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Summary of Biblical Genres June 23, 2010

Posted by TJ Friend in General Principles, Genre, Interpretaion, OICA.
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Hi. Today I want to review the major genres found in the Bible. I have already devoted a post to each of these genres, but I thought it would be good to have a short summary of each of them that you can refer to help you in the interpretation step of OICA. By placing the genres together, with a short description of each, you can see which genre you are dealing with and some of the things to look for as you try to interpret it. For a more detailed look you can review the longer posts I have done on the genres.


This is the most basic genre. It is where the author is describing events. This is the genre of books like Genesis, Exodus, Joshua, Ruth, Esther, Acts and other places where there is a story being told.

1. Take it Literally

2. Treat it as a story. Find out what is going on, who the main characters on and why things are happening the way they are.


This genre is where people are speaking. It can be a sermon, a prayer, or any other long speech. The book of Job has a lot of this, but there are also examples in the Gospels, such as the Sermon on the Mount, and in the book of Acts.

1. For the most part take this literally. The exception to this is if it is in another genre like a parable, a poem, or a prophecy.

2. Determine the main point of whatever the person is saying.

3. Take things literally, but don’t believe everything that people say. In the book of Job, there are a lot of things said that are simply not true. If you know who is speaking you can determine if what they are saying is true or not.


Poetry is the genre of Psalms. It is full of symbolic language and is full of emotion.

1. Look for repetition. In ancient times, repetition was used for emphasis, so pay attention to the things that are said more than once.

2. Look for parallelism. Sometimes (especially in Proverbs) an idea will be stated and then restated either as its opposite or from a different perspective. The two ideas are basically saying the same thing

3. Don’t take the figurative parts literally! Look for the comparisons being made by the figures of speech.


The genre of prophecy is found wherever there are prophecies. These books are easy to recognize: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah, Amos, etc. There are also prophecies in the Gospels, the Epistles and Revelation.

1. When you come across a prophecy see who it was given to originally (Israel, Judah, everyone). Interpret it first in light of the original hearers of the prophecy.

2. Look to see if the prophecy has already been fulfilled.

3. Please do not read too much into prophecy. Prophecy is not meant to be a map that lays out exactly what will happen in the end times. It is there to draw us to repentance and help us to be ready for when Christ returns.

4. Because of the symbolic nature of prophecy, there are many ways people have interpreted it. We need to be alert and keep watch for the signs of Christ’s return. But, ultimately, we do not know what it will be like. There are far too many debates and arguments over one persons interpretation of the end times vs. someone else. Eschatology (the study of the end times) should not supersede soteriology (the study of salvation). Our focus is and should continue to be the lost, not the last days, souls not signs.


The epistles fall under the bigger category of discourse. These are the letters that were written either to single individuals or groups. The majority are found in the New Testament, although there are some in the Old Testament as well (there are some in Nehemiah). They are addressed to a specific group for a specific purpose.

1. Find out who the author and the audience are.

2. Read the epistle in light of what the author was trying to say to the audience.

3. Try and figure out why the letter was written in the first place. What was it written in response to? You can actually answer a lot of these questions, simply by reading the epistle and looking for clues as to who it is written to and why it was written. Observation is the key.


There are four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. They are written as witnesses to Jesus’ death and resurrection.

1. Look for what each author emphasizes in his gospel. What are the important events or discourses that are recorded? Why are these recorded?

2. Try and read them with a fresh perspective. We have been so inundated with the story, that we can easily forget what it must have been like for the original hearers would have felt as they heard these Gospels. As you read them, forget the ending and put yourself in the shoes of someone reading it for the very first time. What would stand out?

3. Compare other Gospels. Because there are four Gospels, there are many things that are repeated in different Gospels. As you compare and contrast what is said in the different Gospels, you can get a sense of what each individual author was trying to emphasize.

4. Unless you are reading a parable or allegory, or someone is using a figure of speech take these books literally. Jesus actually did come down, become a man, die on a cross and rise again in 3 days.


