Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The importance of "uniquely occurring words" and how to find them

I have been having some conversations lately with some colleagues regarding "uniquely occurring words" in the New Testament. It seems significant that out of the whole of the Greek language, there are places where the Holy Spirit inspired the New Testament writers to use a word that appears no where else in Scripture. That one word is exactly what the Holy Spirit intended to be used and is was not adequate to describe anything else in the New Testament. An example appears in James 3:17 when two such words appear in the list of characteristics of the "wisdom from above."

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.
Jamess 3:17 (NASB).

In this verse the words for "reasonable" and the word for "unwavering" are uniquely occurring words. They appear no where else in the New Testament. Studying these words can bring a great deal of additional meaning to the section being studied. The Holy Spirit chose these words specifically because of their unique ability to say what needed to be said. We should take the time to look more closely at these words to discover why they are so appropriate for the section being studied.

So how do you find these words?

Englishman's Concordance
Obviously you can find these "uniquely occurring words" using a hardback paper concordance, but that can be very time consuming. In Logos Bible Software you can run an Englishman's Concordance report on a suspected word and it will show you every verse that uses the word. To run and Englishman's Concordance report you must use the New American Standard (NASB), the King James Version (KJV), or one of the two new reverse interlinear versions, the English Standard Reverse Interlinear (ESV) or the New Revised Standard Reverse Interlinear (NRSV). Simply right mouse click on a word in the text and select Englishman's Concordance from the pulldown menu that appears.

The drawback to this approach is that you may miss some uniquely occurring words because you did not look them up in Englishman's. Which words do you check and which words do you skip?

Exegetical Guide
The Exegetical Guide provides a way to find ALL of the uniquely occurring words in a pericope at once. For example, when I ran this report (with setting that I will explain next) I found 11 more uniquely occurring words in James 3 in addition to the two I had already identified in James 3:17.

To set up the Exegetical Guide to find these words:

  1. Open the Exegetical Guide and click Properties in the upper right corner of the window.
  2. Deselect everything in the list (This report will take a long time to run and you need to strip any information that you don't need out of the report to make it manageable)
  3. Look at the Word by Word section of this report properties.
  4. Be sure to deselect Show Verse Text (If you don't turn this off it will list every word in the pericope. If your pericope in and entire book, it will really slow things down.)
  5. Set "Filter Out Words Whose Lemmas Occur More Than..." to 1
  6. Choose which parts of speech you are interested in searching for
  7. Select any Root Word Analysis options that you would like. I leave all of these selected.
  8. Run the report
PLEASE NOTE: This report may take some time depending on the speed or your computer and the size of the pericope you have chosen. You will also have to choose "MORE" at the bottom of the report to see all of the entries. You may have to click "MORE" a number of times to see them all.

This approach will help you identify these words and you may be surprised at the depth they can bring to your studies. Look at these words closely to discover why the Holy Spirit chose that exact word for that exact purpose. It can be very exciting.

Happy word hunting....

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