Greek Tools for Bible Study - Lesson 11

Greek Word Studies

In this lesson, you will learn about Greek word studies, the steps for conducting them, and the different types of Greek words. You will also learn about the features of Greek words and various resources available to aid in Greek word studies.

Bill Mounce
Greek Tools for Bible Study
Lesson 11
Watching Now
Greek Word Studies

NT203-11 Greek Tools for Bible Study: Greek Word Studies

I. Introduction to Greek Word Studies

A. Importance of Greek Word Studies

B. Steps for Doing Greek Word Studies

1. Identify the word you want to study

2. Look up the word in a Greek Lexicon

3. Look at the word in context

4. Look at the word in other passages

II. Types of Greek Words

A. Nouns

B. Verbs

C. Adjectives

D. Adverbs

E. Prepositions

III. Features of Greek Words

A. Word Forms

B. Word Meanings

C. Word Usage

IV. Resources for Greek Word Studies

A. Greek Lexicons

B. Bible Software

C. Commentaries

V. Summary

Class Resources
  • In this lesson, you will gain an understanding of the course's objectives and its instructor, Bill Mounce's background. The course aims to bridge the gap between Greek language study and practical Bible study by teaching you how to use Greek tools effectively without excessive memorization.
  • In studying this lesson, you'll gain a solid understanding of the Greek alphabet and pronunciation. This lesson covers letter names, sounds, transliteration, and introduces Greek words and pronunciation rules.
  • This lesson delves into the intricacies of translation, shedding light on the complexity of conveying meaning between languages. The instructor begins by emphasizing that languages are not mere codes, highlighting that the nuances and context behind words are essential for accurate translation. Words, grammar, and context collectively shape meaning, and translators face the challenge of bridging linguistic and cultural gaps.
  • From this lesson, you will gain knowledge about the development of a Greek version of the Doxology, gain a foundational understanding of English grammar, understand the importance of distinguishing between independent and dependent clauses, and learn about "phrasing," a method to break down sentences to identify main ideas and relationships between sentence components.
  • Now that we have a basic awareness of how language functions, we can get into how people go about understanding what the text means. Even if you don't want to learn much about Greek, this lesson will be invaluable for how you study your Bible.
  • From this lesson, you will gain a comprehensive understanding of Greek greetings, including how to say "hello" in different contexts. You will also explore the subtleties of Greek conjunctions, such as "καί" and "δέ," and how they affect the interpretation of text, as well as the absence of the word "please" in Greek and its implications. Additionally, you will learn about the flexibility of Greek conjunctions and the translation challenges they pose.
  • In this lesson, you'll comprehensively analyze the book of Jude, focusing on fine-tuning phrasing, identifying divisions, and understanding its message of faith perseverance.
  • This lesson teaches the meaning of verbs in Greek and the present, imperfect, and aorist tenses of Greek verbs.
  • You will learn about English tools used in Bible study, including lexicons, commentaries, and study Bibles.
  • This lesson provides knowledge on the different non-indicative moods in Greek verbs and their significance in Bible study.
  • In this lesson, you will learn about Greek word studies, their importance, and the steps, types, and resources for conducting them.
  • The lesson covers the English noun system, including types, forms, and usage rules.
  • This lesson will provide insight into commentaries, their types, and how to choose and use them in Bible study.
  • In this lesson, you will gain knowledge and insight into the history of the formation and transmission of the Old and New Testaments.

Have you ever wanted to know enough about Greek so that you could find out what the words of the Bible actually mean? Or why are the translations so different in places? Or perhaps you just want to learn enough Greek so that you can understand the better commentaries?

Then this class is for you. The lectures are based on the author's, Greek for the Rest of Us (Zondervan) and will teach you enough Greek, without lots of memorization, so that you can achieve these goals. The book can be purchased from any bookstore.

You can also purchase the author's Bible Study Greek video series and other resourses.



Recommended Books

Greek for the Rest of Us Workbook: Exercises to Learn Greek to Study the New Testament with Interlinears and Bible Software

Greek for the Rest of Us Workbook: Exercises to Learn Greek to Study the New Testament with Interlinears and Bible Software

This book provides a crash course on Greek for people who want to study the New Testament more deeply. It covers the essentials of the language so readers can understand it better.

Greek for the Rest of Us Workbook: Exercises to Learn Greek to Study the New Testament with Interlinears and Bible Software

Week 5: What Else is a Verb?

