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Word Studies/Bible Texts and Translations: Introduction, Resources, Instructions for Recent Methods

by Steve Jung, rev. and exp. by Sharon Ralston

Want to get right to it using the traditional method?


Introductory Advice on Word Studies and the Doing of Them

Most of the normal, most commonly used academic resources for doing word studies in the original languages have only been available in print format.  In May 2024, APU obtained access to Eerdmans Digital Reference Library database that includes, among its 12 vital resources in our module, digital access to The Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament as well as The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, in both its complete 10-volume and abridged editions.  In this guide we are now including some additional online resources to use selectively as tools or bridges to the rich and scholarly content of the standard print lexicons and print theological dictionaries/lexicons (some now available online) and/or for access to some additional dictionary/lexicon content in doing a word study.  

There are two main numerical classification systems in use in word study books: Strong's and G/K (aka Goodrick/Kohlenberger).  Along the way you will encounter these numbers and will want to record them as they can be variously helpful as keys to accessing resources in doing a word study without knowing Hebrew or Greek. You will also want to record the transliterated form of your word (more information on this is provided in the steps below).

Note:  Some instructors skip the consultation of lexicons in doing a word study, because the definitions are brief, similar to a Merriam-Webster's for English words, or due to the fact that the entries are alphabetized by the words in the original languages of Hebrew or Greek and therefore challenging to work with if you have not studied those languages.   However, seeing the survey of meaning/usage of a word or root which a lexicon provides is a gain and there are ways to access them even not having studied Hebrew and Greek -- and we provide some guidance.  Ask your theological librarians for help following the directions on this page or those provided by your professor.  For some exegetical papers, your assignment is to find and work with the content in a theological dictionary/lexicon without the building-block step of using a lexicon; if so, skip some steps and move forward!  Follow the necessary steps to access the content/resources that your instructor recommends and the reward of better understanding is yours!  Just take it step by step.

There are various preferred ways to employ available online and print resources (those featured here as well as others) to make them work together in accomplishing a word study or, instead, to employ a traditional method using print resources. You will find instructions for those approaches below and on the Traditional Word Study method page (linked here and tabbed above).


Lexicons and Theological Lexicons


There are a few standard lexicons for the Hebrew and Aramaic languages for biblical studies. The three that you may wish to choose to consult from are: the multivolume Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (HALOT), A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament by William Holladay (this is a condensed version of HALOT), and the Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (BDB).


The longtime standard for theological dictionaries/encyclopedias for biblical Hebrew/Aramaic is the Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament (TDNT), formerly only in print (link to catalog record).  It is now also available online in Eerdmans Digital Reference Library database.  It is a 17-volume set arranged by the alphabetical order of the Hebrew terms (Aramaic in vol. 16). It covers words of "theological significance," with attention to linguistics as well. The New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis (NIDOTTE) (print copy only) is another theological dictionary and it has gained prominence. This works on defining the terms historically, as a Semitic language, and also theologically.


There are basically two standard Greek lexicons and one special lexicon. The two standards are: A Greek-English Lexicon by Liddell and Scott (known as Liddell & Scott or LSJ) and A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature by Danker (known as BDAG). There is a special lexicon which not only gives definitions but organizes terms by similar domains/range of meanings: Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (usually known as Louw-Nida, the authors).


The standard for theological lexicons / dictionaries for Greek is the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT). It is a 10-volume set arranged by alphabetical order of the Greek terms. There is a 1-volume abridged edition of the 10 volumes. It is sometimes called “Little Kittel” or “Kittel Bits."  These were formerly only available in print to libraries but are now available online in the Eerdmans Digital Reference Library database in both the complete 10-volume and abridged editions.
The New International Dictionary of New Testament of Theology (NIDNTT) is another theological dictionary (print copy only). It is a revision of an earlier work. This works on defining the terms historically (Classical Greek and other non-Christian usage) and theologically (how it’s used in the Bible). For some word studies it is appropriate to consider how a word is used by book or author; often you will want to consider the family of words built off the same root which are discussed in an entry.

Hebrew or Greek Word Studies Using (mostly) Print Materials

There are truly two different types of word studies. One is to find the meaning of a specific word in a particular text. This case involves knowing that a specific word may have several definitions, but that an author has only one meaning in mind while writing: for example, knowing that "love" has multiple meanings and that only one is meant when one writes, "I love pizza." The second type of word study is to create a theological definition of a word by looking up all of its occurrences either in both testaments or just one testament, or even, say, in Johannine literature. This is an attempt to define what a word means "in the Bible." Both types of word studies are valid, but for exegesis, the first kind of word study is the important one.

