RESEARCHING THE BIBLE
One of the joys of being a pastor is having young Christians come with questions they need answers for. To see new believers get so excited about the Word of God that it sparks them to start asking questions still thrills me. Yet there comes a time when every young plant has to have the stake removed in order for it to grow into a strong tree. Even the same with baby eagles. The day comes when no longer does their mother bring the food to them from the ground, hundreds of metres below, but gently and lovingly throws the young eagle out of the nest to fend for itself. Likewise there comes a time when we must learn to seek out answers for ourselves. But just how do we go about it?
Due to the effort of Bible scholars over the years, many tools are now available to us to use for personal research. One of the keys to using tools is always to keep the Bible in its correct context. By using tools correctly we gain the true meaning of Biblical passages.
The best way to get the true meaning of a passage is to seek its context. The following must be considered :
(i) The whole verse from which it comes.
(ii) The paragraph its contained in.
(iii) The overall theme of the book.
(iv) The cultural situation of the original readers.
We must almost try and read "over their shoulders" (the original readers). We should realise how particular verses are still relevant to us today. A good way to start getting verses in their context is to refer to different translations of the Bible. An accurate translation is essential. Different translations use different approaches to get their wording.
Commentaries are Bible scholars sharing thoughts or helpful information about passages. Never get locked into one commentator, always seek a variety of godly opinions. Commentaries will range from being devotional (looking for life applications from the Bible, often reflective), to scholarly (involving technical arguments about authorship, the original words used, the culturral setting in which it was written). One volume commentaries on the entire Bible are not going to have the same value as multiple volume commentaries. Lately, some publishing companies have been releasing multiple volume commentaries in one volume. The best example of this is Matthew Henry’s commentary written in the 1700’s. Several volumes were taken and physically reduced, by using much smaller print, to convert it into one volume. The result is a book about 7cm thick!
C. BIBLE HAND BOOKS
These are useful for gaining a quick understanding of a book or passage, but are not as detailed as commentaries. They usually give formulated details about authorship, relevant dates, and contents.
Perhaps you don't have any particular questions troubling you about a passage but still want to do a study on a passage. These tools can help you research a passage in order to gain fresh insight from them. You also might like to keep in mind the geographical context of the passages as well. For example, we might say we're going up to Queensland, and what we mean is, we're going to travel north. But when that same "going up" expression is used in the Bible it doesn't necessarily mean "north". Therefore, use maps in the back of your Bible or use a Bible Atlas.
Those wishing to delve deeper into the Word of God will find that word studies introduce a wealth of insight. Doing a word study involves researching a word in order to gain appreciation of its use in Scripture. Because the Greek language is a lot more specific than English, often the original meaning of words used aren't fully appreciated.
To do a word study, you need:
- Usually a King James Version Bible
- Strong's Concordance, or a concordance linked to a modern translation using Strong’s numbers.
- Vines Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words.
- English Dictionary
A. STRONGS CONCORDANCE
Dr. Strong has listed every word in the Bible, then numbered them according to their respective Hebrew or Greek alphabetical order.
1. The Hebrew word for 'tongue' has several forms :
A. #3956 -
B. # 762 -
C. #2790 -
D. #2013 -
The Greek word for 'tongue' also has several forms:
A. #1100 -
C. #1258 -
As well as listing every word in the King James Version, the Strong's Concordance also contains a brief definition of each word. These definitions are found at the rear of the concordance. One thing that Strong's doesn't do is list together the references where all the Hebrew words occur. For this you need a "Wigram's The New Englishman's Hebrew Concordance". This is handy because sometimes the same Hebrew word is used differently when translated into English. For example, the Hebrew word #3956 (commonly 'tongue') is translated as "wedge" (Josh. 7:21, 24) and "language" (Neh. 13:24).
Also contained in the definition section of the Strong's is a note on where the word being studied originally came from. This is called etymology.
2. Where in the Hebrew does the word 'tongue' (#3956) come from?
As well as the Strongs containing the original lettering of the Hebrew and Greek words, it also contains how it is roughly pronounced in English. This is called transliteration.
B. VINES EXPOSITORY DICTIONARY OF NEW TESTAMENT WORDS
To get a good overview of words from the Greek language, Vines has written a dictionary simple enough for those not skilled in Greek to appreciate the original meanings or words. Today the way we use words may not necessarily be the same as the way they were originally used.
3. How does Vine define the word "tongue"?
* NOTE : Vine expresses the opinion that speaking in tongues ceased when the New Testament writings were completed and compiled. He believes that this is what the expression "that which is perfect has come" actually refers to. However I would disagree with Vines interpretation and conclusions on this particular matter. Scriptures like Acts 2:39 seem to suggest that the gift of speaking in tongues is very relevant for today. He refers to church history as an argument for his case. I would use the same argument but draw a different conclusion.
Using these three tools we can now formalise a word study on the word tongue. To do this requires:
1. THE ENGLISH WORD-
2. STRONG'S CONCORDANCE NUMBER-
3. THE HEBREW (OR GREEK)-
4. THE TRANSLITERATION-
5. THE PRONUNCIATION-
6. THE ETYMOLOGY AND DEFINITION OF THE WORD-
7. WAYS THE WORD IS TRANSLATED-
8. ENGLISH DEFINITION-
This would then be followed by listing every reference of the word, in its context, with the Scripture references included. Once this is done, ponder what has been discovered then ask these questions in as many ways as you can:
A. WHO? B. WHAT? C. WHEN? D. WHERE? E. WHY? F. HOW?
Word studies are not designed to be sermons but are used to enhance the researcher's understanding of the text and thus fuel a deeper message. You may like to collect your word studies by storing them in a folder and referring to them for later use.
COMPUTERS AND BIBLE RESEARCH
Many excellent computer programs are now availbale for Bible research. The advantage of a good computer program is that it eleminates much of the time required for doing these tasks that we have just discussed. A good Bible program will have a Strong’s concordance, and will also have it linked to other tools such a search for how the original word is translated into English. "Quickverse ®" is one of the most popular Bible computer programs available. It can do all of the tasks discussed in this chapter. Other programs allow the researcher to view the actual Hebrew or Greek characters of an original word. Rather than shying away from technology, we should actively take advantage of it.
Tyndale New and Old Testament Commentaries, I.V.P.
The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Zondervan.
New Thayers Greek Lexicon
Vines Expository Dictionary
The Illustrated Bible Dictionary
New International Version
New American Standard Version
New King James Version
How to read the Bible for All its Worth, Fee/Stewart, Zondervan
Methods and Principles of Bible Research, Kevin J.Conner, Acacia Press
Halley's Bible Handbook, Zondervan
New Testament Survey
© 2001 Andrew Corbett, Legana, Tasmania