Theme: How to Study the Bible
In This Issue:
- “Tools That Help Us Study” by Randy Sexton
- “Bible Study Habits – Are You Satisfied?” by Shannon Harden
- “Developing a Daily Routine” by David Bushnaq
- “Defining Bible Words” by Sean Cavender
“Tools that Help Us Study”
This quarter’s theme in this series of articles is How to Study the Bible. Most people that I talk to are not really happy with the quantitative or qualitative nature of their personal Bible study time. Shannon Harden will address this subject and David Bushnaq will tell us about his own personal experience in establishing a regular routine in his own life. Sean Cavender dives a little deeper in describing how to understand difficult Bible words that we may encounter in our reading.
Next month we will look at additional topics related to studying the Bible: How to Answer a False Doctrine, Studying Passages That Help With My Own Spiritual Growth, How to Determine the Message of a Bible Book and How to Outline a New Testament Epistle.
In this article I would like to share with you some more common tools used in Bible study, how each tool can help you, and finally how you can use these different tools.
The most important tool is the Bible itself.
There are three basic ways that you should use the Bible. First, you need to read it – read the same passage over and over again, read from several different versions and develop a daily routine of reading (See David’s article).
Secondly, you need to learn to study the context of a passage – that is, the parts that precede or follow the specific word or passage that you are studying. An example is Acts 16:30-31. What does the context cause you to conclude, that not considering it would not? (Answer: Salvation requires more than faith. It requires HEARing and obeying the word of the Lord, submitting one’s will to His in baptism.)
Third, you will need to learn to work with cross-references. Compare a passage with other passages that talk about the same subject and look at how a word is used in more than one passage. Consider another example, compare Acts 2:38 with Acts 8:35-38 to learn about baptism. What do you learn? You learn that baptism involves two people going down into the water and coming up out of the water after the action is completed. Consider also Ephesians 6:4 – What additional information do you learn about the words “fathers” and raising children by reading the cross-references? You learn that they are to be careful not to “exasperate” (NASB) or “aggravate” (NLT) or “nag” (NCV) them. They are to “command them to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice.” They are to teach them “diligently,” keeping the Word of God always before them. They are to teach them to praise God. They are to discipline them with the rod of correction (Pr. 23:13 and 13:24).
A concordance is a book which lists Bible words and where they are found. A concordance helps you find passages that you can’t remember, when you CAN remember a “key word.” A concordance is particularly helpful when you are looking for information on a specific topic. For example, perhaps you would like to learn more about how the word “gentle” is used in the Bible. From the use of a concordance, you would learn that:
- Paul compared the gentleness with which he worked among the Thessalonians to “a nursing mother taking care of her own children” (1 st Thessalonians 2:7)
- “the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient” (2nd Timothy 2:24)
- Titus was charged by the Apostle Paul to “speak things which are fitting for sound doctrine” and to “speak and exhort and reprove with all authority,” and to remind them to be gentle , showing every consideration for all men.” (Titus 2: 1, 15; 3:2)
There are two types of dictionaries. One type gives definitions of Bible WORDS, the other gives background of Bible people, places and things. These can be useful in our studies because words may have been used differently in Bible times than they are today. Understanding the “context” in which people, places and things existed will add meaning to why things happened the way they did.)
A commentary is a book where a writer gives his OPINION about the meaning of a passage in the Bible. They are useful as another piece of input from very knowledgeable people but a WORD of CAUTION is in order here. “they are only common tater” (Ron Roberts).
There are Bibles that come with their own mini-commentaries. Examples of these are the ESV Study Bible and The Word in Life Study Bible. The same word of caution as above applies.
Some software programs combine several of the tools into one package. They often display several translations at the same time. There are also websites like biblegateway.com and olivetree.com where you can access some of these tools online. See the screen shots below from biblegateway.com
There different tools available to you to help you study the Bible. Remember the primary tool (our most important resource) is the Bible itself.
“Bible Study Habits – Are You Happy?”
“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” (Proverbs 14:12). I think most of us know it’s important to study the bible, not only because we as human beings often think we know the best things to do (when we really don’t), but also because it will help us in our own walk with Christ and with helping others. Timothy, although a preacher, was told to study to show himself approved (2 Tim 2:15) and we are supposed to be transformed by the word (Romans 12:2). How else will we know what is good and profitable if we don’t read the bible?
But the big question today is, are you happy with your study habits?
- How often do you study? I don’t know about you, but it seems that Americans put as much into our days as possible. Work, fun, activities – we just pile it on. Sometimes I have to correct myself when I say, “I just don’t have time to study.” My grandpa used to say that we all make time for what we want. Think of it this way, I will do anything for my boyfriend. I want to spend as much time with him as possible. He is a priority. Sometimes we forget that we are supposed to have a relationship with Christ. One of the most important aspects of a relationship is communication. Prayer is one facet of communication, but God speaks to us through his word. So if you aren’t reading the word, how great is your relationship going to be? Instead of being like the Sadducees like Jesus talked about in Matthew 22:29, who didn’t even know the scriptures, rather we want to be like the Jews in Acts 17:11, who searched the scriptures daily. Is studying a priority for you?
