(Editor's Note: Special thanks to Morrison Lee for permission to post his article here. We offer this material as a brief excercise in hermeneutic education which will greatly aid in the proper interpretation of Scripture. Enjoy!)
 
The Semantics of Biblical Language
'The Sea.' A Case Study.
by Morrison Lee
 

Introduction  1) Background - Mindset Preparation

                    2) Semantics - what is semantics?

                       Meanings, especially logical relations

                    3) Method - studying with a concordance

Body            Case study - The Sea

Conclusion    The implications of semantic studies in the prophets

 

1. Background

The biblical writings are very, very old. The New Testament documents were around long before cars and long before electricity. They were old long before Australia was discovered by Cook. They were old before good King Sejong ruled Korea. They were old before the age of navigation and before man discovered oceans. They were old before Genghis Khan went forth to conquer and before the Renaissance of Europe. They were old before the Middle Ages, and already nearly 1,000 years old when Chinese culture reached its height in the Tang dynasty.

The Old Testament documents are far older. They were old in the days of Hellenistic civilization. They were old before Alexander began his mission to spread Greek culture. They were old before Socrates was ordered to drink hemlock and before Plato wrote about it. The first five books of Moses were old in 1,000 BC when Assyrian culture was at its height, when colorful winged kings adorned the walls of temples in Nineveh, its bustling capital.

The great antiquity of the biblical documents should warn us moderns against reading the bible our own modern terms. This may seem obvious, but the bible cannot be read like yesterday's newspaper. The modern world and the biblical world are thousands of years distant in time, in thought, in culture, in ideas and in geography. While it is true however that preaching the gospel is a modern living activity, and an important one for Christians, understanding the bible is a different activity, one that requires a careful study of the ancient world of the prophets by understanding the meanings of their words. This brief case study is intended to show two things:

.  how to locate the biblical meanings of biblical terms

that biblical terms are not limited to a simple always-literal meaning. 

2. Meanings of Words: semantics

Semantics is the study of words and meanings, especially the logical relations between words. How does one word relate to another? What is the connection between one word and another, and how do they combine to form patterns of meaning?
 
The meaning of a word is located in the way it is used: usage makes meaning. Find out how a word is used and you find out its meaning, or meanings. Here is a simple example. How is meal related to a gym, and how are meal and gym related to brick? Consider the word ‘squash.' Squash is a fruit, as in ‘This squash tastes nice.' But squash is also a racquet sport.‘I like to play squash.'  And squash is also a verb as in, ‘His toe was squashed by a brick.' These three sentences use the same word differently, and each meaning is located in a different logical context. A semantic explanation of squash might look like this - 

            Usage                           Description                   Relation.

This ripe squash tastes nice.     

 Squash #1:                       + ripe + edible + tasty    =     food -> meal

I like to play squash at the gym.

 Squash #2:                       + game + indoor         =   sport   -> gym

His toe was squashed flat by a brick.

 Squash#3:                        + action + crush        =  flattening -> brick 

Thus in this example three unrelated things; meal, gym and brick are related to the term squash. Studying how a word is used is standard practice in lexicography. Compilers of modern dictionaries determine the meanings of words by their usage - find out how a word is used and you discover its meanings. Semantics is the discipline that explains the meanings, and especially the logical relations between words. 

3. Method - studying with a concordance

A bible concordance is a book that lists bible words and cites the places they are found. It often quotes a small piece of context. It makes finding bible terms very convenient. An exhaustive concordance shows the location of every bible term. Take for example just three occurrences of the term sea in Exodus. (King James Version) 

