Level 2 Word Study: Doing it Yourself
Studying Greek Words
Let’s assume that you have selected a Greek word for study. You have managed to compile a masterful catalog of all the possible shades of meaning for that word. In fact, you are ready to add another entry to your latest scholarly project, My Dictionary of the New Testament!
The reason we analyze Greek and Hebrew words is to understand the Bible better. Therefore, a word study is incomplete until you use it to shine a brighter light on some portion of the Bible!
You may know fourteen ways in which the Greek logos can be used, but you are not done until you can determine which meaning is in play in John 1:14.
How can I determine which meaning is being used in a specific verse of Scripture?
The fastest way to get help is simply to consult a good commentary (or two or five!). Cracking open a commentary is your way of asking a scholarly Christian to tell you how the word is used in your verse. We discussed this “borrow from others” method in an earlier blog, and it’s a thoroughly legitimate way to complete your word study.
2. CONTEXT & COMMON SENSE
This is the do-it-yourself version of a word study. You set aside the commentary and look directly at the Bible for yourself. If you choose this approach, the results probably won’t be as scholarly. You might even come up with the wrong answer! But whatever you learn will be yours! And the process itself will weld the Scripture passage into your mind like nothing else.
At the core, the process is ridiculously simple. Just look at the verse in its context, then ask yourself, “Which meaning makes the most sense here?”
Of course, you can do this well or poorly. Some people will just glance at the verse and grab the first meaning that comes to mind. Others will widen their focus, use enough peripheral vision to take in a verse or two before and after the passage, and think carefully about each of the possible meanings they discovered in Stage One of their word study. They’ll try each option in the passage to see if it fits the flow of thought.
The more you gain experience in Bible study, the more skillfully you will look at the context. You will realize that context spreads in ever-widening circles.
We should look at the immediate context: the whole paragraph in which the verse appears.
We should look at the whole book as a larger context: the place where this verse appears in the overall argument of the book.
We should look at the whole Bible as an even wider context: every verse is part of the Bible, and we can expect to find other passages peppered throughout the Book that can influence our understanding of our target verse.
The longer you study the Bible, the more your common sense will be stocked with facts that will help you think accurately. You will learn to notice the writer of each book, the intended audience, the time period and the intended purpose of the book. You will become familiar with the history of Bible times and the fascinating customs of each culture.
Even though you are a beginner, there is no reason why you cannot try to figure out for yourself the meaning of a word that applies in the verse you are studying. It’s a skill that improves with practice.
There is a valid place for commentaries, even if you adopt a do-it-yourself approach. Instead of consulting a commentary in place of studying the verse yourself, check the commentaries after you have done your own study. These godly commentators will feed you facts that you didn’t know, and they will point out features in the context that you might have overlooked. Read it all, then go back to your own study. Rework where necessary, and rejoice in the satisfaction of knowing that you have established a close relationship with a fresh passage of God’s Word.