“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver,” the wise preacher once said. We use words to express ideas or to paint pictures in a mind, or to persuade someone to “see it our way.” Winston Churchill stirred a nation to patriotism; Hitler stirred his people to hatred; Harriet Beecher Stowe aroused the North against slavery with her Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
When it is the living God who speaks, we do well to take heed. But the languages in which the Lord first delivered His words were Hebrew and Aramaic and Greek languages which many of us don’t understand. Moreover, in all languages the meanings of words change over the years as we are all aware. Words also change with the context in which they are used. I might “rap” on your door sometime, but if I would “rap” with you, it would mean something entirely different. So we need to get some help as we study our Bibles to understand what God is saying to us.
The two basic languages in which the Bible is written are what the linguists call “dead” languages (although there are modern forms of Greek and Hebrew). By “dead” we mean that they have been “frozen” in time at a particular point in history and therefore we can study that period of history and discover with a great deal of accuracy the meanings of the words. However, this information until recently was confined to those who spent years learning the languages and the cultural context of the words. But now there is help for all of us right at our fingers.
Probably the most popular of these word study helps is Mr. W. E. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words. It is exactly what the title implies. It is a dictionary; but more than that, it is an expository dictionary. It explains the meaning of the Greek words so as to add some commentary value to the meanings. What the Greek word means in its setting is what we need to know. You will find that perhaps four or five Greek words are translated by one English word, each with a different shade of meaning. As you study words, this work will add fullness to the meaning of the English text.
On the other hand, sometimes it takes four or five English words to get all the meaning out of one Greek word. Here you need a different help. This is brought to you in an excellent two-volume work called the Word Study New Testament and Concordance by Ralph and Robert Winter. Keyed to Strong’s Concordance, this will list for you all the times in the New Testament that the particular Greek word is used. The numbering system opens up this work to the student that doesn’t know the Greek. Studying all the places where the Greek word is used and seeing the various English words used in translation gives a fuller idea of the word. This set also lists all the Greek words that come from the same root word thus giving you a wide scope and a more complete way of understanding the original word.
But is this kind of help available in the Old Testament? An excellent work on today’s market is the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament by Harris, Archer, and Walke. This book is also keyed to the Strong’s Concordance, thereby giving the non-Hebrew reader access to this work. The Hebrew language is much different in its structure and more complicated to my mind. However, this work will give an expository definition of Hebrew words and will list them in “families” so you can see root words and the various renderings and usages. It is not a concordance, so it doesn’t list the places where this word is found. But this tool is a valuable help for the careful student to have.
If we believe in the verbal inspiration of the Bible, these tools will be of great help in understanding what the Lord our God has to say to us. But remember this word to His own, “If you know these things, happy are you if you do them” (John 13:17).