The Internet has made it possible to answer all sorts
of interesting little questions you didn’t know you had. For example, which words are looked up in the dictionary more than any others? The editors at Merriam-Webster.com tell us that the word “love” is one of them. It is, in fact, the third most looked-up word on their website. But the dictionary’s editors make a wise comment on this fact that, believe it or not, can help you in your Bible study: “We’re guessing that many people arrive at our site with a question—‘what is the meaning of love?’—that actually requires answers beyond a dictionary definition.” What, indeed, is love? Many people in Biblebelieving churches would, I think, answer that question by cooking up what’s called a “word study.” They would (1) collect the ingredients by looking up “love” in a Bible concordance, (2) mix all the instances in a broth, and (3) hope that their resulting conclusions taste good. Unfortunately, some common errors can ruin the soup.
Common Problems with Word Studies Let me humbly offer some of my concerns about that three-part recipe. 1. For step 1, have you ever considered that the Bible might have a lot to say about love without using the word? All three of the synoptic Gospels manage to tell the whole story of Christ’s crucifixion without ever mentioning “love”—but is there a greater example of love in all the world? Will a study of love be complete without those passages? 2. For step 2, what exactly are you supposed to do once you’ve gathered together all the instances of “love” in the Bible? I would guess that most word-studiers feel they can safely ignore a verse such as the following: “The hatred wherewith [Amnon] hated [Tamar] was greater than the love wherewith he had loved her” (2 Sam. 13:15). But why skip that entry in the concordance? It uses the same Hebrew word for love (ahav) that God used in Deuteronomy 6:5, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart.”
FrontLine • November/December 2012