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So this site has a tag, but there's been some debate over what it means and how it should be used.

This site doesn't have to use the term in exactly the same way that others do, but it's usually most helpful to do that. So the first question we should consider is what the academic field of Biblical Studies means when it says "word study". Likewise what lay-level Christian and Jewish books mean by the term.

Now I admit I haven't looked up any academic resources to confirm my understanding of the meaning, but based on how I've heard it used, I think "word studies" are studies of a particular word in a Biblical text across a wider text unit than just one verse or passage. So something like the meaning of "justification" in Romans, or "seed/offspring" in Genesis would be prototypical word study topics and questions. Often, but not necessarily always, will that be focused in on one passage, for example, "How does Roman's use of "justification" help us understand Romans 5:18?"

Do you think my understanding of the term matches how it is commonly used by others?

Now even if we did agree with that (and we may disagree, I could be convinced that my understanding is non-standard, just show me those references!), we would also then have to decide how word study questions should be asked on this site. Even when a subject is on-topic on this site, it can still be too broad. So we wouldn't want to allow questions asking for a whole-Bible word study - those deserve whole books to be written instead.

I wrote before on Meta that some theological questions can be disguised as word-study questions, giving the example of a question asking about the use of 'justified' in Paul and James. So my guidance would be that the scope of word study questions on this site should generally be somewhat narrow - usually restricted to the works of one human author, sometimes even just one book. So word study questions could be asked about all of Paul's epistles. Very rare words, like Propitiation, would probably also be okay, even though it may occur in books from different authors. But common words, like 'sin', or 'church' would be too broad for a word-study question on this site. By all means go and write an in-depth study and try to get it published elsewhere though!


It may instead be that most people think a "word study" means an in-depth study of one word in one passage, but rather than looking at how it's used in other Biblical texts, they're more looking at etymology, use in extra-Biblical texts, and so on.

If that's the case, then I'm not sure that having a word-study tag is actually useful for this site? Because in-depth studies of single verses is actually bread and butter for this site. We don't need a tag for that. For me, it only makes sense to have a tag for questions which are a bit more unusual, such as studying a word across a wider textual unit, such as a whole Biblical book.


I've tried to give some shape to this discussion, but please feel free to raise your thoughts about word study questions however you see fit. Let's try to come to a clearer community consensus, and then edit the tag's description accordingly.

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  • I am going to formulate a longer answer with sources later, but your understanding seems appropriate. The tag just needs some clearer definition. A word study should include etymology but not be limited to it. Likewise, we don't want the term to be coterminous with a concordance search (even within a text unit) either, but it also can include a concordance search, specifically how it is used in each passage cited. The goal of a word study should be to identify the use in a specific text; if it differs elsewhere learn from the difference. Useful, sometimes like rectangles and squares.
    – Jesse Mod
    Nov 2, 2022 at 23:43
  • In general I typically find these questions to be too broad if not focused on a specific text. But that’s my opinion.
    – Dan
    Nov 9, 2022 at 9:54

2 Answers 2

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It needs a narrow scope on our site

Limits & pitfalls

Some important points arise about the size of projects, from your other post:

Word-study questions across books from different authors are problematic. Consider, for example, a question asking about the use of 'justified' in Paul and James. When that question is asked it's usually because people actually want a systematic theology answer to how those two authors together contribute to the doctrine of justification... they can still be too massive to tackle in this site's Q&A format...

'Salvation' or 'save', by a naive search of an English concordance (ignoring any questions of different Hebrew roots) occurs in the OT over 300 times!

Takeaway:

  • We can't do comprehensive.
  • Remain cautious of systheo questions cloaked as word-study questions.

Word study vs text search

Rectangles and squares...

A text search can be one small part of a word study, but it is neither a complete word study nor does a thorough word study need to include a text search. Your question doesn't seem to make this distinction:

some theological questions can be disguised as word-study questions

...And your post linked to addresses "text-search". Massive difference. They overlap, but they aren't the same.

Takeaway:

  • Many may be confused about the rectangle-square relationship between a "word study" and a "text search".

Text searches in a word study need to be limited

But, text searches will come up when doing word studies, and they need limited.

By author might be good, but what if a word is rare and only appears three times in the whole Bible? The author limit won't work there.