Greek Word Studies

Word Studies (Chapter 24)

I used to try to teach word studies earlier in this course because they are so exciting and relatively easy to do. But the problem I kept having was that students did not understand the nature of languages. They would look at an English word and they would want to find the Greek word that meant exactly the same thing. I was frustrated as I tried to help them understand that it does not work that way. Finally I realized that if they knew something about language in general, then we can do word studies and it will make a lot more sense. That is why this chapter is in week 5.

Four Step Process


I have a four step process of how to do a word study. I want to repeat a concept that is crucial to doing word studies called semantic range. All words have a semantic range. All words have a bundle of meanings. No one word has only one meaning. That is the nature of language.

For example, what are some of the different ways to use the word “up”? You can throw up, give up, rip up, Seven-Up, stand up. All of those uses of the word “up” had radically different meanings, didn't they? Some of them were directional, but some were not at all. If you say “throw up,” you think of the stuff coming up in your esophagus, but when you “rip up” something, nothing is going up. In fact, it is probably going down into the trash can. “Up” has a bundle of meanings; all kinds of different ideas associated with it.

The essence of a word study is to find out what a word's “bundle of meanings” are. Then you can look at context and determine which meaning applies in this context. That is the whole key in doing word studies.

There is a Greek word δοῦλος (''doulos'') which means “slave, bondservant, or servant.” If you were to graph it, you would have a circle in the middle with the word δοῦλος and you would have over-lapping circles with English words that carry some of the meaning of δοῦλος but not other meanings.

'''Circle Illustration'''

In Titus 1:1, Paul introduces himself as a δοῦλος. How are you going to translate it? Will you translate it as “servant” or “slave” or “bondservant”? These are the only three options. What happens in the instant that you translate δοῦλος as “slave”? What ideas are associated with that? Oppression? As Americans, the images of the pre-Civil War South make us think: involuntary, very negative, virtually nothing positive. I would imagine with our registers how we hear that word “slave.” And yet, “servant” is a significantly different set of nuances and associations in our minds. Perhaps it has some over-lap with “slave,” but yet you could have a hired servant. You could have someone who is glad to be a servant, saying “I got a job. I would love to clean your house for you.” You can see some of the problems. You have this δοῦλος in the middle, and you have this English word “slave” and this English word “servant.” What are you going to pick? They have some over-lap with δοῦλος, but they have other associations that are not connected with δοῦλος. At one time it was estimated that a fourth of the Roman empire were slaves. While there was much forced slavery, there was much un-forced slavery. There were slaves that were very powerful people that wanted this position and they wanted to be enslaved to this particular person. “Bondservant” is really the closest thing there is to δοῦλος in English. A bondservant is an indentured servant, someone who voluntarily enters into a relationship for a set period of time. While they are a servant/slave, there will be an end to it, and they could be highly educated people. It is a significantly different kind of relationship. It even means more than that.

In my commentary, I mention about the Titus 1:1 passage that “slavery was widespread in the ancient world and slaves were property with no freedom or rights. Why then, did Paul and others use the term so frequently in a positive sense?” The minute you translate δοῦλος as “slave,” you have lost any positive nuance. “Part of the answer may lie in Paul's understanding of the power of sin. All people were in slavery to sin without choice, but once redeemed they joyously become slaves of God, and are empowered in his service. ‘Slave of Christ’ became a common designation. Paul uses it of himself and of other people.” (Romans 6 and so on). All of a sudden you have another set of associations with dou:loV. Later on, “However, ‘slave of God’ is frequent in the Old Testament as a designation for special people, including Abraham, Moses, David, Daniel, and the prophets.”
That is what I mean by “bundle of meanings.” You have all of these different nuances that are part of δοῦλος, positive and negative. Then you have all of these different associations with the English words, “servant,” “slave,” and “bondservant.” The question is: How are you going to translate Titus 1:1?

That is, in essence, what word studies are about. How do you deal with that problem? Sometimes it is very simple. There are many, many times where I will see an English word in a translation and I will look it up in Greek and learn absolutely nothing. I remember doing a word study on “comfort” once. I learned nothing. The Greek word means “comfort.” In other words, if you were to draw a circle with “comfort” and a circle with the Greek word that is translated “comfort,” they are very, very close. Other times words are wildly different, like δοῦλος is.

So, “Semantic Range,” “Bundle of Meanings.” That is all clear.

What are the four steps in doing a word study in Greek?

