Word Studies

Have you ever tried to put together one of those thousand-piece puzzles? The box cover features a majestic mountain scene or a picture of three cute kittens in a basket. Then you dump out all one thousand pieces and start to recreate the picture. Again and again you pick up a puzzle piece, look at its shape and its colors, and try to fit it into the larger scheme of things. Every piece contributes something to the picture even as the larger picture gives definition to each individual piece.

Words are like pieces of a puzzle. They fit together to form a story or a paragraph in a letter (i.e., the big picture). Until you know the meaning of certain words, you will not be able to grasp the meaning of the whole passage. Not knowing the meaning of certain words in a passage of Scripture can be compared to the frustrating discovery that you don’t have all the pieces to your puzzle. Like individual pieces of a puzzle, words bring the larger picture to life. Words are worth studying!

New Testament scholar Gordon Fee says that the aim of word study “is to try to understand as precisely as possible what the author was trying to convey by his use of this word in this context.”[8] As readers we do not determine the meaning of biblical words; rather, we try to discover what the biblical writer meant when he used a particular word. We should always keep in mind this distinction between determining meaning and discovering meaning. In addition to serving as a purpose statement, Fee’s definition also highlights the importance of context.

This section is all about studying the words of Scripture. Even if you don’t know the original biblical languages, Hebrew and Greek, you can still learn to use interpretive tools to do a word study properly, and we will show you how. We start the unit by alerting you to common mistakes people make when studying words. Then we go on to explain how to identify words in a passage that need further study, how to determine what a word could mean, and finally how to decide what a word does mean in context. In each phase we ask you to interact with us and practice the necessary steps. Since most people learn a great deal by having a model to imitate, we will close the unit with a full example of how to do a word study. Again, you don’t have to know Greek or Hebrew to do a word study properly. You can do this, but you need to know the proper procedure. Your reward for studying words carefully will often be a breathtaking view of a majestic biblical scene.

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