PROBLEMS DEFINING BIBLICAL OR THEOLOGICAL TERMS
Words and phrases from different concepts of reality take on different meanings and connotations because they are used for different purposes. In other words, some people are not using language in its legitimate sense - to communicate accurately. Francis Schaeffer said that in order to actually communicate today we need to speak in paragraphs (rather than words and phrases) explaining what we mean as well as what we don't mean. [Scripture often does this - Ps.1] That is the only way to lift a conversation out of its default framework into a common ground for both parties.
Sometimes the passage itself is an exposition of the concept. Eph.1:7 "in Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins." Col.1:14 " in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins." Redemption means deliverance, liberation through forgiveness. English translations vary and often different Greek words are translated with the same English word (the verbs be and become are confused) and visa versa (the Greek word for age is sometimes translated world). Generally, the more accurate the translation, the more you can rely upon the definition of the English word used, if you have a dictionary you can trust. The English Standard Version (ESV) and the New American Standard (NAS) are more literal translations and therefore the best for study purposes.
God's communication to us uses language in the same ways we do - not always according to the dictionary definition, but metaphorically as well [the blood of Jesus doesn’t refer to a magic liquid, but is a metaphor for His death]. The same words take on different meanings according to their use - faith usually refers to personal subjective belief, but the faith refers to the objective body of doctrine in the New Testament. Sometimes a word like Gospel is best understood in its widest sense and sometimes more narrowly. Modern use has so distorted some words as to render them useless by themselves. For instance, in the same way cooperative concepts such as faith and works are wrongly pitted against each other, faith has come to mean the antithesis of reason - an irrational leap into the unknown. Biblical faith in Christ, however, refers to the next logical step in the process of hearing the Gospel. It is not unreasonable at all because it follows the divulgence of information giving sufficient reasons to believe, and is an appropriate response to the Bible's revelation. So, definitions are indeed a necessary step in determining the meaning, but only a step. Communication is much more complex and language more flexible than dictionary definitions lead one to believe.
Bible study is a different animal than Bible reading, though both require thoughtful reflection as a bare minimum. For definitions of biblical terms I use language resources such as AN EXPOSITORY DICTIONARY OF NEW TESTAMENT WORDS by W.E. Vine. There are all kinds of resources that range from helpful to downright misleading, just as there are conflicting doctrinal positions [see New Covenant Theology http://pop.eradman.com]. There are theological dictionaries available on-line* and in book form. As with so many things in life, it boils down to who to trust. I use a dictionary, a thesaurus, and a dictionary of synonyms in my writing efforts but am not satisfied with them.
Contexts, Categories, and Vocabulary [appendix A of The Key to the Bible]
Our minds are ordered by categories. Both clearly defined classifications and their labels are necessary for understanding and communication. Classification is the identification of groups based upon common features. Each class or category is a descriptive label representing a particular grouping. Theological terms carry the concepts. They encapsulate the doctrines in a vocabulary so we may contemplate and communicate them. So, it is necessary to correctly identify the subject matter, whether justification or sanctification for example, as we consider a passage. Context has to do with the logical flow of thought and progression of story or argument - what situation is being described or subject talked about.
Schaeffer said Epistemology (the area of knowledge and of the certainty of knowledge - how we know and how we know we know) is the battle of our time.
* PARTIAL LIST OF ON-LINE RESOURCES. Usually to access the home page for the following resources, go to the site, delete everything past the slash (/) following the .com or .org at the top of your web browser, click on it and then hit enter.
http://blueletterbible.org/ Searchable Bibles (several translations), lexicon, concordance, commentaries
http://www.biblegateway.com/ Searchable Bibles (many translations)
http://www.carm.org/dictionary.htm Dictionary of theology, creeds and confessions, etc.
http://www.ondoctrine.com/00dictio.htm Theological terminology dictionary
http://www.mtio.com/articles/aissar101.htm Dictionary of theological terms
http://reformed-theology.org/html/dictiona.htm Basic dictionary of theological terms
http://vines.mike-obrien.net/ Vine’s Expository Dictionary
http://www.apologeticsindex.org/ Apologetics, cults, Vine’s, etc.
http://bibleencyclopedia.com/ encyclopedia, atlas, thesaurus, concordance, dictionary
http://www.bibletexts.com/ Commentaries, articles
http://www.mamma.com/ Metasearch engine, employs many search engines
http://ixquick.com/ Metasearch engine
http://geneva.founders.org/ Search selected Reformed web sites