Step 1: Choose the Word

First, choose a significant word. I have seen a lot of people get discouraged because they continue to look up the wrong words. They are looking up words that are not worth looking up in Greek. If you are going to do a word study, you have to find words that are significant. If you try to look up every word you will get bored and quit. The trick is in asking, “How do you know which words are significant? Which words will help me know the Bible better?” There are a couple of things you can look for in trying to determine which words to look up.

Check different translations

If you are comparing multiple translations and they translated differently, and the difference is significant, that is a clue that maybe this word is worth looking up and figuring out what it means.

Theological terms

If it is a theological term, those are usually worth looking up and learning more about.

Repeated words and phrases

If the word is repeated. Those are all the kinds of clues that you look for.

Hub of the wheel, or just spokes

I think of a bicycle wheel when determining the main thing I look for in word studies. The words are all “spokes,” but some of the words are the “hub.” I think that if I pull that word out of this paragraph, would I be able to understand it? Just like, if I were to pull the spoke out of a wheel, would the bike still work? It is not a big deal. Some words, when you pull them out of the passage, the passage falls apart, just as if you pulled the hub out of a wheel. Those are the words that you want to look up. Those are the words that are central to the author's thought and to where he is going.

Make sure you are choosing good words, words that are central to the flow of the author's thoughts and will be helpful.

Step 2: Identify the Greek Word

Second, you identify the Greek word. You all know more Greek than you need to know to do that and you will not have any trouble.

Reverse Interlinear

If you have the Reverse Interlinear, Titus 1:1 says, “servant.” You drop down below and it says, dou:loV. Below that it says “N.NSM” which means it is a “noun, nominative, singular, masculine.” Then there is a number at the very bottom, and it is word “1529.” You do not need to know anything else beyond that “1529.” For this Greek word, even if you could not say it, its Goodrick-Kohlenberger number (GK number) is 1529. If your word study book only has Strong's, you can go in the back of it and you can get the conversion and find out that in Strong's number it is 1401. At that point, you have got the number to the basic word and that is what you need to get to that form.

There are other ways that you can find the Greek behind the English. We have discussed some of them, but let me review them.

Exhaustive Concordance

You need to have an exhaustive concordance that matches the translation of your Bible. The NIV translates Titus 1:1 with “servant.” Look up “servant.” Go to Titus 1:1 and it says, “Paul, a s (servant) of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith.” Then off to the right in italics is “1528”; there is your GK number again. Starting with Strong's, they italicized the Greek numbers and used regular script for the Hebrew numbers. So that is how you can get your number out of an exhaustive concordance. You can also use computer programs.

In the back of an exhaustive concordance there is a very short Greek dictionary. If you wanted to see the Greek word, you could look up word 1529, and it says, δοῦλος occurs 124 times. It is translated 54 times as “servant,” 38 times in the plural, 18 times as “slave,” 11 times as “slaves,” 2 times as “servants,” and 1 time as “slavery.” You can go to the back of the exhaustive and get the lexical form (the form that the word would be listed as in the dictionary), and you can see how it was translated and how often.

Now you have a good understanding on what the word is and what it looks like.

Step 3: Semantic Range

Please do not skip this step even if it is tempting. You have to figure out what the semantic range of the word is. It is very, very important. There is a tendency to want to get right into the word. But especially if you have a word that the different translations are translating differently, you need to know what that range of meaning is for the word. What are its different possibilities? There are many different places that you can go to see the range of a word's meaning.

For example, you can go to the NIV Exhaustive, like I just mentioned. In the back, it will show you all the ways the NIV translated the word. The NIV is a dynamic translation. They are more interpretive of words. You will often see a wide variety of ways in which the Greek words are translated. That wide variety is showing you the semantic range of the word in a very simple and neat way.

The Strongest Strong’s is Zondervan’s concordance on the King James. This is an incredible book. Only half of it is a concordance. The back half is phenomenally filled with all kinds of tools. It has a very good dictionary, not advanced but most of what you would need. For example, if you go to dou:loV, they write that it is a noun and word 1528 (and they give other relevant numbers), “servant; slave; in the New Testament, a person owned as a possession for various lengths of time” (there is your bondservant idea); “Hebrew slaves, no more than seven years; Gentile slaves, without time limit; of lower social status than free persons or masters; slaves could earn or purchase their freedom.” Then it tells you that in the King James, δοῦλος is translated “servant” 66 times, “servants” 53 times, “bond” 6 times, “bondman” 1 time, and “servant’s” 1 time. That is quite a bit of information and it gives you a good range in terms of how the word is used in the Bible.