Apocalypse is the genre of revelation. It is something big revealed to someone. This is similar to prophecy although in an apocalypse the events being described are of a large scale. This genre can be found in the book of Revelation and also parts of Daniel.

1. The goal of this genre is to get a big picture understanding of what is going on. Because of all the figurative and symbolic language there are certain things that we simply will not be able to know until they happen. We don’t need to understand every single detail, but merely let the pieces come together to show us a picture of what is to come.

2. This genre should not be taken literally.

3. As you read through, try and see how you would live your life differently if you had an eternal, God-prevails focus.

Wisdom Literature

Wisdom literature is basically Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes, although there are other small sections throughout the Bible. This is the genre of wise sayings and the wisdom of man.

1. Proverbs – These are not promises. They are general truths that will help you live out your life in a godly manner.

2. Job/Ecclesiastes – There is wisdom in these books, but it is found at the end. Job’s friends spout out their false theology which God rebukes at the end. The writer of Ecclesiastes gives a cynical view of life, but then comes back at the end and points to God as the only one who gives meaning to life.


Parables are short stories that have a moral to be learned. Allegories also are short discourses, but are different from parables in that they have more than one point of comparison. These are mostly found in the Gospels.

1. Look at the situation or question to which the parable/allegory is a response to. How does this answer the situation/question?

2. For a parable find the one key point being made and don’t try to see more than is there. For an allegory look for the main point and see how each of the points of comparison adds to this main idea.

Ethical Instruction

In this genre I would put proverbs, laws, and promises.  These are found throughout the Bible, but there are a lot in Deuteronomy, Leviticus, and of course Proverbs.

1. Proverbs are not promises and should not be taken as such.

2. Promises are not universal. See who they are for and if they apply to you.

3. A lot of the Old Testament laws were only for the people back then. As a general rule, we need to follow the Old Testament laws that are also found in the New Testament.


What is your favorite genre and why?


Interpretation: Summary June 9, 2010

Posted by TJ Friend in Interpretaion, OICA.
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Hello, all. For the past few weeks we have been going through the Interpretation step of OICA (Observe, Interpret, Correlate, Apply). Today, I want to finish up Interpretation, by giving you an overview/summary which you can refer to whenever you are studying a text. For the summary of Observation you can see my previous post here.

Interpretation is a more in depth look at the text. It is in this phase that you use whatever reference tools you have and study different aspects of the text. If you have done a thorough job on Observation and put in the time in Interpretation, you should have a good grasp of what the text is saying. Even if you don’t have all the resources to do each of these steps, you can still do a few of them and doing so will get you to the heart of the text. There are 6 steps to Inerpretation.

1. Genre Analysis

We have already spent a lot of time going over the different genres. Figure out which genre/s your passage fits in and use that information to make sure you are interpreting the passage correctly.

2. Word Studies

Find two or three important words and do a short word study on each of them. After each word study answer the question: How does this help me understand my passage better.

3. Historical/Cultural Studies

For this step find two or three cultural issues to study and find out more about them. It is also in this step that you want to research any geographic issues in your text. Again, after each study ask yourself how it relates to your passage.

4. Discourse Analysis

For discourse analysis try and understand the relationships between each of the propositions. If this is not possible, at least break your passage into two or three main ideas and figure out the relationships between these bigger chunks.

5. Contextualization

For this step read the bigger context of your passage in an effort to figure out what is going on both before and after your text. Without spending too much time read and ry to summarize the sections before and after your text. You don’t need to understand them completely, but just enough to see how your passage fits in to the overall picture.

6. Summary

After you have done these steps you should have a good idea of what your passage is saying. Using what you learned in analyzing the discourse write a paragraph summarizing the main ideas and transitions in the passage. This should help bring everything together so that you can write a ONE sentence summary of the passage. Try and make this sentence as short and simple as possible, without leaving any of the big ideas of the text. If you are having trouble with this go back and look over the discourse some more.


Think of a passage that became more alive after you learned something more about it. What did you learn that helped you understand the passage better?

