How to do Word Studies

WordWritten By George Zeller

1A.  The Importance of
Word Studies.

1B.
See Matthew 4:4; 24:35; 1 Tim. 6:3; Rev. 22:18-19.  Every word that
proceeds from the mouth of our God is of utmost importance!

2B.
Consider such important words as FAITH, GRACE, JUSTIFY, LOVE, REDEEM, SANCTIFY,
GOSPEL, CONFESS, HOLINESS, etc.   We need to understand how God
defines these crucial terms.

2A.  The Importance of
Knowing the Meaning of the Greek Word.

1B.
Sometimes the same English word may represent different Greek words.

Examples:

1)  John 21:15-17.  Two different Greek words
for “love” are used in this passage; and two different Greek words for “feed”
are used.

2)  Galatians 1:6-7.  Two different Greek
words both translated “another.”  The first means “another of a different
same kind” and the second means “another of the same kind.”

3)  2 Corinthians 5:18-19 with Hebrews 2:17.
The word “reconciliation” is found in both of these passages but there are two
different Greek words.  A word study of the word in Hebrews 2:17 would
reveal that it actually means “propitiation.”

4)  2 Peter 2:7-8.  Here again we have two
different Greek words both translated “vexed” by the KJV translators.  The
meaning of these two words is similar but not identical.

2B.
Sometimes different English words may represent the same Greek word.

Examples:

1)  Matthew 28:19 with Acts 15:14
nations=Gentiles

2)  Philippians 3:6,12,14
persecuting=follow after=press

3)  Luke 4:1    Ghost=Spirit

4)  1 Corinthians 13:8
fail=vanish away

5)  John 3:8    wind=spirit

6)  1 John 2:20,27
unction=anointing

3B.
Sometimes the Greek word is not translated into English at all, but it is merely
transliterated into English.  So what you really have is a Greek word
spelled with English letters!

Examples:

1)  See the word list in
Chapter 2
for several examples:  baptize, demon, evangelize, mystery, parable,
prophet, Sabbath, etc.

2)  1 Corinthians 16:22  (compare Galatians
1:8-9).  If you were to translate the word “anathema” is would means
“accursed, devoted to destruction.”    “Anathema” is a
transliteration;  “Accursed” is a translation.

3)  Matthew 1:20 (angel).  Compare Mark 1:2
where this same Greek word is translated (angel=messenger).

4)  See Revelation 19:1,3,4,6 where we have a
Hebrew expression that has been transliterated into Greek:
ajllhlouvia
The Greek word was then
transliterated into English (Alleluia).   An actual translation of
this word would be “Praise ye the LORD.”   

5)  Sometimes a
transliteration can be very misleading.  In 2 Corinthians 9:7 the word
“cheerful” is the Greek word hilaros (
iJlarovς).
If we were to transliterate this word, we would have, “God loves a hilarious
giver!”  Obviously this is not the meaning of the verse.  “Cheerful”
is a much better translation. Hilaros to the Apostle Paul meant the same
as cheerful means to us today.


4B.  If a person does not
know Greek, how can he determine which Greek word underlies the English word
which he is studying?

For example, how can one
discover that two different words for “love” are used in John 21:15-17 or that
“unction” and “anointing” are two ways of translating the same word in 1 John
2:20,27 or that the word “messenger” in Mark 1:2 is the same word as “angel” in
Matthew 1:20?  To make such discoveries you need a TOOL!  You need an
interlinear Greek-English New Testament (in which the Greek words are written
directly above the English words). I would recommend either one of the
following:

1)  The Englishman’s
Greek New Testament
by Zondervan Publishers.

2)  The Interlinear
Greek-English New Testament
with a Lexicon (dictionary) by George Berry (Zondervan
Publishers).

Note:  There are
different Bible software programs that will also help you to see which Greek
words underlie the English words if you are more inclined to use a computer in
doing your Greek studies.

3A.  The Importance of
WORD USAGE.

1B.
USAGE DETERMINES MEANING.

The question ever before us is this:  HOW WAS THE
WORD ACTUALLY USED?  How was the word used in the New Testament?  How
was the word used in the Septuagint? (very helpful)  How was the word used
by other Greek writers? 

Compare a DICTIONARY.  A dictionary is merely a
listing of WORD USAGE (a catalog of how words are used in any given language).

2B.
ETYMOLOGY DOES NOT DETERMINE MEANING.

