What in the world is Biblical lexicography?

Ever heard someone talking about what a bible word means in the original Hebrew or Greek and wondered what in the world that was all about?

How did they figure that out?

Where would you go to learn that stuff?

Are they making stuff up trying to sound smart?

Well, most of the time there should be some sort of rhyme and reason to it!

For those who don’t know (which is probably 99.9% of people), lexicography is the study of what words mean, and a lexicon is a compendium of word meanings in a specific piece of literature.  If I do Shakespearean lexicography, I study the works of William Shakespeare to find out what words mean specifically in his writing.  There are lexicons of Shakespeare out there to help people sludge through all the strange words and word-usage in Shakespeare. The reason for these types of books is that vintage/ancient literature always uses words differently than they’re used in modern speech (i.e. “gay”) and crossing the historical language barrier is necessary for undersanding vintage/ancient literature.  If you read Shakespeare like it’s a 21st century piece of North American literature, you’ll frequently misunderstand it.

One of the basic components of Bible study is doing “word studies”; trying to find out what words mean in the scriptures. In seminary, you learn that the technical designation for “word studies” is Biblical lexicography, and doing Biblical lexicography is one of the reasons pastors/theologians learn the Biblical languages.

I write this because I think I’ve thrown the phrase “Biblical lexicography” out from time to time and I tend to forget that not everyone knows what I’m talking about.

I also write this because I have an absolute rarity: I’m stuck in front of a laptop for a day (doing college enrolment duties) and I actually have time to blog.

I also write this beacuse word study tomfollery is probaly the most frequent way of twisting scripture.  An majority of people in good churches who get bad ideas get them from misunderstandings of biblical terminology.

I’ll put up a post next that will be a great demonstration of this!

Until Next Time,

Lyndon “I Heart Biblical Lexiography” Unger


3 thoughts on “What in the world is Biblical lexicography?

  1. Thanks Lyndon for this.

    But may I ask what makes this Lexicography? It seems like you are describing a portion of the methodological philosophy undergirding TDNT or NIDNTT. My understanding of Lexicography is linked with etymology not that of concepts (as found in TDNT). If we deal strictly with a given source (e.g. Shakespeare or Koine NT) it would then limit lexicographic pursuits? If we work within the framework of synchronic and diachronic assumptions, is our synchronic “lexicography” true lexicography? or is it “theological” lexicography?

    Cheers my friend!

  2. If I’d had opportunity, would have liked to study linguistics. The study of language. One ex. are movies from the ’30’s thru the ’50’s, it becomes noticeable how a Nation of Immigrants (U.S.) slowly merged their own speaking into a rather boring tone (just my opinion). So, I’m looking forward to examples. I recall being intensely interested in what a Biblical word meant and resorted to just searching the word and discovered for the time period it meant ”purse”. Fascinating. For reasons unknown to me, am able to read Shakespeare and fully comprehend. Just a regular layperson here.

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