How to Search Original Languages for Word Meaning with Logos

When you’re studying Greek or Hebrew, searching morphological forms with Logos is a huge timesaver. Ἀγάπη (agape) in the dative singular? Got it! A third-person singular Hebrew verb in Qal stem with a 3MS pronominal suffix? Bam!

But Logos can see something else in the Bible that you might not realize: meaning.

A computer can parse forms fairly well given a few rules; that is, a lot of such work can be done automatically. But it takes many man-hours and coffee breaks to teach the computer to see meaning in the Bible. It literally takes years to mark up the Bible with all that data. But it’s worth it. Now you can search the original languages for a meaning—like the figurative use of “brother” as opposed to the literal, or like the most frequent subjects or objects of a given verb. And that means you can execute more targeted searches, with fewer but more accurate results. You can find what you need to find in your Bible study.

Answering an objection

Before I get to explaining these examples, I want to raise an objection I’ve heard—because the examples will answer it. Someone recently said to me, Do I really want my Bible software to tag meaning? Do I want it “doing interpretation” for me? Isn’t it healthiest to remove commentary and focus solely on the text?

This is a great question and a healthy attitude. But even parsing forms requires some level of interpretation in questionable cases: is a given eta an ἢ (the conjunction “or”) or an ᾖ (present active subjunctive of εἰμί) or an ἡ (feminine singular definite article)?

And usage determines meaning—not simply at the level of individual words but at that of phrases and of other elements of language (syntax, anarthrousness, etc.). The more tools you have for finding truly parallel usages of a given word or phrase you’re studying, the better. Logos provides such tools, beyond morphology. Searching for meaning doesn’t mean letting commentary intrude.

Figurative language dataset

One of my favorite tools that helps me do this is the figurative language dataset. Someone who uses this tool well will be able to go beyond morphological form to find parallel uses of a given term or phrase.

For example: let’s imagine you’re puzzling over whether a given instance of “brother” is literal or metaphorical: “The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers” (Acts 3:22). You can do a form-based search and find every instance of “brother” (αδελφός), or you can do a meaning-based search and find every example of “brother” used as a metaphor.

The easiest way to do this is with the Logos Bible Browser. You’re looking for places where the concept of “brother” is the source of a metaphor, so go to the Figurative Language dataset and click Source > Brother. Then survey the passages that come up—all the places in the NT where “brother” is a metaphor.

You can also right click on a metaphorical use of “brothers” elsewhere in the NT (“you are not to be called rabbi, for . . . you are all brothers”) and use the context menu to find all other instances of that concept used as a metaphor. You can even find specifically where “brother” is used as a metaphor for “believers” or “Israelites.”

In other words, you can search for meaning.

Clause participants

Another example: I remember hearing a professor say once that the Hebrew verb in the sixth commandment, “Thou shalt not kill” (רצח, ratsach), specifically means murder, not kill. There’s another Hebrew word for kill, namely הרג (harag).

The only way to discover for myself whether this is accurate or not is to look at the way the words are used. We won’t take the time to look at all the evidence, but only at one piece of that evidence that only Logos reveals—because it has tagged the Bible for meaning.

In Logos’ Bible Word Study tool, there’s a section called “Clause Participants.” It shows you, for example, what the common subjects and objects of a given verb are. Look up the word רצח (ratsach), the word in sixth commandment, and you can easily see the “agents” who most frequently perform this action in Scripture: “Israelites.” But look up the synonym הרג (harag) with the same tool, and you’ll see a different “agent” at the top of the list: God. God “harags” 19 times in the Old Testament. It’s unlikely, then, that  harag means “murder,” immoral killing. The Lord did not “murder” all the firstborn in Egypt; he did “kill” them.

Humans have to sit down and tag the subjects (“agents”) of all the verbs in the Bible, or this tool can’t exist. This is what Logos provides.

Search for things, not words

I’ve written in the past about other ways that Logos Bible tagging—tagging for meaning, not just form—allows more powerful searching. Logos lets you search for things rather than merely for words, for referents rather than for lexemes. Examples multiply.

  • Search for people things, like “Person Eve,” even if Eve is referred to as “the woman” and not “Eve,” as in 1 Timothy 2:14.
  • Search for place things, like “Place Babylon,” even when they’re just referred to as “the city,” as in Jeremiah 29:7.
  • Search for thing things, like “Thing 12 Memorial Stones,” even when you can’t remember the specific wording. Search for “stones” and you’ll get too many hits; search for “memorial stones” and you’ll get only one hit, rather than the full eight you’re looking for.