“Usage determines the meaning of words”–James L.
Boyer, “Semantics in Biblical Interpretation,” Grace Journal, Vol. 3, No.
2, Spring 1962.

“The meaning of a word depends on its usage, not on its
derivation”–“Biblical Exegesis and Hermeneutics,” Encyclopedia Britannica,
Macropaedia (1974), Vol. 7, p. 61.

“Usage determines the meaning of words”–Rollin T.
Chafer, The Science of Biblical Hermeneutics (Dallas, TX:
Bibliotheca Sacra, n.d.), p. 28.

Etymology is concerned primarily with the history of a
word.  It is the study of the derivation of a word.  Etymology is the
study of the original meaning of a word (which is often different than
the true meaning of a word as that word is currently being used).
WORD USAGE is concerned with how words are actually used and how they are
currently used;  ETYMOLOGY is concerned with how words were originally
used.  Therefore, it is USAGE not ETYMOLOGY that must determine the meaning
of a word.

3B.
ETYMOLOGY CAN BE MISLEADING AND THUS HARMFUL

1C.  English examples:

1)  sincere    

The etymology of this word is “without wax”  (sine=without
cera=wax).  But today is you describe a person as being “without
wax” would people conclude that you are describing a sincere person?

2)   book

The etymology of this word is “beech-tree.”
But if you said to someone, “Over the summer I read a very enjoyable
beech-tree,” would the person understand your meaning?

3)  silly

This word originally derived from the verb “to bless.”
But it is SILLY to think that we use this word in that way today!

4)  etymology

This word is from the Greek etumos which means
“true,” and hence the word means “true meaning.” But “etymology” really means
“original meaning.”   So even the word “etymology” does not really
mean etymology!  In other words, its original meaning does not agree with
its current usage, and to find the “true meaning” we must always go by the
current usage.

5)  understand

But what does “standing under” have to do with
understanding?

6)  prevent

This word originally meant “to come before” and is used
that way in the KJV of 1 Thessalonians 4:15. But we don’t usually use this word
in that way today.  Today it means “to hinder, to keep from happening” as
“the father prevented his son from going out into the busy road.”

2C.  Greek examples:

1)  The word for “read” – anaginoskō
(ajnaginwvskw)

ana = again
ginoskō = to know      

But what does “knowing again”
have to do with reading?

2)  The word for
“deacon” – diakonos   (
diavkonoς)

dia = through
konos
= dust    [Note:  This derivation is questionable.
Some scholars would disagree with the assertion that diakonos originally
meant through + dust].  But assuming that the derivation is legitimate,
what does this really tell us about deacons?   “To raise a dust by
passing through” and thus a deacon is one who serves energetically!
Certainly we would want deacons who “raise a dust” in their energetic service
for Christ but to base this on the questionable derivation of this word is not a
sound use of language.   The word actually means “servant” and deacons
are to be humble servants of Christ.


4B.  ETYMOLOGY CAN BE
HELPFUL.

Etymology can be of great value
in illustrating the meaning of words.  But, the meaning must first
be determined by usage.  Etymology can serve to illustrate a word whose
meaning has already been determined by usage
.

Examples:

1)  coveteousness
pleonexia
(
pleonexiva)

pleon = more     
exia
= to have

A covetous person is never
satisfied. He desire to have more and more and more.

2)  gospel
euangelion
(
eujaggevlion)

eu = good
angelion = announcement

The gospel is an announcement of
good news, glad tidings!

3)  moment (1
Corinthians 15:52)         
atomos
           (
a[tomoς)

Compare the English word “atom”

a = un (a negative
particle)     tomos = to cut;  hence atomos
means “uncut, unable to be divided.”

How quickly will the Rapture take
place?

This is answered in 1 Corinthians 15:52, “in a
moment
, in the twinkling of an eye.” The word “moment” is interesting.
It is the Greek word “atom.” The word atom means “not cut,
you cannot cut it anymore.” Suppose you were to keep cutting up a pie into
smaller and smaller pieces. If you had a knife sharp enough and small enough
you could keep cutting the pieces down to the point where you could not cut
the pieces or particles any smaller. We call this an “atom.” [However, we
now know that you can even cut atoms into smaller particles].

The term “atom” is also used of time. We
can cut time into years and into days and into hours and into minutes and
into seconds. An “atom of time” is the smallest measurement of time
(the point where you can’t cut time anymore). In English we might call this
a “split-second.” How fast will the Rapture take place? In a split second,
in the twinkling of an eye. If you blink, you will miss it!