Interpretation: Discourse Analysis – part 2 June 4, 2010

Posted by TJ Friend in Interpretaion, OICA.
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Hello. Today we are continuing our discussion of Discourse Analysis. Last week was all about finding the propositions. This time I want to talk about “determining the relationships”. Every proposition is related to another one is some way or another. Sometimes the relationship is stated, but a lot of times it is not stated. Before we can get into the details of comparing propositions we need to distinguish between “subordinate” and “coordinate” relationships.

Subordinate vs. Coordinate Relationships

Every proposition is related to another one in some way or another. The most basic way they are related is if they are coordinate or subordinate. Coordinating propositions are on the same level grammatically, while a subordinating conjunction is dependent on another proposition for its meaning. Coordinating propositions are related with the words “and” or “or”. Pretty much any other conjunction (but, so, therefore, when, if, etc.) will be for subordinating propositions. If there is no conjunction you will have to look at the logic to decide if its coordinate or subordinate. If I say: I went to the store and went for a bike ride. These are two coordinating conjunctions. Not only is there an “and” in between them, but they are two separate ideas that are not dependent on each other. But, if the sentence is: I went to the store by riding my bike. This is a subordinate relationship. “by riding my bike” does not make sense alone, it needs to have the first part of the sentence there in order for it to make sense.

Clauses can be connected grammatically or logically. Sometimes, you will have a word that shows how the clauses are related. As I mentioned earlier the words “and” or “or” are grammatical clues that help you see that the clauses are related coordinately.  Subordinate clauses are marked with words like: “but”, “until”, “while”, “by”, “so that”, “in order to”, “because”, “as a result”, etc. These words are not absolutes, but just clues to help you see that you are most likely dealing with a subordinate clause. These are the grammatical clues. But, just because there are no connecting words, does not mean that the clauses are not related. Sometimes they are related logically, with no grammatical clues at all.

Take for example these two sentences:

Michael Jordan is really good at basketball. He would easily beat me in a one-on-one game.

These two sentences are related, but there is no conjunction between them. They could simply be coordinate clauses with no dependent relationship, but the second clause could also be subordinate. If you think about it, you could actually make one big sentence out of these two little ones, and put the word “therefore” in between them. Or you could start the first sentence with the word “because”. Either way the relationship would be more clear with a connecting word. But as they stand you can still see the logical relationship between them. “Because” MJ is so good at basketball, he would win in a game of one-on-one.

It is important to look for these logical relationships, because often there will be no words to help determine the relationship.

Coordinating Relationships

Once you decide if you are dealing with subordinate or coordinate clauses then you can see what type of relationship you are dealing with. Subordinate relationships are far more common and a little more difficult so we will start with the easier coordinating relationships. There are three types of coordinating relationships: Series (S), Progression (P) and Alternative (A). Each category has a letter or symbol which is used to abbreviate it. When you are actually doing Discourse Analysis you can just use the abbreviations.

Series (S) – 2 ideas that are related in a general way. I ate a sandwich and drank a glass of milk.

Progression (P) – 2 ideas that are related and are either building toward something or diminishing into something. The boy ran away from home. He stole a gun and held up a bank.

Alternative (A) – 2 ideas showing different possibilities. I could take a nap or I could clean my room.

Subordinate Relationships

Subordinating relationships are adverbial in nature. They tell when, where, why or how something is done. Therefore it is important to distinguish which clause/idea is the main idea and which one is helping to describe it. This is important because sometimes the main idea comes after the clause that is describing it. As you are going through the process of DA try and make a note of what these main ideas are. They will give you insight into what the passage as a whole is about.

Action-Manner (Ac/Mn) – A statement and the statement about how it was accomplished. I got ready for bed, by putting on my p.j.’s and brushing my teeth.

Comparison (Cf) – A statement that describes the main statement with a comparison. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who have trespassed against us.

Negative-Positive (-/+) – A statements where one is positive and one is negative. You are dead to sin, but alive in Christ.

