Bible Review 7:5, October 1991

Greek for Bible Readers

Getting at the meaning of words

By David Alan Black

Bible Review

In interpreting the words of the Greek New Testament we use several distinct, yet interdependent methods. These include lexical analysis (the meaning of words), syntactical analysis (the relationship of words to one another), structural analysis (the overall arrangement of the text), rhetorical analysis (the relationship of form and style to meaning) and tradition-critical analysis (the tradition behind and within the text). Each of these methods will be taken up in turn, beginning in this lesson with lexical analysis—more commonly known as word study.

There are three basic principles of word study. First, we must know the possible range of meanings of a word, which can be quite large in Greek. For example, hJmevra (heµmera, “day”) can be used for the interval between sunrise and sunset (Revelation 21:25), a 24-hour period (Matthew 6:34), a time of judgment (Hebrews 10:25), time in general (John 14:20) and even a court of law (1 Corinthians 4:3). The point is that a Greek word usually has several meanings, only one of which need be its semantic contribution to any particular passage.

Our second principle is that words must always be studied in context. The possible meanings of Greek words (like English ones) are context-determined to a significant degree. Hence only when an entire text has been studied can the meanings of its component words be determined.

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