Lesson 5

Our Words Reflect Our Personal Experiences

BHC's Thirteenth Bible Study Guideline
We tend to use words that apply to our daily lives, 
especially words connected with our work.

Work consumes a great deal of our time and the words we use at work tend to show up in other areas of our lives also. This is reflected in the word choices made by the ancient authors of the words found in the Bible too.  A very good example is found in the Gospel of Luke. This is a case in which readers of most English translations cannot see because the translators didn't fully explain the meaning of one of Luke's words.  All three Synoptic Gospels record this account, which seem to be identical.

Matthew 19:24
And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle,
than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.

Mark 10:25
It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle,
than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.

Luke 18:25
For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle,
than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.

Dr. Luke's Needle

In each of the above verses we see the word "needle." It appears to be exactly the same word in each verse - 
+ e + e + d + l + e.  However, if we had been reading the Greek text, from which the above translations were made, we would have seen two different words that were translated as needle. Matthew and Mark used the word RHAPHIDOS, but Luke used the word BELONES. Why would Luke use a completely different word?

Why would Luke use a completely different word for such a common item?  If you look up the two words in a comprehensive Greek lexicon (Liddell & Scott Greek-English Lexicon) you will find that both words are defined as needle. The primary difference is that RHAPHIDOS is the word used for the common sewing needle. BELONES, on the other hand, refers to a "small" needle that is not as common. 

There are a couple of possibilities for Luke's choice of BELONES that scholars have discussed over the years.  One is that using the word for the smaller needle would focus readers more on the impossibility of a camel going through an even smaller hole than that of a common sewing needle. There is, however, another possibility, that has been pointed out 

In Hobart's work, The Medical Language of St. Luke, he identifies 400 terms that were either used exclusively by the author of Luke-Acts in the New Testament, or were used much more frequently by this author than any other. These particular terms, Hobart argued, were also found in the works of those who wrote Greek medical literature. All of this evidence was used to point to Luke the physician as the author of Luke-Acts.

A study that drew many away from Hobart's, as well as Adolph Harnack's, conclusions was done by Henry J. Cadbury and published in a book entitled The Making of Luke-Acts. In this work Cadbury argues that the evidence used to prove Luke the physician was the author of Luke-Acts, namely the use of medical language, could at its best show only that the author was an educated man. To prove his argument Cadbury uses a number of sources from non-medically trained contemporaries of Luke who use some of this same language in their writings.

As a result of Cadbury's studies less emphasis is now placed on this evidence than at one time, yet his criticisms do not exclude the argument from being used to corroborate Lucan authorship, although no-one would claim that it can prove it (Guthrie, p. 118).

In this same context, Hemer (p. 311) adds that "it ...remains true that the failure of a hypothesis does not amount to disproof of its essential contention."

There are many terms in Luke-Acts which are used by Luke exclusively in the New Testament. These are either technical medical terms or statements that are made in the fashion of a medical writer. (SOURCE)

As a result of such studies the fact that Luke used the same word that was used by Galen the physician in 130 CE to refer to a needle used by surgeons. (Online text of Galen) In either case, traditions that have been handed down to us indicate that Luke was familiar the word for a smaller needle that was used by doctors and chose to use it here.  This supports the other traditions that Luke was a doctor and he simply used a word that he used in his profession -- BELONES.  

BHC's Fourteenth Bible Study Guideline
Words, sentences, & paragraphs
must be examined and viewed in their immediate context

In order to accurately understand the message of the author, one must examine and view the context as well as the content of the message.  Context is defined as "that which precedes and/or follows any part of a discourse and throws light on its meaning." 

Context carries with it the idea of something that is "woven together."  Just as individual letters are woven together to form words, words are woven together to form sentences, sentences are woven together to make paragraphs, and so on.  Therefore, a word must be examined as a part of the sentence in which it is used.  The sentence must be examined as a component of the paragraph, etc.  Many errors in theology are regularly made by interpreting or taking the words of the Bible out of their original context.

The immediate context is that text which immediately precedes or follows a discourse or segment of discourse with no intervening text.  If a word, sentence, or paragraph is removed from its contextual environment, the original meaning can be lost and a new unrelated meaning substituted in its place. If we take words out of their context we can make the Bible say anything we want.  Here is an example of what could happen:

John 3:16 (KJV)
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

James 2:19 (KJV)
Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.

Out of Context Conclusion:
whosoever believeth
will have everlasting life + the devils also believe
devils will have everlasting life!

Lucifer, Satan or Foreign King

How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!  How art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!

The above verse, Isaiah 14:12, has been of interest to many Bible readers for centuries.  A popular Christian interpretation of Isaiah's words goes something like this:

The good God in Heaven kicked out the evil Lucifer (i.e., Satan), who rebelled against Him.  Lucifer made it his sole purpose to lure people away from the good God by any means possible.  Lucifer's goal is to send as many person as possible to hell and keep them from going to heaven. 

Sound familiar?

Establishing the Context

The immediate context of Isaiah 14:12 begins at verse 12 and ends with verse 15.

12 How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! 13 For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: 14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. 15 Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.

The bold-italics have been added to help you follow the references to ‘Lucifer.’  It is no wonder that God is upset with Lucifer, considering all the things he says.  But we still don’t know who Lucifer is at this point.  Did you notice the third word in verse 12 - thou?  ‘Thou’ is Old English for ‘you,’ and ‘thine’ is for ‘your.’  The question that we must now ask is who is Isaiah referring to in his first ‘thou’ in verse 12?

In order to find the answer to that question we must expand our contextual environment from the immediate context to the general context. Please note that the verses are in reverse order.

