Bible Study 101 Part 4: Studying the Word Requires Word Study

To avoid being a sloppy Bible scholar, we must adopt good habits by using effective word study.  Why does this matter? First, our due diligence reflects our acceptance of the authority of scripture (2 Timothy 2:15 and Matthew 24:35). Second, as 1 Peter 3:13-16 reminds us, word study empowers us for Christian Apologetics (see also my blog Almost Isn’t Good Enough).  Let’s address the history of word study, the hows of word study, and the hurdles of word study.
History of Word Study
Historically, the concept of word study is based on the term etymology which speaks to the origins, meanings, and historical references to words. This should come as no surprise given cultural and geographical experiences that impact word meaning.  Think of the word bad which based on context refers to something terrible, something to avoid, something that stands out, or something “cool.”  You may wonder, however, how this applies to our study of scripture.
In short, the principles of etymology greatly impact word study during our Bible study because observation, interpretation, and application guard our hearts and minds against ignoring Jesus’ warning in Luke 17:1-3.  Imagine situations when we arbitrarily manipulate or disregard Biblical definitions and implications of sin, love, faith, heaven, hell or salvation.  Does this seem impossible?  Does this seem ridiculous? Does this seem hyperbolic?  It shouldn’t. We see this all too often. Our challenge is to avoid the temptation of playing word games or embracing self-serving motives (Ephesians 4:14-16).  By the same token, we should be prepared to lovingly confront even unintentional eisegesis.
Hows of Word Study
The science of Biblical hermeneutics is well-established.   At the very least, observation (what the text mentions), interpretation (what the text means), and application (why the text matters) should guide our proper word study and Biblical exegesis.  Proper word study also involves a recognition and use of minimal resources such as a study Bible, Bible dictionary, commentary, and manners and customs book.  Each will provide a holistic approach in identifying the nuances of word meaning, context, and frequency.
Hurdles of Word Study
Word study is not easy because we must do our due diligence to find Biblical word meanings, especially given our various attention levels and spiritual maturity.  Webster’s Dictionary just doesn’t cut it for expositional studying, teaching, or preaching. We must unpack word meaning like a miner searching for gold. That being said, I don’t know a lot of people who spend, let alone enjoy, spending  30 to 60 minutes researching references to “love” and their impact on practical application of John 3:16. We can and should do better.
Another hurdle to word study involves a commitment to understanding grammar and sentence structure.  By definition, a sentence must have at least a subject–the focal point of the sentence–and a verb or predicate–the actions of the focal point.  Sometimes the subject seems “hidden,” because it’s an imperative or command. Take Jesus’ statement about the Great Commission for instance. Matthew 28:19 begins “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…” Because the word “Go” begins an imperative, the subject is considered “You” which can be both a plural and singular verb.  Here, Jesus speaks to the plural “You’s” who are the eleven disciples (Judas had already hanged himself out of guilt for portraying Jesus), the plural and future “You’s” of all Christians, and the singular “You” of a singular Christian reading the Bible.
An additional hurdle about word study consists of proper application (see my previous blog Handle with Care Part 7:  Application of Scripture).  Given a word’s original meaning, location within a sentence, and frequency throughout the entire Bible, how’s this impact our understanding of context as well as practical application today?  This is where the rubber hits the road. Until we answer this question, word study is just a meaningless, academic endeavor.

Next week, I’ll discuss and model a word study on believe and its relevance to distinctions between general knowledge and saving faith.

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