Remember the Englishman's Concordance which we looked at in lesson 9? You look under δοῦλος and it will show you in English all the verses where δοῦλος occurs. You would have entries that would say “servant,” and entries that would say “slave.” You are seeing the semantic range. You are starting to get a feel for the context of the word. There are actually Greek lexicons, if you want to look them up. It is probably not necessary for you all; this is going to be good enough.

But the best things are word study books! We are very fortunate that we now have two word study books that are absolutely magnificent. Both of these books are phenomenal.

''Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Abridged in One Volume''. This is the series that was done by Kittel in German and translated into English by F.F. Bruce. Bruce was the leading scholar in the entire world, and he used to sit on the train going into the university and translate German. We got 10 volumes out of it. And Bromiley did a lot of the translation work, too. When it was done, Bromiley abridged it. So this is an abridgement of 10 volumes of books. What basically Bromiley did was take out all the things that you all will not really care about, all the parallels and ancient Greek literature and all the super-technical things. It is really a good word study book that came out in 1985. This is a really, really good book. We call it ‘Kittel Bits’ or ‘Little Kittel’; we have all kinds of affectionate names for it.

For example, let me use it to look up δοῦλος. This does not have numbers; so if you are going to use this book, you are going to have to have the order of the alphabet down so you can find things. There is an index in the front because sometimes it is a little hard to find words. Check in the index to get the page. For δοῦλος, it has “slave,” the Greek words for fellow-slave, female slave, the verb “to be a slave.” They have dumped all the words together. That is why it can be a little hard to find words at times. If you were wanting to look up δουλαγωγέω (''doulagōgeō'') “to enslave,” it is going to be hard to find , but they have it listed under δοῦλος. That is why you go to the index first, look up your word, get the page number, and go to it. They have basically three and a half pages on δοῦλος. That is just about the right amount of information. They talk about what the word means among Greeks, what the word means in Judaism, how it is used in the New Testament, and then they get into some specific categories: Christians as δοῦλοι of God and Christ, Jesus Christ as a δοῦλος, and then some of the other words. So, ''Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Abridged in One Volume''. You all do not need to get the full set, even though it may look really cool on your shelf and you may get a good deal on it. They are so technical that you do not want them. But the abridged volume is an excellent word study book.

''The NIV Theological Dictionary of New Testament Words''. (Zondervan puts “NIV” on everything, but there is nothing NIV about this book as far as I know. Maybe some of the definitions tend towards the NIV.) It is ''The NIV Theological Dictionary of New Testament Words''; the editor is Verlyn Verbrugge. (That is probably a common name in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where Verlyn lives. Verlyn is my editor.) This is an abridgement of Colin Brown’s three volumes, ''New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology'', edited by Colin Brown. Anyway, Verlyn took about a year and condensed those three volumes down to this. I just love this book. The numbers are all there so you can find your words quickly. Again, there may be a little more in this book than you need, but there is going to be enough.

Let us use it to look up δοῦλος and see how long it is… three and a half pages, about the same thing. They talk about classical and Old Testament things for about a page and a half; then δοῦλος in the New Testament, the different things about them. It is pretty much the same kind of categories that were in ‘Kittel Bits’. This is a marvelous book; it really, really is.

Those are two marvelous word studies. Twenty years ago I do not know what people used. I guess you would dig through Kittel or something like that. Most people probably would have used Vine’s. Vine’s is an old, old book that has been around forever. This is not controversial to say, but I simply do not know one single teacher that will recommend Vine’s because there are some significant errors all the way through Vine’s. There is a heavy emphasis on etymology, that if you look at what the pieces used to put a word together mean then somehow you know what the word means. (I am going to talk about that in a second.) That in and of itself is enough not to use the book. There are just some real serious problems. In his defense, this book was written a long time ago and when it was written we did not know that much about New Testament Greek. We had not discovered a lot of the manuscripts and especially all the papyri and things like that. He was writing to the best of what they understood in that day, but it is sadly outdated. It has some good things, but it has a lot of incorrect information in it. I simply do not know of anyone, any teacher, who recommends Vine’s. I do not mean to be malicious or hurtful; that is just the way it is.

A couple other places that we could go to look for meanings. One is to get a commentary. I read you what I wrote in Titus 1:1 on δοῦλος. If you have commentaries that are intent on giving you word studies, they will know which words are important and they will talk about them. So you can get word meanings from commentaries. If it is a theological term or word, you can go to Elwell’s ''Theological Dictionary of Theology''. They do a very good job with word studies.

