When you start to read the Bible you will soon realise that this is no ordinary book. Its claim to be the inspired Word of God becomes self-evident as you turn its pages. This being the case you will want to dig below the surface to get a better understanding of what God is communicating to those who take the trouble to listen to Him. The words of Solomon are relevant here:
It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings.Proverbs 25:2 NIV
The study of the Bible is uniquely rewarding and worthwhile. As with the study of any topic, you can approach this at various levels and this section will provide a guide on various tools available to us today.
When selecting your Bible ensure that it has a good system of cross references and if possible additional study notes too.
There are various systems used for cross references, but in principle you will find a small prefix letter alongside a word. In the margin (or in the footnotes) this letter will be repeated with a further reference or references which can be looked up where the subject is also mentioned or clarified. For example, this may be a parallel record in the Gospels, where the same event is recorded by another writer. Alternatively, it may be another reference to the subject e.g. the promise to David, as shown in the example on the next page.
Read the notes about the cross reference system for your Bible; they will normally be at the front of your Bible and will enable you to gain the best advantage from that particular system.
Sometimes there will be a long list of references and if followed you will effectively construct a ‘chain of passages’ all relating to the same theme or idea. This is why this system is often referred to as ‘chain references’. If you are really serious about a topic then you should make notes as you proceed so that you can bring some order to your study and make a summary of the points covered at the end. If you are confident with your results you may wish to make notes in your Bible and some Bibles have a wide margin or blank pages to allow for this. If you decide to mark your Bible or highlight key passages, choose a suitable pen or pencil that does not penetrate to the other side of the paper.
Some sections of the Bible contain details of the same incident by a different writer. Details may vary slightly between these passages but this does not imply an error in the record because all Scripture is inspired (2 Timothy 3:16). Some Bibles have these passages marked at the top of a section. Often comparing these passages will improve our understanding of the biblical record.
Luke chapter 6 verses 46-49, for example, is a parable Jesus used teaching us the wisdom of using a firm foundation for the things we do in life. Luke tells us that one man built on a rock and the other built without a foundation. Now if you turn to the parallel passage in Matthew chapter 7 verses 24-29, clearly we have the same parable but Matthew tells us that the foolish man built his house on the sand. Comparison of the records clarifies this part of the teaching of Jesus, which demonstrates that building on sand is not a very sensible thing to do!
There are many other examples like this in the gospels and also in the books of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles where one record is complemented by the other. When selecting a Bible, look for one with these parallel records noted at the beginning of each section; this will be of great help in your Bible study.
A concordance is an invaluable tool for Bible study. It contains a list of all the words in alphabetical sequence and under each word you will find a list of all the places where the word can be found. A concordance has to be related to a particular version of the Bible, as translators will have used different words for the original Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek text.
An example of an entry in a concordance is shown on the next page and this is from a concordance published by Dr. Robert Young in 1879. You will see that often the word has an introduction or definition and there may be a short summary too.
The really useful concordances will have the original Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek alongside each word and this can open up a new dimension in Bible study. There are a variety of concordances available today these are the ones in common use:
Cruden – Not exhaustive, but a useful starting point (based on the KJV)
Young – Exhaustive in that every word in the KJV is covered
Strong – This is unique in that Strong assigns a number to each word in the KJV (also available with the NIV) This has been used to great effect in the construction of computer-based concordances
Whichever concordance you use, read the introductory notes so that you can understand how it is structured and therefore use it to the best advantage in your study. The concordance is similar to a dictionary and is very useful for looking up a passage where you can remember a few significant words, for example: 'I am the light of the world'. You may want to find this passage in your Bible but are not sure where to look. It is a well known phrase of Jesus so it has to be in one of the Gospels, but which of the four and where? Clearly it could take a long time to find this by just turning the pages of your Bible, but if you look up ‘light’ or ‘world’ you will find a list and quickly see that the reference you want is John chapter 8 verse 12.
You will also see other references where the same word occurs – in our example it also occurs in John chapter 9 verse 5. The key here is to pick a significant word, not the common words ‘I’, ‘am’, ‘the’, or ‘of’.
In addition to finding passages, a concordance becomes an even more powerful tool when looking at the words used in the original text. You do not have to be a Hebrew or Greek scholar to appreciate this aspect! To illustrate this, look at the example where, after his resurrection, Jesus is with the disciples and questions Peter’s love for him. This should be read in the light of Peter’s repeated denial of Jesus at his trial (see for example Matthew 26. 69-75).
So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs. He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep. He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep. John 21:15-17 KJV
If we look up the word ‘love’ in Young’s Concordance we will find that the Greek words used by Jesus and Peter in John’s record are different:
|John ch. 21||Jesus||Peter|
The Greeks used different words for 'love' and they each had different shades of meaning:
In J.B. Phillips translation this detail comes out quite clearly, where Phillips uses two different words in this passage:
When they had finished breakfast Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these others?” “Yes, Lord,” he replied, “you know that I am your friend.” “Then feed my lambs,” returned Jesus. Then he said for the second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord”, returned Peter. “You know that I am your friend.” “Then care for my sheep,” replied Jesus. Then for the third time, Jesus spoke to him and said, “Simon, son of John, are you my friend?” Peter was deeply hurt because Jesus’ third question to him was “are you my friend?”, and he said, “Lord, You know everything. You know that I am your friend!” “Then feed my sheep,” Jesus said to him.John 21:15-17 (J B Phillips)
This illustrates very clearly how you can look at a passage to find the original word in Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek. You can also see where else the word is used and what English words have been selected in the translation.