- What does your study space look like? Some people love to study at a desk, some like to study outside amongst God’s creation. I feel like where you study is up to you. But, as a teacher, I have to ask – is it conducive to studying? I constantly tell parents that kids doing their homework in front of the T.V. or with a bunch of chaos around them probably doesn’t help them focus, comprehend, or do their best. The same would go for studying the bible.
- When do you study the bible? Just like the space issue, when you study the bible is up to you. I used to think studying the bible at night before I went to bed was a great idea. The only problem, I was super tired and not doing my best studying work. I know of a lot of people who start their day studying the bible. That is what I have started doing and it seems to work well for me. I do a little devotion and it really helps to start my day. To do this, you must refer back to step #1. You must plan ahead and decide to make this your routine. I have a friend that decided that his day was so busy in college, that he would set his alarm and wake up at 3 or 4 am so he could have his own quit time with The Lord. I’m not suggesting this is the best option for you, but the point is that we must be purposeful. If I know that I’m going to wake up and study before my day gets started, I probably shouldn’t stay up very late and/or over sleep the next day.
- Be purposeful. I personally think everything should have a purpose, it’s kind of part of my personality. I can’t just randomly do anything; much less study the bible randomly. Some pick a topic; some pick certain books they want to read, and some just read the bible on a yearlong plan. There are some great resources in Christian book stores for thematic studies, even with ideas specifically for women or men. I personally like to focus on a topic, and of course I am selfish, so I want a topic that will directly help me personally. Some people love history so they focus on the Old Testament or specific historical things. Some people are struggling with something and read for encouragement. I think the most important thing is to have a purpose so you are able to have a deep study and not a superficial reading of the bible.
- Have someone help you with accountability. Ok, I admit it – I don’t always follow through – with a lot of things in life. So having someone to keep me accountable is almost a necessity. This is true in many aspects of our lives. If I’m exercising, I do a MUCH better job if I have an exercise buddy. The fact is, I study the bible better if I can meet with some and study with them, or if I have someone to discuss what I studied on my own. If we can have someone help keep us accountable with our temptations and struggles, then why not with our bible study habits?
So are you happy with your bible study habits? If you aren’t, think about what you need to change.
**I personally love techie things, including Facebook verses sent to me daily, or a good devotional sent to my email (which is also sent to my phone). Here are some extra online resources on the Internet, just remember to study the bible to see if what a man (or woman) is stating is according to the word of God – http://www.biblestudytools.com/, http://www.christianitytoday.com/biblestudies/, http://www.crosswalk.com/, and http://www.biblegateway.com/resources/tools/.
“Developing A Daily Routine”
How does one set up a bible study routine?
This is a question many may have, and its importance is one easily recognized. Many today do not study the bible as they should [or at all, outside of services] and as such, many people are ignorant of the bible, or worse- believing lies or the ignorance of others who taught them. This is one of the primary reasons it’s good to find a routine that works best for you and to keep at it.
Please turn to 2 Kings 22. Josiah, king of Israel rebuilds the temple of the Lord. As it’s being rebuilt, the book of the law is found, and when given to Shaphan, he reads it to Josiah, and in his hearing, rents his clothes. After all the evil the Israelites have done, he has a sorrowful heart and shows the proper reverence- even respect, that is due to the bible.
Please consider the words found in verse 13 “for great is the wrath of the Lord that is aroused against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.” That’s a major issue we have today as well. We have parents who aren’t reading scripture to their kids and helping them to become stronger in the faith and wiser in scripture. The bible class isn’t enough, neither is the sermon! We must take what we learned in the sermon and speak with our kids about it so they too can gain much from it.
Furthermore, please consider Deuteronomy 6 starting with verse 6. This is how we are to use the scripture. We need to always be speaking of the bible with our children! They are the future and who is going to keep strong in the faith and in wisdom when we pass from this life? We are to not only speak it with our children, we are to “wear” the scripture. That is, we should not only speak the part, but also look it. People should know we are godly by our reputation. And the same on our house as well. Having wisdom in the bible is very important, but SHOWING our faith and our godly wisdom is just as important.
Studying something that means little to us does us no good. If we do not have the reverence due and the wisdom and life we need to, we can not be God’s disciples.
So, how does one set up a routine?
First off, consistency is key. If you want to succeed, it’s best to set your biological clock to the same time every day in order for you to be fully prepared for the study you are about to begin. If you study at different times each day, chances are greater that you will be tired one day or may miss due to events interrupting the time you could have been studying. Also it’s harder for one to set a routine without consistency.
Also it helps to study very similar material all week. Start with something, and follow a logical sequence [chapters, maybe. Similar events in one person’s life. Maybe even parables] and on the final day, devote it to reviewing what you have studied up to that point. Repetition tends to help you pick up on things you may have missed previously.
However, before study begins, I feel it’s best to meditate and to get my mind prepared. Meditation differs from person to person. Some prefer doing it quietly, sitting alone in a dark room focusing entirely on keeping your mind empty of distractions while also preparing to begin study. Others prefer a more verbal approach, repeating scripture that helps them get their mind on the task at hand. Psalms 19: 14 for instance. And before I begin to study, I say a prayer that I can gain much from what it is that I am reading for the day.
