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The Bible as we have it today was not always like this. As you may know, the Bible was originally written in Hebrews (the Old Testament), Aramaic (a portion of Daniel), and Greek (the New Testament). Thankfully, translators over the years have diligently worked to make sure we have an accurate translation of the Bible in our own language.
However, like any language, there is no perfect translation of one to another. Every word is not going to have an identical translation into English. For example, consider the word “firstborn;” what comes to mind? In the English language, we immediately think of the oldest child in the family, the one who was literally born first. In Hebrew and Greek however, the firstborn did not carry that sole meaning; it often carried the meaning of being in the highest ranking (cf. Colossians 1:15; Romans 8:29; Exodus 4:22).
Not only that, there are words within some languages that are untranslatable. There are also other little nuances within languages that can only be seen in the original language and are no translated over into a new language easily. For example, in the Greek language there are various marks that can add emphasis to words (like how we might bold or underline a word).
This is all to say that it is definitely of value to study the original languages of the Bible.
During my time doing university online, I took a beginners’ course in Biblical Greek. What I learned was beneficial in many ways, and I am thankful that I had the opportunity to learn some of the Greek language. However, it was by no means easy. In some ways, I considered learning Greek to be as difficult as learning advanced mathematics (and I despised that for how difficult it was). If you have lots of time, patience, and determination, I highly recommend learning the Greek language.
Interested In Learning Greek? Here’s My Recommendation
If you do have interest in learning the Greek language, I highly recommend Bill Mounce‘s books and lectures. As difficult as learning Greek was, Bill Mounce’s material made it so much easier. He even has a free flashcard software for your computer to help you memorize the vocabulary words. If you have the time and desire to learn Greek, learn it under the teachings of Bill Mounce. All you need is his textbook*, the workbook*, and the lectures (which are all much more affordable than an university course!).
Of course, all of us are not capable of doing so, mostly because of the time issue. BUT you can still study the languages of the Bible to an extent without fully knowing Greek or Hebrew! I used the steps below to study words in the Bible before I took my Greek course.
Throughout this tutorial, I will be showing you various ways of completing each step, in which I will be featuring one of my favourite Bible study tools: Logos. If you are able to get your hands on the Logos software, do it! I cannot recommend this product enough. It makes the word study process much simpler. That said, I do recognize this is an expensive product (I got mine as part of university tuition), so I will be providing a less expensive option throughout the tutorial.
Step One | Choose a Word
Obvious, right? 😉 I thought it was still worth mentioning because it is possible to choose better and worse words to study. I recommend choosing a word that fits one of the following criteria:
- Key to the passage
- You do not understand it
- It raises a question
Keep in mind that you should do a word study from within a passage you are already studying, that way you already have the proper context. (To learn how to get the proper context, check out this post).
Step one, check!
Step Two | Find All the Places That Word is Used
Your next step in doing a word study is to find all of the uses of that word within your Bible translation. It is important that you stick with ONE translation for this process; different translations will translate your word differently so it will become confusing and you won’t gather accurate data.
You will also want to be careful of looking for words between testaments. Remember, the Old Testament was written in Hebrew while the New Testament was written in Greek, so one word in the Greek will not translate perfectly to the Hebrew. I recommend only finding verses within the same testament. When you find these verses, I write down as many as you can.
There are a couple of ways you can do this:
Check the Cross-References within your Bible
If you have a NASB or ESV it most likely has little letters within the text that correspond to a reference in the margins of your Bible. This may take you to other verses where this word is present. However, it won’t be a 100% complete listing of the uses of your word, and it may only take you to passages with the same subject and not the same actual word.
Use a Concordance
A concordance has Bible verses listed topically, usually in alphabetical order. Kind of like a dictionary, but instead it provides Bible verses rather than definitions. Most Bibles contain a concordance at the back. If you look up your word or a topic that relates to your word in a concordance, you should be able to find some other places that use your word. Once again, this will not be 100% complete.
Search on Blue Letter Bible
This is a free online resource for Bible study. If you search for your word in the search bar at the top, it should give you a complete list of references where that word exact is used in the Bible.
Do a Bible Word Study in Logos
Go to the verse which contains your word within Logos. Then right click on the word. A popup should appear with two columns; in the left column, click on Bible word study. In the new window, click on the blue-coloured circle and a list of references should appear that show how your word is used within its testament.
This list will be complete and only provide you with references that use your exact word. If your word is translated in various ways throughout your Bible translation, it will show you all of these forms of the word and list all of the corresponding references. Make sure you take note of all these different ways it is used and have some references to go along with it.This will be an extensive and complete list of the uses of your word.
If there are not many references, I suggest writing all of them down. However, some words will provide you with hundreds of references that would take too long to write down. In that case, simply chose some key verses for your word study.
Step Three | Narrow it Down
At this point, we are going to start narrowing down what your word could mean. From your last exercise, you may have discovered that your word translated a few different ways. For example, the word heaven in NASB translate as heaven, sky, and air. In my specific verse, it cannot mean all of those things at once. For that reason, we must narrow it down.
First, define how it is used within the whole testament your verse is contained in (that should have been concluded from your last step). Go a bit narrower and see how it is used by the original writer. Then go even narrower and see how it is used within the book of the Bible you found it in. This should help you get a general idea of what the word could mean.
Use discernment and the interpretations you have already made about the passage to help you figure out the best possible meaning and definition of the word.
Step Four | Consult Other Resources
As usual, since we are fallible people, we need to check what other people have discovered and concluded and compare it with our answers.
Logos users have it easy within this step; at the top of your Bible word study window, under the word LEMMA, you can find a list of lexicons that provide you with definitions.
For those who do not have Logos, you have a couple of options:
- Find a lexicon. You can buy these fancy books at Christian bookstores or online. They provide you with definitions of the biblical words.
- Search on Blue Letter Bible. Search your verse on Blue Letter Bible. Click “tools” button next to it. Click on your word and it should take you to a new page. Next click on the green tab that says “lexicons.” This will provide you some lexical definitions for your word. You can also check out the red tab that says “dictionaries.”
- Use commentaries. Some commentaries will comment on the definitions of words, and some will even provide extensive word studies. These can provide helpful information, but they won’t give you lots.
And there you go! You should have a decent, well rounded word study to help in your literary interpretation.
Since this was a lot of information, I thought it may be helpful to provide you with a Bible Word Study worksheet to guide you along the process. Your welcome 😉 If you already have a password, you can find this password in our new resource library. Don’t have the password? You can receive it by signing up here.
What are your favourite resources for studying God’s Word? Do you have an amazing resource for studying the original languages? Shoot me an email and tell me about it.