Idea-Explanation (Id/Ex) – One idea is given and another idea explains it in more detail. It was a great day, the day I was born.

Question-Answer (Q/A) – A question and an answer. What book are you reading? I am reading the Bible.

Ground (G) – A statement that tells why something is. Mary and Joseph to Jesus to Egypt because Herod was trying to kill him.

Inference (the abbreviation for inference is a triangle of dots, just like the shorthand way of writing the word “therefore”) – A conclusion drawn from a statement. My t.v. is broken therefore I will not be watching it.

Action-Result (Ac/Res) – One action happens and another one results from that action (the second action is not planned). She laughed so hard that she snorted.

Action-Purpose (Ac/Pur) – One action that is designed so that another action will happen. I went to the store to buy some shoes.

Conditional (If/Th) – 2 statements where one is the “if” and one is the “then”. Sometimes the words “if” and “then” are not there, but the relationship is still there. If God is for us, who can be against us?

Temporal (T) – A statement that tells when something else is taking place. They went for a run while it was still light out.

Locative (L) – A statement that tells where something else is happening. I want to be where the people are.

Bilateral (Bi) – This is a statement that serves 2 purposes. It supports what comes before it, and what comes after it. Because I am thirsty, I need some water, so that I do not dehydrate.

Concessive (Csv) –  This is something that happens in spite of something else. Even though it was cold, I went for a walk in the park.

Situation – Response (Sit/Res) – A statement in response to an idea. The people shouted “Surprise” and he fainted.

All of these are just guides to help you figure out what the passage is about. There are different options for how two propositions relate to each other. For each set, go through the options and see what makes the most sense with the context. Once you see how the smaller units fit together, put them together into bigger units and compare those bigger units as if they were single propositions. The goal is to get a big picture idea of what the passage is about and to understand how all the smaller units relate together to make up that bigger idea.

There is a lot more to say on this topic, but there are far better resources out there. If you are really interested in Discourse Analysis I would recommend the book “Interpreting the Pauline Epistles” by Thomas Schreiner, which I used in the formation of this present blog post. More importantly though is the website: www.biblearc.com. This site has videos and other tools which are amazing. Not only can you learn all about arcing there, but you can actually do it there as well. I would highly recommend at least checking out the site.


No reflection. Just go check out the site I just mentioned.

Interpretation: Discourse Analysis – part 1 May 19, 2010

Posted by TJ Friend in Interpretaion, OICA.
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Hello again. It has been awhile. I hope you have been enjoying the blog up to this point. Conceptually, we are about to get into the most difficult aspect of the exegetical process – discourse analysis. Discourse analysis, may be tricky at first, but it is vital to the understanding of a passage.  If you take your time and apply this to your study of a passage it will give you a whole new perspective and make the passage “come alive”.

Basic Definition

Discourse analysis should be done as part of the Interpretation step. It will help to have the background info you have gained from the Observation step. In general discourse analysis is “analyzing the discourse”. It is breaking down a passage into its smaller units and identifying the relationships between them. I like to think of it as dissecting a passage. If a paragraph is represented by a pile of bones, then discourse analysis would be the process of putting the bones together so that you can see the skeletal shape and know what type of animal you are looking at.

Overview of the Process

Discourse analysis consists of 3 steps. Step 1 is finding the propositions. Step 2 is determining the relationships between the propositions. And step 3 is summarizing your results. The propositions are the small units that make up what a sentence or verse is saying. By identifying these small units you can synthesize verses down to their smallest pieces and then compare them together. Because the propositions are smaller, they are more manageable and can help us see the bigger picture more easily. Once we get the basic structure of a passage, then we can see how the smaller details fit in.

Finding the Propositions

Because this is such a complex topic, I wanted to break it down in to two parts. In this first part, I will go over the first step (finding the propositions). Next week, I will talk about  step 2 (determining their relationships) then finish with step 3 (summarizing).