Sea

Moses stretch your hand over the sea         Ex 14:16, 27

Sea to go back, made the sea dry               Ex 14:21

Didst blow, the sea covered the Egyptians  Ex 15:10 

After locating the terms with a concordance we observe how the word is used by reading the context of Exodus 14-15. What can we infer from the context? This kind of observation + thinking is called inductive thinking. It begins from observing the biblical facts then making a probable inference from them. It is differs from deductive thinking, which first begins from the idea that something is already true; eg. (1) X is literal. (2) It says X, (3) therefore X must and can only mean literal X.  The problem here is that we must assume (1) is always and only the case. On the other hand inductive thinking does not guess, but observes first. Induction was the foundation of the scientific revolution of Copernicus. He didn't simply guess that because the sun seems to go around the earth it truly does, but compared the movement of the planets as well. This was more reliable because it began from observable facts, not human reasoning. Induction begins from close observation and moves to a generalization. Studying from a concordance works in the same manner. It has three steps. 

First we read the narrative. In Exodus 14:15 we observe that Moses (the man of faith) stretched forth his hand over the sea. This resulted in the sea parting for the faithful in Ex 14:21. In Ex 15:10 the text says his Egyptian pursuers (without faith) were drowned in the sea and perished. 

Secondly we can observe the use of the term the sea. How is it used and what can we infer?

Observation                                                 Inference

 - Here the Red Sea                   . the sea is a large body of water                            

- Moses' faith parted the waters . faith has power over the sea                       

- The faithful uninjured             . the sea has no power over faith                              

- Egyptians drowned                . the faithless are powerless over the sea 

Lastly we generalize a concept. In the case of the exodus the sea was:

.  a trial for the faithful

.  an agent of punishment for the unfaithful

So a concordance is very useful for finding words and comparing usage. A brief comparison allows simple conclusions for further testing. What do we find when we consider all of the other three hundred and eighty-nine occurrences of the term the sea in the King James Bible?

CASE STUDY. THE ‘SEA' IN THE BIBLE. 

Literal uses of the term sea (Heb. Yam, thalassa in the LXX Greek) in scripture

The term sea compasses large rivers as well as large bodies of water.

. The Red Sea           - Ex 13:18

. The Great Sea         - Josh 15:12 (Mediterranean Sea)

. The Sea of Galilee   - Num 43:11

. The Salt Sea           - Josh 3:16 (Dead Sea)

. The Nile river          - Is 18:2, 19:5

. The Euphrates river. - Is 21:1; Jer 51:36 
To the Jews the sea was a large body of water, whether inland or coastal. Alexander Cruden in his concordance wrote this comment about their knowledge of the sea: 
The Hebrews knew little if anything about the ocean as we understand the term. The largest body of water known to them was the Mediterranean sea, which is probably referred to in Duet 11:24 and several other places. Any great collections of waters, as the Nile, Isa 19:5, and the Euphrates, Jer 51:36 some places called ‘seas' in the bible"  Cruden, A.  Concordance. 

Physical properties of the sea.

To the Hebrew the sea was literally and figuratively an unfathomable mystery by its physical properties. It is liquid, unstable, and changeable by nature, able to be blown into a fury by the wind. The Mediterranean Sea excited terror because of the unknown dangers in its mysterious, dark depths. It was unknowable because it was so vast. It was all powerful because of the great natural forces associated with it. The Red Sea held memories of bondage when they were in Egyptian slavery. Of the other local bodies of water the Sea of Galilee was subject to tempests and fickle winds that made it unpredictable and treacherous. The Dead Sea was literally a lifeless pool of death, an alien environment of no interest to be avoided at all costs.

The Jewish attitude toward the sea

The Hebrews were never (and still are not) an aquatic or maritime people. You never read of the Jewish Olympic swimming team, or the Jewish surf-life-saving club, the Jewish surfboard riders association or the Jewish navy.  Israel was and is a nation founded upon a land promise, and located on a strip of territory hemmed in by a desert on one side and surrounded by unfriendly nations on the three other sides.