This is my sequence. It works for me, and the more I do it, the more I gain from it. I also prepare the atmosphere for the meditation as well. A dark room with slow, but relaxing music [classical works well for this] in the background and no interruptions [animals especially] in the room before I begin. I feel the darker the room the better because distracted eyes lead to a distracted mind.
We must remember that it takes 21 days for something to become a habit. That is, 21 consecutive days. The more we skip, the less likely we’ll ever make this a routine. Most stop very early on when things become mundane for them. We must show real commitment and the respect due the scriptures so our hearts never look at the bible in a mundane way. If it does, the issue isn’t in the bible. It’s in us! While my approach will not work for everyone, it works well for me.
Finally, never neglect even basic scripture. If we take what we’ve learned in our studies previously and apply the approach to scripture that may be seen as “basic” we may gain more out of it than we even realized! I’m constantly surprised about the hidden depth of the bible!
“Defining Bible Words”
One of the most important aspects of Bible study is properly defining words that we may have difficulty understanding. Sometimes words may take on new meanings when we consider them in the context of Scripture. Understanding how to define Bible words will prove to be beneficial for us as we consider “How To Study The Bible.”
Rules About Words
First, we need to recognize that as we read our Bibles, we are reading them in our native language, e.g., English. However, the Bible was not originally written in English. Therefore, we may have words that exist in English, but did not exist when the Bible was being written. Also, while the Bible was written there might have been more words available in their language, and our language may have only one term that would sum up what might have been three or four words in another language. We need to realize that languages affect the usage, and meaning of words. Since the Bible was not written in English originally, our English dictionaries will not be nearly as helpful as a Greek or a Hebrew dictionary might be.
Secondly, words have meanings. As simple of a concept as that sounds, it is an important concept to understand. Words have meanings and I cannot change the meaning of those words just because I may or may not like the definitions, or implications that it may hold for me. However, sometimes words change meanings over time. Language is always in a state of flux, and is always changing. If you read from the King James Version of the Bible you will quickly notice that we don’t speak the same way today. However, the KJV is still considered to be English despite some of the changes in our modern day English.
Thirdly, context will ultimately determine the meaning of particular words. Have you ever read two or three definitions for one word in the dictionary? Words can have various meanings, and the only way to truly come to the true meaning is by setting the word in its appropriate context. Context of Scripture is vital to understanding words.
Tools At Your Disposal
It will be helpful as you study your Bible to have a good Bible dictionary. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament words is a work of high regard. Also, Strong’s Concordance is helpful too. There are many more dictionaries, and lexicons that are helpful. However, one thing to keep in mind: no dictionary is perfect. Often, you will read a definition and then an opinion of one of the writers. Their opinions might be right, but it might be wrong. Another difficult aspect of some Bible dictionaries, is that these scholars will show how words might have been used in common, everyday language, but fail to show how it is actually used in Scripture. So be cautious. These dictionaries are beneficial, but they do not ultimately determine the truthfulness of God’s word.
There are many words in the Bible that we could narrow down, but I want to briefly examine three words that are hard to define. If we understand what these words mean then we can avoid error, and gain a better understanding of what God expects of us.
Eis. The Greek word eis (“ace”) is a misunderstood word. It is used in passages such as Acts 2:38 where it is translated as “for,” or “unto.” Many want to define the word eis as “because of.” Now if you will look at Acts 2:38, notice that if you replace “for” with “because of” it completely alters the meaning of the passage. Do you see why it is important to properly define this word? If you define eis as “for/unto” then repentance and baptism are essential for forgiveness of sins, but if you define eis as “because of” then you have someone’s sins forgiven, and then they repent and are baptized after they are forgiven. We see the same phrase in the Greek and English used in Matthew 26:28. At this time, Jesus was alive and instituting the Lord’s Supper, He had not yet died on the cross, or shed His blood. His blood first had to be shed for the remission of sins (Hebrews 9:22), so the word “for [eis]” cannot mean “because of” in Matthew 26:28, or in Acts 2:38.
Propitiation. Another word that is difficult to define and understand is the term propitiation. In the Greek language the term was used as a person appeasing the Greek gods because of their anger, and they would sacrifice in order to make their gods favorable towards them. While that is the common, everyday usage of the word propitiation, how is it used in the Bible? The apostle John said, “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). John used the term propitiation in connection with a loving God, not trying to appease an angry God. This shows how the Bible might take a common word, and give it a new meaning by the context which it is used.
Love. The Greeks had various words that described other aspects of the word love. For emotional and sexual love, the term eros was used. Philos was used in association with brotherly love. The strongest word for love was the term agape. Agape was characterized by the strongest bond and affection one might have. It was an intellectual love, or choice, that the lover makes. Now, in our English Bibles we may only see the term “love,” but how do we know which one? We may often be able to tell by context, but we may also want to consult a Bible dictionary to help us.
Defining words is essential in a study of God’s word. Let us be diligent in our study, and careful as we define words. We must be sure to be honest, and fair as we examine what God’s word reveals to us.