Often times we will hear people say in an argument that, ‘it’s just semantics.’ In other words, we think that arguing over the meaning of words is really no big deal. However, in Biblical studies it is a very big deal. It is vital that we understand the meaning of the Biblical languages and not just the sounds and structures. It is one thing to understand the Bible as it is written word for word, it is another thing to fully grasp its meaning. The study of meaning is what is referred to as ‘semantics.’
We know from English that one word can have various meanings. The same should be considered when looking at the Biblical languages. There are several terms to remember here. One such term is, denote. Every word refers to something in the real world or in an imaginary world. One such example in English is the word ‘assassin.’ When you think of this word, you do not think of just a killer, but a certain type of killer. When you think of someone being ‘assassinated’ you automatically assume that the person was of some importance such as a political leader. Just like English, Hebrew and Greek words should also be considered for what that denote. Another term is; connotation. This shows how words have a particular value or attitude. For example, the terms slender and skinny have certain connotation. ‘Slender’ can be a positive thing, whereas, ‘skinny’ can be more negative. Hebrew and Greek words also carry certain connotations, therefore, that must be considered interpreting scripture.
Not only in chapter six do we see these various terms to consider, but we also the question being raised as to how a word can have more than one meaning. Words that can have one or more meaning is called polysemous. Word like ‘head’ and ‘run’ are polysemous. One example given is the Hebrew word, nepes. This word primarily means ‘breath.’ However, the KJV translators, for example, translated this word with many of its secondary meanings based on its context. These words include: life, souls, persons, mind, soul, appetite, hearty, and heart. Imagine the difficulty in translating the Bible when one word can carry so many different meanings. This is not to say that the Bible has multiple interpretations. This is just to point out the need for careful study of the context of the scriptures so as to not misinterpret the text.
Chapter six also covers more material such as how words are related, figurative language, metaphors, idioms, etc. It is important to note that the scriptures contain all such word types. Therefore, once again, great care must be made before coming to a final conclusion of interpretation.