If you you’ve done any handy work around your house or in the garden, it doesn’t take long to realize having the right tool for the job saves time, money, and frustration. Trying to put two hundred screws in the deck floor with a screwdriver is futile. A power drill makes the job faster and easier. Digging a hole with a hand spade is hopeless if you’re preparing a hole large enough to plant a tree. A good long handle shovel, pick ax, and spade shovel are essential for the job.The same is true with getting the most from our Bible Study. The importance of using the proper “tools” can’t be stressed enough. Using good tools yields good results.
First, let me emphasize something important. You don’t need to be a biblical scholar to uncover the correct interpretation for a biblical text. You don’t need a doctorate in theology to unpack what might appear to be difficult Bible passages or significant words. I’m happy and pleased the scholars are out there. They contribute a great deal to our study. Thankfully, they’ve already done most of the heavy lifting so all we need to do is know how to use the tools they’ve provided.
Here are some basic tools every good student of the Bible needs:
- Your Bible: Pick a translation suitable for study. I recommend translations which remain as true to the original Hebrew and Greek as possible.
- Bible Study Software (optional): Many of you reading this are already comfortable with a computer, laptop, or tablet. I’m grateful that there are several good (and free) Bible Study software programs out there. There are also more in-depth programs that will cost you a pretty good chunk of change and have a fairly significant learning curve. If you go the “software” route, do your research and pick the tool most suited to your needs. If you lay down cash, remember you may be purchasing a bunch of programs (books) you may never use.
- Bible Dictionaries/Encyclopedias: These are essential if you want to look up particular terms to get a better understanding of their meaning. For example, you see the word “feast” in your text and wonder what is involved in a feast and how many feasts did the people of Israel have and how often? What feasts where observed in NT times? Etc.. A good Bible Dictionary or Bible Encyclopedia will help you with that information.
- If you want to do more in-depth word studies, expository dictionaries are a must.
- Concordance: This tool allows you to look up “every” occurrence of a word, the number of verses containing that word, and the number of times that word is used. This information gives you a good idea of how the same word is used in different sentences. Like English, Greek and Hebrew words don’t always bear the same meaning when used in different sentences.
- Commentaries: I recommend choosing the best commentary available on the particular book of the Bible you are studying. Commentary sets look nice on your shelf but seldom are “strong” throughout the set. If you’re not sure what commentary is best for the book you want to study, ask your pastor, your friends, or email your favorite blogger.
If you’re going to buy resources, buy used unless you just want new. Used books are cheaper, often in as-good-as-new condition and can save you a bunch of money. Also, if you use a device such as Kindle or Nook, many resources are available for those devices. You may find, if the resource is really good, you want both the e-book version and the hard copy. I often do that. Other valuable places to access your resources: Your church library, a close-by seminary library, your local library and of course, borrowing from a friend.
Bottom line—having the right tools for the job is essential.
Next week, we’ll spend some time showing you how you can use some of these resources by taking a quick look at the Book of Galatians.