Steps for doing a word study to find the meaning of a specific word in a particular text (you can refer to the Lexicons/Theological Lexicons box for information on those resources you are directed to here). Some steps are only for Hebrew/OT words and some only for Greek/NT words -- so do not be intimidated; you can skip some steps: 

  • 1 – Figure out which word(s) you want to study (tip: words given attention in critical commentaries are good candidates).
  • 2 – Find the term in an English version of the Bible; book, chapter and verse.
  • 3 – Discover the word behind the English translation.
    • 3a - Go to
    • 3b - Enter your passage in the General Search box (the "version" should be the default "New American Standard" setting for this exercise, regardless of what version you consulted). Click Go.
    • 3c - Above the text of your verse, click "Interlinear Bible" [not the Interlinear tab under General Search] - this will provide both the English text and the Hebrew or Greek original.
    • 3d - Hover over and click your word in the English text.
    • 3e - This opens a new page. On that page, there are several boxes with useful information related to the word. We don't need all of them: (1) One box has the transliterated version of the Hebrew or Greek word (sort of writing Greek or Hebrew in the Roman alphabet we use for English). Write this down.  (2) The number posted in the gold box, such as #4910, is the assigned Strong's number.  (As mentioned in the intro above, it can be a useful key to working with other resources.)  
  • 4 – Discover the language of origin. (HINT: New Testament was composed in Greek, the Hebrew Bible was Hebrew, except for about 200 verses written in Aramaic).
  • 5 – Look up the term in a Lexicon (dictionary of the original language)  -- or move to step 6.
    • 5a - For Hebrew/OT words, there is  a Definition box that  gives an abbreviated entry of the definition from the Brown-Driver-Briggs lexicon (as well as the brief definitions from the glossary in Strong's Concordance).   You can consult a BDB lexicon coded to Strong's for the complete BDB dictionary entry -- access without knowing Hebrew!
    • 5b - For Greek/NT words, do not use the Definition box content in StudyLight. For online access to an abbreviated entry from Liddell & Scott (LSJ) Greek lexicon, follow the steps provided for Step Bible (How To).To consult the print LSJ or BDAG, ask your theological librarian -- or your professor might have provided you a page number for a word in those lexicons.  Some professors will give you instructions on using Louw-Nida.
  • 6 – Develop a provisional list of definitions.
  • 7 – Use the theological dictionaries/lexicons to add depth to definition:
    • 7a - (1) For Hebrew/OT words for this kind of resource, StudyLight provides the box TWOT (for HB/OT), an acronym for Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament and provides the number for the entry (not page number) according to the numbering system of that book. It'd be easy to stop there, and you might , as TWOT is a good resource, but  for Hebrew it is not comparable to TDNT which StudyLight provide references for for  Greek/NT words.  We recommend consulting TDOT or NIDOTTE  additionally or instead. You can do this!
    • (2) NIDOTTE (New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis: Go to Volume 5 and use the Strong's>G/K  Number conversion chart to find the G/K number assigned to the word and which is the system used in this resource.  Use that G/K number to find the entry (not page number) for your word (its root and related forms)  in one of the five volumes.  Easy-peasy! 
    • (3) TDOT (Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament) (also available online): Hebrew words are in Hebrew alphabetical order along with their transliterated forms in TDOT and that can make accessing it a little tricky. Here are some means to do so:  While in NIDOTTE, check the Bibliography at the end of your word's entry to see if it provides a citation to TDOT, eg "TDOT 1:118-30," referring in this case to Vol..1, pp. 118-130.  Another resource entitled the Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament (TLOT) has entries arranged by Strong's numbers and can similarly be consulted to see lists of where the word can be found in other dictionaries and lexicons -- but for TDOT it covers only up to Vol. 8. If there is not such a convenient reference to TDOT or if your professor has not provided a Volume/page number reference for your word, you can skim the Table of Contents in each volume for your word in its transliteration or ask a theological librarian for help.
    • 7b - For Greek/NT words, look at the TDNT box ion your StudyLight page in step 3 above. That acronym stands for Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (also available online).  The information in that box such as "6:485,901" stands for Vol. 6, page 485 in the 10-volume set of TDNT and page 901 in the abridged edition of TDNT (also available online) to identify where you will find the entry for your word (sometimes your word is included as part of an entry that discusses a family of words or group of related words).  Again, easy-peasy.
  • 8 – Narrow definition to what the word likely means in your text, now having consulted commentaries and word study dictionaries/lexicons.

Hebrew or Greek Word Studies Using Reputable Websites (and some print resources for in-depth content)

A word: When using the STEP Bible or StudyLight resources to begin your word studies as described above, the print lexicons and theological dictionary/lexicons (some now also online) in the far-left box would be the next level of materials needed. Note that while TWOT (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament) is referenced in StudyLight for the OT/Hebrew words and is a good resource as a kind of abridged theological dictionary and accepted by some professors, BDB or HALOT serve as a preferred lexicon to consult. TDOT or NIDOTTE would do so as a theological dictionary/lexicon for OT/Hebrew words -- and indeed TDOT and NIDOTTE are counterparts to the TDNT that StudyLight. references for the NT/Greek words. They provide both more in-depth and up-to-date scholarly discussions in their entries than TWOT. [See the lexicons/theological lexicons box to decode these acronyms!]

Whole Bible Word Studies Using a Somewhat Useful Ebook


Quick tips for use:  

Click on the dictionary title link above.  On the left-side column of the opening screen page, click on Table of Contents link.  Click on Expository Dictionary.  Words are alphabetical (by English words) but not hot-linked, so you will need to scroll through the pages at the bottom of the screen.  Hebrew and Greek words that have in their usage a definition in the biblical text matching the English word to which they are assigned are provided in that entry, along with their respective transliterated forms and assigned G/K and Strong's numbers.  Proceed to lexicons and/or theological dictionaries/lexicons (see other boxes).