Occasionally, I’m in places where the question of how to do Bible study comes up. I believe people are in various stages of spiritual growth, and I think the ability to study the Bible comes in stages as well. As we increase our skills, we need tools to help us along the way.
I have not used a traditional printed Bible in years. I’ve been using Bible apps for phone or iPad when I’m on the go, and I use Bible study computer software at home and in assembly meetings. You have to find what works for you and what you can afford; some Bible study apps are free or available at a low price; software can be very expensive. Most beginners can start with something low cost or free such as e-Sword. Free online resources, such as Blue Letter Bible, or others are also available for use. You may also find free pdf versions of printed texts mentioned below online.
I create Bible study files, much of which are posted on this blog, as well as files that are research oriented, which I keep for myself. These are usually foundational to what ends up on this blog site.
I find it helpful to pray for YHVH to reveal truth and whatever else he wants to me during Bible study. When I am stumped on a problem, this usually helps remove the blockage.
Stages and/or tools for Bible study include:
No intake of Scripture of any kind. Never reading or studying Scripture is akin to spiritually starving yourself. YOU MUST LEARN TO FEED YOURSELF AND NOT RELY ON OTHERS TO FEED YOU. It is better to study a matter and compare what you find with others in order to sharpen one another spiritually. Don’t expect to always agree with someone else. Don’t let it hurt your feelings. Be open to see why they believe the way they do.
Daily devotions. The lowest level of Bible study is reading daily devotionals. These involve reading one verse a day and a few paragraphs about its application in daily life. This is still the feeding-on-milk stage, but they have their place when life gets extremely busy.
Reading large portions of Scripture. Reading the text, whether it is several verses or one or more chapters on a regular basis is a higher level of feeding on the Scriptures. I confess, there are times when my life is busy or overwhelming, and I miss simply reading the text. (Photo from PC Study Bible [One Touch].)
I do not discount simply reading the text. We must read as many books of Scripture as possible repeatedly to become familiar with the text and hide it in our hearts.
Of prime importance is getting a foundation in Torah before reading other books. The Torah is the lens through which we should understand the rest of Scripture. I recommend studying at Torah Class (www.torahclass.com).
Becoming familiar with the text, as a whole, leads us to higher levels of study. This process should not be haphazard in which we open up the text anywhere and start reading. It should be deliberate.
- As you read, you should pray for insight, take notes, and ask yourself questions such as who, what, where, why, and how. Some people use the SOAP approach which stands for Scripture, Observation, Application, and Prayer.
- Look at the surrounding context of the passage for insight. Avoid taking verses out of context and applying them in a way they were not meant to be taken.
- Beware of idioms or figures of speech and/or the genre of the material being read. Consider how these certain words or phrases are used throughout Scripture.
- Consider whether or not an ellipsis (an omission of words) is present. This could greatly impact understanding a passage or understanding two apparently contradictory passages.
- Look at other translation versions. Some versions are more literal, whereas others try to give more of a thought-for-thought (or dynamic) translation or a complete paraphrase. I do not recommend paraphrases at all. Comparing translations is useful especially true if an idiom or figure of speech is used. Another useful method is to compare the Hebrew Masoretic text translations of the Tanach (Old Testament) with the Greek Septuagint, as well as the Targums. Interlinear Bibles are nice to have if the font size of the original language is big enough to see. They are often accompanied by Strong’s numbers, translated word, and part of speech.
- If you have a key word study bible or Bible apps, Strong’s numbers may be readily available at the click of a button.
Cross references. Printed Bibles often have a built-in center column, side columns, or footnotes that give us other related passages to read. These are called cross references. As you read them, consider how they relate or add additional information to what you are already reading. A popular book of cross-references is the Treasury of Scripture Knowledge. (Photo is from The Cross Reference Bible.)
Concordances. There are different kinds of concordances. A concordance is a reference book, usually with a numbering system such as Strong’s, that lists the translation of a particular Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic word.
