As we study the Bible, we must not forget to correlate similar passages into an overall framework of biblical teaching. Such correlation is necessary for good Bible study, yet it comes fraught with many dangers, such as flipping around too soon, harmonizing without first interpreting, and connecting words instead of ideas.
For example, many “Bible word studies” do more harm than help by creating an illusion of authenticity without reaching the true meaning of a text.
George Guthrie gives a great example about Euodia and Syntyche in Phil 4:2-3, where attempting a word study before understanding the passage at hand could lead to some crazy ideas: Arrest those women! Capture those women! Impregnate those women!
I beg you: If you feel stuck in your Bible study, and you’re not sure what to do, please don’t rush into a word study. You will feel busy, and you’ll feel like you’ve made progress in your study. But the progress is almost always in a wrong (or at least irrelevant) direction. If you feel stuck, just observe the text more deeply. Ask better questions. Take a stab at the main point.
After you have guessed at the main point, then it might be helpful to reference other passages to see where these ideas also come up. But if you’re stuck on a specific word, the immediate context (and not a word study) is typically your best help.
Guthrie’s article is a short and clear attempt to show how easily our word studies can go wrong. Check it out!