So, what is a proposition? A proposition is basically a statement. It has a verb and a subject (the person or thing doing the verb). Apart from that there are many things that are added onto the proposition to make it into a sentence. There can be an object that the verb is done on (direct object) or you can add adjectives and adverbs to describe things in more detail. There can be prepositions, indirect objects, and genitives all adding to the proposition and explaining it in someway or another.

In this first step we are simply looking for the propositions. Every proposition has a verb or verbal idea. Therefore, these verbs are the first things to look for to determine the propositions. Find every verb or verbal idea in your passage. As a general rule, each proposition only has one verb, although sometimes there are two verbs working together to make one verbal idea. You can see this with helping verbs (“He will be done at 5” is one proposition because “will” and “be” are part of the verb “done”). As you are looking for these verbs find the basic “heart” of the proposition (the verb and its subject), but you also need to see where it begins and ends. A lot of propositions end in either some type of punctuation, like a comma or a period, or they end with a conjuction (“and”, “but”, “therefore”, etc.).

examples of propositions

1. I went to the store. (To simplify this to its most basic part would be “I went”. This is the verb and its subject. The “to the store” just explains the proposition more.)

2. We drove to the mountains and went hiking. (In this example, there are 2 propositions: “we drove” and “we went hiking”. You can see that even though the word “we” is only used once it applies to both verbs.)

3. My big, fat, greedy brother ate my taco when I wasn’t looking. (Again this is 2 propositions: “my brother ate” and “I wasn’t looking”. All the other words, simply give more detail to the propositions.)

Always try and supply a subject to each proposition, even if one is not stated. The subject is sometimes stated earlier and you just need to find it and plug it in. Other times the subject is not stated at all. This is the case with imperatives like “Stop!” or “Don’t eat that” (both of these have the implied subject “you”).

When looking for propositions, don’t be fooled by: 1 –  verbal ideas that describe nouns or 2 – verbs as part of clauses which describe nouns.

examples of #1

The girl petted the purring cat. (This is one proposition – “the girl petted”. “Purring” is describing the cat and so is not a separate proposition.)

The boy swatted the fly, buzzing by his head. (This is one proposition also – “the boy swatted the fly”. The word “buzzing” is describing the fly and is not part of a separate proposition.)

examples of #2

The girl who reads books likes to write. (The proposition here is – “the girl likes to write”. “Who reads books” is another adjectival phrase which describes the girl.)

I saw a generic, romantic, boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy finds girl, comedy last night. (This is an extreme example of a phrase that is describing a noun and is not a separate proposition. The simplified proposition is – “I saw a comedy”.)


Discourse analysis has 3 parts

1. Finding the propositions

2. Determining the relationships

3. Summarizing

Propositions are made up of subjects and verbs

Look for the basic part of a proposition and also it’s beginning and end

Some words look like verbs, but are actually functioning as adjectives


For this reflection I will write a paragraph. This is very easy. Simply read it and find all the propositions, then put them in simplified form. Don’t write out the whole proposition. Take special note of punctuation and conjunctions so that you can see the beginning and end of each proposition. This will be good practice for you. I will list the simplified propositions with their subject, verb and object at the end of the paragraph. By the way, this is the paragraph. Go!

1. I will write a paragraph

2. this is easy

3. (you) read it

4. (you) find the propositions

5. (you) put them

6. (you) write out the proposition

7. (you) take note

8. you can see the beginning (and end) – this verb has 2 objects

9. this will be practice

10. I will list the propositions

11. this is the paragraph

12. (you) go

Interpretation: Cultural Studies April 7, 2010

Posted by TJ Friend in Interpretaion, OICA.
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Hello all. I don’t have too much to say on this topic, as I have already said a lot about historical/cultural studies here. Today, I would like to finish up the discussion on these cultural studies. In the Observation step of OICA you make note of these different historical/cultural issues. It is in the Interpretation step that you actually research these issues. If you already have a list of the historical/cultural issues found in your passage, great. If not, you should go through and find some of them. If you are having trouble finding some, look at the people, the places, the interactions, the objects, etc. Even if you find some thing that you think you know, it is good to check it out anyway because it could be different for us then it was back then.