 Jewish maritime knowledge stopped at the Mediterranean. Ancient peoples did not have a ‘global' view of the world like we moderns. They had no actual experience of the waters outside the Straits of Gibraltar, which in ancient literature is called vaguely, ‘the outer sea.'  The idea of oceans (ookeanos in Greek) that joined continents was unknown before the age of exploration in the 15th century. 

The sea in Jewish history: a disintegrative theme

The theme of the sea in scripture is disintegrative and divisive. The sea separates the righteous from their blessings and appears at times as a threat and a menace to the Hebrews. It was the enemy in a physical and spiritual sense, a barrier and trial, and often the agent of judgment and destruction. Consider their historical records. What destroyed the ancient world of Noah? the waters of the sea. What separated the Jews from the blessings of God in Egypt? the waters of the Red Sea. What separated them from taking possession of the land after forty years of wandering? The waters of the Jordan River. What separated them from the promised land whilst in Babylonian captivity? The waters of the mile wide Euphrates river, also called a sea. The sea was a threat to the people of God.

The land as blessedness: an integrative theme

On the other hand the term land is an integrative theme in scripture. (It serves the opposite function of the sea). The land combines the concepts of blessedness and stability together in positive ways. To ancient and modern Jews the land was (and still is) of first importance. It contains the blessing. The sea was almost an irrelevancy except at times it separated them from the blessings in the land. God gave Abraham a land promise. (Gen 12) They were to be blessed in the land. The Jews had a relationship with God - not, in the sea, but - in the land, especially in Jerusalem and even more especially at the sacred and holy site of Solomon's temple where Jehovah first gave Abraham the promise of a land and a nation and a blessing. (Gen 12) It was through the covenant in the temple the Hebrews were in relationship with God. (1 Kgs 8:39)

Jehovah promised to dwell in the land in the Jerusalem temple, (1 Kgs 8:12) a house where He put His name (1 Kgs 8:16) where He made His covenant (1 Kgs 8:21) where He promised to hear the prayers of His people and forgive (1 Kgs 8:29-30) where He had a relationship with Israel (1 Kgs 8:39) where He promised to offer mercy in times of defeat (1 Kgs 8:33-34) where He promised to protect His people (1 Kgs 8:44) where His name was and where He where His ‘eyes and heart would be forever,' (1 Kgs 9:3) but all this was dependant upon their faithfulness. (1 Kgs 9:6-9) They were children of God in the land of promise. 

To be separated from their temple was to be separated from God and His blessings. Ps 137:1 is a pathetically moving picture of the effects of the sea. The waters of the ‘Rivers of Babylon' (the Tigris and Euphrates) were to Babylonian Jews what the Red Sea was to Egyptian Jews. Picture in your mind a large group of people standing under date palms on the banks of a river in a foreign land. They are all facing West overlooking a river. The golden disc of the setting sun touches the horizon in the distance at its going down. They are Jews. Their heads are covered with ashes and their clothes are torn: see their arms raised to God, hear the sounds of their wailing above the waters that frustrate their ardent hopes. Between them and freedom on the opposite bank is an un-crossable expanse of water over one and a half kilometers wide. Their leader cries out in holy prayer to the God of Zion amidst their weeping. David records the scene in these sad words:

"By the rivers of Babylon there we sat down, and there we wept, when we remembered Zion."

It is the tearful lament of a people in exile separated from the promises and from their God by a sea of water.

The sea as a threat to Jewish blessedness

Another recurring concept of the sea in scripture is as the source of evil. The sea is the abode of evil forces in the prophets. Theologically the sea was the dwelling place of evil as early as Job. Satan, as Leviathan the twisted serpent, dwells in the sea. (Job 41; Is 27:1) The exilic prophet Daniel saw ‘four great beasts coming up out of the sea' (Dan 7:3) and in John's vision on the island of Patmos ‘the beast came up out of the sea.' (Rev 13:1). To the Jew the sea was a place to be feared and avoided. The apostle Paul speaks volumes when he laconically mentions the fact he ‘spent a night and a day in the deep' in his service for Christ. (2 Cor11:25) One can scarcely imagine the anguish of his mental state during those thirty odd terror-filled hours. 

