Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Word Study

In the comments on my post about "the ungodly" in Jude, I received a request for tips about how to do a word study. I'm no expert, but I'm happy to share with you the process I learned in the Inductive Bible Study class I took in college. I'm a word nerd, so word studies are one of my favorite parts of the ten-step study process we learned!

It seems like every time I hear a speaker talk about the background of a word, it really sharpens the meaning of the verse and makes it come alive to me. We can miss so much by not knowing the nuances of the original language. So while a word study can't compare to being fluent in Hebrew or Greek, it can be a really powerful tool for deepening your understanding of Scripture.

The first step is to identify the English word to be studied. In the passage you are studying (perhaps a whole book of the Bible; maybe a single chapter or an even shorter section), look for words that are repeated often, or that are unfamiliar/uncertain to you. Take note of ones that seem to be really important to the point of the sentence/paragraph/chapter. If you're studying a long passage, you may come up with quite a list; you can study as many or as few as you have time for. [A note on this: if you use a Bible translation that's a dynamic equivalent (like the NIV) rather than literal (like the ESV or NASB) you may find that the word you're intrigued by isn't actually present at all in the original language--so you'll have to toss it from your list of words.]

Next, figure out the Hebrew (OT) or Greek (NT) word behind the English. I'll assume that if you're reading my blog, you're somewhat computer-savvy and have no desire to do it the old-fashioned way (using a King James Bible, Strong's Exhaustive Concordance, and Englishman's Greek Concordance)! A lot of people like to use BlueLetterBible.org, which is a very helpful site; I prefer a free download program called E-Sword--simply because that's what I started with so it's what I'm used to. Both are fairly user-friendly, I think, so I won't give step-by-step instructions. You can probably figure it out by clicking around and using help menus.

Once you figure out what the word is in the original language, find out where else it appears in the Bible. Depending on the word, you might have a couple of references or a couple hundred. This is the most time-consuming part: look them up. In each passage where the verse is used, look at the context. Note what English word is used to translate it (it won't always be the same). If it's a noun, ask questions like, "What adjectives are used to describe it?" If it's a verb, you might consider, "Who does it? What is its effect?" Figure out the meaning of the word based only on that particular passage.

Eventually you'll come up with a "range of meanings"--a handful of slightly (or very) different definitions for the Greek/Hebrew word. Then go back to your original passage. The word most likely doesn't mean ALL the range of meanings at once; which one fits best?

After you've done the legwork yourself, check your results against a lexicon or a wordbook (like Thayer's, which is built into E-Sword). If you're pressed for time, you could just consult the lexicon from the start. But the information will mean more to you and stick with you longer and if you spend the time digging for it yourself. You'll also have the benefit of knowing where else in the Bible that word is used and what that might mean--like my study of "ungodly" that started in Jude and took me to Romans. In effect, you haven't just studied one passage; you've touched on several others.

And there you have it! I hope that's helpful and clear. Later this week I'll try to put up an example so you can see all the steps in action. Meanwhile, if you have a different method or additional tips (or questions), post them in the comments!

1 comment:

nyina said...

Thank you for serving us in this way!