Tools for doing a Word Study.
A Study Bible e.g. NASB, NKJV, KJV.
Recent translations e.g. NIV, NLT, Amp., NASB, NKJV, KJV, Living Bible etc.
An English Dictionary
A Bible Dictionary and /or Encyclopedia
An exhaustive translation.
Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testament.
Some trusted Commentaries.
Doing a Bible Word Study
1. Choose the Word to Study.
Where do you choose the word from? From your previous Bible study. We advise that you do a Word Study after you have studied a certain passage and then encountered a word whose meaning you want to ascertain. Start off with words that have a narrow meaning so you can gain practice with those before tackling words whose meanings are broader.
2. Define your English word.
Use an English dictionary to look up and write down the meaning of the word. Also write down it’s synonyms and antonyms.
3. Define the word in its original language (Either Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek).
At this point, you need to use either your exhaustive concordance or word study reference (like Vine’s Complete Expository dictionary of Old and New Testament Words) to look up the meaning of the original words.
a) In part one of this step, just write down a short definition of the word.
b) Dig a little deeper and research the origin and meaning of the word. You can find this information in a simple book like Vine’s. But a Bible Dictionary or Encyclopedia will also help. For the New Testament, Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon should usually be able to do the job.
c) As you read your reference books, take note of how the word was used in the secular writings of the time.
4. Compare recent translations.
This stage allows you to learn how other scholars (Bible translators) have rendered the word that you are about to study. Take note of how they have translated it. While your goal is not to take their word for it, you should give some significance to this step and how they have rendered the word because many of these men and women are godly people who are experts in the languages of the Bible. Write down the words used in the different versions.
5. Scripture interprets Scripture.
Do a cross-reference type search but this time look just for the occurrences of the word in the Bible. Note it is the word in the original language. Follow the following order that we use for cross references. You should use an exhaustive concordance as reference tool for this step.
Look in the same book — Find and write down other occurrences of the same word in the same book.
Look in other books by the same author — Find and write down any occurrences of the word
Look for the word in the same testament — Write down any occurrences. Note each Bible writer that uses it, the number of times they use it, which books they use it in, and the number of times they use each word in each of these books.
Look for the word in the entire Bible Bible — Write down any occurrences.
Look for the first occurrence of the word — This is called the principle of first occurrence. The first occurrence of a word in the Bible is often helpful in determining the meaning of the word when it is used a later times.
6. Discover the usages of the word in the Bible.
This step is a crucial step. You need to study each of the occurrences of the word that you identified in step 5 above. Remember that context is King and rules always when you are interpreting the scriptures. So read each passage where your word occurs in context. The goal here is to come up with the meaning of the word as used in each context. In step 3 above, you looked up the short definition of the word and then did a detailed research study on the origin and root meaning of the word. In English, there are some words that can have 10 or more different meanings. For example, the English word “study” has 15 different meanings on dictionary.com. The English word “apply” has 14 different meanings listed. Your dictionary may have more or less definitions listed for these words. But the point is that one English word has many different meanings. It’s the same thing in the Bible languages. A word doesn’t always have the same meaning in every place that it is used. Context will determine what meaning the author is intending to convey with the word as it is used in each passage.
Another reason why the word must be studied in context is that the root meaning or original meaning of the word changes with time. So one cannot force the root meaning of the word on a passage. The passage must determine the scope of the word and not the words determine the scope of the passage. For example, The King James Bible was written in 1611. Since then English has changed a lot. Back when the King James was written, people spoke like that. That’s why Shakespearean language is hard to understand today. New translations use contemporary English words and so read easily for us. But English has changed a lot in only 400 years. Some of the books in the Bible were written about 3000 years ago!
This step will be most time consuming, but it is worth it. Again, the task at hand is to:
a) Study each occurrence of the word in the Bible.
b) Establish context for each occurrence of the word and get the word’s meaning from that context.
Remember that word study like any Bible study is for application and life-change and not merely for interpretation. So write one application and set a SMART goal.