Bible Study Advanced – Key Word Study

Interlinear Bible

As you read through the bible you will want to start looking more deeply at passages to get all the meaning out of them. This is called studying as opposed to just reading through the bible. There are several methods and we had previously discussed a cross-reference study. Another type of study is a Key Word study. The purpose is to get a broader sense of what the words meant to the culture and people in the bible and to check if the word chosen by the translator is the closest definition to what the verse is trying to say, to the context of the words in the verse. When we use a word we are aware of the connotations and possible meanings a word may have from our language but these may not be the same as the word in the Bible in its original language. A key word study is necessary to get the best picture of the thoughts that came to mind when the original author wrote the passage.

As you study a passage look for repeated words, lists or words that are critical to what the text is saying. Then look these words up in a lexicon such as the Strong’s concordance, or those available in bible software such as Logos or BibleWorks or free programs such as The Word ( or online at sights such as Another tool is the Interlinear Scripture Analyzer from   If you have an Interlinear or key word study bible it will list Strong’s numbers above each word that can be used to look up the original Hebrew or Greek word behind the word translated into English. The next step in a key word study is to note the definitions which are the possible denotations the word might have when used in a sentence. It should also be understood that the etymology and consideration of all denotations forms a picture of the sense of connotation which use of the word would also entail.  (An example of connotation would be when I say something is superior instead of saying it is best there is a sense of arrogance with the term superior.)  Record the generic sense that you get from the word whether it has a positive or negative sense or a superior sense. As you look at the references and note the uses of the word this will also build a sense of what connotations the word carried.

Further consideration of the uses of the word in the Bible should establish its most common use or common definition or denotation. Then examples of use should be explored by looking for categories in which the immediate context might be placed that describe types of qualifications that determine the most likely definition or the most correct denotation. From a site like you can look up a key word and then list its uses either by translation or book of the bible. You may then drill down by translation and get a set of example verses. Looking at how the word is used in these verses. For nouns consider the verbs or actions they take and for verbs consider the subjects and objects.  The Interlinear Scripture Analyzer groups references down to word form and morphology and translation allowing for even greater consideration of the context and translation relative to the meaning of the word.  This may also be accomplished using bible study software and either the search interface or through concordance modules.  Determine if you can categorize these surrounding words into more generic descriptive concepts and record these generic concepts next to the lexicon definition in a table similar to the one inserted below. These generic concepts and categories form the qualifications that can help to determine the most appropriate denotation for a word within the verse you are looking at or considering.  Compare the context of the verses you are exploring and then determine which categories the context most closely aligns to; from this the appropriate translation might be verified.  The assumption is that most of the other translations of the word will likely be accurate.  If a translation may be off it will likely stick out like the proverbial sore thumb as its context (the types of other words around it) will differ from most other examples.

For example re’shiyth can mean first or beginning. In the cases where it generally means first it is part of the object and modifies what is produced so the category would be it qualifies something produced. Whereas when it generally means beginning it modifies an action or role. Then looking for these qualifications the chosen translation of the word in a sentence may be validated considering both its common use and categorization of the immediate context.   The goal shouldn’t necessarily be to the level of textual criticism necessary for translation but to clarify the intended meaning and gain understanding of the broader connotation of a few key words. There are many great online tools as well as bible software programs that may be used to look up key words. For this article the strong’s entries and passage lists can be found at Blue Letter Bible ([1]) and the lexicon at

Strong’s H8414





Root Word


from an unused root meaning to lie waste




Contextual Category

1. formlessness, confusion, unreality, emptiness

a.formlessness (of primeval earth)


1.nothingness, empty space


State of being relative to the earth and/or sky

b.that which is empty or unreal (of idols)


State of being relative to idols

c.wasteland, wilderness (of solitary
places), desolation


As an object relative to a location or direction
of travel of chaos


e.vanity, futile, meaningless


As the state or end result of earthly authority

Connotation: either body or soul cannot survive here. A place that is or brings about non-existence.


