How To Study The Bible – Part 2 “Tools Of The Trade”

As the Christian begins studying the Bible, they might take notice of certain tools that are available to them. Examples are websites such as those listed underneath the links section of this blog. Others have been mentioned in the previous post, such as the Concordance and E-sword. All of these things have a tendency to enrich one’s study of God’s word.

While the Christian is beginning to get acquainted with these resources, temptation can come upon them. One might think, “how could there possibly be any temptation connected with a tool to help with Bible study?” The answer is that some of these tools actually come with dangers and pitfalls. There are ways in which a Concordance for instance may be misused, through for example a misreading of the Greek and Hebrew dictionaries which a Concordance comes equipped with. The tool allows for problems in both directions, but should not be tossed in the garbage solely on this grounds alone.

Before addressing the Concordance however, it is important to call the Christian’s attention to something known as Bible Commentaries. A Bible Commentary is book or set of books where a man, usually a theologian or pastor, has written about a series of texts or large sections of the Bible. The purpose of Bible Commentaries are literally what the name implies, to give an exhaustive commentary on the Scriptures, unraveling or explaining the meaning of verses. In a general sense the books are filled with the interpretations of the individuals who have written the books, which may or may not necessarily be correct.

The danger inherent in Bible Commentaries is found in the fact that they are an uninspired source of information. Using a Bible Commentary is almost the exact same thing as asking the person sitting in the pew next to you to interpret the text for you, or going to your pastor for all of the answers. One might even go so far as to equate the usage of Bible Commentaries with asking the theologians of your particular denomination about a verse. To clarify, these conversations are not necessarily inherently wrong to have in and of themselves. The problem is when you as a Christian become reliant on asking these individuals or consulting a Bible Commentary rather than studying the text for yourself.

In order to understand the potential problems that this might cause, let us for a moment take a trip back through time. Imagine for a moment that you are a young Jew, living in Palestine during the time of Christ. Jesus has just come to you to reveal himself as the Messiah. Let us imagine for a moment that he has even shown you Scriptures, proving exactly who he is, and shown you a miracle or two. Excited but still somewhat skeptical, you then go to the Pharisees and ask them about these experiences. The very first thing they tell you is that he is some kind of a false prophet, probably demon possessed [as the Jews actually did accuse him of this at one time, see John 8:52], and that everything he says is wrong. Now let us imagine that you come to the conclusion that they are probably right, since they are the leaders and theologians in the Church.

The problem with this picture is that this actually was Jesus Christ, the Messiah. You wound up missing the boat and rejecting Christ because you listened to the so-called ‘theologians’, instead of checking things out for yourself. Christians do this with their pastors more often than not, and the same has been done with Bible Commentaries. It is plausible that the Scriptures could introduce you to some concept which draws you closer to the Lord and has revealed his will to you, yet as you check a Bible Commentary on the verse you all of the sudden find that the person who wrote the commentary has given a completely different meaning to the text, or they have passed it by as dark or obscure.

Worse yet, you might find the individual’s interpretation to be completely erroneous. The fact that Bible Commentaries are uninspired documents creates a situation in which you are likely to adopt the opinions of whoever wrote the books, their theological errors, and whatever dogmas and creeds which they hold to. Therefore blindly accepting whatever materials are found in these books is not the very best policy for Bible Study.

There are several Bible passages which are applicable to this situation that warn against similar behavior. All of them may be seen below. They should be considered in the light of this situation. This is especially since many Christians have a tendency to be wholly reliant either on their Pastor or a Bible Commentary for the true interpretation of Scripture. Christians should remember that you do not have to be a Pastor or Theologian to interpret a passage of Scripture, and that the Bible is it’s own expositor. We are not a part of the Church in the Middle Ages, in which only the clergy could interpret the Bible and therefore the Bibles were kept from the people. You do not need an education from a seminary to figure out the meaning of a Bible text, neither should you rely on some one who has one.