You will find that not all translations are consistent and you can start to decide for yourself if there is a better English word to help in the understanding of a passage. By comparing different translations or versions, you will often see these possible variations which will help in your understanding of the Scriptures.
Some concordances contain lexicons which can be useful as they are dictionaries and indexes to parallel passages. They show all the meanings of the original Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic words and the number of times each occurs in the Bible. Read the notes relating to your concordance as this will explain the structure of the lexicon and how best to use it.
Many people who have access to a computer appreciate how powerful a tool this can be, particularly in carrying out functions such as searches. There are a number of programs available which can be installed on your computer enabling you to look up passages quickly or search for a particular word. Many of these are linked to Strong’s numbering system and this makes them very useful.
Strong allocates a unique number to every Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek word in the original text of the KJV/NIV. Regardless of how this word was translated, with a computer you can search using that unique number. A list of all passages using the same original word will then appear.
If the program can display the Strong’s numbers for any passage being viewed, this is very useful. You can then access the meaning of the original word according to Strong’s Concordance. Additionally in this type of program you can base your search on a phrase; this is an advantage over a paper concordance which is limited to looking for one word at a time.
Many such programs will also give you access to other Bible versions and so by a simple ‘click’ you can see how a passage is translated in an alternative version. Some programs have Bibles in other languages, which can also be useful. As with most computer programs you will also be able to copy and paste passages into another word processing programs such as MS Word.
When looking up passages, the serious student will always consider the context. It is easy to take a verse or part of a verse and quote it in support of a particular belief. This is not what Bible study is about! By looking at the passage in which the verse appears you will get a balanced view of what is written.
The whole purpose of this booklet is to help you find out what the Bible actually teaches. Always approach your study with an open mind and be prepared to have your ideas challenged by what you find. The Bereans of New Testament times are an example in this respect:
Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.Acts 17:11 NIV
For those with access to a computer connected to the Internet there is an almost bewildering array of sites which have information on Bible topics.
The concordance referred to in the last section, can be accessed on some sites (see for example www.biblegateway.com). By typing in any topic to your preferred search engine (eg Google) you will be inundated with information from web sites across the world.
Caution: One of the problems with the Internet is that anyone can provide information and this may not always be reliable. There are some very serious doctrinal errors in circulation and so treat all information with caution and ensure that it is in harmony with what the Bible teaches.
This of course applies to anything produced by men and women; it is only the original text of the Bible itself that stands up to the claim of infallibility. However, there are some good sites with information, maps and photographs that will enhance your Bible study, if you are able to use this tool.
Today there are many thousands of books available to Bible students. In addition to the Concordance which is a must for the serious Bible student, there are Bible Dictionaries, Bible Encyclopedias, Bible Atlases and Bible Commentaries. A useful introduction to the different books of the Bible is ‘Books of the Bible’ by J. H. Broughton (available from The Dawn Book Supply).
The Bible is a unique book and as you delve deeper into it you will be fascinated by what you find. However, you must bear in mind that God has preserved His Word so that we may find out about Him and His Son. Bible study should not just be to increase our knowledge of the Bible but to influence us as individuals so that we grow to love God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who was sent as the Saviour of the world.
Select a good Study Bible which you are comfortable with. Arm yourself with some of the useful tools mentioned in this booklet and then set about your study in a systematic way. Choose a suitable time for your study, when you are in the best frame of mind and able to concentrate. Some people are at their best early in the morning when they are fresh. Others prefer to work in the evening. Before you commence, offer a short prayer to ask God to guide you in your study. It is His Word and undoubtedly He will be pleased with those who take the time and trouble to study it. As He says:
…to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.Isaiah 66:2 KJV
Make notes as you go and do not expect to get the answers to all your questions immediately. Get into the habit of noting down your questions and in time many will be answered. Some Bible students have been studying God’s Word all their lives and find they can still learn more! This shows what a unique book the Bible is.
The Dawn Christadelphians publish a magazine 'LIGHT on a new world' and are willing to send this anywhere in the world (free of charge). It has articles of exposition and general interest which will help you to understand aspects of God’s Word. The Christadelphians are always pleased to help people who have a genuine interest in God and His Word. Many ecclesias (Greek for churches) throughout the world give regular talks and hold Bible study sessions or seminars. These are aimed at helping you to read the Bible effectively for yourself, so why not contact them? The publishers would be pleased to provide details of your nearest contact.
Finally, we hope this article will help you in your study of God’s Word. May He bless you and give you a deeper understanding of the Divine plan centred in His son, the Lord Jesus Christ who, in a prayer to his Father said:
…this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.John 17:3 NIV
There are various versions of the Scriptures published by many different organisations. The following lists some of these versions and the common abbreviations in use:
|King James (Authorised) Version||KJV|
|Revised Standard Version||RSV|
|New King James Version||NKJV|
|New English Bible||NEB|
|New International Version||NIV|
|English Standard Version||ESV|