Building an Exegesis

Webpage designed by Kevin Hatcher ('07) in consultation with the Biblical Studies Department in July 2007.

Completing a Word Study

Download the Worksheet | Download the Greek Word Study Guide

Difficulties of Word Studies

One of the most difficult tasks of an exegesis is finding the actual definition of a word. Although it would seem easy just use a dictionary, the problem is you must find the meaning of the original Greek or Hebrew word. Unfortunately for general education students, you probably have never been exposed to Greek or Hebrew. But don't worry; there are lots of sources created to help people with word studies.

Which Words are Important Enough for a Word Study?

Identifying which words need to have a word study can be difficult. Luckily, you already have some information to help you decide. Remember when you noted the differences between translations of key words? Your list from the worksheet is an excellent starting point for finding words on which to do word studies.

You might also try to read through your passage and list words for which you are unsure of the meaning, but which seem important. In all cases, the following words and phrases should be researched. (1)

  • sin
  • blessed
  • salvation
  • the righteousness of God
  • love
  • the fullness of time
  • justification
  • the hour has come
  • grace
  • holy and acceptable to God
  • How to Begin a Word Study

    After you have selected a word that you want to understand better, the next step is to begin the word study. Here are some ideas on how to get started:

    1.Find Other Verses That Use the Same Word

    There are several ways of finding other verses:
    1. Use a concordance. It will give you every occurrence of the English version of your word. Be very careful though - just because the same English word is used doesn't mean that the same Greek or Hebrew word was!

    2. Use The Word Study New Testament by Winter and Winter (2) in conjunction with The Word Study Concordance by Wigram and Winter (3) or another set of books like these. The Word Study New Testament provides an English copy of the New Testament. Underneath major words is a number system. If you match the number of the word to the same number listed in The Word Study Concordance, you will find the Greek word that is used in that verse along with every other occurrence of the Greek word in the New Testament. These books are very useful sources. Note: it is not wise to rush through this process and just write down the first three verses that use the word. You need to find out how the word actually used. Take some time to find verses that seem appropriate to the context of your passage.

    2.Find the Definition of the Word

    There are several ways of finding other definitions:
    1. To find the most in-depth definition use a Greek-English or Hebrew-English lexicon. However, these types of books can be difficult for beginners to use since most are organized according to the Greek or Hebrew alphabet. The Greek Word Study Guide and Hebrew Word Study Guide can help you find the correct word if you have already seen what the Greek word looks like.

    2. Another way to find the definition is to use sources like A.T. Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament (4) or Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (5). These books use the English words but explain what the actual original Greek meant. Make sure you remember what your verse reference is, since this will be very helpful when using these sources.

    (Advanced Step) Note How the Word is Used

    The preceding steps help identify the root meaning of the word. If you have training in Greek and Hebrew, see if you can also parse the word.
    • Which part of speech is the word?
    • What is the mood of the word?
    • What is the word tense
    • Is the word singular or plural
    • Is the noun nominative? Accusative? Etc.

    Analytical lexicons like William D. Mounce's The Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament (6) are excellent sources for parsing.

    Apply What You Found

    Now that you have all of this information about a particular word, reread the verse with your new understanding. This will accomplish two things. First, you will find new insight into your verse, since you now have a better understanding of what is being said. Second, make sure that your definition makes sense contextually with your verse. If the meaning you have found does not match what the verse is saying, then you may have to do more research to find out the original meaning. If you become too frustrated because of this, make a note of the problem area and move on to the next word or to the verse-by-verse analysis. Sometimes understanding other key parts of the passage can inform the meaning of the word that is difficult to understand.

    Sources for Word Studies

    • Language and Word Studies Books: This assortment of books cover definitions, proper Greek or Hebrew grammar, interlinear translations of Scripture, and much more.
    • Lexicons: Lexicons provide the parsing information along with a definition of the root word. However, most are alphabetically arranged to either Greek or Hebrew.
    • Concordances: Concordances provide lists of Scripture that use the same English word in that translation. Note: This does not necessarily mean that the Scriptures are discussing the same things-- even though the same English word is used. If you use a concordance, make sure you read the other Scripture in its context CAREFULLY!
    • Bible Translations: Bible translations easily show where scholars have interpreted a word, phrase, or verse differently. This can give insight into a word's meaning since most interpretations are not entirely right or wrong but draw on a particular use of a word.


    Note What Commentators Write
    Unfortunately, you can not use this method until after you start the verse-by-verse analysis. However, remember when you start your verse-by-verse analysis. Pay attention when scholars make comments about the meaning of particular words. Their statements can provide insight into a word, especially if that particular commentator connects the meaning to his/her interpretation of the verse and passage. Some sources have multiple definitions of the same word. Make sure you find the ones most appropriate to your passage.

    Use the Library's Word Study Guides
    The Word Study Guides that the Benner Library has created contain a lot of useful information as a quick reference for word studies. The sources listed on the Word Study Guides have all been approved by Olivet Biblical scholars. Keep a copy of the Word Study Guides available while you are completing your word study.

    Works Cited for this Page

    1. List based in part on Dr. Larry Murphy's Guidelines for Biblical Exegesis. Olivet Nazarene University. 2006-2007 edition.
    2. Winter, Ralph D. and Roberta H. Winter. The Word Study New Testament. Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers. 1978.
    3. Wigram, George V. and Ralph D. Winter. The Word Study Concordance. Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers. 1978.
    4. Robertson, Archibald Thomas. Word Pictures in the New Testament. New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers. 1932.
    5. Vine, William E. The Expanded Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words. John R. Kohlenberger and James A. Swanson eds. Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers. 1984.
    6. Mounce, William D. The Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House. 1993.
    Last updated June 20, 2007
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