"It seems to me that Barr was not criticizing word study, per se, but
rather the kind of semantically naive word study that abounds in
Kittel" (Paul Bodin).
Could I add a couple of other cautions about word studies?
One of Barr's fiercest criticisms was what he called (if I
remember correctly!) "illegitimate totality transfer": ie
the assumption that one can import into the meaning of a
sentence containing word X the meaning which word X may have
elsewhere. (A trivial example is the assumption that "bulldog"
_always_ entails "having four legs"; or that "adam" always
has connotations of "earthy" (< adamah)). I once heard of a
golfer who used his sporting knowledge to enrich his
understanding of "putting on the Lord Jesus", and things one
reads in some of the works criticised by Barr aren't much better.
It seems to me that word studies almost inevitably encourage
such totality transfer.
Perhaps a more significant problem is one which often gets missed.
Where would you look if you were asked to preach from Luke on love?
The Good Samaritan, perhaps, or the Prodigal Son? Yet in neither
story (as distinct from the _context_ of the former) does any
*word* for "love" appear (nor does the magic root "agap-" occur
at all in ch 15).
I respectfully suggest that dependence on word-study will both
distort the message and also give you an impoverished understanding
of what you are seking. I quite agree with Bob that
"Certainly, studying all the uses of a particularly
problematic word, either within a particular genre, period, or
author's corpus to determine what its range of meanings is is totally
But that can at best only be one tool to help get at the meaning
of the whole passage under discussion. (And it's worth noting
that this might be much more than a single sentence or paragraph,
even. The "meaning" of 1 Chron 1-9, in the sense of its author's
intention in putting it at the head of the work, is unlikely
to emerge from a piecemeal study of the independent sentences
which comprise it.)
Douglas de Lacey, Cambridge UK.