While working in Hebrews 10:24, a foundational but very important principle of biblical interpretation struck me again: words have usages, not meanings. In other words, the same Hebrew or Greek word does not mean the same thing every time it’s used in Scripture. Context clarifies a word’s usage.
Here’s what happened in my study:
- I opened the ESV and Bible Word Study guide
- I chose one at a time the panel menu on each panel (A)
- I linked both panels to Set A (B)
- I clicked the word stir in Hebrews 10:24 (C)
- Bible Word Study generated a report for the Greek lemma translated stir up (D)
- The Translation ring indicated this lemma is used only twice in the NT: Acts 15:39 and Hebrews 10:24 (E)
Now here’s where the word study gets fun!
In Acts 15:39 the Greek lemma is translated a sharp disagreement (ESV) referencing the difference of opinion Paul and Barnabas had about Mark resulting in the missionaries going their separate ways.
In Hebrews 10:24 the word is translated stir up (ESV) pointing to the mutual encouragement Christians are to offer one another resulting in love and good works (ESV).
Wow! It’s the same word, but its first occurrence seems to have a negative connotation while the second a positive one. How can the same word have such striking differences in usage? After further examination, I discovered the general “meaning” of the word is provocation or stimulation. Context is what assigns a “positive” or “negative” connotation.
Words can never be divorced from the contexts in which they’re used. Had we imposed on Hebrews 10:24 the usage of Acts 15:39 we may end up with something like Christians, make each other mad enough that you’ll start exercising love and good works! That certainly may work in some situations, but I doubt that’s what the writer of Hebrews had in mind.
Just remember to carefully consider the contexts of words before assigning usages to them. With that principle in mind, I encourage you to revisit some passages with fresh eyes and closely examine some words:
- Meditate (ESV) in Joshua 1:8
- Rulers (NASB) in Psalm 82:1
- Sick (ESV) in James 5:14 and James 5:15 (2 different Greek words here)
- Cold and Hot (ESV) in Revelation 3:15
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