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Mounce Archive 21 - Unreliable Etymologies

Categories Mondays with Mounce

Everyone needs a break once in a while, and Bill Mounce is taking one from his weekly column on biblical Greek until September. Meanwhile, we’ve hand-picked some classic, popular posts from the “Mondays with Mounce” archive for your summer reading and Greek-studying pleasure.

In one of his first "Mondays with Mounce" posts, Mounce explained how etymology can sometimes be helpful in determining the meaning of a word. However, just as a butterfly is not airborne oil, etymology is sometimes unreliable.

Check out the complete post here.

The etymology of a word is the meaning of its parts. In English we might talk about a “goalpost.” This is a goal that is formed by two vertical posts. In other words, in the creation of the word for where you kick the ball in soccer — excuse me, football — somebody took the word “goal” and the word “post” and created a term. When you look at the etymology of “goalpost,” you can see its two parts and those two parts tell you the meaning of the new term, “goalpost.”

Etymologies can be fun to play with. I just found the Online Etymology Dictionary. I don’t know how reliable it is, but it is fun.

The problem in Bible Studies is that in previous years too much weight was placed on etymologies. You would find a word in a certain context, and in determining its meaning people would look at the meaning of its parts and assume that was the meaning of the current word under investigation. No effort was put into determining the word’s meaning within its current context. This led to some pretty poor exegesis and unfortunately many inaccurate sermon illustrations.

(Continue reading the entire post here.)


William D. [Bill] Mounce posts about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics at Koinonia. He is the author of numerous works including the recent Basics of Biblical Greek Video Lectures and the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek. He is the general editor of Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testament Words. He served as the New Testament chair of the English Standard Version Bible translation, and is currently on the Committee for Bible Translation for the NIV.

Learn more about Bill’s Greek resources at and visit his blog on spiritual growth at

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