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Word Studies

A word study is essentially as it sounds, studying the meaning of certain words in order to grasp the meaning of an entire verse, passage, chapter, etc. Authors J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays reassure us that, “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…”[1] They list three important steps with regard to this enterprise:

  1. Choose Your Words Carefully: You actually don’t need to study every single word in the Bible. Most words are plain as day to the average reader. Duvall and Hays offer four particular types of words to look for when doing a word study.
    1. Words that are crucial to the passage. These particular words might be “loaded with historical or theological significance.”[2] They might often be “key nouns and/or verbs.”[3]
    2. Repeated words. Usually the author of the book/epistle will “signal theme words by repeating them…”[4]
    3. Figures of speech. For example, when Jesus says He is the “gate” in John 10:9 or the “light of the world” in John 8:12 these are figures of speech to signify something that may or may not be automatically obvious.[5]
    4. Words that are unclear, puzzling, or difficult. A good approach to take is to regard those particular words that give you interpretive trouble as the most important.
  2. Determine What the Word Could Mean: “[M]ost words can mean several different things (e.g., spring), but will usually carry only one of those meanings in a particular context.”[6] Our goal is to locate the point of overlap between the word’s range of meaning in its original language and its range of meaning in English. Duvall and Hays remind us that, “The one rule in doing word studies that overrules all other rules is this: Context determines word meaning.”[7]
  3. Decide What the Word Means in Context: Once you have identified what the word could mean within the overlap between both ranges, you must decide what the word means given the context. “Context includes everything that surrounds your word, such as the paragraph containing the word, the subject matter, the author’s argument or flow of thought, as well as external factors such as the historical situation of the author and the original audience.”[8]

Never lose focus of the goal of word studies: “to understand as precisely as possible what the author meant when he used a certain word in a specific context.”[9]

Check back next week for Chapter 10: Who Controls the Meaning?

We’ve barely scratched the surface with Grasping God’s Word! We highly recommend you purchase this excellent book here.

[1] J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God’s Word, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 163.

[2] Ibid, 169.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid, 170.

[7] Ibid, 174.

[8] Ibid, 177.

[9] Ibid, 178-179.