Word Study

You read a passage of scripture and run across a specific word that you’d like to know more about. Which tools are most helpful, and what steps should you take to explore a word’s meaning?

Step 1: Identify the WOrd & Its Context

A. In what passage does the word occur, and what translation are you reading?

B. How is that word translated in the version that you are reading?

C. What is the word in its original language? (Greek for the NT, Hebrew & some Aramaic for the OT)
If you don’t have access to the Bible in its original languages, either in print or in apps such as Logos or Accordance, then any of the following free websites will help you determine what the word was in its original language:

D. How else is the word translated by other Bible translations? Type the verse into BibleHub and it will automatically show you nearly 30 different translations of that verse. For English translations, pay particular attention to the following (in no particular order): NIV, CEB, ESV, NKJV, NRSV, NET, CSB, NASB, NJB. See BibTheo.com/BibleTranslations for guidance on different Bible translations, as well as on the important difference between a translation and a paraphrase.

Step 2: Statistics (For NT WOrd Study)

A. How many times does the word occur in the Greek New Testament (GNT)?If you don’t have access to the Bible in its original languages, either in print or in apps such as Logos or Accordance, then the following website will help you with all of the questions for Step 2 (arranged in order of ease of use):

B. How many times does the word occur in the rest of the book from which the verse occurs?

C. How many times does the word occur in the remainder of the NT? (Pay attention to genre/literary corpora)

D. How many times does the word occur in the Septuagint? (i.e., LXX, the Hebrew Old Testament translated into Greek)

Step 2: Statistics (for OT word study)

A. How many times does the word occur in the Hebrew Old Testament (Hebrew Bible/HB)?If you don’t have access to the Bible in its original languages, either in print or in apps such as Logos or Accordance, then the following website will help you with all of the questions for Step 2 (arranged in order of ease of use):

B. How many times does the word occur in the rest of the book from which the verse occurs?

C. How many times does the word occur in the remainder of the OT? (Pay attention to genre/literary corpora)

D. (Advanced question) Which Greek words were used to translate this Hebrew word in the Septuagint (LXX)?

Step 3: Range of Meaning

A. What are the definitions offered by the various lexicons? Pay attention to both the definitions and the sample passages suggested for each definition. Lexicons will often vary in how they construct a word’s range of meaning, so take careful notes.

BDB

  • “completeness, soundness, welfare, peace”: Gen 29:6; Ezek 13:16; Jer 13:19
    • completeness in number”: Jer 13:19; Amos 1:6
    • safety, soundness in body”: Ps 38:4; Is 38:17; Job 5:24
    • welfare, health, prosperity”: Gen 43:27; Judg 18:15; 2 Kgs 9:11
    • peace, quiet, tranquility, contentment”: Isa 32:17; 1 Kgs 2:6; Ps 69:23
    • peace, friendship”
      1. “human relations”: Jer 20:10; Obad 7; Ps 41:10
      1. peace with God”: Num 25:12; Mal 2:5; Jer 33:9
    • peace from war”: Job 25:2; 1 Kings 5:26; Isa 39:8
    • “those at peace with him”: Ps 55:21

Step 4: Meaning Suggested by Target Text

A. Based on your work above, especially with Step 3, what are your preliminary thoughts on the best definition for your passage?

B. Look at some commentaries or other resources that discuss the linguistic features of the biblical passage under study. What are their most convincing arguments for the translation of the word in this passage?

  • Major Commentary Series The following major commentary series tend to include discussion of the linguistic features of a biblical passage. They are not the only commentaries to include this sort of information, but they are commentaries that are expected to include this sort of information:
    • Anchor/Anchor Yale Bible Commentary (AYBC)
    • Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (BECNT)
    • Hermeneia
    • International Critical Commentary (ICC)
    • New Cambridge Bible Commentary (NCBC)
    • New International Commentary on the Old Testament/New Testament (NICOT/NICNT)
    • New International Greek Testament Commentary (NIGTC)Sacra Pagina (SacP)
    • Word Biblical Commentary (Word)
    • Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the Old Testament/New Testament (ZECOT/ZECNT)
  • Handbooks for Translators
    • Baylor Handbook on the Greek Text series. Waco: Baylor University Press, 2003-.
    • Baylor Handbook on the Hebrew Text series. 2008-ongoing.
    • Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament series. Nashville: B&H, 2010-ongoing.
    • United Bible Societies Handbook Series: New Testament. 20 vols. 1961-1995.
    • United Bible Societies Handbooks on the Old Testament. 21 vols. United Bible Societies, 1973-ongoing.
  • Journal Articles
    • See BibTheo.com/ATLA for guidance on finding peer-reviewed journal articles. Look for articles that include linguistically-minded terminology. See BibTheo.com/journals for a list of recommended peer-reviewed journals.

C. Based on your own analysis and your consultation with qualified guides, how would you translate the word in the passage under study? How might you communicate your understanding of how this word contributes to the meaning of the passage?

For Further Reading

Word studies are just a small part of the larger discipline of linguistics. The reading there is vast, so the following list is designed to help biblical and theological scholars, pastors, and interested laypersons take their first steps into the broader discipline. If you are doing graduate work or want to become more advanced in this area of expertise, you will have to make time to learn biblical Greek and biblical Hebrew. For resources there, see BibTheo.com/Greek and BibTheo.com/Hebrew.

Justin J. Evans put together a helpful Word Study Guide for North Central University. http://libguides.northcentral.edu/wordstudy/guidehome?fbclid=IwAR1E4AXiTPAxzz36tZLPBSXR1eaOxPBlXBGuABXRot6cGUJCJy7TBtJqLEs

Moisés Silva, Biblical Words and Their Meaning: An Introduction to Lexical Semantics. Rev. and exp. ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994.

Plummer, Robert. Daily Dose of Greek.

Futato, Mark, et al.. Daily Dose of Hebrew.

4 thoughts on “Word Study

  1. I had heard that in the translation process into English from either Hebrew; Greek or Aramaic; that the word CARPENTER when translated into English somewhat changes the meaning that was present in the original text. What I once read; was that rather than Jesus and his father Joseph; being by trade CARPENTERS ( or those who worked with wood in the building trades); were “STONE MASONS” BY TRADE ACCORDING TO THE ORIGIONAL TEXT. WHICH IS TRUTH? WAS CHRIST AND HIS FATHER “CARPENTERS” OR WORKERS OF WOOD; OR WERE THEY “STONE MASONS” OR BUILDERS OF STONE HEWED OUT FROM MOUNTAINS OR QUARRIES AND THEN CHISELED BY HAND?

    Like

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