When teachers rely on word studies to create lessons

The Master's Seminary published an essay titled "Exegetical Fallacies: The Word Study Fallacy" by William Barrick.

I found it interesting because much of women's ministry teaching comes from this kind of study. The Grandmother of word studies is Beth Moore. Her proteges are following suit and her proteges' proteges, third generation Bible teachers for women, are following suit also.

I attended a BM Living Proof "study" in North Carolina five years ago. I had begun going to church regularly 4 years prior. So I was a newbie to church and only I was 6 years in the faith to begin with. I was totally new to discernment. Most of my early blogging had to do more with prophecy than discernment or encouragement.

I re-read the discernment essays I had written back then regarding Moore's teaching and I am proud of the Holy Spirit because I think they hold up over time. I believe I was on the money with my concerns to a degree that only the Holy Spirit can take credit because, as I said, I was new and fairly unlearned. I had written a review about my concern with how Moore approaches a teaching she said she constructs for delivery at Living Proof:
She explained how she arrives at the lessons she teaches on her tour. She said that when she prays the Holy Spirit will deliver a word to her. [I now know this to be an extrabiblical, Mystical practice] In the case for the teaching in Charlotte, it had been "Hold Fast." In the case of her next tour in Columbia, it will be "Prepare." She then creates an acrostic of teaching points that begin with each letter in the main word. Ours was - 
His affection is set upon us
Only He is your praise
Loving Him awakens your true heart
Doing His will does us good
Fleeing to Him means fleeing with Him
Any tighter embrace will also replace
Satan wants what we have
The Lord is your life 
Looks kind of OK, doesn't it? I won't explain each of the eight mantras point by point, but share with you some of what troubled me most. I think word studies are good, and I like when teachers look into the Greek or the Hebrew meaning. I am not sure if this manner of exegetical study, finding all the words that relate to a subject and building a lesson out of it is outrageous or wonderful, but I do know that such an approach can be fraught with danger. You lose the context of each passage you are extracting the word from. If you cross OT to NT that context gets more complicated because you have to research whether the word used in a context was meant only for the Jews in the Old Covenant or can be extrapolated into the New Covenant for the Gentiles.
This approach also means that you wind up using a LOT of verses in one study and that tends to feel cobbled together and superficial. You can't really explain to full depth each verse so you simply refer to them, and there winds up being a lot of different points. It gets unfocused, really fast.

Moore had said that she found every 'hold fast' in the Bible and she put together a lesson from that. A lot of people in the audience were so impressed with her mention of the Greek word for this or the Hebrew word for that. Even at my naive state five years ago, ripping out a word from its context and matching it to other words that may seem the same didn't fell like a good approach. Context is everything.

The Master's Seminary article explains in detail just why students should not absorb lessons from teachers who crafted lessons based on these kinds of word studies, nor should teachers create lessons based on studies of these kinds. Below are two short excerpts from the short version of their article. If you want to go deeper into the whys and wherefores, there is a fuller, lengthier version of the same article, here.
When it comes to studying Scripture, word studies are popular, easily obtained from available resources and an easy way to procure sermon content. However, word studies are also subject to radical extrapolations and erroneous applications. It is not always possible to strike exegetical gold by extracting a word from the text for close examination. Word studies alone will not suffice. Indeed, over-occupation with word studies can be a sign of laziness and ignorance involved in much of what passes for biblical exposition in our times. 
Study of the words alone will not present us with a consistent interpretation or theology. This is one of the misleading aspects of theological dictionaries/wordbooks. One learns far more about obedience/disobedience or sacrifice and sin from the full statement of a passage like 1 Sam 15:22–23 than he will from word studies of key terms like “sacrifice,” “obey,” or “sin” in the text.

The most important thing about studying the Bible is actually reading the Bible. Too many people spend too much time warming up first. Getting the right chair, the cup of coffee, the notebook, the pen, the devotional, the book about how to read the Bible ... all fussing over the preparations and never getting to the main event.

