Monday, May 03, 2010

Word Study Tips

First, latest installment of Great Time for the Wesleyan Tradition is up on the seminary blog.

If you ever turn in a word study for me, here are some things that tick me off:

1. Don't give me a preliminary definition from Webster, dictionary.com, or some modern English dictionary.
The range of meaning English words can have today is completely irrelevant! It's the range the Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic word had that counts. And yes, they're not the same.

2. Don't give me all the Thayer's overload from blueletterbible.com.
Thayer's comes from the overload fallacy era (see Kittel). It stuffs stuff that is a function of context (rather than the word itself) into the meaning of the words, extraneous meaning. All I want is one, two or three words, a starter definition. After all, the purpose of a word study is not to look up what a word means--it's to figure it out yourself! Preliminary definitions are just a rough draft before getting down to business.

3. Don't cut and paste a 1000 pages of stuff that is just a bunch of stuff you've cut and pasted.
I don't give a dime for it, let alone a point, not unless you've written on it or shown me that you've processed it somehow. You need to go reference by reference and tell me how each instance of the word shows you the kinds of things the word can mean. My dog can print a screen of blueletterbible if I hold its paw up to the right button.

4. I couldn't care less about Kittel...
... except that it can sometimes give a sense of some of the more archaic or less frequent uses of the word. The history of the word, including its breakdown into parts is generally irrelevant. Think about the way you use words--you don't think about where the word came from or how it breaks apart--it's absurd!

4. Don't use commentaries as a crutch.
Commentaries are useful in word studies to tell you potential word background and to point out things you might not have thought of. But you can do better at inductive word studies than half the commentaries out there if you are only disciplined and don't shove preconceived notions down the words of the text.

5. Don't confuse literary and historical contexts.
The whole Bible is not the literary context of Philippians. Only Philippians is. All the rest was written at a different time, place, and situation. Don't count on Philippians always to use a word the same way or for its uses to be related (although there's a good chance many of them are). Don't count on Paul always to use a word the same way or for his uses to be related (although there's a fair chance you'll find a lot the same). Certainly don't count on Matthew using words the way Paul does, and you shouldn't at all expect the Hebrew of the OT to use words the way the Greek of the NT does.

The way the Greek translation of the OT used words may or may not be helpful, but it is far more likely to help than the Hebrew original, which is much more likely to be irrelevant than relevant when it comes to the meaning of a Greek word.

There. I got it off my chest.

5 comments:

manmohan said...

yes the blog i found very good to me and the tips are very good and everything is interesting here.
thanks

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Brian Small said...

Feel better now? :-)

Anonymous said...

How about giving some tips on the the greek word 'substance' in Hebrew 11:1.

Keith Drury said...

mmmmm... I think I know some students who might want to read this ;-)

Joel Liechty said...

I knew my paper would give you a good blogging topic. :)

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