Skip to main content

Word Study: Guide Home

   

Overview

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

Overview

In this first step, you will need to locate your passage in Blue Letter Bible and then display the original language. The New Testament was written in Greek and the Old Testament was written in Hebrew with a few passages in Aramaic.

Keep in mind you will be doing a word study on the original language, not the English translation.

 

Locate Your Passage

Once you are on the homepage for Blue Letter Bible, you will need to follow these two steps:

  1. Change the "version" drop-menu to "NASB"
  2. Perform a search for your passage

 

Display the Original Language

Once you have found your verse, you will need to display the original Hebrew/Greek. Click on the "tools" button next to your verse.

The Hebrew/Greek will be displayed below the English.

Overview

Now that you have discovered the Hebrew/Greek terms used in your passage, you are ready to look up other occurrences of your word. Keep in mind that you are looking up other occurrences of the Hebrew/Greek term, not the English translation.

 

Look Up Other Occurrences

Scroll down to find your word in the table below the Hebrew or Greek text. Click on the "Strong's" number that corresponds to your word.

This will provide search results for all occurrences of your Hebrew/Greek term. So, instead of searching through the English translation of teh word "Listen," you are actually searching through the Hebrew text of the Old Testament for all inflections of the word shama'.

 

Too Many Results?

The Lexicon results are now displayed, which include the basic definition of your term. Scroll down and find the concordance results (the most valuable information in a word study).

Depending on the word you select, you may have far too many results to properly analyze. In the example I have used, there are a total of 146 occurrences through 83 verses of the word shama'. If I wanted to limit the number of verses to analyze, I could restrict my search to a genre. Since I began my search in Isaiah (a prophetic book), I can limit myself to analyzing how this term is used within all of the prophetic books. Another option is to limit my search to all the occurrences in a single book.

Overview

After you have done your own investigation, you are ready to consult the work of others by looking up your word in a theological dictionary or lexicon. Do not skip the work of your own investigation, because the most important data is what you have gathered looking at the biblical text yourself.

There are many excellent theological dictionaries available to consult, some of which require the user to know Hebrew/Greek. This guide will take you through the process for using one of the options available for the Old Testament or New Testament. Consult the QuickBib below to discover other resources.

 

Old Testament

If you are working in the Old Testament, look up your word in the New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis. Follow these steps:

  1. Convert the Strong's number to a G/K number* (use the conversion table found in vol. 5, page 761)
  2. Find your article using the G/K number

     

*G/K Numbers (Goodrick/Kohlenberger) are an alternative system of classification from Strong's.

Having Trouble?

  • Sometimes your word is covered in another article (such as with derivatives). Check the articles nearby.
  • Some major articles are listed under an English title in vol. 4 (see the pictures below which illustrate how one would look up tora, or "law")

     

 

New Testament

If you are working in the New Testament, look up your word in the New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology & Exegesis. Follow these steps:

  1. Convert the Strong's number to a G/K number* (use the conversion table found in vol. 5, page 370)
  2. Use the Greek Word Index (vol. 5, page 340) to find where your word is discussed (often a word may be discussed under an article on a different word)
  3. Locate the article in vols. 1-4 (they are in order using the G/K number)

*G/K Numbers (Goodrick/Kohlenberger) are an alternative system of classification from Strong's.

Quicklinks

     Library Hours & Events