Regular Dictionary Definitions
Copyright by Lois Gibson
In studying the Bible, it is an unwise practice to take a word and simply look up its meaning in a regular modern day dictionary. To get the true meaning, one must first determine the original Hebrew or Greek word employed. You can then derive a better understanding of the Scripture. To rely on the use of a modern dictionary in ones research could substantially change the true meaning of the text. To show my point, let's look at an example that has nothing to do with standard teachings. The two dictionaries used were not specifically chosen; they just happen to be in my book collection.
Ephesians 6:16, in describing part of the whole armor of God, mentions the "shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked." (KJV) According to The Living Webster Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language, the word 'shield' is defined as "A broad piece of defensive armor carried on the arm; a buckler (buckler: "a small, usually round shield, generally clasped by the hand only, but sometimes strapped to the arm;..." 1) used in war for the protection of the body; any defense or protection;..." 2 The Oxford American Dictionary defines it as "a piece of armor carried on the arm to protect the body against missiles or thrusts." 3
Prior to a study on this Scripture, I used to envision the Christian rapidly moving his shield, stopping the assault of the enemy. Of course he or she was victorious, but it appeared to be exhausting! Upon further examination, I studied the original Greek word, 'thureos,' which means "from 2374; a large shield (as door-shaped)." 4 Vine's says the word "formerly meant 'a stone for closing the entrance of a cave'; then, 'a shield,' large and oblong, protecting every part of the soldier;..." 5 What a difference in meaning as compared to today's dictionaries! It totally changed my concept of this verse. The Christian did not have to exhaustively and relentlessly move his shield wherever the enemy threw his darts; instead, God provided a large shield, which covered his body!
There are many such examples where one could have an erroneous view of Scripture by relying on regular dictionaries. I do not recommend that a dictionary be employed, but if it is, the original meaning of the word must first be studied through reliable biblical reference books such as those cited. Only after one has established an understanding of the original word should a regular dictionary be used, being careful to not rely on any modern meaning which could not have applied during biblical times.
Quoting from The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, in speaking on the Greek language, it states "There are very few terms which have simple 1:1 equivalents in English. Therefore, it is often necessary to treat the translation of one Greek term in totally different fashion in a number of different contexts. Since Greek is highly inflected the meanings of many words must be taken as related to the phrases in which they occur, so that no mere root meanings will everywhere suffice." 6 The Greek language is more complex than English. Another point to consider is the use of archaic words in the King James Version.
To base any theological teaching on the use of modern dictionaries is not sound reasoning. This should be quite evident. I do not recall ever seeing any other church doctrine being supported in like manner. At this point I would like to pose a question: If we are to accept this method of study in supporting the teaching concerning hair, then shouldn't it also be employed in the study of other issues? If one were to study baptism in this manner, putting the same emphasis on the use of a regular dictionary, would there not be enough "evidence" to show that there is more than one mode of baptism? I am certain that there would be much argument against this method from the same people who utilize it to support their belief on women's hair; and rightly so!
For those of you who have the book, look how different page 9 of Women's Hair: The Long and Short of It would appear with the modern day dictionary references removed: 7
Looking at what we've found, could it still be argued that shorn "need not mean 'to be closely cropped' or 'to be cut closely.' The wider use of the word is obviously 'to cut,' without specifying how much"? 8 I think not. Prior to this list, the author made a statement upon which much of his thesis rests: "While it may seem as if we are being too tedious on this point, it is necessary that we establish clearly the meaning of the word 'shorn' if our mind is going to be settled as to whether a woman should cut her hair to any degree." 9 Let us now look further into this word.
1 The Living Webster Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language (Chicago: The English Language Institute of America, 1977), 127.
2 Ibid , 889, 890.
3 Oxford American Dictionary (New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 1980), 626.
4 James Strong, S.T.D., LL.D., Strong's Concordance of The Bible (Nashville: Abingdon, 1980), 37 Greek dictionary.
5 Vine's Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, W.E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, William White, Jr. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1985), 571.
6 Merrill C. Tenney, General Editor, The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Volume 2, 1975 ed., s.v. "Greek Language," 833.
7 Daniel L. Segraves, Women's Hair: The Long and Short of It (Dupo: The Good Word, 1979), 9.
8 Ibid, 9
9 Ibid, 9
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August 23, 1997
Page added February 8, 1998
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