“It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man. It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in princes.” – Psalm 118:8-9

“Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help. His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.” – Psalm 146:3-4

“Thus saith the LORD; Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the LORD.” – Jeremiah 17:5

“The simple believeth every word: but the prudent man looketh well to his going.” – Proverbs 14:15

The first of these passages states that it is better to trust in God than in men. The next states directly that we should not put our trust in men, specifically princes are listed. There is also a curse pronounced on those who trust in men and “maketh flesh” their arm, followed by a warning to not believe every single word of a person blindly but to check it out for yourself. Yet complete reliance on a Bible Commentary would cause a Christian to be walking contrary to all of these Bible passages, and is akin to putting one hundred percent trust in your Pastor.

In view of all of these texts, consulting a Bible Commentary should not be our first move when studying a passage of Scripture. Again this would be akin to asking some one in the pews next to you to unravel the meaning for you, rather than studying it for yourself. In which case your beliefs are then based off of whatever their opinions or conclusions are and not the Bible. In view of this fact, it is important to mention that there are great Bible expositors of the past who have discarded Bible Commentaries entirely and began searching the Scriptures with nothing but their Bible and a Concordance. This is an excellent course of action for those who are just getting acquainted with their Bibles.

Somewhat related to Bible Commentaries are Bible Dictionaries. There are very good Bible Dictionaries for the Christian to use, one being the King James Dictionary. You can find this on Blue letter bible. This particular resource is invaluable for understanding the old/archaic english used all over the King James Version of the Bible. If you study from the King James, you might find this to be an awesome resource which could enhance your study of the Scriptures. The main issue however with most Bible Dictionaries is that they contain the theology of whatever Church or Theologian published them to the public, whether it is true or false. Therefore I would give them a similar treatment as Bible Commentaries, ensuring that you do not wholly rely on them when coming to a conclusion or studying a concept.

At this point in our journey, we now turn our attention back to the Concordance. This tool comes equipped with Greek and Hebrew dictionaries. This is because the Bible was originally written in these two languages, the old testament having been written in Hebrew and the New Testament in Greek. These dictionaries are an excellent tool, allowing the Bible student to study a word used in a passage in the original language in which it was written. I have personally found that it comes in handy when you run into an old english word which you do not understand, or terms are used that are not clear on the surface.

Below are two passages of Scripture. The first verse uses the term “oblation.” This is an old english word, the surface meaning of which is not clear, as not many use this term today. With a word like this in the King James Version of the Bible you have two options, either you can look it up in a King James Dictionary or you can consult the original meaning of the word using the Hebrew Dictionary attached to your concordance. In the case of this word, both might give you an equally clearer meaning of the statement used. The other passage uses words like “Raca” and “Thou Fool”, which are very strange words on the surface. In addition to the verses, I have produced the meaning of some of these words from the Concordance.

“And if thou bring an oblation of a meat offering baken in the oven, it shall be unleavened cakes of fine flour mingled with oil, or unleavened wafers anointed with oil.” – Leviticus 2:4

H7133

קֻרְבָּן קָרְבָּן

qorbân qûrbân

kor-bawn’, koor-bawn’

From H7126; something brought near the altar, that is, a sacrificial present: – oblation, that is offered, offering.

“But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.” – Matthew 5:22

G4469

ῥακά

rhaka

rhak-ah’

Of Chaldee origin (compare [H7386]); O empty one, that is, thou worthless (as a term of utter vilification): – Raca.

G3474

μωρός

mōros

mo-ros’

Probably form the base of G3466; dull or stupid (as if shut up), that is, heedless, (morally) blockhead, (apparently) absurd: – fool (-ish, X -ishness).

I have learned by experience that the result is formatted first with the definition of the word, and then the various ways in which it is translated across the Bible. In this case the word “oblation” means “something brought near the alter, that is, a sacrificial present.” The word “offering” comes to mind as one reads the texts. This is one way the word is actually translated, and is a thought that seems to fit given the definition. The word “offering”, although not the same Hebrew word, is even used in the verse. You could even theoretically use Leviticus 2:4 as it stands to define the word “Oblation” as an offering, given the wording of the passage.

Some old english words such as “wherefore”, “ought”, or “unto” do not necessarily have helpful Hebrew or Greek definitions attached to them, and if you struggle with these words I personally recommend either using a King James Dictionary such as the one previously mentioned, or looking them up on the internet [I have done this in some cases and found the definition for old english words like “Unto”].