4)  confess (1 John 1:9)   
homologeō
   (oJmologevw)

homo = same
logeō
= to say
This, “to same the same thing”

When I confess my sins I am
saying the same thing
about sin that God does.  I am agreeing with God
that what I have done is sinful. I am seeing my sin as God does.  God says
that I have sinned and I am agreeing with God and saying, “Yes, Lord, I have
sinned and done this evil in Thy sight” (Psalm 51). 


5B. WORD USAGE CHANGES WITH TIME.

Word usage is not constant
through time. Changes in meaning often occur. Language is in a state of constant
flux as long as the language is living (still being used). Dead languages
(such as Latin) never change!

Example:

The King James Bible was published in 1611. Since that time many English words
that were then used have changed their meaning and have become obsolete. This is
one of the reasons for the word changes that you find in the New Scofield Bible.
Some of these obsolete words are as follows:

1) “wot” (Romans 11:2)

2) “let” (2 Thessalonians 2:7)

3) “Ghost” (Matthew 28:19)

4) “every whit” (John 13:10)

Can you think of others?

6B. THE SAME WORD CANS BE USED IN
A VARIETY OF WAYS.

Consider the
word up. It is easy to understand up toward the sky or toward the
top of a list. But when we waken, why do we wake up? At a meeting,
why does a topic come up, why do participants speak up, and
why are officers up for election? Any why is it up to the
secretary to write up a report?
Often the little word isn’t
needed, but we use it anyway. We brighten up a room, 1ight up
a cigar, polish up the silver, lock up the house, and fix
up
the old car. At other times, it has special meanings. People stir
up trouble, line up for tickets, work up an appetite,
think up excuses, get tied up in traffic. To be dressed is
one thing, but to be dressed up is special. It may be confusing,
but a drain must be opened up because it is stopped up. We
open up a store in the morning and close it up at night. We
seem to be mixed up about up.

To be up on the proper use of up look up the word in your
dictionary. In one desk-size dictionary up takes up half a page,
and listed definitions add up to about 40. If you are up to
it, you might try building up a list of the many ways in which
up
is used.. It will take up a lot of your time but, if you
don’t give up, you may wind up with a thousand.

–Frank S. Endicott

 

So don’t be surprised if the same Greek word is used in different ways in the
Greek New Testament!

4A.  The Procedure for
Doing a Word Study.

Step 1

Select the word that you
desire to study.

 

Perhaps it is a word that you came
across in your personal study or devotional time, and you want to better
understand what this word really means and how it is used in the Bible. For our
example we will choose the important verb in 1 Thessalonians 4:17—”caught up.”
 In
the Latin Bible this is the verb “raptur
Ç

from which we derive our English word “rapture.” Thus this word study will shed
important light on the true meaning of the term “rapture.”  This verse
which we have selected is our “target passage.” We want to determine the meaning
of this particular verb especially as it is used here in this verse.

Step 2

Find every place in the
Bible where this word is used.

 

The fundamental
principle for doing word studies is this: USAGE DETERMINES MEANING. Sir Robert
Anderson has stated it well: “In dealing with a dead language, etymology
(the origin or history of a word) may sometimes afford a clue to the meaning of
a word, but the only safe and certain guide to its meaning is its use.” Since
usage determines meaning
, we must see how our verb in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 (HARPAZ
Æ,
aJrpavzw) is used
elsewhere in the New Testament

and hopefully this will shed light on its meaning in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 which
is our target passage.

Note:
The New Testament was written in Greek and the Old Testament in Hebrew (with
the exception of a few Aramaic passages). Since the Greek verb we are studying
is in the New Testament, we need not consult the Old Testament because God did
not use the Greek language when He gave the O.T. The ambitious student,
however, could study how the verb is used in the Septuagint which is an
ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament, as long as he keeps in mind
that the Septuagint is a translation, and is not the original text God gave.

In order to complete STEP 2, you need a
tool called a CONCORDANCE.

1.  The Englishman’s Greek
Concordance
is the ideal tool because it gives you all the information you
need very quickly. It will list every place the verb is found in the New
Testament. Also it is not necessary to know Greek in order to use this
concordance.

2.  Young’s Analytical
Concordance
or Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance may also be used, but
it will take you many more steps to find the same information. This is because
these concordances are arranged according to the English words, not the Greek
words.

