The Nature of Communication
Table of Contents |
Hermeneutics — Overview |
Scripture Accessible to all Believers | The Nature of Communication | False Principles of Interpretation | Good Principles of Interpretation | Scripture Quoted in Scripture | Symbolism
God created us with the propensity to communicate with him and with one another. Surely, he had in mind some purpose for this. In addition, he gave us the Bible and the teachings of the traditional, historical Churchso that we might understand His ways. Surely, he must expect us to be able to understand what he is communicating to us.
Since the understanding of scripture involves a process of communication, we must seek first to understand the nature of communication as a prerequisite to understanding scripture. We must determine the purpose of communication and how communication works.
When we consider: The Lord, who stretches out the heavens, who lays the foundation of the earth, and who forms the spirit of man within him (Zechariah 12:1b) we are compelled to acknowledge that God is, indeed, the focus of human life, and that He gave us the ability to communicate so that we might glorify Him. And when we consider that God created man in his own image (Genesis 1:27) we must conclude that God also wishes to communicate with us.
Scripture affirms that God wishes to communicate with us. An example of God communicating to humans:
The Lord spoke to you face to face out of the fire on the mountain. At that time I [Moses] stood between the Lord and you to declare to you the word of the Lord, because you were afraid of the fire and did not go up the mountain. (Deuteronomy 5:4,5)
God intended this communication to be a two way dialogue:
I [Jeremiah the prophet] will certainly pray to the Lord your God as you have requested; I will tell you everything the Lord says and will keep nothing back from you. (Jeremiah 42:4b)
When we observe the various aspects of human communication in our interactions with one another, we can see which things tend to enhance effective communication and which things hinder it. When we deviate from proven methods then our communication with one another suffers.
The first prerequisite for effective communication with one another is to speak a common language. If you have ever tried to communicate with someone when there was a language barrier, you can attest to the fact that it is necessary to speak the same language in order to communicate with someone.
There is an inherent power in words which lead to successful communication as Genesis affirms:
The Lord said, 'If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them'. (Genesis 11:6)
People who effectively communicate will give the same meaning to words, idioms, and figures of speech and will follow the same rules of grammar and syntax.
Another important prerequisite to effective communication is the willingness to listen. How many times have we misunderstood someone because we didn't bother to listen to what they were saying? Without the desire for two-way communication, there will be no communication at all.
Writing is one of the vehicles of communication and good writing is simply that writing which effectively accomplishes the task of communication.
In writing, there is a one way flow of ideas from the writer to the reader. The writer had in mind certain ideas which he wrote down. As the reader reads, he will experience a set of ideas as he reads. If the ideas the reader experiences are those same ideas that the writer intended to convey, then the writing accomplished its purpose — it is good writing.
The good writer uses practices which, first of all, result in clear communication. Whether writing prose, poetry, stories or history, he must be comprehensible to the reader, otherwise there is simply no point in writing at all. Writing is, therefore, a tool which has as its main goal to communicate ideas to another.
The good writer will build his words and phrases and sentences and paragraphs in such a way that his intended meaning jumps off the page with crystal clarity so that the reader has no confusion about what exactly is being said. In order for writing to be effective it must accomplish the same goals as other types of communication.
Another aspect of good writing is that it will be exciting and interesting to read. It must keep the reader's interest. It must speak to the reader of things that concern him.
Whatever man can do, God can do better, for he empowers us in all we do.
'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,' declares the Lord. 'As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts'. (Isaiah 55:8,9)
God is, therefore, the best writer.
Who endowed the heart with wisdom or gave understanding to the mind? (Job 38:36)
Since God is the best writer, we should expect the Bible to be easy to understand, and exciting and interesting to read.
In order to properly understand the sacred scriptures we must seek to understand what was in the mind of God as He moved men to write through the Holy Spirit. But since God's thoughts are higher than our thoughts (cf. Isaiah 55:9) and our minds are limited in understanding, God must communicate to us in human language so that we will understand him. Therefore, as we seek to understand scripture we must seek to understand not only what was in the mind of God, but also what was in the mind of the human writer as he wrote.
If we humans cannot communicate with each other when we violate proven principles of communication, surely God, himself, would have trouble communicating with us if he violated these same principles. God must, therefore, use these proven principles when he speaks to us in his Word. Since God is effective in his communication with us he will adhere to proven principles of communication which result in effective communication.
Just as humans are capable of misunderstanding one another, so are humans capable of misunderstanding God. This is why the role of the translator plays such a crucial role in the understanding of scripture. The translator must adhere to the syntax and grammar in use at the time, as well as be careful that he properly understand the meaning of words and the use of idioms.
There are, in fact, people who wish to support their doctrines with the Bible but cannot, so they have resorted to retranslating the Bible in order to coax it into saying what they want it to say. This approach is clearly a backward one. We must first understand the language and customs used at the time the scripture was written, then we must translate the text with the primary goal of accurately portraying what was in the mind of the author as he was writing.
Paul sums it up nicely:
See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. (Colossians 2:8)
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. (Ephesians 4:14)
Another very important aspect of understanding the sacred scriptures is the willingness to listen to what scripture really says rather than interpret it to mean what we wish it to mean. We must be humble before the Lord when it comes to understanding His word so that we will study the scriptures with no preconceived notions about what it says We wish our knowledge to be obtained from God rather than from men. This point is so obvious that it should go without saying, but how many of us have shared the gospel to someone who simply will not listen to what the Word of God has to say about an issue.