Word Study: The Basics

When you decide to dig a little deeper into the meaning of a Bible word, you should know that there are . . .

2 facts about words
2 stages to word study
2 methods for doing each stage

 
 
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2 facts about words

First, words have more than one meaning.  Take a simple English word such as run  It can be a verb that means "to get from one place to another by moving your legs quickly."  Or it can mean "to keep the engine of your car operating" (even if it's just idling in the driveway).  When your watch runs, the hands go around.  When the lawnmower runs, it cuts grass.  When a stream runs, water flows over rocks.  When your nose runs, you grab a tissue.  Run can also be a noun, whether it refers to a point scored in a baseball game or a torn place in a stocking.  Your dictionary might list twenty to thirty different definitions of this one word.

In the same way, Greek words often cover a range of ideas.  You may find several meanings listed in a Greek dictionary.

Second, a word has only one meaning in a particular context.  If you pick up a newspaper and read a headline that says, "Three Runs for Jones," you know that run means a successful score in a baseball game.  How do you know?  By looking at the context (a sports page, in this case) and using your common sense.


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2 stages to word study

First, since a word can have more than one meaning, discover all the possible meanings.  Try to make the longest possible list of potential uses.  Your goal is to know everything that the word could possibly mean--and you don't want to overlook anything!

Second, decide which one of the meanings fits best in the verse you are studying.


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2 methods for doing each stage

First, you can use the "borrow-from others" method by taking advantage of the work others have already done.  Get the information quickly by checking reference books or online resources.  In the first stage of a word study, you would consult a Greek lexicon or dictionary to find a wide range of possible meanings.  In the second stage, you might study some commentaries to find explanations of the way a word is used in the verse you're studying.

Second, you can use the "do-it-yourself" method for both stages of your word study.  In the first stage, you would use a concordance or some similar tool to find a list of all the verses where a Greek word is used.  Then examine each verse yourself.  Make your own observations on how the word is used, then make a list of the possibilities. In the second stage of a word study, the do-it-yourself approach simply requires that you study the verse in its context.  Prayerfully meditate on it, carefully observe the train of thought, and come to your own conclusion about the shade of meaning used in that verse.  Don't be afraid to consult commentaries or other helps, even if you choose the "do-it-yourself" approach.  A good commentary will point out things in the context that you might overlook.

The variations on this approach to word study can multiply almost endlessly, but the fundamentals of the process are simple.  New Testament scholars have perfected their skills through long experience, and they can access information that would be hard for you to reach, but you can still experience the excitement of studying a Greek word and enriching your understanding of the New Testament.

 

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