Those are all the different places you can go to discover the semantic range, the bundle of meanings, for a word. Those two (''Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Abridged in One Volume'' and ''The NIV Theological Dictionary of New Testament Words'') are the key ones; and if you are going to be serious about your Bible study, then one of those two should be on your shelf.

Step 4: Context

So you have your semantic range. Step 4. How are you going to make your decision? The answer is real simple; it is Context. Look for something, hopefully in the immediate context, that will let you identify which of the bundle of meanings (which word out of that bundle) applies in that context. That is why you need to know semantic range first. When you start looking for something in the context, you will know what the possibilities are.
I think in terms of concentric circles, and the word you are studying is in the middle. You want to start by looking at the verse. Is there anything in that verse that will help to define this word? If not, you go to the paragraph. Is there anything in the paragraph that will help to define this word? If not, keep going further and further out. The problem is that the further you go out from the verse, the less assured you are that the verses that you are reading have any relationship to the word that you are trying to figure out. You can take my earlier example of garments. The meaning of the word “garments” can be used differently in a lot of different contexts with a lot of different theological significance. The further that you get away from the verse, the less assuredness you have that these verses are actually defining this.

This rule is broken a lot. They will be in John and they will come across a word. To define it, they will go to Romans. You can not do that. You cannot assume that John and Paul use words the same way. Maybe they do or maybe they do not. Especially as soon as you are in a book written by another author, you have to start being very, very careful in assuming that what this means here is what it means in your verse.

A classic example of this is the word “justification.” How are you justified? By faith? Or, are you justified by works? Which one is it? In Romans 4:2-3 Paul writes, “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? 'Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.'” Paul is in an argument that justification is by faith. In order to prove his point, he refers to Abraham and he quotes Genesis 15:6.

If you turn to James 2— Do you know Martin Luther’s comment that James is ‘a right strawy epistle’? Luther wanted to get rid of James, but he had such a strong view of the canon, he would not do it. But this is one of the reasons he had trouble with James. James chapter 2:21-23, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, 'Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness'.”

James and Paul are defining a word in opposite ways, it seems. They are both referring to Abraham and they are both quoting the same passage. That is what happens when you start to move away from your word and your verse. You start getting into other authors who use words in different ways and you cannot automatically assume that how they use the word is how your author uses the word. In terms of James, it is a relatively easy thing; “to justify” has a semantic range. The two passages are saying exactly the same thing because part of the word's meaning is to show that you have been justified. That is how James is using the word. How do you show that justification happened? You show it through works. Paul is on the other side of the semantic range in talking about how you become justified. You become justified by faith, but true justified faith shows itself in works. So that is just to illustrate the problem of getting to far away. Do not be playing hopscotch through your Bible! Stay as close as you can to the passage that you are trying to define.

This is one of my all-time favorite cartoons. The name of the cartoon is “What it means to me.” I don’t even know where I got this from:
The pastor says in a Bible study, “So Paul says in verse 14 that because of his chains others have been encouraged. What do you think he means?”
“Oh, I know. Paul is writing a letter, right? So this is a chain letter, like the one I just got.”

Another person says, “No, you are missing the point. I am a chain smoker and God is speaking to me through this to tell me I am to encourage other chain smokers.”

Someone else says, “Well, it reminds me of that Aretha Franklin song ‘Chain of Fools.’ Maybe Paul means we’re fools for Christ.”

The pastor says, “Well, those are very interesting insights, but do you think Paul could simply be referring to his prison chains in Rome?”
And then there is the dead-pan face, and one person says to the other, “I told you this Bible study wasn’t about practical living. ‘R-E-S-P-E-C-T’ is another Aretha Franklin song that ministers to me.”

I remember when I saw this cartoon, I could not stop laughing because it was so pathetic because it is so true in so many Bible studies. This is not a responsible use of God’s word, but it is often given with a religious veneer. The problem as any of us who have been Bible study leaders know is that when this kind of thing starts happening, how do you tell these people that they are out to lunch. Context, right? That’s what the pastor was saying in this cartoon, “It’s context. He is a prisoner. He is in chains. That is what ‘chains’ mean. It does not mean a song about chains.”

I like to use signs as illustrations of this. When we see road signs, we automatically take context and apply it to the signs. The number one, most ridiculous sign in the American traffic scene is “Stop.” It does not mean “stop,” otherwise you would never “go.” “Stop” means “stop and then go.” Why not say that? Well, it takes too many words, so they say “stop” and they expect your context to interpret what the sign means. What is interesting is when you remove context and how absurd signs can then be.

