Sample Word Study: “Confess”
What does a Greek word study actually look like?
Let’s select a simple sample and walk through the process.
1. pick a word
Word studies usually begin with a moment of curiosity. You are reading through a verse and find yourself thinking, “I wonder what that word means.” Today we will use an example from 1 John 1:9 — “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Suppose you are reading this familiar verse. What does it really mean to “confess” our sins? Visit a priest? Recite a memorized prayer?
The best place to start is by studying the word confess.
2. find the greek word
Studying an English word is useful, but there’s no substitute for investigating the original Greek or Hebrew word.
How do I find out which Greek word is lurking behind my English text?
The traditional (and simplest) method uses Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance. Look up confess and you will find a listing of all the verses that use the word, including 1 John 1:9. Here is the entry:
1Jo 1:9 If we c’ our sins, he is faithful and 3670
Notice the number at the end of the line. It serves as the key, showing that the word you want is #3670 in the Greek Lexicon which you can find in the back of the concordance.
Check #3670 and you will find the following entry:
3670 homologeo, hom-ol-og-eh’-o; from a comp. of the base of 3674 and 3056; to assent, i.e., covenant, acknowledge: — confess, profess, confession is made, give thanks, promise.
Take a moment to analyze the information that appears here.
1. The Greek word you want to study is homologeo.
2. It is pronounced “hom-ol-og-eh’-o.”
3. It was originally formed from two other Greek words. For more information on this, see the article on etymology.
4. The word means “assent, i.e., covenant, acknowledge.”
5. In the King James Bible, it is translated “confess, profess, confession is made, give thanks, promise.”
You can find the same information on the Internet, using sources like www.blueletterbible.org. In addition, the Strong’s number is used in many other reference tools to ensure that you’re looking at the right word.
If you’re in a hurry, you can simply survey the list of meanings given here and select the one that makes most sense in the passage. But if you can take the time to go deeper, you can fine tune your picture of the word.
3. List All the Verses Where It is Used
This time I will simply give you the passages in order to save time.
4. Examine Each Passage
As you study all the verses where homologeo is used, you will discover some interesting patterns when you pay attention to the direct object that follows the word.
Sometimes the direct object is a person.
Matthew 10:32 Everyone therefore who shall homologeo me before men, I will also homologeo before my Father who is in heaven.
Luke 12:8 And I say to you, everyone who homologeo‘s me before men, the Son of man shall homologeo him also before the angels of God.
People can homologeo Jesus, and he promises to homologeo His followers before the Father and the angels.
John 12:42 Nevertheless many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not homologeo‘ing Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue.
Some of the Jewish rulers believed in Jesus, but failed to homologeo Him, because such an action might lead to their expulsion from the local synagogue.
Other verses use homologeo for a fact about a person.
John 9:22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed, that if any one should homologeo Him to be Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue.
Romans 10:9-10 That if you homologeo with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; for with the heart man believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth he homologeo‘s unto salvation.
2 John 7 For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not homologeo Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh.
It is possible to homologeo Jesus as the Christ or Messiah.
It is possible to homologeo Jesus as Lord.
It is possible to homologeo Jesus as coming in the flesh.
How can you “confess” a person? This seems different from confessing a sin, doesn’t it?
It at least seems to include the idea of agreeing or acknowledging that a person is who he claims to be. And it seems to include some level of personal commitment. When I homologeo a person, I say, “He is who he claims to be, and I will declare that I agree with that identification.”
Another group of passages uses homologeo to describe a statement, not a person.
Hebrews 11:13 All these [patriarchs like Abraham] died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and welcomed them from a distance, and having homologeo‘d that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.
The word can apply to a statement like “they were strangers and exiles.”
1 John 4:2-3 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that homologeo‘s that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not homologeo Jesus is not from God.
1 John 4:15 Whoever homologeo‘s that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.
Once again, the obejct of the verb is a proposition: Jesus is the Son of God.
Matthew 7:23 And then I will homologeo to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.”
Jesus is talking about counterfeit prophets who claim His name without obeying His word, using homologeo to introduce His verdict on their hypocrisy.
John 1:20 And he homologeo‘d, and did not deny; and he homologeo‘d, “I am not the Christ.”
