Scholarly Bible Terms to Know

Bible Study Words

The study of the Bible has their fair share of fancy Bible study words. When reading an in-depth commentary or researching online to gain more insight into Scripture, you may run into scholarly terms you might not know. Luckily, we’ve compiled the definitions for a few common terms in Biblical scholarship so you can be prepared next time you run into one of these words or phrases!

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Biblical CriticismAn academic discipline that studies the textual, compositional, and historical nature of the Bible. Though the term includes the word “criticism,” this isn’t to be taken as a negative view of the Bible. Biblical critics advocate viewing the Bible as a literary text, rather than exclusively a religious one, though not all Biblical critics distrust the Bible. There are different types of Biblical criticism like form criticism, redaction criticism, or philological criticism.

CanonA set of authoritative texts. Canon comes from Greek, meaning something along the line of “rule.” In the Christian meaning of the word, it refers to those books that make it into the Bible. Some books are considered canonical by Catholics, but not by many Protestant groups. One example of this is the book The Wisdom of Ben Sirach.

ExegesisThe study and investigation of the original meaning of a text. Exegesis employs different tools and approaches to analyze the text’s language, origin, cultural significance, form or context to argue for a particular interpretation. Exegesis on its own does not make any claims on what the passage means for modern application.

GenreThe type and style of literature. Genres are characterized around similar styles, techniques, forms and sometimes themes. In the Bible, you’ll find genres like poetry, song, narrative, apocalyptic, or parable. Each genre has different rules for how it works, so often by identifying the genre correctly, the original mean is easier to figure out. “Form Criticism” would analyses a text according to it’s form and genre.

Hebrew BibleThe technical term for the Old Testament. Since scholars recognize that to the original readers, what we might call the “Old Testament” wasn’t the old one (since they didn’t have a new one) some prefer to refer to the collection of books as the Hebrew Bible. This name recognizes both the people group the text is largely centered on, and the predominant language it’s written in.

HermeneuticsThe study of Biblical interpretation with an eye toward practical application. Typically, hermeneutics draws on an investigation into the original meaning of the Scripture, but it’s main task is to discover what the passage says about doctrine, morality, humanity, or the world. Historical Hermeneutics examines historical trends in interpreting Scripture.

Koine GreekThe Greek that the New Testament is written in. The term “koine” means “common,” a reference to what everyday people (many not native Greeks) would know. Koine Greek is a helpful designation to refer to the Greek spoken and written from the 4th century B.C., after Alexander the Great’s conquest, up until the mid-6th century A.D. Though the writers of the New Testament were ethnically Jewish, speaking and writing in Greek enabled them to reach a wide audience of people who spoke the universal trade language.

PericopeA contained, coherent, unified section of Scripture. Scholars sometimes use pericope to mean a unit of thought present in the text (i.e. the fruits of the spirit), a short story (i.e. David and Goliath), or a poem/song (i.e. the 23rd Psalm). Even though the pericope may be a handful of sentences or a few paragraphs, the surrounding text is often considered important for its interpretation.

Sitz im LebenThe situation or context that brought about a text. The German phrase is roughly translated “setting in life” and refers to the alleged social, cultural, or situational context for the text’s creation and how it functioned in that time and setting. The situation of the text is determined by analyzing the cultural background of the Scripture, the language used, and possible older sources for that passage.

Synoptic GospelsThe New Testament books of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The three Synoptic Gospels have many stories and teachings about Jesus in common, at least when compared to the Gospel of John which has very different material. Some speculate the synoptics received a lot of their information from the same source, some source scholars have dubbed “Q.”

TheologyThe study of God and the Christian system. Theology is a way to think about topics like the world, the divine, morality, and human nature in terms of what the Scriptures say. Theology is thus served by Biblical criticism and exegesis. Many times, a Christian theology is created by looking at themes throughout Scripture and synthesizing different texts.


Now, with your new-found knowledge, go out and learn new and fascinating insights from Scripture! With your Bible word vocabulary, a whole world of study possibilities opens up–so explore and enjoy.

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