The sea was the antithesis of the stability and solid security offered by the land. The wicked are spoken of in changeable and liquid terms as wild waves of the sea (Is. 57:20; Jude 13). Lawless Gentiles, restless, capricious, unstable, unprincipled and separated from the promises of God are spoken of as Islands, (Is 49:1) insulated (Latin: insula, island), literally islandised from the shores of blessedness by their sins. Conversely the nation of Israel is spoken of as sand upon the seashore, a nation brought to the dry land of blessedness but sometimes in the sea of strife. (Gen 22:17) Invading armies of Gentiles threatening the nation were spoken of as a sea (Is 59:19) The sea was the place where the disobedient and unfaithful went to escape from God. (Jonah 1)  

When is the sea not water? Ten non-literal uses of the term sea in scripture.

Are biblical words always literal? This is an incorrect assumption and cannot be proven. Following are ten non-literal meanings related to sea /waters/the deep/ flood/waves in the prophets. The term the sea can mean; a foreign nation, the people of a city, God's judgments, a period of trial, the wicked, the crystal sea, Solomon's brass sea, death and the second coming, the second death. 

1. When is the sea not water? The sea is not water when it is a foreign nation

 the gentile nations as a sea   - 2 Sam 21:19-22:5; Is 5:30; Is 59:19

 

2. When is the sea not water? The sea is not water when it is a city under judgment.

 a people/city under judgment as many waters  - Rev 17:1; 15-16

 

3. When is the sea not water? The sea is not water when it is a judgment of God.

God's judgments a great deep  - Ps 36:6; 88:7; 16-17

 

4. When is the sea not water? The sea is not water when it is a period of trial.

A period of trial as a sea - adversity  - Ps 42:7; 69:14-15

 

5. When is the sea not water? The sea is not water when waves are wicked men.

The wicked as wild waves   - Is 57:20; Jude 13

 

6. When is the sea not water? The sea is not water when it is death or a sea of fire.

Second death as a sea /lake   - Rev 20:14

 

7. When is the sea not water? The sea is not water when it is made of crystal and located in heaven.

The crystal/ glass sea / sapphire pavement - Ex 24:10-11; Ezek 1:22; Rev 15:2

 

8. When is the sea not water? The sea is not water when it is a brass laver

Solomon's brazen sea  - 1 Kgs 7:23-26; 2 Chron 4:2-6

 

9. When is the sea not water? The sea is not water when it separates life from death (afterlife)

 The after-life (Hades) as under the waters - Job 26:5, Ezek 31:15, Ps 139:8-9

 

10. When is the sea not water? The sea is not water when it is the second coming

 The second coming of Jesus as a flood  - Mtt 24:39 

 

Synonyms of the sea: waters, the deep, flood, waves, the second coming.

The idea of the sea is also related to a number of synonyms. In the days before submarines and bathyspheres the deep was a mystery and enigma. The deep implies something unknowable.‘Thy judgments are a great deep'. (Ps 36:6) God's ways are as unfathomable to humanity as the deepest trench in the sea. ‘My ways are not your ways,' declares the Lord. The same connection between a large body of water and judgment is present in waves. In Ps 88:7; ‘Thy wrath lieth hard upon me, and Thou hast afflicted me with all thy waves.' Here waves are trials and afflictions. And again; ‘Thy fierce wrath goes over me, thy terrors have cut me off; they came round about me daily like water..' (Ps 88:16-17) Here water -in large quantities - is seen as a destructive element closely related to Gods anger.  Jer 47:2-3 combines these separate elements by relating them to the Egyptians: ‘Behold waters are going to rise from the North and becoming an overflowing torrent, and overflow the land..the city and those who dwell in it...and they will wail because of the galloping hoofs and stallions and the tumult of his chariots, and the rumbling of his wheels..' The theme is that of judgment. The term flood is related to an irresistible force. The agent of God's justice upon the Philistines are ‘the waters' of the Egyptian hordes, their horses and chariots the instruments of destruction and thus purification of the wrongs committed. Similarly Jesus' second coming is also paralleled with the waters of a flood; ‘The coming of the son of man will be just like the days of Noah,' (Mtt 24:37ff) a sudden, irresistible, and epochal judgment. 