Gen 1:2

The earth was formless8414and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep,
and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.

Deu 32:10

“He found him in a desert land, And in the howling waste8414of a wilderness; He encircled him,
He cared for him, He guarded him as the pupil of His eye.

1Sa 12:21

“You must not turn aside, for then you would go after futile8414things8414which cannot
profit or deliver, because they are futile.8414

Job 6:18

“The paths of their course wind along, They goup into nothing8414and perish.

Then read through the passage again with the fuller understanding of the depth of meaning behind the key words you have studied. Another way to explain it is to compare the New American Standard translation to the Amplified Bible. In the Amplified translation Mrs Francis Siewert with the Lockman foundation took the American Standard translation along with several key word study references and did to an extent what we have described in this article. Determining the breath of meaning and connotation certain key words might have Mrs Siewert added information on connotations in parenthesis and expanded the translations of other words. Examine the example passage bellow and note the two underlined words in the NASB and how they were expanded in the AMP.
1 Corinthians 2: 14-15 NASB 14But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. 15But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one.

1 Corinthias 2:14-15 AMP 14 But the natural, nonspiritual man does not accept or welcome or admit into his heart the gifts and teachings and revelations of the Spirit of God, for they are folly (meaningless nonsense) to him; and he is incapable of knowing them [of progressively recognizing, understanding, and becoming better acquainted with them] because they are spiritually discerned and estimated and appreciated. 15 But the spiritual man tries all things [he examines, investigates, inquires into, questions, and discerns all things], yet is himself to be put on trial and judged by no one [he can read the meaning of everything, but no one can properly discern or appraise or get an insight into him].

You may ask “If the AMP does this expansion then why would I want to do a key word study”? Well the AMP doesn’t expand upon every word and well, you should want to verify for yourself if the expansions of meaning done by the AMP makes sense. But reading the AMP can give you a sense of how much more you can see in a verse if you look more deeply at what a word meant and what other meanings it carried.

More advanced lexicons used by students of Greek and Hebrew aren’t based upon Strong’s numbers but function more like a dictionary.  This requires knowledge of the Greek or Hebrew alphabet and looking up words like one would in a common English dictionary.  However there are some tools for Greek that can allow us to take advantage of these resources.  The Study Light ( or Blue Letter Bible ( provide interlinear bibles from which the Greek word may be copied into your clip board.  The word may then be pasted into the Perseus Digital Libraries ( search engine using the Word Study Tool on the right side of the page.  This resource provides access to lexicons such as the LSJ, Liddell and others.  These resources provide more in-depth definitions and other examples of uses of the word through out history and in other literary works.  Additionally more advanced keyword studies would include consideration of word forms with in the verse you are reading. Word forms include noun plurality and gender and verb tense/aspect, voice and mood. Such considerations place further limits on the meaning and scope or depth of what is being talked about. But this is a topic for further discussion in another article.

[1] Blue Letter Bible. “Dictionary and Word Search for tohuw (Strong’s 8414)“. Blue Letter Bible. 1996-2011. 27 Jul 2011.


Bible Study – Cross Reference (FACTS of Study)

As you progress in your study of scripture you will want to take passages and drill down further into what else the bible has to say on the subject and relative to the statements made within each verse. As indicated in the previous article if you are reading through the bible and memorizing scripture as you start to meditate on a particular set of verses, a passage, other statements from the Bible will come to mind setting limits and expanding the concept. But since most of us don’t have the entire bible memorized we can use some help. Some helpful tools are a good cross reference and a topical reference which may be used in a cross reference study.

The purpose of a cross reference study is to in a sense put a “face” to what has been written. To better understand what an author is saying we need to establish the foundation from which the author writes; who they are and how they view the world. Then as we look at what an author says we want to verify our understanding by looking for other statements made by the author that affirm the understanding we get from a particular statement they make. Next we look for clarification or further details that might fill in gaps in our understanding of what the author is trying to communicate. Finally we gather these ideas together, resolve differences in our understanding or expand that understanding to form a better more complete understanding. Let’s call this the FACTS of Bible Study.

