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Word Studies

Getting Started


The purpose of conducting a word study is to shed light on the meaning of the biblical text. There are a number of common pitfalls in popular works on word studies, so this guide will focus on directing students to reliable resources. This guide will use Blue Letter Bible for certain parts of the process. Be sure to check with your professor to see what he/she prefers.

Concerning Semantics

Semantics \si-'man-tiks\ noun: The study of meaning in language.

Recent insights from the field of semantics has had tremendous impact on biblical studies. The most basic thing to remember is that words get their meaning from the sentence in which they occur. For example, the word "crash" means something very different in the following sentences:

  • "Ralph crashed the party."
  • "After the party, Ralph crashed his car."
  • "Ralph listened as the waves crashed on the shore."

Some people refer to the "semantic range" of a term in order to cover the entire spectrum of how a given term might be used. However, it is always the context that shapes the precise meaning of a term. One of the most common errors made in this task is to mistakenly assume that all possible meanings are present in a given text. In other words, people interpret the entire semantic range of a term within their passage. Try instead to ask yourself what the specific meaning of the term is within the verse(s) you have chosen.

Choosing a Concept/Word

Your professor may have guidelines for how many or which words to analyze. If you are uncertain which word(s) to select, consider the following helpful advice adapted from Gordon Fee's New Testament Exegesis (pp. 80-81):

  1. Note any words that are known to be "theologically loaded" (e.g., elpis "hope," dikaiosune "righteousness," etc.)
  2. Note  ambiguous words that make a significant difference in meaning
  3. Note any repeated words in a section or paragraph that form a motif