I remember our first time together; I talked about all those signs that were all around Spokane that said “Ugly Kids.” Remember? There was no context. Now we have faces and this and that from the radio station, and we have more context so it makes sense. When we first moved to New England, we would just stop off the side of the road and ask each other, “What does that mean?” One of the first signs that I saw (and it did not take too long to figure out this one), the sign said, “GO CHILDREN SLOW” in all caps and in that order. What does that mean?… “Go ahead and go. The children are really slow here.” Or is it, “Go children, but go slowly,” which of course is bad grammar but signs are full of bad grammar. Obviously it is one of those two, right? Or is it, “There are children. Go slowly.” It couldn’t mean that; it’s out of order and it’s bad grammar. Well, of course, that is exactly what it means because we understand the context. We are used to seeing signs that tell us that there are kids in the neighborhood and go slowly. We have a context for that sign, even though that sign was a really silly sign.

What if you were driving and it is August 22nd; that is the first time we saw this sign. We saw a sign that said, “Lightly Salted.” What on earth does that mean? “Lightly Salted” is right after my other favorite sign “Thickly Settled,” that is where all the stupid people live, “thick in the head” [said jokingly] We really could not figure out what “Lightly Salted” meant. It made absolutely no sense. We finally realized that these signs in New England, where they use a lot of outdoor reservoirs, as you might guess they lightly salt the roads so the salt does not run off and ruin the water. But it was August, so snow did not even occur to me. We had no context for understanding. “Thickly Settled,” California is thickly settled. These houses were 60-70 feet apart; that is not thickly settled! Well, in New England, “Thickly Settled” is a specific footage that the houses are apart, and there is an inherent speed limit whenever they are that close.

Those are silly illustrations, but they make a point. It’s context. Everything is context when it comes to understanding what words mean.

Let’s look at some examples:


In Romans 12:1, Paul writes to the Roman church, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Do any of your translations have a word other than “spiritual”? Or “reasonable”?
“Spiritual” versus “reasonable.” That is a pretty wide semantic range, but that is exactly what is it is. The word can mean “spiritual” or the word can mean “reasonable.” The question is: Is there any clue in the verse as to which one is intended? This is not one of those passages where it is clear. We might not all agree on this.

You can see how there is something in the context that is saying, “You are living sacrifices; this is your spiritual sacrifice. I am not talking about physical sacrifices here. I am talking about spiritual sacrifices.” You could argue from the context of the verse that “spiritual” makes sense; although it is so obvious that it is hard to imagine that Paul would make that qualification. The other argument is, “I appeal to you by the mercies of God. The basis of Paul's appeal for ethical living is all the things that God has done for you in His mercy. The only reasonable response to all those acts of mercy that God has done in your life, is to present your bodies as a living sacrifice.” Those are the two arguments. Both arguments are looking at the context of the verse and they are saying, “Which one makes sense?” I think it is “reasonable.” I think that it makes much better sense than “spiritual.” Most translations, I think, say “spiritual.” What I want you to see is that we are looking at context to make the decision.


Let's say that you have a passage and you read the verse, and the verse does not help. Then you expand out to the paragraph and you ask, “Is there anything in the paragraph that will help?”

Let’s go to 2 Timothy 3:17, “that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” Who is the man of God? Is it only men? If you look at verse 17, there is not a lot there that will help you to answer that question. There is just not enough. So you start expanding your concentric circles. You look at the paragraph, verse 16, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man...,” in other words, “in order that the man of God...” In other words, God breathed out Scripture so that the man of God may be competent. You get a little more context, but you still don't know if this is a male only situation or if Paul is thinking of one specific thing.

But as you expand further and look at 10-17, guess who the man of God is? It’s Timothy, because this is a passage in which Paul is encouraging Timothy. “You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love,...” It goes on and on, “These are all the things that I endured. Anyone who desires to live a godly life in Christ will be persecuted. But as for you…” (Verse 14, see that? That’s Timothy.) “But as for you continue in what you have learned..., in order that the man of God…” The man of God is Timothy.

Certainly, the theology expands out from Timothy, and what is true for him is just as true for other believers. This is one of those interesting passages where the referent is Timothy, a male, but as you read it in context you can see that what is true for him is true for anyone who is a Christian. But what you did is, you went to your context to get your definition.