  • Foundation – Gather other biblical references regarding the nature of the author, gather other references and external resource information about the context or setting of the text and the characters or subject being written about. Use Cross Reference tools, Commentaries and Topical Tools such as found on the Bible Hub or Open Bible and insights from your own bible reading.
  • Affirmation – Take the gathered references and resources and categorize restatements in support of statements made in the text being studied as affirmations.
  • Clarification – No scripture contradicts another passage but offers clarification. Clarifications can either be qualifications limiting the scope of meaning or application or an expansion of the meaning or scope. Take the gathered references and resources and categorize Statements on the same topic or point that add more detail or clarity to a particular situation as either a qualification or expansion. If the cross references deny anything it will be our flawed understanding of a passage, in which case such a denial is a type of qualification.
  • Thesis – Formulate a basic statement of your understanding of the passage being studied. Gather the facts; context, cross references, restatements and clarifications.
  • Synthesis – combine these points into a more complete understanding resolving issues and expanding the picture the bible is painting. Formulate a thesis; dissertation or summary on the text being studied.

A cross reference study endeavors to be fair to the author by avoiding the traps of taking statements out of context or jumping to conclusions about what the author is saying. One statement does not address all aspects of an issue and it is not fair to an author, in our case God, to assume that it does. One passage of scripture is generally not enough to form a consistent theology.

Any good study bible will have cross references either in the margin or the center column. Cross references are also available in the Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, TSK, available in desk reference form or on such sites as and Another option is the open bible website which has a topical and a cross reference database which brings together several different sources providing 340,000 cross references. The cross references are color coded by the degree to which they are similar to the original reference.

Foundation References

The first thing to show is the nature of the characters the first of which is God and the bible. The table inserted below gives some key passages establishing the nature of God and the Bible.

Natures Reference
Nature of God 1 John 1:5 ESV – This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.
James 1:17 ESV – Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
Psalm 90:2 ESV – Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
John 4:24 ESV – God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
Colossians 1:17 ESV – And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.
Romans 1:19-20 ESV – 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.
Nature of Scripture John 17:17 ESV – Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.
2 Timothy 3:16 ESV – All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,
Hebrews 4:12 ESV – For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

Next gather information on the book of the bible and the passage being addressed. Then determine who was the author being lead by the Spirit and use a topical reference to search for verses about the author and note them. Identify the place and who is being written to and what is being written about and look these up in a topical reference and note them in a table similar to the one below. Gather this information on the date, place of writing, genre (Gospel, Law, History, Psalms, Poetry, Prophecy, or Epistle) and any other historical notes. Gather information on the audience that would have been reading the book written. Finally gather information on any of the characters mentioned in the passage; including their genealogy or any contemporaries related to them and also gather any other biblical references to the characters.

Cross Reference Context Table

Next break the passage down into sets of verses if possible or address each verse on its own. Gather cross references from some of the resources listed such as the Open Bible, Bible Hub, Study Light or your own study bibles cross references located in the center column or margins. Also look at the introductions to the book and commentaries on the passages and gather these other references. Identify topics or major ideas presented in the text and use a Topical Bible to find additional passages which correspond to the passage you are studying.

Affirmation and Clarification References

Once you’ve gathered the references and verses which correspond to the passage your are studying now you need to categorize them. Remember that other passages of scripture hold greater authority than commentaries, introductions, historical context and other peripheral information. Determine if the reference is either supporting the understanding of the verse or if it is adding more detail to what the verse is talking about and note these separately. A four column table having the reference, topic or key words, Type(A/Q/E/D) and a cross reference column can be used to capture these verses. An example is inserted below. The types are (A)ffirm, (Q)ualify, (E)xpand, and (D)eny remembering that the denial is not of the passage itself but of our understanding of the passage summarized in the thesis (usually due to lack of understanding of the context) or it may be a qualification under a certain set of circumstances..

