Word Studies

(George H. Guthrie)

HCSB Study Bible Contributor

To understand the biblical text, we need to have an accurate understanding of how words are used. Word meanings are determined by the contexts in which they are used. When studying a word in the biblical text we want to (a) know the possible meanings for that word in the ancient world, (b) determine, based on the context, which meaning the author most likely intended, and (c) see whether insight on an author’s use can be gained by noting how the same word is used elsewhere in the Bible.

Choose Key Words to Study

Identify key words in the passage. These may be terms that are repeated, terms that are unclear or puzzling, or terms that seem to be theologically important.

Consult Word Study Tools

Get at the Hebrew or Greek words behind our English translations by using an exhaustive concordance, Bible software programs, or various types of expository dictionaries. Once you have accessed the range of possible meanings for the Hebrew or Greek word, consider those possible meanings in the context of the passage you are studying. This gives you a look at the various nuances of the Greek or Hebrew word behind the translation you are using, deepening your understanding of what the biblical author might have been trying to say. This is also an excellent point in your Bible study to consult good commentaries. They will discuss the key words of the passage against the backdrop of literary context, background issues, the author’s theology, and other factors.

Consult a Concordance

You can use a concordance to look for other uses of the same Hebrew or Greek term you are studying. Identify places where the word is used similarly to the way it is used in the passage you are studying. Such cross references can provide you with greater understanding of the passage on which you are doing your word studies. Word studies can be very helpful, but they can also be abused, and there are word study fallacies we want to avoid. A few of the most common fallacies include:

  • Cross reference fallacy — Insisting that a word as used in one passage must be used the same way in another passage, simply because the same word is being used.
  • Root fallacy — Insisting that a word’s true meaning is tied to its root meanings, or the parts of the word. But this is not always how language works.
  • Multiple meanings fallacy — Insisting that all the possible meanings of a word occur in a given use in a particular passage. Most of the time, an author had a particular meaning in mind.
Word Studies courtesy of the Holman Christian Standard Study Bible. Used with permissions from B&H Publishing Group, A Division of LifeWay Christian Resources.

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