I was reading through the notes in the ESV Study Bible this morning and found this paragraph in the section “Greek, and How It Works” in the article “Original Languages of the Bible.” It pretty well sums up the idea that studying individual words by themselves has limited value in understanding the theology of the Bible. In other words, the words of the Bible collectively help us to understand who God is and who we are – not the individual words by themselves. Here’s the paragraph:
It is a central concern of semantics that a clear distinction be maintained between words as linguistic units and the concepts associated with them. All languages have several ways of expressing a concept, and rarely does a concept consist of only one word. This confusion of word and concept is one of the chief faults of Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. In treating words as if they were concepts, it incorrectly implies that the words themselves contain the various theological meanings assigned to them. But the meanings of words are determined from the way they are used in context. There is now consensus that interpreters must work at the level of the paragraph to discern meaning.