3.  There may be computer programs
which can give you the information you need. But what you need to find is every
place in the New Testament where the verb HARPAZŌ is found.

Note: You don’t want to find
every place where “caught” or “caught up” is found because these English words
may be translated from different Greek verbs, and we are only concerned about
the verb HARPAZŌ. Also there are places where HARPAZŌ is found but the English
text does not translate it as “caught” or “caught up” at all (such as John
10:28 where it is translated “pluck” or Jude 23 where it is translated
“pulling”).

With the help of a concordance you will
find that in addition to 1 Thess. 4:17, the verb HARPAZŌ occurs in 12 other
places in the N.T.

 

Matt. 11:12 take

 

John 10:28 pluck

 

2 Cor. 12:2 caught up

 

Matt. 13:19 catcheth away

 

John 10:29 pluck

 

2 Cor. 12:4 caught up

 

John 6:15 take by force

 

Acts 8:39 caught away

 

Jude 23 pulling

 

John 10:12 catcheth

 

Acts 23:10 take by force

 

Rev. 12:15 caught up

 

Step 3

Study and classify usage.

What meaning makes the best sense in
each passage? Is the word used in different ways? Pay close attention to the
context of each passage. Look at each passage where the word is used and try to
get a “feel” for the word. On a piece of paper write down some comments as to
how the word is used in each of the different passages that you look at. The
following is a study of the word HARPAZŌ and how it is used:

Matthew 11:12. Used of something
being taken violently by force.

Matthew 13:19. Used of the devil snatching away and removing the seed (of the
Word) that was sown in the heart.

John 6:15. Used of the Jews who wanted to take Christ by force and make Him
King.

John 10:12. Used of a wolf who catches and takes away the sheep (snatches
them, grabs them by force).

John 10:28-29. Used of God who will never allow the true believer to be
plucked out (removed, taken, snatched) from Christ’s hand and from the
Father’s hand. No wolf will ever catch or snatch these sheep (cf. John 10:12).
The believer will never be raptured from God’s hand.

Acts 8:39. Used of Philip who was supernaturally caught away (removed,
suddenly taken from one place to another). In this case it involved sudden
disappearance (“the eunuch saw him no more”).

Acts 23:10. Use of Paul who was taken by force, grabbed and taken away from
the Jews for the sake of his own safety.

2 Corinthians 12:2,4. Used of Paul who was caught up (snatched up, quickly
taken up) to the third heaven or paradise. He was not sure whether this
happened in the body or out of the body, but he knew that he was removed from
earth to heaven.

Jude 23. Used of snatching (pulling out, quickly removing) something from the
fire.

Revelation 12:5. Used to describe the ascension of Christ. He was caught up
(quickly removed) from earth to heaven.

Note: The ambitious student could also study the
verb HARPAZŌ as it is found in the Septuagint. The book A Concordance of the
Septuagint (Bagster) reveals that this verb is found in the following places in
the Septuagint (ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament): Gen. 37:33;
Lev. 6:4; 19:13; Deut. 28:31; Jud. 21:21,23; 2 Sam. 23:31; Job 20:19; 24:2,9,19;
Psalm 7:3; 9:30 (twice); 21:14; 49:22; 68:5; 103:21; Isa. 10:2; Ezekiel
18:7,12,16,18; 19:3,6; 22:25,27; Hos. 5:14; 6:1; Amos 1:11; 3:4; Micah 3:2; 5:8;
Nahum 2:12. 
My copy of A Concordance of
the Septuagint
was difficult to read because the print was somewhat smudged.
Because of this, some of these references may be inadvertently copied in error.
Most, however, should be correct.

Step 4

Summarize your
conclusions.

Write a brief paragraph in which you
describe how this word is used in the New Testament. Here is an example of a
summary paragraph that might be written for the verb HARPAZŌ:

As used in the New Testament, the verb HARPAZŌ means “to take, take by force,
snatch, snatch up, grab, remove quickly, catch up, catch away, pluck out.” It
always involves some force outside the person (or thing) acting upon it and
causing the person (or thing) to be taken or snatched up or removed. It often
implies sudden removal and it often refers to a person being quickly (and
supernaturally) taken from one place to another.

Step 5

Apply your results to the
target passage.

How does what I have learned about this
word help me to understand its meaning in the target passage? How does my study
of HARPAZŌ help me to understand the meaning of “caught up” in 1 Thessalonians
4:17?