- A simple concordance gives us the ability to look up a word from a verse in our own Bible’s translated language and lists where that same word is used elsewhere in Scripture. This list contains the word, in English for example, we are seeking with a short phrase from a verse and its reference. Sometimes, we can recall part of a verse but can’t remember where to find it. Simple concordances can quickly help us find the word because they usually have the word (or the first initial of the word) with a short phrase from the verse.
- These words may have more than one Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic word behind it. Part of our goal in Bible study is to know which Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic word is in the verse we are interested in. Word study concordances show us what these words are so that we know which verses use the same original language word. Be aware that a word may have meant something in one time period and its meaning may have changed over time.
- Once we know the Strong’s number for the Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic word or the actual word we are interested in, an Englishman’s concordance can be used to help us find all of the places where that particular word is used in Scripture. Word study concordances do this as well, but they usually list the words in the order of their occurrence and not just by the Strong’s number. Sometimes such a concordance is built into computer programs or apps with the click of a button. You may want to see how this word is used in the rest of the book you are reading and compare that with how else it is used in Scripture, the Apocrypha and Pseudepigraphia. (Photo is from The Englishman’s Greek Concordance of the New Testament.)
Dictionaries and encyclopedias give the definition and further information of an ordinary word according to its Biblical meaning.
Maps are a useful tools to help us visually see where one place is in location to another. They give us an idea of where people traveled or where certain events took place. (Photo is a modified map from Bible Works for the cities of refuge).
Lexicons are basically dictionaries for the original Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic words in Scripture. When using lexicons, it is important to know the parts of speech and/or binyan(im) (for Hebrew and Aramaic verbs) for the word that is used in the verse you are interested in because this affects the definition of the word in question. (Photo is taken from Bible Works.)
There are Hebrew and Aramaic lexicons for the Tanach (Old Testament), and Greek lexicons for the New Testament and Greek Septuagint. There are some Greek words in the Septuagint that are not used in the New Testament so having access to a separate lexicon for the Septuagint is important. It is also important to consider how the verse’s meaning may be changed if there is more than one literal meaning of a key word. (Photo is taken from PC Study Bible [One Touch] for the Interlinear (TR) and BDB Lexicon.)
Books on Bible background, history, manners and customs are a good resource for Bible study. In addition, studying the background, history, manners and customs of ancient near eastern nations also give us insight into the influences surrounding God’s people.
Commentaries are another tool for Bible study. They come in different kinds. Some are scholarly, but most, I would say, are not. Many are biased according to Christian doctrine, so until you have a foundation in Torah, you may want to steer away from them. Still, they can be a very good resource if you can see the biases contained therein.
Jewish sources, such as the Talmud, Midrash Rabbah, Josephus, Philo, Works of Alfred Edersheim, etc. give us insight to ancient practice, history, and understanding of Scripture. These occasionally contradict each other, but they have plenty of insight for us.
Literary analysis is a skill that must be learned and developed. Small and large portions of Scripture are written in couplets (A, B), parallels (A1, B1, C1, A2, B2, C2), chiasms (A1, B1, C1, B2, A2), and concentric structures (A1, B1, C1, C2, B2, A2). Couplets are basically extremely short parallels that repeat an idea or theme. Chiasms and concentric structures are basically reverse or inverted parallels. It is often useful to compare and contrast the corresponding components of these structures to see what they yield. There may be literary structures present within larger literary structures. The center of these structures are often of prime importance because the rest of the structure points us to focus on that. Sometimes, the outer portion of the structure, called the enclusio, is the most important part of the chiasm. We need to pay attention when a statement or section of Scripture seems out of place. It is that way for a reason, and we need to as the Father to show us the reason why.
Thematic pattern analysis is related to literary analysis. This is when several themes form a pattern that is found in other portions of Scripture, and sometimes things outside of Scripture. Comparing and contrasting these patterns can reveal things that we might not otherwise discover. This is important for seeing typology or pictures representing other things. This is a skill that takes a lot of time to develop.