Semantics in Biblical Interpretation -- By: James L. Boyer

Journal: Grace Journal
Volume: GJ 03:2 (Spring 1962)
Article: Semantics in Biblical Interpretation
Author: James L. Boyer

Semantics in Biblical Interpretation

James L. Boyer

Professor of Greek, Grace College

In dealing with a subject which includes the word “semantic” there iso double reason for beginning with the defining of terms; because semantic itself needs defining, and because semantics has to do with the meaning of words, or definition.

The word “semantic” is used in two senses; (1) as a technical term in the science of linguistics, and (2) a more general sense of linguistic and grammatical studies into the meaning of words. The latter is the sense to be used in this paper.

My topic deals with the components of the sentence, that is, words and word relationships. Its goal is to discover the meanings of these words as they contribute to the meaning of the whole sentence. For example, in order to properly interpret the meaning of a sentence such as, “The Church is the Body of Christ,” we must understand the meaning of each of its components. What does the word “Church” mean? and similarly, “body,” “Christ,” the copula “is,” the genitive relationship “of”? These are the materials of semantics.

The semantic problem, in turn, may be considered as comprised of two parts; (1) the meaning of the words in themselves, the lexical study of words, and (2) the meaning of words in their grammatical relationships, the syntactical study of words. Perhaps the first of these might by some be considered the specific field of semantics, but the second seems to be equally involved in the meaning of words.

Lexical Study of Words


By this I am dealing with the study of the meaning of a word as it might stand alone, apart from any context. What meaning is born to our understanding by the word itself? Such study naturally takes two directions.

First, let us define what we mean by Etymology. The dictionary says it is “that branch of philology which treats of the derivation of words.” It usually is thought of as the ascertaining of the original meaning, or the meaning of the primitive basic root from which a word is derived, in the parental language. Basically it is an historical pursuit; practically it is a very complex, technical scientific investigation of comparative philology, one which is safe only in the hands of experts.

Often, however, the term is used in a less precise sense to include various kinds of “appeals to the original.” In this broader use it includes the study of compound words, word formation, and appeals by expositors to the meaning of the Greek word, or the Hebrew original. For example, the word “synagogue,” might be explained as “derived from the Greek, from the two words, sun<...

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