Cross Reference Synthesis Table

Remember, No scripture contradicts another passage but offers clarification usually on specific situations. If a contradiction seems apparent then the issue may be that the concept or topic being studied has been reduced to a single whole when it needs to be expanded into constituent parts. This probably sounds difficult but our minds tend to group things that are related or similar into simpler singular concepts so we can remember them better. As an example there are many that struggle with the law as presented in the old testament versus the new testament yet in the new testament it states that the law shall not pass away and Jesus said that he didn’t come to abolish the law. But these two testaments seem so different to many of us. In this case we are considering the law as a whole but if we consider that the law is made up of two parts it becomes easier to understand. The law is made up of the imperative or principal and secondly of the prescription or prescribed penalty in the event that the imperative is not followed. Additionally the law falls into three categories of application. There is the Moral law which are the absolute principles which are based upon God’s created and intended purposes. Then there is the Ceremonial law and the Civil law which are protocols for specific situations; some of which may no longer exist so we have to look for the laws intention and translate it to the present circumstances. Some Civil laws for example divorce are protocols which God allowed in accordance with His permissive will because of our hard hearts and struggles in a fallen world but which are not in line with His perfect will or created purpose.

When Jesus stood by the woman caught in adultery and said “he who is without sin cast the first stone” he wasn’t changing the law, he wasn’t saying that adultery really isn’t that big of a deal. He told the woman go and sin no more so the imperative still stands its just the sentencing may vary based upon the circumstances. Deuteronomy has been accused of being quite harsh and it does seem so in many verses however one has to understand that Deuteronomy 6 stated that the prescribed penalties were to be enforced on Israel as they entered the promised land as the chosen people through whom the Messiah would come. They were to be held to a higher enforced standard. Additionally the climate around them was comprised of nations that burned babies in furnaces as human sacrifices to Molech and who practiced temple prostitution, pedophilia, witch craft and other evil practices. So Israel was called to be God’s hand of judgement on these preceding nations who had corrupted the land. This is just one example where we have to look more closely when we think we see a contradiction.

Theses and Synthesis

Read each verse and its related references you have gathered and formulate specific statements about what the verse itself is saying. Formulate other statements about what else the bible has to say on the same topic your verse or set of verses is addressing based on the cross references. Look at extra-biblical references such as historical narratives of the times the verses were written in and commentaries and write down statements about the what was going on at the time the passage was written. Also write statements referencing commentaries.

Finally, read through the cross references you have gathered and your summary statements (Theses). Then reread the passage and consider if what you believe a verse is saying is supported by the cross references gathered or if it is denied. Also as you read passages the combination of specific meaning or denotations form the explicit meaning of the verse but words and phrases also have connotations which lead to possible implied or implicit meanings. The implied meanings sometimes have significant implications and affects as connotations tend to hit us at a spiritual level but there is also the greatest danger for seeing a meaning which the Bible does not intend to convey. It is the cross references which can help validate implicit thoughts from a bible passage and either establish them or exclude them from our mind as we read and try hard to understand God’s word. Then synthesize the information gathered into a thesis summarizing what the verses you are studying say and what else the bible has to say on the topics addressed in the passage. Write down what you have learned from the passage and what the implications for your life which come from your new understanding of the bible passage your are studying.

Cross Reference Tools

Printable Cross Reference Template


Word Document Cross Reference Template


Bible Study Basics – ACTS of Study

Consider with me Daniel who was taken into exile in Babylon, away from his country and his family. Daily he prays to God and then we see this, the angel Gabriel comes to him and says:

Daniel 9:23 At the beginning of your pleas for mercy a word went out, and I have come to tell it to you, for you are greatly loved. Therefore consider the word and understand the vision.