It is helpful to write out your results. Here is our example: The verb “caught
up” in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 means “snatched up, caught up, taken away quickly,
suddenly removed.” Just as Philip was supernaturally and quickly caught away
from one place to another (Acts 8:39), just as the Lord was supernaturally
caught up to heaven at the time of the ascension (Rev. 12:5), just as Paul was
supernaturally taken to the third heaven (2 Cor. 12:2,4), so it will be that
living believers at the coming of the Lord Jesus will be supernaturally caught
up and suddenly removed from earth to heaven. It also implies “sudden
disappearance” (Acts 8:39 and compare Hebrews 11:5). Someday believers will be
suddenly acted upon by an outside force as our Lord calls us to be with Himself!
“Even so, be coming, Lord Jesus!”

Step 6

Check your results with a
lexicon.

A lexicon is a dictionary. A Hebrew
lexicon would give the meanings of the words found in the Old Testament. A Greek
lexicon would give the meanings of the words found in the New Testament.
Consulting the lexicon should be your last step. After you have done all your
work, then you can consult the lexicons to see if they give the correct meaning.
Remember, the person who wrote the lexicon had to follow the same steps that you
followed. What does the lexicon say about how the word is used throughout the
New Testament (just as you did in STEP 4)? What does the lexicon say about how
the word is used in your target passage (just as you did in STEP 5)? Do you
agree with the lexicon? Remember, lexicons are not infallible. Here are some
examples of what the lexicons say about the verb HARPAZŌ (see chart on the next
page). You will notice that these dictionaries basically are in agreement with
what you have already learned about the verb.

 

 

Lexicon or Dictionary The Meaning of the Word in General The Meaning of the Word in 1 Thess. 4:17
Arndt & Gingrich snatch, seize, take suddenly, carry off, snatch
or take away
snatch or take away (in such a way that no resistance is
offered)
Thayer seize, carry off by force, snatch out or away, to
seize and carry off speedily
used of divine power transferring a person marvelously and
swiftly from one place to another: “to snatch or catch away”
Vine to snatch or catch away used of the rapture of the saints at the return of the Lord
Bullinger to snatch away, to carry off (suddenly and by
force)
to snatch away, to carry off (suddenly and by force)
Kittle to take something forcefully, often with the thought of speed,
snatch
to catch up or away, expressing the mighty operation of God

 

Please notice that the lexicons did no really tell you
anything that you did not first learn yourself. Thus you are not depending on
the lexicons, but you are just using them as a helpful check or confirmation of
what you have already discovered by your own study of the how the word is used
in the Bible.

The following is a listing of helpful
dictionaries that can be used without a knowledge of Greek or Hebrew:

Greek

A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament by
Bauer, Arndt and Gingrich used in connection with the Index to the Bauer,
Arndt and Gingrich Lexicon
by John R. Alsop (Zondervan). The Index
helps those who do not know Greek to be able to use this lexicon.

Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words. Easy to use. You
look up the English words and it will discuss the underlying Greek words.

A Critical Lexicon and Concordance, E.W.Bullinger. Similar to Vine’s. But
be careful because Bullinger, though a fine scholar, denies eternal punishment
and is ultra-dispensational in his thinking.

Hebrew

Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament
by Brown, Driver and Briggs used in connection with the Index to Brown,
Driver & Briggs Hebrew Lexicon
compiled by Bruce Einspahr. This lexicon is
probably the best available. Though it was done by unbelieving liberals, the
definitions, for the most part, are accurate.

Old Testament Word Studies by William Wilson. This is the closest thing
to Vine’s that we have for Old Testament word studies.

Nelson’s Expository Dictionary of the Old Testament, edited by Unger and
White.

Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, Harris, Archer, Waltke.


Two other helpful word study books:

Synonyms of the New Testament by Archbishop
Trench (Greek words).

Old Testament Synonyms by Girdlestone (Hebrew words).

Read the Bible, and read it
again. Do not despair of help in understanding something of the will and
mind of God. Though you have no commentaries and expositions, pray and
read, and read and pray. A little from God is better than a great deal
from man. What is from man is uncertain and often lost, but what is from
God is fixed as a nail in a sure place.

There is nothing that so abides with us as what we receive from God. The
reason many Christians are at a loss as to some truths is that they are
content with what comes from men’s mouths without searching and kneeling
before God to learn of Him. Even known truths are new to us when they
come with the breath of heaven upon them.


—John Bunyan

George Zeller (revised 2004)


 

 

 

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