I will now draw your attention to the words “Raca” and “Thou Fool” found in Matthew 5:22. Note that one is defined as a term of utter vilification, and the other is defined as “dull or stupid, as if shut up, that is, heedless (morally) blockhead, (apparently) absurd.” Both of the definitions given make these terms sound like insults or general hurtful remarks thrust at a person. This gave me the impression that this passage is addressing the statements you might throw at some one in moments of anger, especially since the passages that follow speak of making reconciliation with your brethren in the Church. In this case, this is an example of how a Greek dictionary attached to a Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible can enhance some of your studies of God’s word.

These tools can help you unravel confusing words, such as “Raca” and “Thou Fool”. It can even enhance your understanding of what the passage is saying to a certain extent. However one needs to use these tools with caution. There is a right way and wrong way to use these dictionaries. The video below produces an outstanding example of one way in which a Christian can fall into error using this tool if they are not careful. Even following closely beside this problem is the way the definition is set up. As previously noted, you are given the definition of a word and then the way it is translated. Sometimes multiple definitions for one word are given. The Bible Student should always check the context of a passage when they are confronted with this situation to avoid inserting the wrong meaning of a word. Remember that as lay people, most of us are not Greek and Hebrew scholars, neither do we need to be to understand God’s Word.

Another point to take into consideration is that you should avoid consulting the Greek and Hebrew dictionaries first to find the answers as to what the overall meaning of a text is. You should always seek to compare Scripture with Scripture before consulting this tool. In spite of these potential draw backs, I do not advocate discarding this resource, but instead using it very carefully and prayerfully.

Next I want to draw your attention to resources such as E-Sword. Much of the features of E-Sword were dwelt upon in the previous post. We already know that it is complete with a powerful Bible search engine that allows you to control the complete range of the search, whether it is just focused on one book or several books of the Bible. E-sword also comes with features such as a verse analyzer, which examines words in any given verse. It can be set to have a range from one passage in the beginning of a book all the way to the end of a book, and it essentially tells you how many times certain words are used across a book of the Bible or in just a few verses.

According to the program’s built-in user guide, this can help you determine the importance of a word. The tool itself seems handy, and is worth calling your attention to, even though I have not personally used it much in my experience of studying with E-sword. E-sword is also equipped with a split-screen function, allowing you to study at least two verses at once from different books of the Bible. This is very handy for when you have a Bible which has a lot of chain references and you want to look something up without leaving your present position in the Bible.

There is also a Gospel harmony tool, which takes all of the Gospels and shows all of the accounts of the same event. This is something I see coming in handy if one wants to study the varying descriptions of last day events normally found in Matthew 24 across different Gospels. An even cooler feature is it’s built in concordance. Obviously the function of a physical Concordance in finding verses is virtually replaced by the Bible search engine. However E-sword comes with the Greek & Hebrew words built right in. All one has to do is click a button to see Strong’s numbers, which then allow you get the definitions if you hover your mouse over them or click them. You can also download a KJC or “King James Concordance”, which just like a regular Concordance gives you a list of every verse that uses a particular word across the Bible in the same fashion as does a physical Concordance.

The draw back with E-Sword is some of the resources available for download. It seems a lot of Bible programs are made with a philosophy of study which involves an emphasis on consulting Bible Commentaries, something already dwelt upon at length in this article. There are Bible Commentaries and Dictionaries available for download with E-Sword that I would use with caution for the same reasons already dwelt upon, in addition to resources I would not put entire reliance upon if not avoid entirely, such as the Apocrypha [which is uninspired] or the writings of the early Church Fathers. At some future time, a post will be given surrounding some of these writers from the early centuries of Christianity. For the time being it will suffice to say “use and read with extreme caution”, as some of them advocate the worship of the stars, have been known to mix Christianity with Greek Philosophy, and had some weird pagan ideas creeping into their doctrinal thinking.

Some might think this impossible considering these were the early Christians, but remember warnings from Paul concerning this matter, and the fact that even today heresies creep into the Church. In the book of Acts we find the following statements. “For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.” – Acts 20:29-31. In view of this fact, it is important to read with caution.

In conclusion, it is my hope that all of these tools will be helpful in your study of God’s word. I hope also that you find the following videos helpful as you begin to study the Bible.

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