God shows His love for Daniel by sending an angel, Gabrel, to explain his visions. God is saying “I’m letting you in on my plans” some of which he is allowed to write down and others are just for him to hear, words given to him in confidence from God. I sat there and it floored me. God is sharing his deepest plans with Daniel, why… Because you are greatly loved I have come to tell you… Just as Daniel got to hear God’s heart, his desires and feelings, and his plans 40 authors over 2000 years inspired by God were sent to tell you, to let you in on God’s heart and plans, why? For you are greatly loved… Every statement in the bible is packed with power and meaning. I don’t need courage I’ve got something greater when I have His word in my hand. Studying the Bible is every Christian’s privilege and duty.

Even before we get down to reading and study we must establish the most basic foundation. To study God’s word we need ACTS; Affections, Context, Text and Study.

  • Aims & Affections – John 7:17 tells us that our problem with knowing or figuring out what the Bible is saying is not that what the bible tells us is hard to comprehend, our problem with knowing is that we lack the will to do God’s will. Understanding the Bible starts with having the will to do God’s will; our persistent intent and purpose must be to accept God’s will and to do it. Then Proverbs calls us to treasure knowledge, the next step is to value knowing what God wants to reveal in His Word and will. You have to want it. You have to value it. Yielded; you have to be willing to accept what it says whether you like what it says or not. Pray to have the right spirit. We must understand that scripture tells us we have a proclivity to rebellion; we have a sinful nature and therefore this does not come naturally. Through reading, meditation, prayer, worship and (incremental faith based) submission we must trust that the Holy Spirit will bring about change in our aims and affections.

John 7:17-18 If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself. He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who is seeking the glory of the One who sent Him, He is true, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.

John 8:31-32 “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

John 8:43 Why donʼt you understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot accept my teaching.

  • Context – One of the most powerful statements I ever read which just opened up scripture to me was made by J I Packer in “Knowing God”. Packer Said “We feel that we are, so to speak, on the outside of the Bible world, looking in… The sense of remoteness is an illusion which springs from seeking the link between our situation and that of the various Bible characters in the wrong place… epoch, culture, etc… The link between them and us is not found at that level. The link is God Himself. For the God with whom they had to do is the same God with whom we have to do.” I believe knowledge of the cultures and original languages will add to that understanding but I do not believe it will ever turn the meaning around 180 degrees or even 90 degrees for that matter. It may skew it slightly but for all intents and purposes what God wants us to learn we can get from a good, honest translation. The context of the words in scripture will lead to an essential understanding of scripture. The Bible is written for all; it is more significant that it was written from God’s perspective than that it was textualized to ancient Israel. To understand what we are reading; in order of significance we need to consider our own context and objectively identify our wilfullness and then consider literary genre, immediate context, surrounding context and historical-cultural context.
  • Text – The next thing needed is “a good honest translation”. I believe that where a translator cared about preserving God’s word God Himself protected His word and what we have in such translations captures the essential meaning God wishes to communicate. Where the translator sought to capture the fullest meaning versus convey understanding God participated to the preservation of His word. Translations that are dynamic or paraphrase to varying degrees are the take of the translator on what phrases meant to convey or communicate. These translations such as the NLT, NIrV, and even the NIV are a good place to start but a translation that endeavors to preserve connecting words, verb tense and fullest meaning is needed to get to the fullest understanding of what God is saying and ensure we are not just accepting a translator’s mistaken or incomplete understanding. A good critique of translations may be found at Also the chart below is a comparison of reading level and literal accuracy which should help in selecting a text. The scale going down the left side represents the grade level, 3 being third grade, to which the particular version of the bible was translated and the scale across the top represents how closely it is translated word for word, 14 being the closest. (The chart of bible translation reading levels to literal accuracy was the result of analysis of charts and tables from Zondervan, Bible Gateway [1] and Not Just Another Book [2] as well as personal research and experience with these versions.)TranslationComparisonAnalysis
  • Study – You have to study the bible. Studying the bible is comprised of three levels of depth (R.INS.E) :
    • Read – Use reading plans such as Chronological, Sequential, Life Application, and others as well as devotionals and memorization to develop a picture of what scripture is saying at a high level and to acquire and retain Gods word. Between reading and studying you can fill out a book survey making a cursory note of some key words repeated through out the book and write a theme for each chapter.
    • Inspect – From reading one should proceed to meditation in deeper study of what the Word is saying. This high level understanding coupled with the Words of God hidden in the heart is then brought to bear when you seek to understand scripture’s fullest meaning. As we look deeply at a particular passage other passages from Scripture should come to mind placing limits on what the passage may mean while removing other limits allowing the Spirit of God to bring to light further meaning. Studying then involves stepping through a book passage by passage, re-reading, and using methods of observation that take note of the immediate context and key words to form a deeper understanding of what the Word says. Methods of study include Inductive Bible Study and keyword study and topical study tools.
    • Examine – Having achieved deeper levels of understanding and uncovered other possible implications in scripture methods of exegesis such as Cross Referencing (the bible is its own best interpreter), and proposition or discourse analysis (arcing) can be employed for the deepest levels of study. The purpose of examination is to ensure that what you understand about a passage of scripture is the correct interpretation and the fullest possible interpretation.

