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Study tools

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Basic Bible Study Tools

Having the right tool for a job is important.  Knowing how to use the tool correctly is essential.

I like to cook, and there are a number of tools I have to make the job easier.  But the most basic tool I have in my kitchen is the humble spoon.  Have you ever seen a recipe that specified the type of spoon to use (wooden, plastic, metal) or the way you are to stir the mixture (mix, beat, fold, whip, etc.)?  It make a difference how you stir and what you use to do the job.  

It is the same with Bible study; there are a number of tools you can use beyond the Bible itself.  Knowing how to use them effectively changes a burdensome chore into an amazing voyage of discovery.

This week I will take you through three basic tools for effective Bible Study.

Several weeks back I published an article on Bible translations.  If you missed it, you might want to give it a quick read, as selecting a foundational Bible is the first tool you need.  (What Bible Translation Do I Use)  I strongly recommend that you use either the King James Version or the New King James Version as your foundational text. But as I said in the previous article on the subject, you need a Bible that you will read.

The next tool I would recommend is access to a number of other Bible translations.  It is so easy to have access to a number of translations for free from various websites and apps.  No one translation has cornered the market on accuracy.  Comparing translations is a little like sitting in on a Bible study conducted by scholars — you are able to see things in the text that you had not noticed.  But not all ideas about the meaning of text translations are correct, so be careful of “going” with the one you “like” the most or “sounds” the best.  

Next, you need an concordance.  An exhaustive one.  Yes, the BIG one.  Concordances found in the back of your Bible are handy, but they don’t list all of the texts or all of the words.  If you are unfamiliar with what a concordance is, think of it like an index of every word in the Bible.  Yep.  You can look up the word look and find a list of every verse in which it appears.  Make sure your concordance matches your foundational Bible translation as the same word in Hebrew or Greek might be translated differently from one Bible version to another.  I use a Strong’s Concordance that is based on the King James Version, as that was a foundational translation for years.  I haven’t noticed much difficulty in using it with my NKJV, but it would be lousy for looking up a word in my NIV.

Many concordances contain an original language dictionary, the next tool.  Mine does.  At times I wish they were two different books. (I end-up using nearly anything I can lay may hands on as a bookmark when I’m flipping between the concordance and the dictionary.)   The dictionary allows you to get a better feel for the original language and a fuller meaning of the word.  This important when there are drastic differences between the translations you are comparing.

When the concordance and dictionary are in one volume, there will be an italicized number to the far right of the English word you are looking at.  A number will occur at the far right of each entry (verse) in which that particular word occurs.  You can quickly see if the same original word is used throughout a particular book or by a particular author.  This number is how to look up the word in the dictionary.  Just be careful.  There are two original language dictionaries.  The original language of the Old Testament is Hebrew, typically the first dictionary in the back, and the original language of the New Testament is Greek, the second dictionary in the back.  I’ve had confused students come to me befuddled because the word in the original language meant nothing like what it was translated as in their Bible.  I would first make sure they had the correct reference number and then if they had used the correct dictionary.

These three tools, various translations, a concordance, and an original language dictionary, will open up a world of possibilities for your Bible study.  You will be able to understand the meaning of words more deeply (a basic word study) and compare various passages where the same term is used (a basic topical study).

Next week, I’ll share some basic Bible study methods.