How to do Word Studies in Scripture

September 21, 2022

In this blog post, we’ll be hearing from four Senior qualifiers of this year’s National Bible Bee Competition (NBBC). Anna Northcutt, Grace Fetterhoff, Rachael English and Annelisa Stephen will be sharing with us their personal advice from their experience doing word studies in Scripture. 

God’s Word is a treasure, and each word within it is nothing short of a piece of gold, inspired and God-breathed by our Creator Himself. We want to give His words the devoted attention that they’re due, so how exactly do we go about studying such words in Scripture? 

“My first tip for finding key words is a bit obvious but don’t forget to ask God for help (Ephesians 1:15-17)!” Anna says. “Other strategies I find useful are looking for repeated words, determining themes, and consulting others when in doubt. Taking note of words that are repeated frequently throughout a chapter/section is a great way to identify keywords. This method isn’t exactly foolproof (funny story: a friend told me recently that the most frequently used Hebrew word in the 2022 NBB study passage is actually the word translated “not”), but it’s still a great starting place! Another thing I like to do is come up with a three-word summary, then a three-sentence summary, and finally an outline for each chapter/section of the study passage. Distilling the key ideas of a passage often leads me right to those elusive key words! Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for a second opinion. Many Bible Bee contestants release their own lists of keywords (often accompanied by Hebrew translations and definitions), and it’s great when you can glean inspiration from their choices; however, asking another person to evaluate your list of keywords can be equally beneficial!”

Grace Fetterhoff, a competitor in the NBB of five years explains the transition from studying throughout the Summer study to Nationals season by saying, “I’ve found that a huge part of the Discovery Journal is built upon themes, so most of what I study is based on the major themes found in the [particular study] passage, while keeping in mind the theme NBB has chosen to focus on: [for this year, that’s] redemption.” She adds, “I choose keywords to study based on the frequency of their use in the passage, relevancy to the theme, and their distinctiveness or level of peculiarity. Another way to decide on words to study is to ask questions: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How? You won’t be able to study every single word and know it well, so make sure what you study is well worth your time!”

Rachael finds it helpful to read through the passage many times, and get a feel for the flow and theme of the passage as she reads it. “Once I feel that I have a better grasp of the passage I begin highlighting words that I think are key to understanding the passage or are simply used a lot (with the exception of such words as the, a, and, etc). Then I look them up in Blue Letter Bible and begin compiling my list,” she shares. “Using this method you may find yourself with an overwhelming list and need to whittle it down; I’ve set my limit at 50 to 60 keywords a chapter though you can definitely raise it lower that number! The most helpful tip I have is collaboration. If you’re working with someone else you’ll be able to worry less about leaving words out and feel more confident in your search for original language.” 

After competing in the NBB for five years, Annelisa shares, “Finding Hebrew and Greek words is always a unique challenge, but once you figure out how to do it, it becomes fun and interesting. I start with finding keywords in the study passage. Make note of repetitive words, important themes, and phrases that stand out. Blue Letter Bible is a wonderful study tool and is extremely helpful in finding Hebrew words. In the interlinear, the Hebrew word along with its definition is available. I also perform word studies on geographical locations and names to get more insight into the background and significance of the places mentioned. To review these, I put them into Quizlet, a website where you can make online flashcards. Word studies may be hard at first but studying the Scripture in its original language will give you great insights!”

How will you choose to apply these tips and pieces of advice from this year’s qualifiers to your studying of God’s Word? What methods have you found particularly helpful in your own studies? 

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