by Howard GlassThe Bible Carries Truth Across the Ages
Imagine how difficult it would be to write life-changing literature, in such a way that the meaning remains clear-not only through translations but also through the inevitable changes of language as ages pass. The Bible is just such a book. It is more than the sum of its words. The Bible has accomplished the monumental task of transmitting the truth of God, not only across time and culture but also through many different languages and language changes.
I have seen word meanings change somewhat even in my lifetime, and doubtless you have also. This shift can be noted by comparing antiquated dictionaries to modern ones. For better or worse, the way people use a word eventually determines its definition. It is not unusual to hear preachers make reference to original meanings of words when expounding Scripture.
Knowing this, how is it possible for the Bible or any book to carry its message across millennia?
At least part of the answer can be found in the use of imagery in the Bible. This includes stories, parables, metaphors, allegories, and, to some extent, poetry. All of these have been accepted in other literature as a way to convey meaning that is too great for words alone. So what unbelievers usually consider weakness is actually one of the Bible's strengths. (Isn't that just like God?) The variety of literary styles work like cowboys, rounding up truth and corralling it in a form that can make the trip not across country, but across the ages.
Of course, it is obvious that some Scripture can be taken just as it comes off the page. Some truths are not as susceptible to the weakness of language change as others. Simple statements such as "Thou shalt not commit adultery" would almost require a translator to be dishonest in order to twist the intent.
One rule of thumb I have heard is, "Where the literal meaning makes sense, take it that way. Where it seems cloudy or ambiguous, look for a deeper or more profound meaning." While this rule is admittedly subjective and while our critics would say it is too convenient, it makes sense and it works.
In the end, what really matters is whether or not the reader of Scripture is open to the influence of the Holy Spirit, whose job it is to help believers to grasp the meaning of the Word. When Jesus said "seek and you shall find," He meant that you would find "what you were looking for." A skeptic, looking for bricks and mortar with which to build a wall of doubt may find some on the pages of the Bible.
On the other hand, people who have come to love and trust the Bible see mysterious passages of Scripture as sources of deeper insight.