Another good illustration, and again this is one of these where there is debate; it is split very much 50-50. 1 Timothy 3, verse 11. Paul started in verse 8 to talk about deacons and what their qualifications were. And then you get to verse 11 and the ESV reads, “Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things.” And then verse 12, “Let deacons each be…,” and it goes back to talk about deacons.
Other translations say… Do you know what they say? Well, the footnote in the ESV says the “women”; gunhv (gunē) has a range of meaning from “woman” to “wife.” You can’t say “gunhv,” so you have to make a choice. You look at the context and the arguments are very, very difficult at this point. If it is “women,” then Paul is talking about deaconesses. If it is “wives,” it is the wives of the deacons. The way you make your decision is to look at the paragraph and determine which word fits. Again, this is a difficult one.

I took the position (I didn't like it in a sense), to go with “their wives” because in verses 8-10 he is talking about deacons, and in verses 12-13 he is talking about deacons. I thought it would be odd to switch from deacons to deaconess and back again. Probably, most people think that is exactly what he does.

What I want you all to see is how to make your decision. You see the semantic range, you look at the paragraph and you ask, “What in the paragraph suggests one meaning over another?”


If the paragraph does not work, you keep expanding out. Sometimes you have to look at the book as a whole.

1 Timothy 4:16, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching.” (This is Paul talking to Timothy.) “Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”

Obviously, this is a defective view of salvation because Paul is telling Timothy that not only can he earn his salvation, but he can earn it for someone else. No, of course not! And if you read the Pastorals, then you will see that there is a beautifully orthodox definition of salvation. Look at this verse within the context of the book as a whole and say, “Whatever it is, it can’t mean what it appears to mean!”

I think the position I took in the commentary was that you are talking about working out your salvation, (Philippians 2, that “these are ways in which you, Timothy, work out your salvation, you save yourself.”)

There are many illustrations we could use. There are more in the book.

Outside of the New Testament – Be careful!

Here is the problem: The further you get away from your passage, the more careful you have to be. It is crucial to see that. What happens sometimes is that people, commentary writers especially, will go outside of the Bible and start looking at secular literature. They will look at what words mean in Josephus or Philo or someone who lived five hundred years before the time of the New Testament. They will take those definitions, and the tendency is by some to import those into this passage, “This is what the word means out of there; so therefore, it must be what it means here.”

There are places in which Paul talks about his “sufficiency.” The word that he uses is a stoical term. It is one of the main words in stoicism. And, for stoicism to be self-sufficient is the “height,” that is “what you strive for.” It is the stoic who has the “stiff upper lip faced into the wind,” and “whatever may, is good; I can take it, I can handle it.” So, there are a lot of people that have tried to say, “That is what Paul believed because he used this word “sufficiency.”

A man named Fitzner [spelling ?] wrote a book. The point was, “No, for Paul ‘sufficiency’ is ‘Christ's sufficiency’. Yes, he used a word in stoicism that people would be very familiar with, but then he re-defined it. He actually flipped it completely on its back. ‘Sufficiency’ for a Christian is not someone who can handle things on his own; it’s someone who lets the Lord take care of it for him.” So if you are reading commentaries (and they are out there) that are taking words from secular literature and pulling them in, be very, very cautious. There is just no way to know that stoicism and Paul used the word in the same way.

Those are different ways to talk about how you are going to do the word studies.


Let me just say a few other things about mistakes that people tend to make. I don’t want to go too far into this. I don’t want to be negative, but there are certain mistakes that people tend to make. These things are detailed in the book.


Number 1: Beware of etymology. Etymology is looking at the pieces of a word (the pieces that were used to make up a word), and to insist that the word means what those pieces mean. Etymology is the science of looking at how words are formed. What Vine’s does and many people do, and unfortunately many pastors, is they look at the etymology and they define the word based on its pieces.

Examples in English: Did you know that a butterfly is a milk by-product (“butter”) that can fly (“fly”)? Or, I had a pineapple the other day; it was very good. Those are the “apples” that grow on “pine” trees. Now, of course not. I don’t know the etymologies of those English words, but it’s silly to do that, isn’t it? You can’t look at the pieces; butter–fly or pine–apple, and assume that is what the word means. Yet, people do it again and again.
The worst example (this is the example in the book) is the word for “repent.” I have seen books written on this. I have seen pamphlets written on this. I have been kicked out of a church because of this. (I have a little baggage from a long time ago.) The pastor wrote, all the time, that repentance was only a change of mind. It was not a change of behavior. “Well, obviously, the Greek word is μετανοέω (''metanoeō''), two Greek words, μετα and νοέω. The parts mean ‘to change your mind’. So, obviously, ‘to repent’ is ‘to change your mind’. You can live in sin and it is still ok!”