Takeaway:

  • Brief lists of occurrences, sensibly filtered for acceptable size of search results, and not ad hoc.

We can't just randomly select 10 occurrences, for example. We need a scope that results in a lower result. If you get 300 hits searching by author, it's too big. Limit it to morphology, prepositions, collocation, genere, audience, et cetera. Whatever limit is good is determined by the size of the results.

So, a valid text search would need a word study's scope to limit it.

Takeaway:

  • Text search apart from word study shouldn't be allowed.
  • Word study emphasizing text search may be allowable.

What is a word study?

How we use the term "word study" on this site needs to be consistent with the rest of the world of expertise, but not necessarily coterminous. "Word studies" that we allow can and must be smaller in scope. That does not re-define a word study; it narrows what word studies we allow.

Let's consult experts and current tool resources:

From William G. Squires Library:

Word study resources are resources that assist with the examination of the origin, definition, occurrences, and uses of a particular word, especially as the word relates to the context of a passage of Scripture. The purpose of using word study resources is to determine, as precisely as possible, what the Biblical writer meant when using a particular word or phrase.

From Logos:

Word studies are a gold mine . . . and a minefield. Why? Because it’s tempting to derive too much significance from a single biblical word. (We’re looking at you, agape.) With that in mind...

  1. Set Expectations

  2. Choose a Word

  3. Research Biblical Word Usage

  • Research Word Occurrences and Translation
  • Research Lexicon Entries
  • Research Senses of the Word
  1. Consult Commentaries for Lemma Discussion

  2. Record Observations and Come to Conclusions

Takeaway:

  • Observations and conclusions are the essential part that makes a word study valid!

From Trinity College (University of Toronto):

Two factors need to be considered when doing a word study:

  1. A single word by itself conveys very little: it is seldom an adequate guide to a biblical idea. Thus a word like “holy” needs to be studied in its various contexts if we are to discover what the full biblical idea of holiness is. Word study is only valuable as a means of pursuing a given theme: it is only a means to an end. Ideas not words are our goal, and few ideas are tied to a single word.

  2. Since the Bible was not written in English and no translation is perfect, words in the English Bible can represent two or more different words in the original language and the range of meanings in one English word does not do justice to the complexity of the original. The word study tries not only to get at the meaning but also the thought processes of the Hebrew or Greek authors. The context should indicate the meaning of the word being studied. The word study should be based on the Hebrew and Greek originals. The purpose of a word study is to discover the themes of biblical thinking and not as a mere linguistic or lexicographical exercise. There are a number of strategies to be followed in order to ensure a productive approach.

STRATEGIES FOR DOING WORD STUDIES

A number of learning strategies are necessary in order to conduct a word study successfully:

  1. Learn Hebrew and Greek...

  2. Use an Analytical Concordance

If you are unable to learn Hebrew and Greek, the next best alternative is to consult an analytical concordance.

Current word-study tag info:

Summary:

Investigation into the meaning or use of an individual word across a specific Biblical text or collection. This can include etymology, morphology, and usage as the word appears in text. This should not be exhaustive for all uses through the entire Bible or testament for frequently used words.

Full info:

Word study questions on this site should only be asked about a particular text unit, not the whole Bible, for example: the use of a word within one book of the Bible, or the use of a word within the books of one author (such as Paul's letters.)


Particular "lexemes"1 are often of interest to interpreters of the Bible. Some major publishing projects represent this kind of interest. Some of the best known in English are:

Those interested in such studies should consult the following resources to avoid common pitfalls:

Word study questions should also be tagged with the relevant language: or


  1. Although definitions of terms are often debated by professional linguists, for the purposes of this wiki, a "lexeme" may be understood as the "basic" form of a word: e.g., "ride" would be the "lexeme" which also represents "riding", "ridden", "rode", etc.

### Above is the full info

-2

The only definition I could find comes in the form of a comment made by Jesse.

I want you and others to be aware that, in the future, I'll be welcoming more word studies. Just make sure 1. to use the "word-study" tag, 2. show some research (as on any SE site), and 3. the word study doesn't serve the purpose of creating theological systems, but how the word is used per author or book (to avoid the topics of Christianity.SE). hermeneutics.meta.stackexchange.com/a/975/27581 – Jesse ♦ Aug 19 at 0:10

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