|Series Theme: Bible Study Approaches|
Title: 10. How to Study a Word
A page that explains a variety of approaches to Studying the Bible
This page helps you see how a particular word may be used, and how its use may vary.
Although at first sight you may tend to think this is taking study too far - to break it right down to a single word! - the reality is that we very often read things in the Bible without having a clue what particular words mean. To find out the meaning and usage of words in the Bible can, therefore, often be very helpful in bringing understanding to us.
2. Wrestling with Words
When we come to the Bible to think about word studies, we need to realise various things:
1. The Bible is a book
So we read it like any other book, giving the usual meaning to words as you would in everyday life, e.g. boy, man, anger, etc.
So we may need to use an ordinary dictionary to clarify words we aren't sure about.
2. The Bible is also a technical book
By technical here we simply mean that words have meanings in areas that perhaps we might not otherwise know, e.g. justify, sanctify, sin etc.
So a Bible Dictionary or a concordance might be helpful.
3. The Bible is a translated book
Having been translated out of the original languages in which it was written - Hebrew or Greek mainly - our English word may not fully convey something of the full meaning of the original.
3. Examples of Word meanings
a) Example of "love"
For example the word "love" in English, in the New Testament the two main words in the Greek are:
agapao - to love
phileo - to have tender affection
The first (agapao) is the love that God has for His Son, Jesus, and for us, and also the love we are commanded to have for one another. It is the love of total commitment, not based upon emotion.
The second (phileo) means more to have a strong friendship feeling towards one another.
Probably the classic instance on the play on words is John's account of the conversation between Jesus and Peter after Peter has denied Jesus, Jesus has died and risen, and now Jesus is preparing Peter to become a leader in his church. The ammended conversation goes like this, and we've underlined the words that are sometimes just rendered as "love":
v.15 Jesus: Simon, do you have a total commitment to me?
v.15 Peter: Yes Lord, you know I have a deep friendship feeling for you.
v.16 Jesus: Simon, do you really have a total commitment to me?
v.16 Peter: Yes Lord, you know I have a deep friendship feeling for you.
v.17 Jesus: Simon, do you really have a deep friendship feeling for me?
v.17 Peter: Lord, you know that I have a deep friendship feeling for you.
What was happening here? Well, we can only make a reasonable assumption on the basis of John's record and the Greek words that he used.
Three times Peter had denied Jesus. Before that he had been totally convinced that he was a rock steady follower of Jesus. Now Jesus is checking him out? Well not quite, but read on.
Jesus asks about the total commitment he would apparently expect from a follower, and twice he asks that. Peter is no longer the bold, brash individual he once was. His denials before Jesus' trial have wrought humility in him.
The best he can say is, "Lord, I AM your friend," implying "I know I've blown it, I know I let you down, but I do still feel for you". And that was probably one major understatement!
Finally Jesus even challenges that friendship level. That hurts Peter and he burst out with "Lord, you know all things!"
It's like he says, "Lord, you KNOW what went on when I failed you. You KNOW what I'm really like. You KNOW the depth or rather the shallowness of my commitment, so know that I do have feelings for you as a friend, as weak as they may be."
That's all Jesus wants - complete humility, an awareness of what we're really like. He can work with that, and so three times in this conversation to instructs him in his future service!
b) Example of "church"
The Greek word for church is ekklesia which actually means "a called out company". When a town assembly was called it was an ekklesia. Thus "church" is not a building but a group of people called out and made different by God.
c) Example of "to baptise"
The Greek word here, baptizo was commonly used to signify the dyeing of a garment, or of dipping one vessel into another, or even of a ship sinking. the whole sense of the word is "to immerse in", which is how baptist churches and others profess baptism by total immersion.
4. The Bible is a book with picture language
Some of the language in the Bible is purposefully picture language. Please see the page on "Understanding the Gaps" in this series for a much fuller coverage of this aspect of language.
In addition to what you will find there, note the following example that is characteristic of Jesus' teaching (obscure for the critical, understandable for ther seeker):
In John, chapter 2, we find Jesus in the temple in Jerusalem (v.13,14), in the physical building at the heart of Judaism. When challenged(v.19), he says, "Destroy this temple and I will raise it again in three days." Most of his critical listeners take it to mean the physical building. It takes John, the writer, to explain that Jesus meant his own body (v.21)
The apostle Paul also uses "temple" to refer to our human bodies in his writings (1 Cor 3:16 ,17, 6:19 )