(NB. Rivers. The theme of rivers offers a contrast to the sea. Waters in moderation are benign in effect. With smaller bodies of waters there is a positive element as in Ezek 47:9b, where it mentions fresh water that gives life, an echo of Jesus' reference to ‘living water' when speaking to the lady of Samaria. (Jn 4:11) Likewise His saying that out of the belly of true believers shall flow rivers of living water, (Jn 7:38-39) was a promise of the Spirit that was to come upon them in Acts 2. However rivers is a separate case study we leave for another time.) 

Many modern commentators assume sea in the scripture naturally means ocean. Biblical facts do not allow the modern idea of oceans. In fact the modern idea of oceans that connect continents is excluded in the bible for the following reasons:

1. Oceans were only ‘discovered' in the age of exploration c.15th AD

2. The notion of continents separated by vast oceans of water was unknown to the ancient biblical writers.

3. The word ocean comes from Greek OOKEANOS. This word does not appear  in Scripture.

4. The simple literal understanding of ‘sea as oceans' does not fit the following passage. Cf. Rev 20:13; 21:1,2a
And I saw a new heaven and earth...and there was no more sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem...'       

. Why does the sea/ ocean pass away only after heaven and earth pass  away if it is an ocean? How can an ocean remain after the earth and heaven that support the ocean have been removed?

. Why is the sea/ocean used in the singular - and there was no longer any sea -  if it refers to the oceans of the earth?

.  How is the sea/ ocean related to a heavenly city new Jerusalem in  Revelation?

A better explanation is that sea here is the idea of a crystal sea or sea of glass (Rev 4:6; 15:2) a kind of mysterious separating influence between man and God seen by Ezekiel (Ezek 1:22) and John, (Rev 4:6; 15:2) said by some to be God's glory or holiness. Man is separated from God's holiness by sin. Through Christ's holiness man is permitted to enter the presence of God and see Him face to face. 

Semantic connections of the sea: key explanation

The purpose of proposing theories is to unite information and predict new ideas. What is the common semantic thread that unites all of these particular facts? What is the central and most basic idea that explains the logical relations between all these particular uses? 

It is suggested here that the key idea of the term the sea in its non-literal sense is also that of separation. As the physical waters separate man from his blessedness, so also does the term sea in its figurative senses. The most general explanation of the sea is that of separation. 

.The sea separates by distance. It is vast and uncharted

.Gentiles were separated because they were ‘far off' from the promises of God and without a hope, therefore are they spoken of as Islands. Is 49:1. (In the Messianic time the Law was promised to the ‘Islands' in Is 42:4)

.Trouble separates us from God's blessedness

.God's judgment's separate because they come between man and his blessedness

.The wicked separate the righteous because they come between man and his blessed state

.The crystal sea separates God's holiness from man's sinfulness

.Sin separates us from God because it is against our nature and His justice

.Death separates life from the after-life

 

Connections between literal and non-literal senses of the sea.

The physical sea is unstable, deep, restless, powerful, unpredictable and turbulent in character. The ungodly (Gentiles and the wicked) share these characteristics. (Is 57:20, Jude 13) Conversely the righteous are spoken of in terms of stability: for example as a tree firmly planted by rivers of water, (Ps 1:3) rested and peaceful, led beside quiet waters. (Ps 23:2).