John the apostle uses the word twice to describe John the Baptist’s emphatic claim that he was merely the forerunner of the Messiah. Notice that this verse gives us both the word itself and its opposite. From this we learn that homologeo is the opposite of “deny.”
Acts 24:14 But this I homologeo to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect I do serve the God of our fathers.. .
Paul on trial is defending himself against false charges that he had stirred up trouble among the Jews and tried to desecrate the temple in Jerusalem. Here he uses homologeo to introduce his version of the facts. It could very well include the idea of “admit” here, for he is denying the charges made against him, but acknowledging that he was doing something.
Titus 1:16 They homologeo to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him.
The troublemaking false teachers in Crete claimed to know God, but their actions spoke loudly against that idea. The word here carries the idea of “claim”; they say that they know God. Here is another passage where homologeo is used as the opposite of “deny.”
In this group of passages, the word homologeo is clearly something that you can do to a statement or proposition. What does it mean? You are saying that the statement is true, and that you put yourself on record supporting its accuracy. This is the opposite of denying its truth. You are saying, “I openly state that this is true.”
The New Testament contains one final group of passages that do not fit neatly into the earlier categories.
Acts 23:8 The apostle Paul was on trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin, or council, and his testimony threw the hearing into an uproar. There was a furious debate between two Jewish factions, the Pharisees and the Sadducees. This verse explains the source of the friction: “The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor an angel, nor a spirit; but the Pharisees homologeo them all.”
The Sadducees denied the existence of these things, but the Pharisees said that they all exist. Here homologeo means “acknowledge that they exist.”
1 Timothy 6:12 Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and homologeo‘d a good homologian in the presence of many witnesses.
Here Paul doubles up, using both the verb homologeo and the matching noun homologian as a pair. Some translations render it as “confess a good confession.” Whatever a homologian is, Timothy did a good job of doing it! This verse adds one important point to our understanding of the word: homologeo is something that you can do in public, “in the presence of many witnesses.” Other verses contain the same concept: in Luke 12:8, Jesus promised to homologeo His followers in the presence of the Father and the angels.
Hebrews 13:15 Through Him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that His name.
Revelation 3:5 He who overcomes shall thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will homologeo his name before My father, and before His angels.
In both of these passages, we find that you can homologeo someone’s name. The idea is similar to others that we have already viewed. I homologeo a person’s name when I verbalize my recognition and approval of that person. Hebrews 13 mentions the “sacrifice of praise,” and that may well be included in the concept of homologeo here. Based on the context, the New American Standard Bible translates the word here as “give thanks.”
Matthew 14:7 One more passage — a rather unusual one. King Herod had just watched his daughter perform a dance at his birthday party, and he had rashly promised to grant any request she might make. As verse 7 phrases it, “Thereupon he homologeo‘d with an oath to give her whatever she asked.”
What word would you use to fill in the blank? I can’t resist using the word “promise.” This seems out of line with all the other passages we have studied. However, I can see at least a faint connection. Herod, in effect, was saying, “I have made a statement promising you anything you want. I acknowledge the promise, I admit that I am the one who made it, and I will stand by my word.”
Thus concludes our tour of all the New Testament uses of the word homologeo. What have we learned? And how does it help your understanding of 1 John 1:9
Further study would reveal much more detail about the word, but these verses have revealed some clear trends. Though there is variation from verse to verse, some common threads appear in all the passages. In each case, the person makes a public statement acknowledging that something is true or that a person is genuine. The speaker goes further, declaring his personal commitment to that truth. He says, “This is the truth, and I am personally taking my stand on that position.”
1 John 1:9 is the only passage in the New Testament where anyone homologeo‘s sin.* Based on our study, I suggest that the verse calls on us to acknowledge that our sins really are sin. Not only do we acknowledge them as sin, we acknowledge them as our sin. We “own up” to the reality that our attitude or action was truly a sin. The usage of the word also suggests that homologeo is expressed openly, not merely existing as a private thought. 1 John 1:9 does not specify who must hear our acknowledgement of sin, but the overall context suggests that God is our primary audience. We may or may not acknowledge our faults to the neighbors, but we definitely need to admit them to the Lord.
* There are other New Testament passages which mention confession of sin, and these verses used a related word, exomologeo.