How can doing a word study be helpful in understanding the Bible?
The Bible, while being the "living" Word of God, is made up of written words in literary form (Hebrews 4:12). Studying key words and their usages in the Bible can enhance the reader's understanding of God's Word (and the actual words).
Part of the challenge is that the Bible was not originally written in modern languages, so everything we read today is a translation from the original text. Translators sometimes struggle to find the best word to use when one language uses one word to convey several different ideas where the other language uses several different words or vice versa. For instance, the Hebrew word chesed contains the ideas of loving kindness, mercy, pity, steadfast love, and faithfulness. In Greek, eros, philia, storge, and agape all mean just "love" in English, but have different nuances in Greek. So studying a word in its original language can help the reader understand nuances and bring new meaning to certain passages.
Aside from looking at the definition of the word being translated, another important step in doing a word study is to find other places in the Bible where that same word in the original text appears. Looking at several passages of Scripture where the same word is used helps the reader derive a better understanding of the meaning of the word in context. For instance, the word "helper" used to describe Adam's need for God to create Eve is the word 'ezer in Hebrew (Genesis 2:20). The word 'ezer is used nineteen other times in the Old Testament and each time it refers to help God gives in times of desperate need. Here are a few of those verses: "The God of my father was my help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh" (Exodus 18:4), "Our soul waits for the LORD; He is our help and our shield" (Psalm 33:20), and "He destroys you, O Israel, for you are against me, against your helper" (Hosea 13:9). Understanding that 'ezer means God-given help in times of desperate need sheds new light on God's intended role for Eve and how seriously desperate Adam's situation was when God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone" (Genesis 2:18). Only having looked at how 'ezer is used throughout the Bible can the reader gain this deeper understanding.
There are several tools available for readers interested in doing word studies. A good place to start is a study Bible. Study Bibles include a concordance in the back to help find other passages using the same word and they often include footnotes throughout the Scriptures giving helpful insights into words and their meanings. Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words and Strong's Concordance are also helpful books. For those who prefer online sources, BlueLetterBible.org is a recommended website. While not focused on word study, BibleRef.com also provides helpful verse-by-verse commentary.
Doing word studies will deepen the reader's understanding of Scripture and bring new insights to familiar passages. Therefore, word studies are well worth the time and effort to complete. Hopefully, with the aforementioned tools, you can get started right away.
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