The Christian is a worker (2 Timothy 2:15). He properly handles the Scriptures because he knows that the word of God is pure truth (John 17:17). A workman needs the right tools for his job. A carpenter needs a saw and hammer while an auto mechanic needs wrenches and screwdrivers. After attaining the right mindset for Bible study, the student needs certain tools. We offer a short and incomplete list for your thinking.
Bible Study Requires a Workshop
It is useful to have a designated place for study. You can certainly study Scripture anywhere. some of my best sermons came on the back of a riding lawnmower. But a designated place of study is helpful. Importantly, one needs a place without distraction. Slumped in the easy chair with the television playing in front is probably not a good place for study. Turn off the television, silence the cell phone and sit at the dinner table. If you have a home office, go in, close the door and clear the desk of anything distracting.
It is possible to occasionally break those rules. Some, including this writer, have found that a local coffee shop or restaurant can provide a change of atmosphere conducive to study. However, you will find that deeper study is probably best served by a quiet, designated spot.
Bible Study Requires a Bible
The selection of a good Bible is vital. In fact, multiple Bibles are often helpful. One might choose a Bible that is more literal or closer to a word-for-word translation and then a second Bible more dynamic or thought-for-thought. Often, by comparing the two, the student discovers useful shadows of meanings and can develop insightful lines of study as he tries to discern why the translations read differently.
The choice of a translation is a personal matter. Some become needlessly contentious over the issue but we know there is no such thing as a perfect translation. There are, however, some versions that ought be avoided for serious study. For example, many like The Message, a popular version especially with younger people. But The Message is not a translation. The editor/author freely states that it is shaped by the hand of a working pastor. And he recommends students move ahead to other Bibles. Likewise, The Living Bible is a paraphrase. It makes no attempt to remain locked to the original languages but instead offers the Bible simplified into the words of a man. There may be a place for such Bibles but it is not in serious study.
We would also avoid any Bible produced by a denomination to support their unorthodox teachings. Instead, look for a so-called mainstream Bible. Choose one that you are comfortable with and immerse yourself in it. Make it your primary text but always examine other translations too. Personally, I moved from the King James to the New American Standard Bible and now I use The English Standard Version. In every case, it was a personal decision.
Find a Bible and use it. Underline in it and make ample notes. Your Bible will become the single greatest tool in workshop.
Bible Study Requires Dictionaries
I suggest two dictionaries, either paper volumes or on-line access. The student needs a good American English dictionary. This will help with unfamiliar words both in the Bible and in supporting literature. A Bible dictionary is also useful. Often, word meanings change across the years. A Bible dictionary will help discern true and intended meanings.
At some point, a worker might add a Lexicon to his library. A lexicon gives translations of the words found in Scripture. The Scriptures are mostly written in Hebrew and Greek. A lexicon makes the original languages more accessible. A word of warning is in order here. Lexicons can run into the hundreds of dollars. Choose something less complex and less expensive. For example, Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon is a solid choice and available for under $10.
Bible Study Requires a Notebook
Dedicate a notebook to your study. Your notes are intended for you alone so feel free to be as sloppy or neat as you wish. Use the notebook to jot down thoughts, ideas and questions for additional study. Record your “discoveries” and your reactions to what you uncover. Use highlighters and different colored pens to make your notes more readable.
You might also consider a simple filing system. I knew a preacher once who had extensive files. He maintained clippings of articles on various topics and had fully cross-referenced his system. That’s pretty fancy and more than I can do. I’ve simply created files for each book of the Bible and for more common topics.
Bible Study Requires a Concordance
You probably already have a concordance in the back of your paper Bible. It’s that listing of words and the verses where those words are found. A few years ago every student needed a large Strong’s Concordance of the Bible. This heavy tome even included the location of every “a,” “and” and “the” in the Bible.
Today, computers and smartphones have made Strong’s obsolete. Free software allows a user to search for words or phrases. More sophisticated programs can look for words near one another or can search on one word while excluding others. That phrase you remember but cannot find is now just a few clicks away.
I have excluded commentaries, journals and magazines from this list of basic tools. Such items can be invaluable tools. However, they are opinions. They are highly researched and respected opinions but still the work of mankind. You study the Bible first and then turn to these tools to expand your thinking.
When you handle Scripture you handle the mind of God. Use extreme caution. God gave you a mind and the ability to reason. Use your wisdom from God to discern the way of life. Bible study is a challenge but well worth the rewards.
Bryant Evans may be reached at bryant at preachersstudyblog.com. You can follow Bryant on Twitter @J_Bryant_Evans.