Word studies can be a challenge! And yet, they are an important piece of thorough Bible study. So, they can’t be ignored! Walk though these three common difficulties in word studies, excerpted from Rick Warren’s Bible Study Methods. At the end, you’ll feel more equipped for the task!


As an example, the English word servant has seven Greek equivalents, each with a different shade of meaning. Be sure to check your concordance carefully to see if this might be true of the word you are studying. Then, find out what each different original word meant.


You will have to do a careful study on all the different renderings of the original word to overcome this difficulty. You can do this quite easily through the use of your exhaustive concordance. For example, the Greek word koinonia is translated five different ways in the King James Version: (1) “communication” — once; (2) “communion” — 4 times; (3) “contribution” — once; (4) “distribution” — once; and (5) “fellowship” — 12 times.

Follow this procedure in solving this difficulty:

  • First, list the different ways the word is translated.
  • Second, list how many times it is translated each way.
  • Third, give examples of each translation (if possible).
  • Fourth, write down how the different meanings might be related.
  • Fifth, determine if the writer of the book is using the word you are studying in a single sense or is giving it a multiple meaning.


This difficulty will take a little more work to overcome. Why? Because concordances do not list word translations by phrases. So, you will need to compare the recent versions of the Bible you are using. Then, you will see how the various translators have rendered the word.

For example, Paul declared to the Corinthians, “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:18 KJV). The phrase “beholding as in a glass” is just one word in the original Greek (katoptrizomenoi). And you will discover some interesting truths when you study the origin of that word.


  1. Choose Your Word
  2. Find Its English Definition
  3. Compare Translations
  4. Take Notes on the Original Word’s Definition
  5. Check the Word’s Occurrences in the Bible
  6. Find the Root Meaning and Origin of the Word
  7. Discover the Word’s Usage in the Bible
  8. Write Out an Application in Your Notes

Here are some good questions to ask yourself:

  • How does the writer use the word in other parts of the book?
  • Does the word have more than one usage? If so, what are its other uses?
  • How does the writer use the word in other books he has written?
  • How is the word used throughout the whole testament?
  • What is the most frequent use of the word?
  • How is it used the first time in the Scriptures?
  • Is there any illustration in the context that clarifies the meaning of the word?
  • Does the context give any clues to the meaning of the word?
  • Is the word compared or contrasted with another word in the context?



We’ve highlighted several methods for Bible study. So, are you looking for other ways to get into God’s Word? Here are few helpful ideas.

Or, grab a copy of Rick Warren’s Bible Study Methods for yourself!


  1. Ron Bingham Reply

    This is only the beginning of “must know” things about word studies. Word studies really are for the purpose of interpretation (or even to enhance our understanding of biblical doctrine. There are some rules we all need to know:

    1) “If the common sense of the word makes sense, use no other sense of the word.” Example: In English, the word “catch” has different meanings based on the CONTEXT of a sentence. Catch the ball; Catch a taxi; Catch of the day; Catch my drift? Words can be found in different grammatical forms and, like the word “catch” can mean simply to catch or (more basically) to “grasp” but can also be used as a symbol or an idiom or metaphorically. It must always take on the simplest use of the word first unless the context demands it be used in some other way. So if the most basic meaning makes sense it cannot be given some symbolic or metaphorical definition.
    Take the word “salt” as it’s used in scripture. When it’s not used as a symbol it simply means “salt”. When it’s used symbolically it takes on the meaning of the overall context showing its unchanging characteristic, such as, “Have salt in yourselves.” (Mark 9:50) Here, within its context, Jesus commanded us to have the unchangeable character and virtues of godliness in ourselves.

    2) The meaning of a word cannot contradict other passages/doctrines. This one is pretty much self explanatory.

    3) Words that are used as technical terms. The word salvation means to be saved but saved in what way? Based on the context, to be saved can mean to have ones life spared in this life or it can become (in a technical sense) eternal salvation. “Saved” doesn’t always mean “eternal salvation” but the contest alone tells us when it is used as a technical term. So also: justification, where it is not technically our actions which are justified but we are “accredited to be justification based on the righteousness of Jesus alone!”

    The lessons on word studies go on from here. This is not the end of the list of “need to know”s about word studies.

      • I agree with taking the first and most obvious meaning as read, but to not look for symbolic or metaphorical meaning also would exclude much richness and potential in how God speaks to us. It’s a bit like setting a digital camera to only capture black and white? I would say that a metaphorical use of scripture must always be held up against the ‘literal’, lest we all get too carried away.

        • Agreed Kent. Take the word “repent” for example. The first use of the word in English in the old testament (Strongs h5162) means to “sigh”. Meanwhile, the first use of the word in the new testament (Strongs g3340) means to “think differently”. I suspect most of us would agree the context of the literal translation in both cases intends to convey the same thing when it comes to sin at least! OK so far so good? But could it be that the new testament iIS ALSO pointing us to the solution to overcoming sin because WE CAN “change our mind” because we now have the much more powerful “mind of Christ” to do so (1 Cor 2:16)? I’m no longer “sighing” I am rejoicing because sin no longer has dominion over me! What a release!

  2. Mark Simmons Reply

    I have found this useful,
    context- read 4 versus before and after.
    if that doesn’t help,
    Context-How is the word used throughout the book that you are reading.
    If, you still haven’t solved the problem then,
    CONTEXT-How is the word used throughout the entire Bible. also keep in mind that most of the writers were Jewish. therefore, their words and numbers were measured by weight
    because most people couldn’t write and some even thought it a sin to do so.

    • Very true. I used to encourage fellow believers to read the before and after to get the context of a passage. Now, I encourage to read the entire Bible to get the context of a passage.

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