Once a month, you’re going to hear from our authors, from our team, or from a guest on how we study the Bible, what resources we use, and what questions we ask.
We get a lot of questions around here about Bibles. We love that! Our jobs are all about the Bible and pointing women to it, so we’re happy to answer questions as best we can. Since we’re focusing a lot on terminology this year with our Reference Desk posts, we thought we’d dedicate a post to Bible terminology—words about the Word, if you’ll allow the pun. 🙂
Let’s start with how the Bible as we know it came to be. Here’s what the Baptist Faith and Message says about the Bible:
The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God’s revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.
Sometimes all of these versions make people nervous—how can we know that we have the true Bible? The answer is both simple and difficult. We believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God and we believe that He oversaw every step of the process. This doesn’t mean that typos don’t happen or human error doesn’t occur (those are often comically bad and fixed quickly!), but it does mean that we can trust the Bible as God’s Holy Word.
After that history lesson, let’s tackle a few more words and terminology.
Inerrant/Inerrancy – At its basic definition, this means without mistakes or errors. We believe the Bible is inerrant. We believe this on the basis of the fact that it was inspired by God and is the Word of God and our God is inerrant Himself.
Hermeneutics – Hermeneutics is a super fancy term, but it essentially means the methods and principles for interpreting the Bible. Even less fancily put, it’s how you study the Bible.
Exegesis – Similar to hermeneutics, exegesis is the method of studying the Bible, usually a particular passage, to find the meaning of that passage. Typically, when exegeting a passage, you’ll look at the grammar, word meanings, cultural context, Scriptural context, and more.
Transliteration – Transliteration means converting words in foreign languages with different alphabets (like Greek and Hebrew) to the English alphabet. For example, the Greek word for “Word” in John 1:1 looks like this in Greek: λόγος. When we apply transliteration, we take the sounds that those letters make and convert them to our letters. So λόγος becomes logos. And when we translate that, we translate it to word.
Translation – Translation, when we talk about Bibles, means more than just converting the words into another language. There are many, many translations in the English language alone. In general, translations can be grouped into categories of “literal translation” and “dynamic translation.” Literal translation means that they take the word from the original language and change it to English. Dynamic translation intends to carry more of the meaning to modern language instead of the literal word-for-word, which may not make sense to modern audiences. Most of our modern English Bibles are some combination of those two types of translation. To learn a little more about which translations lean more dynamic and which lean more literal, you can check out this article.
Pronunciation of Bible Names/Places – We can make educated guesses on pronunciation, but for the most part, we have no way of knowing how Bible names and places were pronounced at the time of the Bible. However, those educated guesses are often made by people who are very educated in the original languages and how the people may have pronounced their words. A tool we often use at LifeWay is blueletterbible.org. You can type in a verse and listen to someone pronounce each of the original language words in the verse. You can also have most Bible apps read aloud to you—they’ll pronounce it with the best educated guess, too!
Verse-by-Verse – We usually use this term to refer to Bible studies or sermons that go through a book or passage of the Bible literally verse by verse. They typically don’t skip around or study by topic, choosing instead to study a passage just as it’s written. This doesn’t mean that they won’t utilize other passages in Scripture to help the reader or listener understand or tie together two thoughts.
We hope this short terminology and history helps as you study the Bible. Let us know if there’s a term we didn’t discuss that you’d love to know more about!
Elizabeth Hyndman is a content editor for LifeWay Christian Resources.
Sarah Doss is a content and production editor for Adult Ministry Publishing at LifeWay.