The unfaithful have no power over the might of the sea. The sea was the instrumentof destruction for the unfaithful of Noah's generation. (2 Pet 3:6) The Egyptians perishedin the Red Sea (Heb 11:29). Unfaithful Jonah was yielded up to the sea as justice for his disobedience. (Jonah 1) Gentile nations flooded Israel at times of her disobedience. (Is17:13; Dan 9:26) 

Christians are the children of faith. Doubters and those wavering in faith are spoken of as‘waves of the sea driven with the wind and tossed' (Jas 1:6). No distinction is made between the doubtful and the guilty. (Jude 13). Both lack the vital element of faith. The faithless are victims of life's vicissitudes and run a circle of grief alienated from God and themselves, circumstances that follow when we choose to depart from precept and principle. 

If this view of the sea as the general concept of separation - as opposed to the particular idea of oceans - is correct, it should logically follow that the integrative function of Faith has power over the sea. This is easily demonstrated from any number of notable examples in the Old Testament. Consider how faith has power over the sea.

.Gen 7:16ff By faith Noah floated above the waves of the flood to settle on dry earth.

. Ex 14:22, Heb 11:29 By faith Moses crossed the Red Sea ‘as on dry land'. Joshua parted the waters of the Jordan by faith, as did Elijah and again later by Elisha . 1Kgs 2:8.

. Judges 7:7 By faith Gideon turned back the sea of Gentile armies that arose against the Hebrews with a handful of faithful men.

In the New Testament: the same pattern of faith over the sea may be observed.

. Mtt 14:25-26 Christ's divinity and the supernatural power of faith is seen when Christ walks on the sea, and Peter also.

. Mtt 14:29  Physically this demonstrates Christ's divine power over the natural elements of creation and typologically over the supernatural elements of the sea that threaten God's human creation. (2 Cor 5:17, Gal 6:15, Col 3:10, Jas 1:18)

The lesson here is that Faith and adherence to principle, not blind chance, control man's eternal happiness.

There is a great semantic distinction between supernatural faith and man's own efforts. The view of the sea as separation also unites more evidence of the opposite kind by explaining the relationship between faith and works; the efficacy of the former and the impotence of the latter. Man's efforts cannot conquer the sea just as man's efforts can neither resolve his sinful state nor gain him eternal life. (Mtt 8:24-26) The disciples tried in vain to row against the rage of the sea. They pulled on the oars with all their human strength to bring the vessel to the safety of shore. Might and main are impotent against the forces of wild winds, towering waves and powerful currents. Even big ocean liners cannot withstand the titanic elemental forces encountered in the heart of the deep far from land. Man's strength has no power over the real problems of life, which are spiritual firstly. It is only by faith that waves of trouble are calmed and the sea of strife stilled, especially by the faith of Abraham, (Rom 4:13) as seen most powerfully in Christ. (Mtt 8:27) In the same sense human talent and ‘religious' effort cannot substitute for real faith. The pretence and duplicity of the Pharisees was exposed as a system of impotent and faith-less works by Christ. (Mtt 23:13-14).  Likewise to prophesy, cast out demons or do miracles are worthless acts in themselves if not accompanied by faith and obedience. (Mtt 7:22-23).  

When we offend against the balances of justice we must reap the consequences. (Gal 6:7-8) One might sow the wind with vain pleasures, but beware the whirlwind that follows as surely as night follows day. (Hos 8:7) It is vain to trust in man. Faith is the victory that overcomes the world. (1 Cor 15:57; 1 Jn 5:4)

The sea is a powerful object lesson. It's a simple and intuitive analogy from the natural world to the spiritual realm illustrating graphically the principle of salvation which states; we are saved by Grace through faith and not of ourselves, it is the gift of God. Not of works, lest any man should boast. (Eph 2:8-9). All of the bible in precept and example goes to demonstrate this one great imperative: ‘the just shall live by faith'. (Gal 3:11) 

