Using lexical tools in Bible study

W. Hall Harris III's picture

Beyond the use of commentaries, another important area in personal Bible study is the use of lexical tools (dictionaries and word study helps). In many cases these reference works are somewhat more objective than commentaries in dealing with the meanings of words and phrases because they are not always directly tied to the meaning of specific passages, but are attempting to cover the range of meaning across numerous passages.

Unfortunately, though, unless you're using a software program like Logos Bible Software or BibleWorks for PC, or Accordance for the Macintosh, which are capable of using Strong's numbers to link words in an English Bible to entries in a Greek or Hebrew lexicon, it's going to be a little difficult to get access to the best and most up-to-date lexical reference works unless you know some Greek and Hebrew. In addition these "top-tier" works like the Bauer, Danker, Arndt, and Gingrich "Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature" (BDAG) or the "Hebrew-Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (HALOT) are very expensive both in printed and in electronic format.

Many Bible students will therefore settle for older and somewhat out-of-date works when it comes to word studies. A good example is Joseph Henry Thayer's Greek-English lexicon (a popular and influential Greek-English dictionary still available in electronic form in a number of Bible software programs). Thayer's work was first published in the late 19th century (1886, revised 1889) and quickly became dated after scholars began to uncover around the end of the 19th century many documents from Egypt that shed light on the meaning of many biblical words.

Two tools contained in the NeXtBible Learning Environment can help the English Bible student with word studies. First are the Strong's number links connected with the words in the King James Version under the "KJV" tab on the main display window. Clicking on one of the Strong's numbers takes you to a summary page for that word, showing the word in Greek or Hebrew and transliterated Greek or Hebrew, pronunciation helps, and a summary including all the different ways that Greek or Hebrew word has been translated in both the NET Bible and the KJV (= AV, "Authorized Version"). In addition there is a summary of all the possible meanings of the Hebrew or Greek word throughout the Old or New Testament, and some other related information and links. Second, if you have a word in the English Bible you want to look up, whether it's a noun, a personal name, or a place name, there is the "Study Dictionary" accessible from the list of linked resources to the left of the Bible text display. Words can be looked up alphabetically using the Index on the Study Dictionary main page. The Study Dictionary in the NeXtBible Learning Environment is actually an electronically-generated composite of multiple sources like Easton's Bible Dictionary, the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Hitchcock's Bible Names Dictionary, and several others. If the word you look up has an entry in any of these sources it will show up on the search results page.

All the resources of the NeXtBible Learning Environment are available online for free at from the "Study Tools" menu near the top of the home page.


Prof Harris,
I love the NeXtBible Environment and recommend it at every opportunity. It gets better every day.

One question: when a person uses the Strong's number to get to your page on word usage in NET and KJV, that resulting page contains a line saying "Definition." I want to be able to tell my friends and students what the source is for those definitions. As you have said in your post, many sites offer Thayer's Lexicon, which is no longer reliable. I am sure you used something that is accurate for lexical range, but it would be useful to know what it is.
Thanks for all the hard work!


W. Hall Harris III's picture

It is important to distinguish between the reference works, lexical and
grammatical tools used in the preparation of the NET Bible translation
and notes on the one hand and the reference works, lexical and other
tools made available online for free through the NeXtBible Learning
Environment. These sets of reference works and materials are not the
same. In translating and editing the NET Bible and notes, the NET Bible
Team used the most up-to-date and accurate reference works and
materials possible. These are indicated in the notes and in the "List
of Cited Works" on page 2459 of the printed First Edition (online click here).

As for the toolset currently included with the online NeXtBible
Learning Environment, we at are unfortunately limited (1) to
what we can get permission to post online (from the publishers who hold
the copyrights) or (2) to public domain works, which almost invariably
are older and in some cases have weaknesses or are out of date.

In the case of the Greek and Hebrew definitions behind the Strong's
numbers, most of this material comes from the Greek and Hebrew
Dictionaries included as part of the original Strong's Exhaustive
Concordance, a work originally published in 1890 and now in the public
domain (though versions of it are still being printed today). Naturally
it is our intention, as we gain permission to use newer and better
material online, to continue to upgrade the reference materials
included in the NeXtBible Learning Environment, or as funding becomes
available, to upgrade and revise the material ourselves.

Hall Harris