Once you have a list of issues, pick some to study more in depth. Depending on how big your passage is, you can do as many or as few as needed. Obviously, the more you do, the better it will be, but even if you just do one or two it will be helpful. Pick out the things that either seem important to the general idea of the passage or just pick things that seem interesting to you. Don’t try and pick out the one issue that will “unlock” the passage. These cultural studies should shed more light on the specifics of the passage, and should not be taken as the “meaning” of the passage. Just like with word studies, cultural studies add to the overall interpretation of the passage. Don’t rely on these cultural studies to discover the meaning of the passage without taking into consideration the other aspects of interpretation like word studies and discourse analysis. The main thing is to learn more about your passage, and pretty much any issue you decide to study will lead you toward this goal.

I know this may seem anti-climatic, but doing these cultural/historical studies is actually fairly simple. Get yourself a Bible dictionary and look up each issue. If there are cross-references to other verses listed then take a look at those so that you can get a feel for some of the other contexts. Once you have read and studied it a little bit, try and summarize your findings into one or two sentences. Finally, write down how this study impacts your understanding of the passage. This last step is the most important.

That is it. If you already have a Bible dictionary, great! If not, you should get one. For the most part the content is similar. I would make sure you get one that is as thorough as possible (not abridged). Look at the length of the articles and how much cross references they give. Another thing to look for is pictures and maps. Finally, make sure you get something that is up to date. We are continually learning more and more about these ancient worlds and you want to have the most current information. If you don’t have access to a Bible dictionary and can’t buy one (at this time) here is a link to an online version. There are a few different ones here, but they are pretty old. Even so, an old dictionary is better than none at all.


For the reflection, do a study on the idea of “hospitality”. This is one of the biggest values for the ancient world and is something that we (especially in America) are unfamiliar with. If you can, think of a passage that has hospitality in it, and see how this new information can help your understanding of the passage.

Interpretation: Word Studies pt. 2 March 18, 2010

Posted by TJ Friend in Interpretaion, OICA.
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Hello again. In case you missed it here is the  link to Word Studies part one. Today I will be continuing on with my series on OICA. We just finished the “O” section (Observation) and are moving on with Interpretation. Last week we talked a little bit about word studies and how to do them. Today, I want to go over some of the dangers associated with word studies. My goal is not to scare you away from word studies, but to save you from misusing them. Word studies are an integral part of the exegetical process for without understanding the words of the text you can’t understand the text. Because the Bible was not originally written in English there is some work that needs to be done to understand the words the way the original hearers would have understood them. Because we are so far removed from the original cultures of the Bible we need to be careful not to come at word studies too lightly. To even get a general idea of a word its original language takes a lot of work and patience. Also, we are studying words in a limited context. If we truly wanted to understand the words of the Bible we would have to learn the languages and immerse ourselves not only in the text of the Bible, but all the writings in that language. And even if we did this, we would still have a limited understanding of the language, because it would be entirely literature based. In addition to all this, we are not familiar enough with the culture of the Biblical world to be able to put these words into a social context. Doing a word study is like standing in the fog at night and trying to make out a figure a long way off. And that is only when we do them correctly. Do it wrong and its like trying to make out that same figure only being blindfolded.

1. Don’t do word studies in English

I regret even having to put this here, because it seems so obvious, but unfortunately this is not the case. There are people out there, maybe even pastors, who don’t worry about the Greek or Hebrew at all and do word studies simply by looking them up in a regular dictionary (like Webster’s). The whole point of doing a word study is to understand what the word meant to the original hearers. It is a way to bridge the gap between what a word meant in their language and how we have translated in ours. Just looking at the English words and their definitions tells you nothing about the nuances of meanings in the Greek or Hebrew. And, many times one word in English is used to translate many different words in Greek or Hebrew.