In this inductive case study we have consulted all three hundred and ninety-two references to the sea. What then may we say generally? We may say that faith has moral power over the sea of life's circumstances. Faith robs the sea of its power. Thus faith empowers God's chosen to:

.Be saved from shipwreck, as Paul   2 Cor 11:25

.Be saved from the deep, as Jonah    Jonah 2:10

.Calm the sea, as Christ  Mk 4:39

.Calm the waves of His wrath  Ps 88:7

.Conquer a sea of enemy troops, as Gideon  Judges 7:12

.Conquer the sea of death  Rom 8:38; 2 Tim 2:10

.Divide a body of waters, as Moses Ex 14:21

.Divide a river of water, Elijah  2 Kgs 2:8

.Emulate great deeds, as Elisha   2 Kgs 2:14

.Float over the waters, as Noah   1 Pet 3:20

.Float safe on the sea, as baby Moses  Ex 2:6

.Overcome the waters of His anger  Ps 88:16-17

.Pass through God's judgments   Ps 36:6

.Walk on water, as Peter   Mtt 14:29

 

Faith in God is supernatural and omnipotent:

Faith in God has power over the environment

Faith in God has power over fact and circumstances

Faith in God has power over weakness

Faith in God has power over time

Faith in God has power over space

Faith in God has power over sin and death.
 
Faith in God has power over the wicked

 

While Peter's' little faith' made him doubt and sink, God worked with Jonah's little faith to bring about great things for the Gentile ‘sea' of Nineveh. (Jonah 4). ‘Even in the sea' of his own making Jehovah was able to bring Jonah to the safety of dry land. Opposing the divine will creates the sea that drowns us. We create our own adversity by elevating self over sacrifice and desire over discipline, and bring upon ourselves life's great judgments. The bountiful mercy and kindness of God reaches out His right arm to Jonah when he is beyond all human help, sinking in the sea of his own wrong-doing: "I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you." (Jonah 1:12) Only by casting out the Jonah of our old natures can we find peace and calm the raging of our hearts. So they took up Jonah and cast him into the sea, and the sea stopped her raging. (Jonah 1:15) Christ said "Come unto me all ye that are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Mtt 11:38) 

It is God alone who measures the quality of faith. Paul in Romans wrote we ought not to judge the quality of faith of another's servant, for: ‘to His own Master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up; for God is able to make him stand' (Rom 14:4). The widow's mite sufficed the faith of the widow. Supposed ‘objective' judgments upon others are really subjective. God weighs the human heart. Those of great faith might sail their ship all the way to the shores of blessedness, but others of less faith, even those ‘on planks and other various parts of the ship... may be brought safely to dry land'. (Acts 27:44) 

The greatest cause for wonder in the lesson of the sea, I think, is Christ dying for mankind... ‘while we were yet sinners' . To bring us from a sea of sin to the dry land of heavenly blessedness Christ Himself had to sail life's adverse seas. He too suffered like as we do so as to partake of our experiences. God's grace is able to reach out to us even when, like Jonah, we are undeserving of salvation. Man has no ability to save himself when beyond human help. Here is unlimited grace for sinner and saint. We are all like Jonah sinking into the deep, cold darkness and surrounded by waters without hope and far from land. The measure of God's love toward man is that while we were yet sinners, -even in the sea - Christ died for us. (Rom 5:8) 

The Christian has no personal merit of which to boast. Spiritual gifts come from the Giver of gifts. Humility preserves faith. Christ is our merit; for by grace are you saved through faith, not of ourselves, it is the gift of God: not of works lest any man should boast. (Eph 2:8-9). Grateful humility is the appropriate response for gifts received.

CONCLUSION

The implications of semantic studies in the prophets

Semantics has to do with meanings, and especially the logical relations between terms. Presuppositions, mere ascription and guesses as to the meaning of biblical words are not reliable bases for determining meaning. This brief case study is intended to show two things:

.  how to locate the biblical meanings of biblical terms

that biblical terms are not limited to a simple always-literal meaning. 

