Week Six (B): How to do a Word Study of “Serve”

Welcome to Week Six (B) in How To Study the Bible series! (To begin the series click here.)

This article continues the discussion about word and verse studies in Mark 10. After understanding how to do a verse study from the previous post, we will now move into doing a word study.

How to do a Word Study

To go even deeper into the meaning of a passage, we need to understand the actual words.

1) Observe the word in several different translations.

2) Look up the original meaning of the word in Greek or Hebrew. Don’t stop reading!! Amazing tools exist and I’ll explain them in the next section. For now, just keep reading…

3) If your word is a verb, take note of the tense, voice and mood of the word. Keep reading…

4) List and look up the other verses in Scripture where the same word or root word is used in the same way (noun, verb, etc).

5) List observations from your research. With the definition from #2 informed by your cross-references from #4, pencil a definition.

6) Return to the word-under-study in your Scripture passage. How does your new understanding of the word better inform your interpretation of the verse?

Before we do an actual word study, I want to introduce a couple new tools

Tools: Concordance and Lexicon

Words carry different meanings to different people. Word choices of a translator may convey an unintended meaning to us as readers.

We need to read the words in their most original language. We ought to know the meaning that the original author sought to convey before it’s translation to Latin, German, or the King’s English to today’s English language.

But…alas…I do not speak ancient Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic.

Enter Theologian James Strong (1822-1874). He is my hero. Strong numbered all of the words in the Bible based on their Greek or Hebrew origins. So when a word repeats, it has the same number as in it’s first appearance in the texts of the Scriptures.

A concordance is an alphabetical listing of the root words in Scripture along with chapters & verses where the words occur. It’s an index. An exhaustive concordance truly includes all of the words. Many concordances also include brief definitions of the words.

James Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, hence, is a list of all the root words in the Old Testament and the New Testament.

lexicon is the dictionary of the words of the Bible. Because most concordances only provide a brief definition (almost like synonyms), a lexicon must accompany its use.

Numerous concordances and lexicons exist online. We will use the Biblios site today. The resources at Bible Study Tools are also excellent!

Let’s get to it…

Word Study of “Serve”

1) Read 10:45 in several translations. As noted in the previous post, the verb “to serve” is translated differently by Biblical scholars. Read in the NIV, KJV, and CEV.

2) Go to Biblios. Choose Mark 10:45 in the top left drop-down menus. Next, click on the light blue “Interlinear” tab in the middle of the page. Voila!! You are now a Greek scholar!!

The page includes five lines of text: Strong’s number, transliterated Greek (word in English letters), Greek word, English word, grammatical notation:

1247 [e]
diakonēsai
διακονῆσαι 
to serve
V-ANA

Click on the Strong’s number (1247) to see an abbreviated definition along with several additional resources. Do you see the short definition is “I wait at table, serve”? The phonetic spelling even instructs how to pronounce it.

Scroll down to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon on the page. You may exclaim “This is Greek to me!!” Indeed it is…but let’s decipher!

Thayer’s Lexicon gives four definitions for diakoneó. Our verse (Mark 10:45) is listed among the references in the first definition. This is where we will now focus…not the other definitions.

3) Our word “serve” (Strong 1247), as it occurs in our verse of study, is a verb used in active voice first and then in the passive voice.

4) Cross-references: our word “serve” is used exactly in the passive form only in Matthew 20:28, according to Thayer’s Lexicon. The word, however, also appears in Luke 22:26, John 12:26, Acts 19:22, Philemon 1:13.

A couple points to keep in mind as you look-up the references:

  • Note any changes in verb tenses (for example, an imperative or  command verb in one verse should not alter the present tense interpretation in another verse).
  • Note changes in authors. The Holy Spirit is indeed the inspiration for the Scriptures. The personalities and passions of the apostles, however, emerge in the letters that they penned.

5) My observations and ponderings:

  • I learned that Strong 1247 (diakoneó) as used in Mark 10:45 is all about serving/helping/ministering unto others…nothing is expected in exchange. Unlike Thayer’s definition #4 which has the additional sense of serving one another mutually.
  • I glimpsed diakoneó in the followers of Christ in Acts 19:22 and Philemon 1:13. Paul uses a form of our word-for-study to describe the ministry of Timothy, Erastus, and Onesimus.
  • I would define diakoneó as a profound selflessness and deep concern for others

6) My understanding of “to serve” as used in Mark 10:45 is now so much richer! Our Lord Jesus Christ became fully human to reach us…not for anything in return. No additional honor or glory. As a lowly tradesman from a small rural village, Jesus lived and died true to his divine purpose.

I want to be like Timothy, Erastus, and Onesimus. When my time comes and I stand before my Lord, I hope the word diakoneó is among the words used to describe my life.

Your Turn

1) Do a word study of “ransom” from Mark 10:45.

2) Read the blog series How to Properly Use Strong’s Concordance. It offers excellent step-by-step guidance on Strong’s concordance as well as important insights on how not to use the resource.

3) Interested in hard copy resources to do word studies? Spiro Zodhiates’  Complete Word Study New Testament and the Complete Word Study Dictionary NT (along with the Old Testament volumes) are invaluable!

<<Week Six (A): How to do a Verse Study of Mark 10:45

Week Seven: Studying the Bible through Reflective Writing>>

Posted by Sharon R. Hoover

Photo Credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

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About Sharon R Hoover

Serving the church for over twenty years in discipleship and mission ministries, I've walked alongside many people travelling and exploring the journey of faith. Add in my own crazy path and I hope my writing will offer glimpses of life worth sharing.
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One Response to Week Six (B): How to do a Word Study of “Serve”

  1. Pingback: Finding and Understanding Words and Meanings « Bijbelvorser = Bible Researcher

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