by Ken Yates
Recently, I undertook the task of learning Spanish. When we study another language we soon learn that other folks use phrases that do not make sense to us. Sometimes we see these phrases and think we know what they mean, but then realize that they mean something completely different.
For example, I was listening to some folks speaking Spanish recently. I didn’t understand everything that was being said, but I understood one of them say that a woman had given light to another person. I didn’t understand the context very clearly, yet tried to understand the meaning of that phrase. What does it mean to “give light to somebody?’
Based upon my understanding of the phrase, with my background, I thought that perhaps it meant that the other person was a smoker. Perhaps I missed the word “a” and what was said was that the woman had given “a” light to the other person.
Then I thought that maybe she had helped somebody understand something. The other person did not understand something and the woman shed light on the situation. She was able to explain something to the other person.
When I finally figured out what the phrase meant I laughed out loud. I had completely “missed the boat.” The reader should notice that the phrase “missed the boat” would very likely be misinterpreted by a non-English speaker. Such a speaker would probably think that I had planned on a trip over water, perhaps a vacation, but was late and missed getting on my mode of transportation!
I discovered the meaning of the Spanish phrase “giving light” while reading the Bible. In a Spanish version of the Bible, in Matthew it says that when Mary gave birth to Jesus that she “gave light” to her first-born Son and wrapped Him in cloth. Was I ever far off! The phrase means to give birth and in doing so, a woman gives light (we might describe it as bringing into the light) the new born child.
This is an important lesson to learn. The New Testament, of course, was written in a language that is foreign to us. We should expect to find phrases that we don’t understand and, if we are not careful, will misinterpret.
A case in point is Matthew 24:51. In that verse, Jesus says to one of His servants that if he is unfaithful the Lord will, “cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” In this verse alone there are three phrases that we must look at carefully. The first in “cut him asunder.” The second is “appoint with the hypocrites.” The third is “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
It always amazes me that English speakers almost always look at these phrases and conclude that they all mean that the servant is sent to hell and experiences burning there. Even though in the English world that is what we think they mean, it is clear that when we look at the context, Jesus is not talking about that.
Instead, all three phrases refer to what happens when a servant does not act like a faithful servant. They describe what happens when such a person is rebuked. But that person is still a servant. When it came to the phrase “giving light” I had to see it in context. In the case of Matthew 24:51, the context will keep us from misinterpreting phrases that we assume we know the meaning of. You might say, the context gives light on the intended meaning.