12 How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!

11 Thy pomp is brought down to the grave, and the noise of thy viols: the worm is spread under thee, and the worms cover thee.

10 All they shall speak and say unto thee, Art thou also become weak as we? art thou become like unto us?

9 Hell from beneath is moved for thee to meet thee at thy coming: it stirreth up the dead for thee, even all the chief ones of the earth; it hath raised up from their thrones all the kings of the nations.

8 Yea, the fir trees rejoice at thee, and the cedars of Lebanon, saying, Since thou art laid down, no feller is come up against us.

7 The whole earth is at rest, and is quiet: they break forth into singing.

(‘You’ becomes ‘he’ in verse 6.)

6 He who smote the people in wrath with a continual stroke, he that ruled the nations in anger, is persecuted, and none hindereth.

(In verse 5he’ becomes ‘the wicked’ which has the parallel term ‘the rulers.’ Therefore, ‘ he’ is one of the ‘wicked rulers.’ So, we have now discovered that ‘Lucifer’ is ‘a wicked ruler.’)

5 The LORD hath broken the staff of the wicked, and the scepter of the rulers.

4 That thou shalt take up this proverb against the king of Babylon, and say, How hath the oppressor ceased! the golden city ceased!

We finally found the end of the chain of references.  What have we discovered - that the thou of verse 12 is none other than the king of Babylon.  By simply establishing the immediate context first, and then expanding it to a much broader general context when we didn’t find the answer, we were able to answer.  Lucifer was not a reference to either a fallen angel or Satan, it was only to the king of Babylon.

Always compare two or more English translations when studying the Bible.

Another habit that will help you is to always read the biblical passage in more than one English version of your Bible.  Let's take a look at the words of Isaiah in the New Revised Standard version:

4 you will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon: How the oppressor has ceased! How his insolence has ceased! 5 The LORD has broken the staff of the wicked, the scepter of rulers, 6 that struck down the peoples in wrath with unceasing blows, that ruled the nations in anger with unrelenting persecution. 7 The whole earth is at rest and quiet; they break forth into singing. 8 The cypresses exult over you, the cedars of Lebanon, saying, "Since you were laid low, no one comes to cut us down." 9 Sheol beneath is stirred up to meet you when you come; it rouses the shades to greet you, all who were leaders of the earth; it raises from their thrones all who were kings of the nations. 10 All of them will speak and say to you: "You too have become as weak as we! You have become like us!" 11 Your pomp is brought down to Sheol, and the sound of your harps; maggots are the bed beneath you, and worms are your covering. 12 How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low! 13 You said in your heart, "I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit on the mount of assembly on the heights of Zaphon; 14 I will ascend to the tops of the clouds, I will make myself like the Most High." 15 But you are brought down to Sheol, to the depths of the Pit.

Did you notice that the word Lucifer wasn’t there?  Instead, we read the words Day Star, another reference to the King of Babylon.  If you read another hundred English translations you would not find the word Lucifer in any of them.  It only appears in the King James Version or versions based upon it. Of course this raises another question - Why is Lucifer found only in the KJV?   

The Meaning of Just One Word
Can Make a Big Difference

The Cost of a Mistranslation


A Japanese word, "mokusatsu", may have changed all our lives.  It has two meanings: (1) to ignore; (2) to refrain from comment. The release of a press statement using the second meaning in July 1945 might have ended the war then. The Emperor was ready to end it, and had the power to do so. The cabinet was preparing to accede to the Potsdam ultimatum of the Allies -- surrender or be crushed -- but wanted a little more time to discuss the terms. A press release was prepared announcing a policy of mokusatsu, with the "no comment" implication. 

But it got on the foreign wires with the "ignore" implication through a mix-up in translation: "The cabinet ignores the demand to surrender." To recall the release would have entailed an unthinkable loss of face. Had the intended meaning been publicized, the cabinet might have backed up the Emperor's decision to surrender. In which event, there might have been no atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, no Russian armies in Manchuria, no Korean war to follow. The lives of tens of thousands of Japanese and American boys might have been saved. One word, misinterpreted.

* This article appeared in the March 1953 issue of Harper's Magazine and was written by W. J. Coughlin. Reprinted from Power of Words by Stuart Chase, page 4.

How important is it for us to have a culturally correct
biblical understanding of the following words?

  • God

  • Christ

  • saved

  • love

  • sin

  • forgiveness

  • hell

  • heaven

  • peace

  • faith

  • believe

  • repentance

  • righteousness


No Quick Fix

The ultimate responsibility for accuracy rests upon your shoulders, the reader of the Bible. There will be no new translation or commentary that will be able to make the reader see the words of their Bible through the eyes of the Sources.  That is why the Biblical Heritage Center has made it a goal to teach as many people as possible how to use the BHC linguistic approach to Bible study.  What is at stake may be much more than eternity, we believe it is also the quality of life, how we perceive as our reality, how we relate to one another, and more.

It takes determination and work to change old ways of thinking. George W. Woodson, a man who worked with former slaves after the Civil War, faced a similar challenge.  Below are his words:

"When you control a man’s thinking, you do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his proper place and stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, his very nature will demand one."

Many religious people have something in common with the people  Mr. Woodson was trying to help.  If there is no back door, or red color on the beer can label, or a Lucifer in their Bible verse - their Belief System will demand it and may even create a reality that includes it!  Life is challenging enough.  The more accurate the information we have available to us -- the better the decisions we make will be that affect our lives.  

Congratulations -- you have completed Lesson 5!

Continue to Lesson 6

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