Why Words Studies are Important to Personal Bible Devotion

The Bible consists of words.  That sentence sounds like nonsense.  "Of course it is", you might say.  The Bible is a book, books contain words, so the Bible consists of words.  But in the Bible's case, those words are inspired.  They were given to us by God.  Those words are precious.  They are priceless.  David says in Psalm 12:6, "The words of the Lord are pure words, like silver refined in an earthen furnace, purified seven times".  So every syllable of every word of Scripture was chosen by God.  He gave us the exact words he wanted us to hear and understand.

The problem is that the original language of Scripture wasn't English.  The original language of the Old Testament was Hebrew, and the original language of the New Testament was Greek.  So for most of us, unless you are a Hebrew and Greek scholar, the Bible you read every day is a translation.  A linguist, or word and language scholar, has done the painstaking work of translating for us the original languages of the Bible into English. The best translations of the Bible are the ones that resemble as close as possible the original languages of the Bible.  The problem is that not all Greek or Hebrew words have an English equivalent or sometimes one word in Greek has to be translated as a phrase in English.

All of that is why word studies are important.  It helps us dig deeper and understand even more what God is saying to us, through the writers, in Scripture. So how do you know what words to study when doing personal devotion? You can really do a word study on any word in any passage, but I know for me I focus on words that are either repeated more than once in a passage, words that I don't know the meaning of, or word(s) that a particular author of the Bible seem to be emphasizing.

Let me offer an example.  In Psalm 136, the words "love" or "faithful love" (depending on translation) are being repeated in every verse.  So it is obvious by just the sheer repetition of the words that the author of this Psalm is emphasizing God's faithful love.  So you might first look up the Hebrew (because Psalms is an OT book and the original language of OT is Hebrew) word for "love" of "faithful love" used in this Psalm.  That Hebrew word happens to be chesed or checed.  Using an online or book concordance you can look up the possible meanings of that word in Hebrew.  The definitions include "lovingkindness", "mercy", "goodness", "faithfulness".  So as you can see one Hebrew word can often be translated using several English words.  So the context of the passage becomes key here. Since this psalm is praising God for his faithfulness to Israel and proclaiming all the great and mighty works He did for them, translating chesed as love or faithful love conveys the meaning of this text accurately.  You could also further explore the word by seeing where else in Scripture the Hebrew word chesed is used, and how is it translated there. That particular Hebrew word is used over 240 times in the Old Testament.

But from its use in Psalm 136 we can see that God's faithful love for His people is an important theme in the history of Israel and its people.  God did all he did for them because of His great love for them.  In all those acts, He was displaying His faithfulness and His love for His people.  This might move you to do this for your own life.  Make a list of all the things God has done for you.  Then repeat those things out loud and insert the phrase "His faithful love endures forever" after each one.

So you can see how a word study can enhance your own personal devotion time.  It can also enhance your preparation for Bible study if you are a teacher. Two important notes about doing word studies.  First, they must always be done by studying the original word (Greek or Hebrew), not the English word, which is a translation.  Second, always allow the context of a passage drive the meaning of the word. Doing a word study can help immensely in not just understanding a passage but also in applying a passage.  So I challenge you, the next time you do a devotion or study for a lesson.  Choose one or two words and do a word study.  I think you'll find it will add great insight to your devotion and help drive the application of the text.

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