I see more and more journal articles on New Testament interpretation preferring to use the Louw-Nida Greek Lexicon that is based on "semantic domains". An example from the introductory essay of a 2016 book Paul and Gnosis edited by Stanley E. Porter and David I. Yoon:

Stanley E. Porter begins the first section on Paul and knowledge in general, setting the stage for the rest of the volume by conducting a lexical study of knowledge-words in the Pauline corpus (which includes the disputed letters of Paul). While most confine their studies of knowledge-words in Paul to the γνο-root words, Porter recognizes this as a word-concept fallacy, which these types of studies tend to commit, and utilizes the Louw-Nida lexicon as a way to include all of the words that fit into the semantic domain of knowledge. He examines the sixteen separate entries in the first subdomain “know” of Louw- Nida, documenting the frequency of each of these words in the Pauline corpus. Several conclusions are drawn from this statistical analysis of knowledge words in Paul. One is that this examination reveals that many of the disputed letters of Paul actually cohere better with some of the Hauptbriefe than others of the Hauptbriefe. The second conclusion is that limiting this type of study to γνο-root words certainly does not capture everything that is said regarding the concept of knowledge in Paul. By opening up the study to related words, not just γνο-root words, there are a number of intriguing questions that arise.

Question: How exactly does using the Louw-Nida lexicon, that is based on semantic domains, can help avoid the word-concept fallacy when an exegete uses a non-semantic-domain lexicon exclusively?

It would be great if the answer can also include a few representative examples contrasting using the Louw-Nida lexicon versus the older, more common, Greek lexicons.

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    A well-trained Bible student will not commit the so-called word-concept fallacy because they should realize that Bible authors did not write in technical Greek but common (koine) Greek. Meanings greatly overlap and often modern theology imputes meanings what were absent when the Bible was written. All good modern lexicons realize this and emphasize it even by referencing similar words and the ways they change meaning in different contexts and grammatical forms.
    – Dottard
    Commented Jan 27, 2023 at 20:26
  • While I have not used the Louw-Nida lexicon, I wonder if it does not create the same problem that it attempts to solve by limiting the number of semantic domains to those they list - might there be others?
    – Dottard
    Commented Jan 27, 2023 at 20:29
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    Someone like Stanley E Porter surely wouldn't need the Louw-Nida lexicon to be able to study all the relevant words, so I suspect he used it in his paper to demonstrate to others how it is helpful. Studying all the relevant words really shouldn't be notable, so if other academics aren't doing that then it's quite damning.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Jan 27, 2023 at 23:22
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    To those voting to close this question: isn't this Q fall under the tag tools-of-biblical-studies and that this kind of questions are on-topic (see meta question)? Commented Jan 27, 2023 at 23:55
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    @MikeBorden "wrong word" implies the text is not verbally inspired. As evangelical this is ruled out of court. The point of the quote is to help discover more possible meanings to consider in exegesis since we don't have access to Paul's mind who, like us, has the same operation when composing a letter: encoding concepts into words that already has certain lexical meanings in his time. His word choice is limited by the set of words + shade of meanings intelligible to his readers which unfortunately is partly lost to us, which is why studying non-biblical texts of that era so crucial. Commented Feb 2, 2023 at 9:52

2 Answers 2


I'm not really familiar with the Louw-Nida Greek Lexicon, but I suspect that using it could help some people avoid certain lexical fallacies. For instance, because it doesn't list all the senses of a word next to each other, you would be much less likely to make the "illegitimate totality transfer" mistake, because all the senses won't be in front of you, and you would have to deliberately choose which concept you think is the relevant one. Flipping between pages makes that choice more concrete than choosing from a list on one page.

Likewise it could help you avoid the word-concept fallacy by presenting other synonymous or related words so that you can do more than just a word-study (looking up all the occurrences of a word), but a concept-study (looking up all the passages discussing a concept). That's what that example mention in the quote is referring to: if you're trying to learn about knowledge you can't just look up the ginosko references, but also the oida references, etc. Conventional lexicons order words alphabetically, so at least you can see derived words, but you may miss words which are partially synonymous if they're from unrelated roots.

Sounds good, right? But there are downsides too. Lexicography is perhaps more of an art than a science, and whether a word should be considered polysemous with multiple distinct senses, or whether it has fewer senses but contextual subsenses within them, or whether those subsenses are actually actually only pragmatically distinct but not semantically distinct, all those decisions are judgement calls on the part of the lexicon editor, and we will disagree with them from time to time. Breaking up the senses or subsenses of a word could mean that you don't get to see those other lexical entries if Louw & Nida thought they were conceptually unrelated. So it would be best to use it along-side a traditional lexicon like BDAG, so that you're not relying solely on their judgement calls.


It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you, they are spirit, and they are life. [John 6:63 KJV]

Certain words are given by the Spirit. They are life-giving words. To claim that one can discern concept without the provision of specific words is a dangerous claim.

We are dealing with a unique set of documents. They were not produced by the mind of man. They were inspired by Spirit.

Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: [John 16:13 KJV]

We need word. We need Spirit.

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    The jots and tittles are precise. +1 Commented Jan 28, 2023 at 13:23
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    "They were not produced by the mind of man. They were inspired by Spirit." Most Christians teach the dual authorship of scripture. It's ultimately the same question as how humans can have real wills while God is fully sovereign.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Jan 28, 2023 at 22:09
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    I'm not sure what this post is trying to say about the lexicon. The lexicon doesn't mean you ignore the words of scripture...
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Jan 28, 2023 at 22:11

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