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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

How do I Understand the Bible? - The Necessary Tools

How do I understand the Bible? It's so thick with unfamiliar words and confusing stories and teaching. I don't even know where to begin. As a teacher and coach, I have heard this question asked many times. And, it's an important one.

God gave us the Bible so that we could understand Him better and it is the sacred Scriptures of the Christian faith. Therefore, reading and studying it will help us in our relationship with God and in growing in our faith.

Over the next few weeks I want to share with you ways of studying the Bible that will help you increase your knowledge of its contents, your understanding of what it means, and how to apply it to your own life and situation.

A skilled craftsman knows the importance of having the right tools for the job - be it a woodworker, an electrician, a chef, a diver, a teacher, a writer, a glassblower, a surgeon, or an artist. The right tools make it much easier to produce a great work and in some cases, such as a diver or electrician, it may be a matter of life or death. So, if you want to know how to understand the Bible better, what tools do you need?

Studying the Bible does not have to be complicated or involve a great many books or tools, although as you delve more and more deeply into the Bible there may be books, software, or apps that you would like to purchase. However, to begin the list is rather short:

1. A Bible. A study Bible that contains a summary of each book (giving its history, author, and an overview of its contents), maps, charts, and a concordance (a list of where particular words are found) is especially helpful. My favorites are The Life Application Bible, The Quest Study Bible, and the NIV Study Bible. I have found each of these to have comprehensive and helpful tools.

2. A journal, notebook, computer, or tablet where you can track what you are learning.

3. Prayer and the Holy Spirit. Some passages of the Bible and some people described in the Bible are difficult to understand. Therefore, it is important that you seek the Holy Spirit to lead and guide you in your study and to reveal truth to you and to help you avoid misinterpreting the Scripture.

These three things are sufficient to help anyone get started toward a basic understanding of the Bible, what it says, and what it means.

Perhaps you are interested in going deeper in your study. Perhaps you are puzzled by various things and want deeper answers or maybe you would like to help someone else understand the Bible better and you want to understand the Bible more completely yourself first. The following tools are helpful for those who want to go deeper. I have listed them in the order I would recommend attaining them.

4. A Concordance. While today many Study Bibles have extensive concordances, most do not have an Exhaustive Concordance. An Exhaustive Concordance lists every word in the Bible and all the verses where it can be found. Strong's Exhaustive Concordance is one of the most famous concordances and is very helpful. Some websites such as Bible Gateway can also function as a concordance by allowing you to enter a key word into their site and it will list all the verses where that word is found. Bible Gateway also has a number of other very helpful resources including the option to view a verse or passage in multiple translations of the Bible.

5. A Commentary of the Whole Bible. Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible is readily available in both book and online formats and is well-known and widely respected. As your study grows you may want to invest in commentaries on specific books of the Bible or sections of the Bible. Also, many Study Bibles contain commentary at the bottom of the pages. A commentary explains the meaning and background of the verses in the Bible.

6. A Bible Dictionary. This is a dictionary that focuses specifically on biblical and theological terms that may be unfamiliar. My personal favorite is the Zondervan Expository Dictionary of Bible Words by Larry Richards. I have found this to be both comprehensive and easy to understand.

7. A Bible Encyclopedia or Handbook. I personally have found an encyclopedia more helpful than a handbook, however both can help you to understand the cultural context and history of biblical events.

8. Bible Study Books. Many good Bible study books have been written in a topical, systematic theology, or book study format. These books are useful in guiding you through a particular study, usually asking you to read a portion of Scripture, providing an explanation of or thoughts on the passage, and questions to help you think more deeply about it. Fisherman Bible Study Guides provide a plethora of choices for both topical and book studies. The Navigators also have many excellent Bible study guides available.

What have you found to be challenging about studying the Bible?
What resources have you found that have helped you?

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