Word Study Principles
Word studies are good and profitable in searching out the Truths of Scripture. Word studies are time consuming and sometimes tedious. Stay with it and you will be surprised at the beauty and complexity of the Word of God.
I. Fundamental issues regarding word studies
A. Words are the building blocks of communication;
B. Words have definitions. The definition must be correct, for if a given word can mean anything desired, communication is impossible (1 Corinthians 14:7,8);
C. Words are part of a larger structure: phrase, sentence, paragraph….;
D. Context determines the use and meaning of a word:
1. “Present” – how many meanings, pronunciations?
2. “This is a fine ink pen” – how many possible meanings?
3. “Love” – how many meanings, uses?
II. Conducting a Word Study
A. What kinds words need to be researched?
1. Main verbs and nouns
2. Key names: individuals and places
3. Cause and Effect, such as “in order that”, “therefore’…
4. Words that seem unusual in the contextual use
5. Cultural references
6. Repeated words
B. Clues to look for
1. Does the writer provide the meaning in the context? (Revelation 1:20)
2. Is a contrast being clearly made? (Luke 22:26,27)
3. Are there parallel passages? (Mark 10:42-45; Matthew 20:25-28)
4. Is there an Old Testament reference cited? (It is written…)
5. Has the words definition changed over the years? For instance, in the KJV, the word “conversation” today would be changed to “conduct”.
6. How would the original reader have understood the word? This is where a good bible dictionary or Bible Handbook will come in very handy.
7. Do various writes speak go the same topic but in different contexts? For instance, Paul and James speaking of faith and works?
III. Things to be avoid when conducting a word study
A. Applying the same definition to a word every time it is used.
1. “Worship” – There are at least 9 different Greek words that are translated into English as “worship”. Each time this word is written it cannot mean what each of the original words means.
2. “Baptize”- While the basic definition does not change, its use in context does. Do not use the same meaning in each case. For instance, does baptism always involve water? No, so do to apply that use in each instance.
B. Choosing the meaning that is most desired (also referred to as the Cafeteria method, or the Devotional Method)
C. Applying any or all possible meanings to a given context. In other words, plugging in any meaning that I so choose to make the passage what I would like it to be.
D. Changing the meaning by modern illustration. One that is often used is “power”. One of the original words is pronounced “dunamis”in the Greek, and many say that this is like “dynamite” – however, it is not and these are not the same words, nor do they have the similar meanings. This confuses the meaning of the context and conceals the Truth.
E. Applying the definition the first time the word is used to every time it is used.
F. Overlooking or ignoring a parallel passage.
IV. Basic word study tools
A. Dictionary. Words should be read with their normal, literal meaning unless the context indicates otherwise. Have a good dictionary available.
B. Bible Dictionary. In addition to a good language dictionary, a Bible Dictionary can highlight specific words used in Scripture, and provide some background information. The New Bible Dictionary, Eerdmans.
C. Concordance. A good concordance will provide the verses in which a particular word is used. This is a great aid in comparing Scripture with Scripture. Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance to the Bible; Young’s Analytical Concordance to the Bible, Eerdmans
D. Lexicon. This is a dictionary specifically designed to define words in the original biblical languages. Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, Danker Greek English Lexicon of the N.T. and other Early Christian Literature, University of Chicago Press; Louw and Nida, Greek English Lexicon of the N.T. based on Semantic Domains (2 vols), American Bible Society
E. Theological word book. Similar to a lexicon, except that these will give much more detailed information regarding the use of words. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Eerdmans; The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (4 vols), Zondervan.
V. Some Final Considerations
A. Always remember that context will ultimately determine the meaning of a word. The writers of Scripture used certain words, guided by the Holy Spirit, and set those words in a particular context and grammatical structure.
B. It is not necessary to know the original biblical languages, though there are many study aids to assist anyone that wants to go deeper. Trust the Holy Spirit to help you, and be ready to agree with Him (not visa-versa). Remember Psalm 119:130.
2 Timothy 2:15 – “Study to show yourself approved to God, a workman that does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth”.