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Determining Word Meanings: Concept #1

Word = verbal symbol (written or spoken) offering a way to refer to a concept

  • The goal of the exegete is to understand the concept conveyed in the host language and choose an appropriate word in the receptor language


Determining Word Meanings: Concept #2

Most words have a range of meaning, so that one word does double duty with regard to the concept it symbolizes

  • Word meanings can overlap with the meanings of other words


Determining Word Meanings: Concept #3

Word meanings change over time, therefore it is the context rather than the original meaning of the term that must determine how the exegete will define and understand any given word


Determining Word Meanings: Concept #4

Words have both denotation and connotation, which is why it's important to survey the literary and historical backgrounds of a passage


Determining Word Meanings: Concept #5

Individual words function with the rest of the words in the context to express a larger set of concepts

  • they can rarely accomplish the feat of expressing a complete concept by themselves


Determining Word Meanings: Concept #6

The priority of determining word meaning should almost always go to the findings of synchronic analysis rather than diachronic analysis


How do you determine which words merit a word study?

  1. Words that may prove puzzling
  2. Words that are theologically significant, or on which the entire meaning of the passage seems to rest
  3. Repeated words
  4. Words that occur in a figure of speech
  5. Words that are rendered differently in numerous English translations


What are some tools to employ in conducting a word study?

  1. Lexica
  2. Theological Dictionaries
  3. Concordances


What are some examples of lexica?

  1. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (BDAG)
    • present various meanings for a word and different contexts for it
  2. Greek-English Lexicon for the New Testament based on Semantic Domains (Louw and Nida's)
    • ​1st volume = all Greek words in the New Testament
    • 2nd volume = all Greek words arranged by their semantic domain


What are some examples of Theological Dictionaries?

  1. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Kittel and Friedrich's, and Bromiley's 1985 edition)
    • ​​important words with articles about them
  2. New International Dictionary of the New Testament (Colin Brown; NIDNTT)
  3. Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (Balz and Schneider's)
    • ​entries of about a paragraph in length, about every word, not just theological ones
  4. Theological Lexicon of the New Testament (Spicq's)
    • ​much more selective in the words


What are some examples of Concordances?

  1. Concordance to the Greek New Testament (Moulton and Geden's)
    • ​​Scripture reference for all the uses of one word in canonical sequence
  2. Greek-English Concordance to the New Testament
    • ​​arranging words in alphabetical sequence providing the context


What is a good place to start doing Word Studies?

  • Determining the word's range of meaning by looking at
    • lexica
    • theological dictionaries
  • Creating a list of possible meanings


What is the diachronic use of a word?

Its appearances at various times throughout history. 


What is the synchronic use of a word?

The definition as it appears in the particular text under study and other New Testament writings.


What are the different steps in the historical development study of a word?

  1. Etymology
  2. Classical Greek
  3. Septuagint use
  4. Contemporary use in biblical and non-biblical contexts


What is the end goal of word study?

Determine whether the word in context reflects its classical, Septuagintal, or contemporary meanings. Or a combination of these.


What are some sources for the study of a word in its Classical Greek context?

  1. A Lexicon Abridged from Liddell and Scott's Greek-English Lexicon, An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon, A Greek English Lexicon ("little Liddell," "medium Liddell," "great Scott")
  2. The Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament (Moulton and Milligan's)
  3. New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity (Horsley)


What is the main Greek concordance for the study of the Septuagint?

  1. A Concordance to the Septuagint (Hatch and Redpath)


What is the purpose of assessing New Testament usage (synchronic)?

  • To note where the word occurs
    • Genres
    • Authors
    • Books
  • A word could be specially nuanced in the Gospels in a way that it is not nuanced in the Pauline Epistles.


What are the most common errors in word studies?

  1. Anachronistic Fallacies
  2. Definitional Fallacies


What are Anachronistic Fallacies?

A legitimate definition from a word's history is not appropriate to the context os the time period in which the text under study appears.


What are Definitional Fallacies?

An illegitimate definition is chosen and applied.


What are some examples of Anachronistic Fallacies?

  • Etymological or Root Fallacy
  • Assuming that a word in the text takes on a meaning that was not yet present in the time of the author
  • Semantic Obsolescence Fallacy


What is the Etymological or Root Fallacy (Anachronistic Fallacy)?

Granting more interpretive weight to the etymology of a word that is appropriate.


What is the Semantic Obsolescence Fallacy (Anachronistic Fallacy)?

Supplying a word's meaning with a definition that preceded the author but had fallen out of popular usage by the time of the author.


What are some examples of Definitional Fallacies?

  • Making an appeal to an unknown or unlikely meaning of a word due to either
    • interpreter's theological presuppositions
    • reliance on out-of-date or idiosyncratic secondary literature
  • Illegitimate Totality Transfer
  • Prescriptive Fallacy


What is the Illegitimate Totality Transfer (Definitional Fallacy)?

  • Assuming that a word carries several or all of its possible meanings in each of its appearances.
    • In fact, the most probable meaning of any word is that which contributes the least amount of new information to the overall context


What is the Prescriptive Fallacy (Definitional Fallacy)?

Assuming that if a word in the New Testament means something in the majority of its appearances, it must also take that meaning in any context in Scripture where it appears.