Word Studies part 1
I’ll try to study a study in my study after my studies.
Word study is an important aspect of biblical exegesis. After all, phrases, clauses and sentences are just collections of words that are grouped together systematically to express ideas in such a way that are intelligible to us.
Just like in any language, Greek and Hebrew words are capable of having wide semantic range and nuances. Semantic range are list of possible meanings that may or may not be related with each other, while nuances are but just subtle differences in meanings. Because of overlapping definitions, sometimes, nuance and semantic range are used interchangeably.
Consider the sentence above; “I’ll try to study a study in my study after my studies.” Though we can say that this sentence expresses a complete thought, nevertheless, it is still hard to understand. We’re certain of one thing though, it’s about studying.
Etymology, Semantic Range and Nuance
Before, I thought that by just going to a dictionary and learning the etymology or history of words I might be able to determine the meaning of a word that was used in a sentence. To my surprise, it just gave me a list of meanings that at first made no sense to me. It gives examples of how a particular word functions in different context. That is very confusing to me, because now I have to understand the context first, for me to actually know its meaning. All I’m trying to say is this; word study is not done by merely looking at dictionaries(Hebrew, Greek and English) and assume that it will give you only one meaning or that the etymology of the word is the right meaning. Word’s etymological derivation is not always the right meaning in a given context.
Nouns and Verbs
Looking at a dictionary, you will find that the word “study” can be used as a noun or as a verb. As a noun, it has at least 15 senses or nuances. As a verb, it can be used with an object or without an object.
The first instance of the word “study” in our example is a verb. It is an infinitive with an object. And what we mean by “to study” is to acquire knowledge. That’s pretty simple you may say, till you ask; what are you trying to study, or what is the object of the verb? If what I mean by the object “a study” is a research paper, a literature, or a textbook, then to acquire knowledge is the right meaning of the verb “to study” . But if it is something else, say such as, “a study” is a musical composition that combines exercise of techniques with a greater or lesser amount of artistic value also known as “etude”, then “to study” is more than just passively acquiring knowledge, but rather it is “to exercise” actively. Not just the mind, but also the skills(e.g hands, fingers when playing a guitar or piano). See the subtle difference? So the object of the verb determines what nuance should be used in this context. How about the prepositional phrase “in my study”? What “study” is being referred to here? “Study” here refers to a place where one could study. A study room. Now it depends on the context as to what kind of study room. Is it a music room that the playing can be so loud, or in a library where one should observe silence, or maybe just a room intended for study in general? Now if you’re still following me, you will notice that the sentence, though complete, still lacks proper context for us to actually figure out the meaning of the word “study”. Let alone the meaning of the entire sentence itself.
Meaning of words gives us an idea on what the context is and in the same token, context helps us define what a word actually means. The task of understanding any literature always involves the two. Sometimes there’s enough context for us to understand some difficult words in a sentence, but sometimes it is the flow of thought that is not apparent, and the clear meaning of words are the ones that could shed light in our understanding of the text. So it’s kind of merry-go-roundish. We can try-out all the possible meanings of a word in the sentence and see what make sense in the larger context.
In my next article on the topic of word study, I will try to show you how to properly do word studies of a particular text of the Bible. We will be looking at some popular passages that are often misrepresented due to wrong application of word study. Keep glorifying God in exegesis, God bless!