2. Don’t add extra meanings into a text

A lot of words in Greek and Hebrew are versatile in their functions. One word can mean many different things depending on the context. Sometimes these meanings overlap, but often they do not. When studying a word, you will come across different definitions. You can’t simply cram all these definitions into one context and make some sort of super word. Pick out the best definition for your context and leave the rest for their contexts. Sometimes people will see a Greek word and assume it must have all sorts of hidden deeper meanings. Whatever definition you get for a word must be limited by the context. Take the word “anxious” for instance. In the Greek this word can have either a negative or positive connotation. Usually, it is negative and warned against, (as in stressing out about something) but not always. This word can also be translated as concerned for, or caring about. If you tried to put both of those definitions together into one text it would be confusing at best and heresy at worst.

3. Don’t use etymology for your definition

Etymology is the study of words and where they came from. This is a two-part caution: 1. Don’t try and break a word into its parts and derive your defintion from that and 2. Don’t look at what words come from your word as part of your definition.

First #1 – A lot of words come from other words. There is a root word and then with the addition of prefixes or suffixes you can get other words. We see this even in English. A place where you dorm is called a “dormitory”. A place where you labor is a “laboratory”. And a place where you burst forth like lava from a volcano is a lavatory. (Actually this word comes from the root “lavar” – to wash) The important thing to see is that even if words are related you can not mix and match their definitions. Each word needs to be analyzed uniquely.

Second #2 – If your word is the root of other words, don’t input their definitions back into the definition of your word. The classic example of this is the word dunamis. This is the word for power. It is translated basically as “ability”. Our word dynamite comes from this Greek word. Because of this, some people will say that dunamis is “explosive power”. Was the Biblical author thinking about dynamite when he used this word? Probably not, since dynamite is a relatively new invention.

4. Do the work yourself

if you want to know what a word means, research it yourself. In case you missed it you can check out how to do this in my previous blog. First off, you can only get better at word studies by practice and so you should try to do as many as possible. Part of the joy of doing word studies is the stuff you learn as you are doing it. Getting there is half the fun. But, more importantly, we are dealing with the Bible, and we need to take it seriously. It is unwise to base your theology or beliefs on someone else’s work. This can lead to some serious errors. This is especially relevant if you are planning on teaching or preaching. It is fine to verify your findings with others to make sure you are on the right track, but you are doing yourself and others a disservice if you do not put in the work for yourself, but simply try and find someone else’s definition for your word.

A note of hope

Word studies can actually be fun and enlightening. You can learn things about a text that you would not be able to learn without doing a word study. Although, there are some things to watch out for, if you are truly seeking to understand a text and willing to put in the work, you will most likely be fine. It is important to remember that word studies are just a small part of the process and should ultimately lead you toward a better understanding of your passage.


Think of a time when you were  in a service where a ptreacher brought out the nuances of a word in Greek or Hebrew? How did this help your understanding of the passage?

Interpretation: Word Studies pt. 1 March 11, 2010

Posted by TJ Friend in Interpretaion, OICA.
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Hello, again. We have just finished up the Observation section of OICA. Now it is time to move on to Interpretation. In observation the goal is to get a basic idea of the passage. In interpretation we move into figuring out what the passage actually means. Just like in the observation stage there are a few steps to Interpretation. This is the stage where you do more studying and researching different aspects in order to come to a better understanding of what the passage is saying. Today we will be talking about doing word studies.This is one of the big parts of interpretation.

Pick a word

Before you can do a word study, you need a word to study. It would take too much time to do a word study on every word in your passage. It is better to narrow it down to two or three key words. If a word is repeated in the passage it is probably important. Also, look for words that are central to the meaning of the text or words that are unclear. Look for the main action words or nouns that seem to stand out. Some words will be more helpful to understanding the passage than others, and the more word studies you do the easier it will be to pick out the key words.