It reminds me of this classic skit. Ralph Kramden was so focused on proving what he knew and Norton's warm up being in the way, that Ralph never did learn what that song was that was right in front of him, and Norton, well, if you know the Honeymooners, you know Norton always took a looooong time to warm up doing anything. Don't be Ralph Kramden. Don't be Ed Norton. Be a good Bible student. And watch out for shallow word study teachers. Just because they mention "Greek" or "Hebrew" doesn't necessarily mean they've delved deeply. Many times it means the opposite.

Recommended resources:

her·me·neu·tics- ˌhərməˈn(y)o͞odiks/
noun. the branch of knowledge that deals with interpretation, especially of the Bible or literary texts.

Grace To You/John MacArthur-
Essay: How to Study Your Bible
Essay: Simple Steps to Solid Study
Book: How To Study the Bible

Article by Tim Challies: How To Study the Bible

Book by Richard Mayhue How To Interpret The Bible By Yourself
Challies Review of Mayhue's Book

Article by Focus on the Family: How to Study the Bible


  1. "The most important thing about studying the Bible is actually reading the Bible. Too many people spend too much time warming up first"

    This. Instead of bible, they read Jesus Calling, or some other silly women's ministries book and think they've really spend quality time with the Lord. How can you know someone through 3rd person contact? You can't. I would caution anyone who consistently finds themselves avoiding the bible or finds reading the bible taxing, to examine themselves and make sure they are in the faith. The Holy Spirit quickens believers to desire/hunger for the Word.


  2. I caution that warning against using word studies may leave the impression that study of and learning the meaning of the original languages are unprofitable. (I get that impression upon re-reading the post, and I'm certain that you didn't mean to imply anything of the kind.) But even Dr. MacArthur himself has said to his preacher boys, "Language. The Bible was originally written in Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic. Often, understanding the meaning of a word or phrase in the original language can be the key to correctly interpreting a passage of Scripture." [John MacArthur, What Are the Basics of Bible Study? LifeCoach4God, verticallivingministries.com] In another writing, which I cannot locate at the moment, Dr. MacArthur tells his students that they should sit at their desks until they understand the meaning of the passage in the original language before they preach on the text. I am a layman, but I have a second minor in New Testament Greek. I can tell you that studying the New Testament in the original language is like watching television in HD with enhanced color. I would even urge laypersons to consider studying Greek and/or Hebrew if they can. There are a number of sources and teachers, as expensive as some are, available on the internet. But your post is well-received by me, and it is true.

    1. Learning the languages is profitable. I did not intend to give anyone the impression that it isn't. Of course it is, Thank you for your clarification.

  3. "She said that when she prays the Holy Spirit will deliver a word to her." Well, the problem with that is Beth is receiving a "word" apart from the word of God as her basis. Receiving a “word” doesn’t automatically mean it is from God--1 John 4:1. The basis of Truth is the objective, infallible, revealed Word of God which is our only authority and not some subjective "word" from the Holy Spirit--- “He[the Holy Spirit] will guide you into all truth” and “He will teach you all things” –John 16:13;14:26.. We know that the Holy Spirit is the Author of Scripture. I’m not saying we should not pray- we should always pray but receiving a “word” from the Holy Spirit is not biblical when we have the WORD of God already.
    If I understand you correctly Elizabeth, the problem with doing word studies without reading, studying and ruminating on the word of God in its context is shallow and can lead to eisegesis of passages. Simply because a word occurs in other places in the Bible does not mean that it has the same meaning in both passages. That leads to contorting scripture and contextualizing passages. TD Jakes is a prime example using the word “manifestation” to try and prove his point when he hopscotched through the bible to other passages that had the same word without reading it in its entire context

    1. Hi Linda,

      That was exactly what I was attempting to get across. Thank you for saying it so succinctly.

  4. I personally do not like a teacher's approach as in the example you give of "HOLD FAST mantras." They have to think up things to make them fit and sometimes they don't make sense. I also don't like the approach of all their points or words beginning with the same letter (as David Jeremiah is famous for doing). I find it very annoying and distracting. Just open up the Bible and read it and teach its proper meaning in context (which Beth Moore lacks). That's it. Don't try to impress your audience with your creativity. Get out of the picture. Its not about you.

    1. I completely agree Sheryl! I didn't know Jeremiah was prone to that.


Post a Comment