "meditate," "or, to pray," in the margin.
That translators are perplexed is clear. The RV has "meditate," the Syriac has "to take a walk." Gesenius suggests to go to and fro in the field (to muster the flocks)! We get the rendering "meditate" from the Vulgate's "ad meditandum."
But even granting that the word "meditate" would serve, is there any thing to show us what sort of a meditation it was likely to be?
It is clear that chapter 24, long as it is, is only a digression introduced in order to give us the mission of Eliezer, to seek a wife for Isaac.
The last event, immediately before that mission was the burial of Sarah, Isaac's mother (Gen 23:19).
The next thing we read of Isaac is his going forth in the field to meditate. This is followed immediately by his reception of Rebekah: "And Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah's tent, and took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her: and Isaac was comforted after his mother's death" (24:67).
Is there nothing in this context to show us what is the meaning of the word rendered "meditate"?
Yes, it sends us again to the Lexicon and to the Concordance. There we find that usage connects it with being bowed down. Psalm 44:25 (26), "Our soul is bowed down to the dust." Lamentations 3:20, "my soul...is humbled in me" (margin "Hebrew bowed").*
* Compare also Psalm 6:6, "I am bowed down with my groaning"; 1 Samuel 1:15, a sorrowful spirit; Proverbs 23:29, "Who hath melancholy" (not "babbling"!); RV has "complaining."
Why was Isaac "comforted after his mother's death"? Comfort is for those who mourn. Isaac was therefore still mourning the death of his mother; and he went out into the field to be alone, and to give vent to his grief.
He did not go out either to pray or to think out some problem; but to seek in solitude comfort and relief.
5. "The Lord's Day."Revelation 1:10Here, the whole scope of the passage in which we find these words is concerning judgment. The nine verses which precede lead up to it, and the whole subsequent subject of the book has to do with the coming of the Lord in judgment.
This can have no more to do with a day of the week than with a day of the month; but it does have to do with "the Day of the Lord."
That this meaning of the expression is not only in agreement with the scope of the book, but with all the known facts of the case, can be tested and proved (see pages 158, 159).
Back | Contents | Forward