An overview of the process

Words are defined by their uses. A word in one context can mean something different in another context. The word “run” for instance can refer to a person running or a machine functioning. It can be a river flowing and can even be used idiomatically as a synonym for doing things (running around, running errands). For the most part if you know the context it is easy to tell the specific definition of the word. Basically, what I am saying is that words have more than one meaning depending on how they are used. If you look up a word in the dictionary you will most likely come across multiple definitions for the word. Even if you are reading a book and come across a word you don’t know, if you understand the context of the sentence, you can pick out the correct definition out of the dictionary when you look it up. When I come across a sentence like “The man left his car running in the parking lot” I would not think the car grew legs and was running around in circles.

To understand what a word means you need to look at the different contexts the word is used in and separate it into its different definitions. This same concept applies to word studies in the Bible. The more times the word is used in the Bible the more thorough the word study can be. To do a word study you need to get a large sampling of the verses the word occurs in, study them and categorize them into their separate definitions. Once you have a good idea of what the word means overall, then you can narrow it down to the specific context you are studying. Do not do a word study apart from the verse/passage you are studying. If you don’t have a specific context for the word, you cannot come up with a specific defintion for that word.

Finding the verses

This is where a concorance comes in play. If you have a Strong’s or Young’s concordance it is pretty easy to look it up. Make sure whatever concordance you have that you have a version of the Bible that matches it. If you have a Strong’s then you should have a King James Version of the Bible. It is important to find the exact word used in the passage. Once you find the word in the concordance you can see all the other references to that English word. But, you don’t want the definition of the English word (if that’s all you want you can just look it up in a regular dictionary). What we are looking for is the Greek or Hebrew understanding of the word. To do that you need to differentiate between all the different Greek/Hebrew words that may be translated by the one English word in your passage. The numbers next to each reference are the different Greek/Hebrew words that have been translated by the specific English word. Once you find the word in your verse, you can simply look at the number next to it and then find all the other verses that have the same number. These numbers refer to the Greek/Hebrew words in the back of the concordance.

One important thing to differentiate is the Greek words vs. the Hebrew words. Basically, the words in the OT are in Hebrew, while those in the NT are in Greek. When doing a word study, make sure you do not cross over from OT to NT or vice versa. If your word is in the NT then to find it in the back of the concordance you need to look in the Greek section.

Make a list of all the verses that have your word (the one keyed to the same number in the concordance). If the list is too long you can just look at the occurances within the same genre. If that is still too long, you can look at those which are found in the same book. Do not limit yourself too much though, because it is hard to get a good definition with a smaller sampling of words.

Study the verses

Once you have a good list of the verses your word occurs in you can begin to study them. Make sure you not only read each verse, but the surrounding context to get an idea of what it is saying. Spend some time with each occurance making observations. If you are studying a verb, look at who is doing the action. See what or who is the normal recipient of the action. Is it past, present or future? Is the word usually combined with a specific adjective or noun? If it is an adjective or adverb look for the different words it modifies. Look for any patterns between the verses you can find.Take special note of the first occurance of a word and the frequency of its uses. Is this word used mostly in narratives? Or is it used primarily in the Psalms? If possible physically count how many times it is used overall and how many times it is used in the book of the passage you are studying in comparison to the book it is most often found in. What you want to see is if your passage falls in line with the majority use of the word or if it is a more rare definition.

Categorize the verses

As you are studying the different verses you will begin to see similarities between them. Here is where you want to separate the word into its different definitions. Organize your findings into a few distinct definitions. Each definition should be distinct in some way from the others. Try and make these definitions as short and simple as possible.

Contextualize your findings

Once you have discovered the different possible definitions you should be able to see which one fits with the passage you are studying. Using what you have learned about the word, apply this to your passage. How does this information help you understand the passage better? What new insight does it bring?


The best way to reflect on this is to do it and see what results you get. But I will leave you with a question. I was thinking about babies and mothers. Before a baby can talk it can only cry. How is it that the mother can understand what a baby needs simply by hearing them cry? How can we apply the metaphor of a mother being able to differentiate between her baby’s cries to word studies?

There is a lot more that I need to say on this topic. Stay tuned for part 2 when we get into the errors to avoid when doing word studies.