That is how serious this etymology can become. People can sound like they really know what they are talking about in the Greek. “If you really knew Greek.” I don’t know how many times people have told me that. Some guy in the middle of a Sunday school class was reading me the riot act, “So, if you really knew Greek…” and the whole class just erupted in laughter, and he’s looking around trying to figure out what was so funny.

There are certain words in which the etymology is still there. When you make compound verbs in Greek, you take a preposition and a verb: “to go” ἔρχομαι; εἰς is “into”; εἰσέρχομαι is “to go into, to enter.” These kinds of words have kept their etymology. You know it has kept its etymology because εἰσέρχομαι in every context means “to go into” something. You know that the pieces that make up the word are still there. The problem is that it is all pervasive, and it takes people away from looking at the context.

I had someone call me the other day. They were doing some homework and wanted me to define “apostasy,” so we went through it. And they said, “Give me the etymology.” I asked, “Why?”… “Well, that’s what the word means.” I am sitting here and I know that ajpov means “away from,” and I know that some of the etymology of “apostasy” is still present, that you are “taken out of the position of correctness of where you stand, of what is right,” and “apostasy” is “being removed.” I didn’t tell them that though, because that is not how you define apostasy. I said, “Go to 1 Timothy 1; look at Alexander and Hymenaeus. Go to 2 Timothy 4, Paul’s discussion of Demas. Go to Galatians 1, where Paul pronounces an anathema on anyone who teaches a different gospel. That is apostasy.” What I am saying is to look at the context to define your word. I am very sensitive about that just because I have seen it go wrong so many times.

Another way to use it is to illustrate a word. A lot of times if you look at the pieces, it can create a picture in your mind. If you are clear that etymology is not how to determine what a word means but it illustrates what it means, that is acceptable, too. Now I don’t know how to do that from the pulpit; I would not do that from the pulpit. In a class I might when I have a little more time and I can make sure that I have not been misunderstood. You need to be very careful with etymology.

Define Greek with English

The second thing that I wanted to emphasize is kind of connected with this, and I’m going to ruin two really good sermon illustrations (so plug your ears if you want.) Please don’t go from English to Greek! Do not use English to define Greek words. English was not a language until the second millennium, A.D. You can’t use a word in English.

Here’s what I mean by that [from Romans 1:16]: “I am not ashamed of the power of God. It is the duvnamiV of salvation to all who believe. The gospel is the δύναμις. That is the Greek word that means ‘power’. That is the word that we get ‘dynamite’ from. And God's power is dynamite! It's powerful!” Do you see what they did? They took an English word that may or may not (I don’t know) have come from δύναμις, and then they used “dynamite” to define δύναμις. Guess what? δύναμις does not have any connection with the idea of blowing up, exploding, destroying, or ripping. The word δύναμις does not mean that. And, yet, this happens a lot. Again, sometimes you can get away using English cognates to illustrate, but it is very, very dangerous.

Another example is 2 Corinthians 9:7 (this is the one you’re not going to like): “God loves a cheerful giver. Wow! This word means ‘hilarious’. So God loves a hilarious giver. He wants you to give hilariously.” Do you see what happened? The word has no concept of hilarity. It means “cheerful, wholehearted, gracious.” But it does not mean “laughing, laughing out of control,” those things that we associate with the word “hilarious.” It certainly has no connection with comedy. But because the Greek word gave rise to the English word, people go the other direction. You can’t do that. English was not a language back then. Greek is the basis of English, not vice versa.

Those are two of the biggest things to watch out for. Like I said, I don’t like ending on a negative note, but those things happen a lot. Yes, sometimes there is an etymological connection. But there is so much damage that is done. If people would just read the Bible, if they would just take the verse and read it in the paragraph and let the paragraph define it, that is where the power of God's Word starts coming out, when you start seeing words in context and seeing the larger picture. These other things are just cute illustrations that I don’t think normally really help.

There is no reason for any of you to ever do another word study in English. There is never a reason for you to break out Webster's to look up words. You know more than enough Greek to always do your word studies in Greek now. You don't want the slave and the servant and the bondservant range of meanings. You want to know what dou:loV means.

So you are now all officially Greek Geeks. Greek word studies only. No more English. Good job!