What's in a word?
How many times has a kid asked you, What does [insert word here] mean?
What is our standard answer?
LOOK IT UP!
When reading anything that is not written recently however, that may not be the correct answer.
Just as with any other text we must consider grammar (trust me not my strongest area) as well as the historical text. If we do not do this we are prone to commit errors in our interpretation.
At the completion of St. Paul's Cathedral in London, the King of England went to visit. Here is how he described the Cathedral which had been built by Sir Christopher Wren.
The king declared that it was 'awful' and 'artificial'!
Was the king insulting Sir Christopher Wren? Was Sir Christopher Wren devastated by the kings words?
By today's definition this would have been devastating and insulting. In that day however, here is what those words were understood to mean.
AWFUL: Full of awe ARTIFICIAL: Artistic to the supreme
Yes, words do have meaning. Yes, words mean what they say. But we must stop to consider that the mean can change over time and based on the context. Just as with all other areas of Bible Study. It is important to understand the meaning of the words by the original author.
Individual words matter as they are the building blocks of language.
Determining the meaning of a word involves looking at each of the following:
their use in history - has the use changed over time? What is the root of the word and how did it come to be?
their meaning for the author - based on the use at that time in history what was the author conveying
their meaning when compared with synonyms (words that have the same or nearly same meaning) - also take a look at the antonyms you may get more insight
Make sure that you also look up words that you think you know the definition. You will be surprise by the additional insight and meaning you are able to draw from scripture by doing this.
You will find that most of the resources I have on my site to study scripture will contain a section for writing out these definitions etc. Take your time. Speed is not important, understanding and application are what is key.