How Do You Do Lexical Analysis?

I thought it might be helpful to follow up my last post on a common mistake people make when doing lexical analysis with a post on how one does a lexical analysis. What follows are three simple steps to performing a lexical analysis (i.e. word study).[1]

1. Choose Significant Words in Your Passage that You Think Need to be Studied. The obvious question is: What makes a word significant?

Some of the things that may qualify a word as significant include: (1) repeated words; (2) words that you do not understand the meaning of; (3) theologically loaded terms, like love, righteousness, grace; (4) figures of speech; and (5) words that are rendered differently in several translations.

2. Determine the Range of Meaning for the Word. For those who do not know the biblical languages to some degree, there are two straightforward ways to go about getting this information. First, you could utilize an exhaustive concordance, which is will list every occurrence of a Hebrew or Greek word in the Bible, including where it is located (book, chapter, and verse). When you find the term you are interested in (listed alphabetically) and locate the passage you are studying that it occurs in, you will be able to see the words G/K (or Strong’s) number to the right. This number is keyed to either the Hebrew or Greek word behind the English translation. At the back of the exhaustive concordance is a section called “Greek (or Hebrew) to English Dictionary and Index.” There you will find, among other things, an entry that gives the range of meaning of the term. Second, is to use an online resource like Blue Letter Bible. What follows are the steps to use Blue Letter Bible for lexical analysis.

  1. Go to blueletterbible.org
  2. From the search box on the landing page, type in the verse (or verses) with the word you wish to further investigate. Make sure to change the translation to the one you are working with. Press enter or the search button to bring up the passage.
  3. Next, select the tools button adjacent from the passage that contains the word you want to know more about.
  4. You want to use the interlinear function, which contains the English and corresponding Greek (or Hebrew) word. On the left side is the English, on the far right is the Greek (or Hebrew) word that corresponds to the English word. The Greek (or Hebrew) word is under the heading “Root Form,” which is another way to refer to the lexical form of the word, which is the undeclined form. Located between these two columns is the Strong’s number that corresponds to each Greek (or Hebrew) term.
  5. Click on the Strong’s number to get an overview of how the original word was used. You can do this by viewing the “Outline of Biblical Usage” or you can scroll down further and look at “Thayer’s Greek Lexicon” (or “Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon” if the term is Hebrew).[2] The possible meanings of the word are in italics. Write these down.
  6. Continue to scroll down the page and you’ll see the other passages in which the particular term is used in the Bible. This can be helpful in determining how a biblical author used a word. One may use a word differently than another. You may be interested to know how your author used the word and compare it to how the term is used elsewhere in Scripture.

3. Select the Meaning that Best Fits the Context. Now that you have established the semantic range of the word, you are prepared to decide what meaning best fits the context of the passage with which you are working. You can do this by simply inserting the different usages of the word into the verse you’re working with. You may also want to go back, if you haven’t done so already, and view how your author uses a particular word. See step 2.f. Remember,context is the single most significant determiner of the meaning of a word or phrase.”[3]

If, however, after having done all of this, you are still uncertain as to the meaning of a word in its context, check additional resources, like commentaries that have a discussion on the meaning of a particular word. Even if you feel pretty certain about how a term is being used in a passage, it would be wise to check 3–4 commentaries to check your conclusions. For an annotated list of biblical commentaries see the following resources:

Tremper Longman, III, Old Testament Commentary Survey, 5th ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013).

D. A. Carson, New Testament Commentary Survey, 7th ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013).


[1] I’ve adapted these three steps from several works: J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God’s Word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 135–149; Gordon D. Fee, New Testament Exegesis: A Handbook for Students and Pastors, Revised ed. (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox, 1993), 101–103; George H. Guthrie, “4 Simple Steps for Doing Bible Word Studies,” July 18, 2016, https://georgehguthrie.com/new-blog/2016/7/15/4-simple-steps-for-doing-word-studies; William W. Klein, et al, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (Dallas, TX: Word, 1993), 189–199.

[2] Your passage may be specifically addressed in the “Lexicon” entry. This may prove helpful if you are having difficulty determining the meaning of the word in context.

[3] Klein, et al, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, 199.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s