Here no more meaning is permitted than what the facts allow. This study has been inductive and connotative, sifting every particular instance of the term sea to understand the broad generalization that underpins every instance. The standard rule in lexicography is that usage makes meaning. In scripture it is prophetic usage that determines the prophetic meanings of prophetic terms. How the prophets used a term holds the accurate key to its meaning. 

The bible is a document remote from us: in time by thousands of years, in distance by thousands of miles, entombed in a dead language, and foreign to us by a forgotten culture and an unimaginable cosmology.  Ancient Hebrew and Greek are called ‘dead' languages precisely because the worldview that gave them meaning has passed away. The ancient Hebrew had a far different worldview than we moderns can think or imagine. 

Does this mean the Old Testament cannot be understood or is irrelevant to us nowadays? Not at all! It is vitally relevant. Because the meanings of a dead language cannot change, they are fixed in time, unlike a living language. The very great value of the Old Testament is that it always remains a kind of ‘dictionary' for the understanding of Old Testament terms repeated in the new: it shows us how these prophetic terms were used. 

In his work Biblical Semantics James Barr writes ‘.... grammatical structure of language reflects the thought structure of those speaking it'. (Barr, J. Semantics)  It is only by studying and understanding the meaning of a term as defined by its use in the Old Testament that we may form a reliable basis for properly understanding the full thought structure of Messianic terms and concepts. In this paper it may be seen that:

 

1. the sea is a trial for the faithful

2. the sea is God's means of punishing the unfaithful

 

The natural way to understand terms used by New Testament writers is to first study the Old Testament usage of those terms. This seems reasonable. Moses, David, Isaiah, Matthew, Mark, John, Paul and Peter all spoke by the same spirit. 2 Pet 1:20-12. This method first fixes the prophetic meaning by relation to prophetic usage. In this context the words of Albert Schweitzer are pregnant with meaning;

There is deep significance in the fact that when ever we hear the sayings of Jesus, we tread the ground of a world view that is not ours .... for .... Jesus lived in the eschatological Messianic thought world of late Judaism'. 

 

"If, on a Quiet Sea."

If, on a quiet sea, toward heaven we calmly sail, with grateful hearts, O God to Thee, we'll own a favoring gale

But should the surges rise, and rest delay to come, Blest be the tempest, kind the storm, which drives us nearer home.

Soon shall our doubts and fears all yield to Thy control; Thy tender mercies shall illume the midnight of the soul

Teach us, in every state, to make Thy will our own, and when the joys of sense depart, To live by faith alone.

                      A.M.Toplady

 

Morrison O.G.T. Lee.

Seoul, South Korea

2008

 

References.

Barr, J.             Biblical Semantics. Routledge 1992

Beck, S.D        The Simplicity of Science. Pelican 1964

Cohen & Nagel. Logic and Scientific Method, an introduction. Routledge /Kegan Paul 1961

Cruden, A.       Concordance. Nelson 1992

Hale, J.R.         Age of Exploration. Time-Life 1985

Hummel, C.      The Galileo Connection. InterVarsity Press 1986

Joy, R. (ed),     Albert Schweitzer, An Anthology. Adam and Charles Black 1955

King James Bible. World Publishing Coy 1953

Maimonides, M.  Guide to the Perplexed. Dover  Reprinted 1956 ed

New American Standard Bible. Lockman Foundation, Collins World 1995

Newton, Sir I. On the Language of the Prophets.

Newton, Sir I. Observations on the Book of Daniel and The Apocalypse of St John. Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine 1991

Popper, Sir K. Conjectures and Refutations. 5th ed. Routledge 1991

Silva, M.          Biblical Words and their Meaning. Zondervan 1983

Trench, R.C.     Synonyms of the New Testament. Hendrickson 2000

 

Contact Morrison Lee 

"Prophet Land" by Morrison Lee

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