Until six months ago I had no idea why anyone needed a power driver if they already have a drill. Only once I got a driver and used it did I start to see its value—and once I saw that value I began using the tool more and more.

The ability to search by meaning and not merely form will become meaningful to you only once you add it as a tool to your Bible study tool belt. I’m afraid that we really have a to-a-man-with-a-hammer-everything-looks-like-a-nail situation; Bible software historically has only allowed us to hammer away at morphological searching, so that’s all we expect out of it. Now, with Logos, you can do more; you can access new and helpful angles on the text of Scripture.


Mark L. Ward, Jr. received his PhD from Bob Jones University in 2012; he now serves the church as an Academic Editor at Lexham Press, the publishing imprint at Faithlife. His most recent book is Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible.

Written by
Mark Ward

Christian, husband, father, writer, ultimate frisbee player when possible.

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    • You may not own it; it is a Logos7 feature. If you’re not sure, call customer service! You can right click on any NT word. At the bottom right of the menu you should see figurative language tagging if you own the feature.

      • Mark,
        I have Logos 7 and I am still not sure how you deploy the Figurative Language Dataset…. I may do it all the time because there is a lot of info at the bottom right of a right clicked word which I look at all the time…. Would you please be a little more specific.

        • Rob,

          The Figurative Language Dataset is integrated within a number of tools in Logos, such as the Context menu, Passage Guide, Sermon Starter Guide, and Search. For example, if you right-click on a biblical metaphor, figurative language information will appear in the right pane of the Context menu (the entry will be marked as a Figurative Language Category, Term, or Type).

          Some Guides will include a section titled Figurative Language. You can also search for figurative language using a Bible Search. (Scroll down the Search Helps until you see a section titled Figurative Language.)

          To learn more about the Figurative Language Dataset, check out the Lexham Figurative Language of the Bible Glossary in your Logos Library.

  • Not include in “Faithlife Connect Essentials – No library (formerly Logos Now) – Annual”

    But include in “Logos Cloud Essentials”.

    Subscriptions confusing between “Faithlife Connect Essentials” and “Logos Cloud Essentials”…

    Is there a way to buy the individual/full set of “feature” / “datasets” ?

    • Jimmy,

      You can purchase packages of feature datasets at the Logos website: Some datasets are available for individual purchase. You can find these by searching the Logos website for “dataset.”

      Faithlife Connect Essentials contains Logos Cloud Essentials. Each Faithlife Connect subscription contains a Logos Cloud package of the same level (Starter, Essentials, or Standard). To find out what is included in each level of Logos Cloud, you can click the info icon beside the description in the Faithlife Connect comparison page:

  • thank you, THANK YOU
    I figured this out after a little more playing…. but this helped me a lot.

  • The concept of searching for “things, not words” is really powerful, and I’m still trying to get used to the idea myself.

    On one hand, it’s clearly quite useful, especially in surfacing references where the pronoun referent is clearly identifiable.

    I do hesitate a bit though, at the idea of using an index of figurative language a little bit. Aren’t those determinations sometimes a little bit subjective? How does the tagging system accommodate that subjectivity?

    To test this a little bit, I was playing with one of your examples. I know that the term “Babylon” appears in figurative language in Revelation. Logos is clearly aware of that, because when I started to type “Babylon” in the search box it offered to let me search it as and . I was curious to see how those two tags overlapped. Here are my results:

    The right column is a simple search for the term, which returns fewer results because it doesn’t include pronouns. That’s great, and it shows how the tags help.

    Anyway, why (for example) is Rev 19:2-3 tagged as “Person Babylon the Great” but not “Place Babylon” when Rev 18:24, for instance, is tagged both ways?

    I love the feature. It does open up new ways for me to study the Bible thoughtfully.

    • Duncan,

      You’re right that this dataset does entail a degree of interpretation. It should, of course, be regarded as one tool among many that Logos provides.

      You can learn more about the approach to creating this dataset in the Lexham Figurative Language of the Bible Glossary in your Logos library.

      In the case of Rev 18:24, I would guess that the phrase “in you” could be construed as a spatial reference, hence the tagging as a place.

  • Could somebody from Logos please answer Jimmy To’s question. I want to purchase or rent the full set with all the bells and whistles as I thought I was doing with Logos Now.


Written by Mark Ward