Acts 17:11 – Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.

[1]Cook, David L. A Searchable Online Bible in over 100 Versions and 50 Languages

[2]MacDonald, Brent. “NJAB – Comparison Chart of Bible Translations Showing Style or Type of Translation and Readability or Grade Level.” Not Just Another Book: How We Got and Why We Trust the Bible!

In Danger of Being Non-Contenders

Rabbi Boruch Ber Leibowitz with his students

Image via Wikipedia

Have We Really Progressed So Much

We proudly look at our home libraries, computers, ebooks and internet and assume that we have progressed so much. But could there be another possibility? The ancient cultures of the bible had a strong oral tradition. What has amazed anthropologists when they analyze recorded oral records is the accuracy with which the accounts have been passed down over centuries. In many cases it is close to the level of transcription errors by scribes of written works.

By age 12 a Jewish boy would have at least the first five books of the bible memorized and in the next five years many would memorize the entire Old Testament. The problem is you don’t know what you don’t know and unless we can associate things with terms to search for we really can’t search these electronic tools necessarily for concepts or examples of such concepts. When Jude calls us to contend for the faith once handed down to us we are actually in greater danger now. We do not have such an oral tradition where the words of the Bible might come to mind when confronted with new ideas or perspectives. What comes to our mind is a limited set of scriptures that we have personally identified with and that match our view of the world. Most of us do not have the pallet of Biblical verses that a 12 year old Jewish boy would have.

When God created man and called His creation good, was Adam then less developed then we are? Did a primitive prehistoric cave man make a willful, sinful choice that condemned us all? Or did God create man with great capacity to understand? We know that necessity is the mother of invention. Could it be that we have digressed instead of progressed? Could it be that maybe we need more crutches like laptops and the internet because our capacities have diminished?

How Can We Progress

Through out John Jesus says I tell you the truth, over and over. The Bible calls us to seek knowledge and when the bible says I tell you the truth then it implies that we can know it and when the Bible says this is hidden until the end then it implies that we can’t know it. John 7:17 tells us that our problem with knowing is not that what the bible tells us is hard to comprehend, our problem with knowing is that we lack the will to do God’s will. Understanding the Bible starts with having the will to do God’s will. Then Proverbs calls us to treasure knowledge, the next step is to value knowing what God wants to reveal in His will.  Thirdly we have to read and memorize God’s word.

John 7:17 If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.

We cannot know all of God almighty but we can know what He chooses to reveal to us and what the Spirit will make real to us if we are in His will in our current circumstance as we face the world being a Child of God under the Lordship of Christ.