My last post on the meaning of the word “abundant” in John 10:10 may give an impression that we cannot trust English translations of the Bible. This is certainly not the case. While you can get better insights if you know Hebrew or Greek, most established English translations are doing excellent job at conveying the original intended meaning.
But what do you do in those special cases when the meaning is unclear. Here are some tips:
1) Use a Greek (Hebrew) dictionary to study the meaning of the underlying word in its original form. In my experience, this approach in the wrong hands is quite dangerous. The problem is that dictionary will list all possible meanings of the word with little help to decide which one should be applied in your case. The Greek word “zoe” can mean “physical life” and “eternal life”. How do you decide between the two?
2) Check the meaning in a study bible or a commentary. This, again, could be quite dangerous, as people who write study bible notes and commentaries usually have some theological bias and hence might favor an interpretation that better agrees with their theology. For example, “Spirit-filled Life Study Bible” is a charismatic production and hence will favor charismatic interpretation. The only way to guard against bias is to own several commentaries and check them all – very time consuming. For my typical bible study preparation I check with about 5-6 commentaries.
3) Better approach – examine the context. Context is what helps us to narrow the meaning of the word. Start from immediate context – verses that surround the one you study. For example, the emphasis of John 10:1-18 is on Jesus laying down his life to give us life. Do you really think that Jesus died so you can have more money or more comfortable life? He died to give us eternal life.
If that is not convincing enough, examine larger context of the whole book of John, the gospels, all New Testament, the whole Bible – in this order. The reason to follow the order is because the narrower the context the more likely you to get a correct interpretation. While Old Testament has a few passages that could be interpreted as promises of better physical life in return of obedience, what we see in the Gospels is that Jesus says that serving money and possessions is opposite to serving God. Jesus promises us not a more comfortable life but persecutions in his name.
4) Even better approach – examine context with an Englishman concordance. The concordance reveals all locations in the bible where the underlying Greek or Hebrew word appears (without giving you the definition of this word). By seeing how the word was translated in other places, you can get a much better feel for the meaning. Try to limit your search to the books written by the same author, if possible. Different authors may emphasize on different aspects of the meaning.
Here is the concordance report (all occurrences of the word “zoe” in the book of John) generated with Logos Bible software:
|John 1:4||In him was||life, and the life was the light of …|
|In him was life, and the||life was the light of men.|
|John 3:15||…that whoever believes in him may have eternal||life.|
|John 3:16||…in him should not perish but have eternal||life.|
|John 3:36||… Whoever believes in the Son has eternal||life; • whoever does not obey the Son shall …|
|…does not obey the Son shall not see||life, but the wrath of God remains on …|
|John 4:14||…a spring of water welling up to eternal||life.”|
|John 4:36||…is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal||life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice …|
|John 5:24||…and believes him who sent me has eternal||life. • He does not come into judgment, but …|
|…into judgment, but has passed from death to||life.|
|John 5:26||For as the Father has||life in himself, so he has granted the …|
|…he has granted the Son also to have||life in himself.|
|John 5:29||…who have done good to the resurrection of||life, and those who have done evil to …|
|John 5:39||…you think that in them you have eternal||life; and it is they that bear witness …|
|John 5:40||…to come to me that you may have||life.|
|John 6:27||…but for the food that endures to eternal||life, which the Son of Man will give …|
|John 6:33||…he who comes down from heaven and gives||life to the world.”|
|John 6:35||…said to them, “I am the bread of||life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, …|
|John 6:40||…Son and believes in him should have eternal||life, and I will raise him up on …|
|John 6:47||…I say to you, whoever believes has eternal||life.|
|John 6:48||I am the bread of||life.|
|John 6:51||…the bread • that I will give for the||life of the world is my flesh.”|
|John 6:53||…Man and drink his blood, you have no||life in you.|
|John 6:54||…my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal||life, and I will raise him up on …|
|John 6:63||…I have spoken to you are spirit and •||life.|
|John 6:68||…we go? You have the words of eternal||life,|
|John 8:12||…in darkness, but will have the light of||life.”|
|John 10:10||…and destroy. I came that they may have||life and have it abundantly.|
|John 10:28||I give them eternal||life, and they will never * perish, and no …|
|John 11:25||…to her, “I am the resurrection and the||life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, …|
|John 12:25||…in this world will keep it for eternal||life.|
|John 12:50||…And I know that his commandment is eternal||life. What I say, therefore, I say as …|
|John 14:6||…am the way, and the truth, and the||life. No one comes to the Father except …|
|John 17:2||…him authority over all flesh, to give • eternal||life to all whom you have given him.|
|John 17:3||And this is eternal||life, that they know you the only true …|
|John 20:31||…God, and that by believing you may have||life in his name.|