Answered By: Jeff Lash
Last Updated: Jul 14, 2020     Views: 2219

How to Research Key Biblical Words

 1. You should choose your starting point based on your level of familiarity with the biblical languages. If you are fairly comfortable with the Hebrew or Greek texts of the Bible, read on (a through e); if not, skip to part 2.

a. You may prefer to go first to the respective lexicons. We recommend Bauer’s (BDAG) for the Greek (NT), and Gesenius/Brown, Driver, Briggs (BDB) for the Hebrew (OT) lexicons. BDAG is located in reference at PA881.D27. BDB is located at PJ4833.B67.

b. Also explore word usage in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT) and the Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament (TDOT) which give extensive semantic backgrounds of biblical words.[1]

TDNT (“Kittel”) is located in the reference section under Greek language tools: (PA881.K513). Be sure to use the Index volume (Vol.10) to help navigate.                       TDOT (15 volumes) does not yet have an index—(Ref)BS440. B5713.

c. For those less interested in the broad linguistic range but still somewhat familiar with Greek and Hebrew, we recommend using either the New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (NIDNTT)—3 vols. (Ref)BS2397.N48) [see footnote 1 to compare NIDNTT with TDNT] or the New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis (NIDOTTE)—5 vols: (Ref) BS440.N438. Unless you know the Hebrew word, you will need to use the index (vol.5 of NIDOTTE).

d. Of course, for those interested and able, there are the Concordances of the Hebrew and Greek Testaments: Moulton & Geden’s Concordance to the Greek NT— (Ref)BS2302.M8; and Mandelkern’s Hebrew Concordance (Ref) PJ4826.M3. Most students will find the Hebrew-English Concordance to the OT (by Kohlenberger) much easier to use (Ref: BS1121.K65).

e. Need help parsing verbs? Some may consider this “cheating” J; if not, consider Owen’s Analytical Key to the OT (Ref:PJ4731.B53 O94) for a verse by verse analysis, or one of the Analytic Greek Lexicons. Also, on one of our Reference Computers we have the software programs for biblical languages by  1)Logos 2) BibleWorks.. All of these programs give tagged texts that help the student identify the word forms.

2. If you have little or no familiarity with the biblical languages, there are still many fine tools to help you.

a. First, determine whether the word you are researching is from a specific text of the OT or NT, or if you are researching its use in both testaments. An “exhaustive concordance” is always a good place to start—the NIV Exhaustive Concordance (G-K: Goodrick & Kohlenberger) is recommended; we also have concordances to the KJV (Strong’s or Young’s), RSV, NRSV, NASB, NLT (Reference at: BS425)

b. locate the word and note where it is used and its various forms. For example, “eternal” is used 47 times in the KJV, but 81 times in the NIV, which explains why it is important to discern which Hebrew or Greek term is being used. The KJV only uses the word “eternal” in the OT twice, while the NIV uses the word 15 times. The numbers next to each reference are the key to discovering the meaning. For example, the NIV uses a few different Hebrew words for “eternal” but the most common is #6409. Locate this number in the back of the concordance (Hebrew section comes before the Greek): 6409 is the word “olam”, most frequently translated “forever” or “everlasting”.

To find out how the words differ in meaning you would need to read a more extended treatment, as provided in a) NIDOTTE (see below**), or b) TWOT (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament—[Ref]BS440.T49). TWOT is linked to Strong’s Concordance numbers. If you are using the GK Concordance, you can still use TWOT because there is a key at the back of GK that matches the GK and Strong’s numbers. (Once you find the appropriate number you need to look in the back of TWOT for the corresponding TWOT #.)

c. The same applies to the NT words for “eternal,” where only one Greek word is translated “eternal”—the word “aionios”. But for the more extended meaning you will need to go (not to TWOT, but) to a Dictionary of New Testament words, such as Vine’s Dictionary of Biblical Words, which matches the GK or Strong’s numbers to the words; or better yet, Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words (Ref)440.M63.

d. if you want to search for phrases, and not just single words, see the “”. For example, there you can search for the phrase ‘eternal life’—used 45 times in the NIV (but only in the New Testament)

…………………………………………………………………........................................................**New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis (NIDOTTE), (5 vols: Ref BS440 .N438) and its counterpart, also 5 vols, NIDNTTE (BS2312.N48 2014), is a most useful tool for going deeper into word usage. Start using the Index volume to locate words or concepts in the Subject Index, or look up words by G-K number. For ex: #6409 has a substantial article on ‘olam’[time and eternity] in vol.3 of NIDOTTE.

3. Additional Resources to consider in researching biblical words:

a. Biblical & systematic theologies dedicated to particular words. For example:

Biblical Words for Time, by Barr; Shalom! The Biblical Concept of Peace, by Harris; The Love Command in the NT, by Furnish; Man and his Hope in the OT, by Zimmerli; etc.

b. Bible commentaries often have extensive discussion of key words. For example: Word Biblical Commentary on Genesis 1 has a lengthy discussion of bara and other key words.

c. Atla Religion database for scholarly articles on key words. For example: bara, semeia, sarx, pneumatikos (Hebrew or Greek words typed into keyword search in transliterated form)—all of these terms have significant articles.