How To Do A Word Study With Your Bible

I’ve been highlighting tools that can be used to do an effective Bible Study and so far we’ve underscored reading the text. Repeatedly. And taking notes while reading. But now I want to highlight how a person might want to examine the meanings of words.

One of your better tools is the English dictionary. If you’re using the KJV, this winds up being more difficult but the point here is that words mean something and sometimes our misreading can be predicated on what we think a word means.

  • Free: Dictionaries are readily available online at several sites (m-w,, the Free Dictionary).
  • Not-Free: More expensive programs have dictionaries but I find it easier just to hop over to Websters online.

Sometimes, folk want to see the meaning of the original language by examining a word, like the word love or church (for example).

I don’t think that this is the best way for most of us to study the Bible.

Too often we approach Word Studies as delving into secret knowledge accessed only by The Original Greek or The Original Hebrew.

Get this straight: if you really want to study the original words you’re going to have to learn the original languages. That means not only words; you have to get grammar.

If you don’t want to learn koine Greek or ancient Hebrew it’s really best to rely on the experts who work with original languages. And don’t think you can get away from it. Even your KJV was translated by a committee of translators.

So the best advice in this area is not really to pick up this or that program tagged with Strong’s numbers and a Strong Concordance link (you should); nor is it to pick up Vine’s book (you can); nor is it even to get a real lexicon like the BDAG (though you must). The best method is to run (not walk or mozy) to your local bookstore, or launch your not-free program and add the module, or immediately hop on over to Amazon and pick up DA Carson’s Exegetical Fallacies. This is a book you should definitely have before you start hardening yourself in some mistaken opinion. Maybe this is legalistic, but I don’t think you should be preaching if you don’t own and read this book.

  • Free options: The KJV with Strong’s numbers comes in about every single piece of free software you can find on the web (E-Sword, Mac-Sword, Olive Tree (check out Mike talking about it for the iPad), Xiphos). The way it’s used is by enabling the numbering system that are hyperlinked to an article that lists the Greek words. Unfortunately, the concordance doesn’t list the conjugation of the word, just the word and, very often, the roots that make up the word. This is problematic in that roots are not always indicative of the meanings of words.  A Fireman is not a man made of fire and a butterfly is neither a fly nor a saturated fat; in like manner an ekklesia isn’t Called Out Ones. Also, check out free robust tools like Perseus.
  • Not-Free Options: Logos has a really good tool for getting underneath the English text by using the most recent editions of the Greek Text. It also links to some tremendous lexicons with very long articles on specific words, cognates, and even key phrases. Bibleworks is apparently better for doing straight exegetical work with the original languages. Unfortunately, in both cases, if a person doesn’t know the original languages these tools wind up being very dry, likely confusing, and really doesn’t tell you why your translation chose this word over against that one. Gramcord avoids all the other stuff from the big applications and comes at a fraction of the cost but you’ll  have to know the original languages. Lexicons are integral to word studies so check BADG; Milligan and Moulton; Thayer; Cremer.

In all cases, the best two tools for doing a word study are (1) reading the text in its context and (2) picking up the book right now. As the author DA Carson’s dad would say “A Text without a Context is a pretext for a Prooftext”.

Crossposted at Digital Sojourner.

And as an added perk, here’s how a word study looks like (pdf’s one and two).

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