Choosing a Bible Translation.
Not all bibles are the same. All translations have weaknesses and strengths. No bible is good for every purpose, so we often need more than one translation in our reference library. The strengths of the various translations can be tapped by comparing bible translations. Doing this enhances understanding tremendously. Often if I don’t know what a word means or if a verse is not particularly clear to me, I read it in two or three other translations. That always sheds light and makes things clearer.
In order for you to better understand the differences between different bible translations, let’s look at the process of bible translation. Translators use two different philosophies to translate the bible from the original languages into say, English.
1. Word-for-word translation: This approach translates as much as possible the best possible meaning of each bible word from one language (say Greek) to another (say English). The advantage it has is that it stays as close as possible to the words and sentence form of the original language. The disadvantage is that many people (certainly not everyone) find it hard to read. Examples of word-for-word translations are the KJV, NKJV, ESV, and NASB. I use a word for word translation for bible study and recommend it.
2. Thought-for-Thought: This approach, which is also called dynamic equivalency approach, translates in such a way that a contemporary reader gets the equivalent meaning as the original readers would have gotten. The advantage with this method is that the bibles are easy to read. Example of a pure of thought-for-thought bible translation is the CEV. Other bibles are a balance between thought-for-though- with word-for-word translation. Examples are NIV, TNIV, and NLT. I use a thought-for-thought bible (NIV) for reading and recommend it.
3. Word-for-word with additional amplification of word meanings: An example is the Amplified Bible. One Greek word may have more than one meaning. When translated into English word-for-word, the other shades of meaning are lost. The amplified does a good job of trying to fill in the other shades of meaning. The Amplified Bible is helpful for word studies and comparison with other translations. It is tedious if used for daily reading.
4. Paraphrase: Paraphrases are a thought-for-thought rendering of scriptures, usually by a single author, that use vocabulary and language structures currently in common use and introduce contemporary tones, rhythms and figures of speech , may even vulgar language to produce a rendition of scripture that is both clear and interesting if not captivating to the typical modern reader. Examples are the Message Bible and the Living Bible (the precursor of the NLT).
Bible Study Tools
Until I started seminary school, I didn’t know how many great practical Bible Study Tools there are out there that would help every believer study God’s word better and dig deeper. If you are a believer, you need to invest in these tools. They are expensive but worth their cost. They make Bible Study much easier for you. Was my case an unusual case? Not actually. Many people I’ve talked to didn’t know either and as a result they don’t have strong bible study skills. You see, bible study is a skill that you must learn, and the ability to learn is given to everyone. God’s word is vital and God gives grace to everyone who seeks to study his word to do so. But you must invest yourselves with the diligence that is due God’s word to invest in learning how to study the Word of God. My prayer is that is secret that the devil has been keeping from God’s chosen people will break loose and all of God’s people can learn to use the excellent tools that are available and not only learn the tools but also be able to dig deep into God’s word on a regular basis and feed the thirsty souls.
I encourage you to invest, get the tools I am about to share, start using them and don’t keep the news secret. It behooves you to share it with your friends and family so that they too can know to dig deep into God’s word. All these tools are for ordinary Christians, so use them. Let my years of ignorance save you and others years of ignorance!
Caution 1: These tools, like any new thing, will take you sometime to get used to them. If you purchase all of them at once and within one day or even one week believe that you can put them into enough use to get much out of them to be excited, you may be in for a disappointment. You can’t read through an entire dictionary like a novel or even read through enough entries to tell if that was a good buy in just one week. But over time, say six months of digging into the word and referring to them, you will find that they are indispensable. So don’t be impatient with the tools, get used to them and you would love them
Caution 2: I used to think that I didn’t need any Bible study tools, that all I needed was my bible. I was wrong! It is true that the bible is the plumb line, the gold standard for measuring everything and study tools don’t claim to the place of the bible nor should you allow them to replace your bible. Many godly men have done an amazing and I believe Holy Spirit led job of creating this tools to enable easy study of the bible. Remember that the bible is not an American or European or African or Asian book. It was written by people in the Middle East and from that cultural perspective. You need experts who study the cultural background to explain certain things in the way those who lived viewed them. Without such help, you would easily misinterpret statements by thinking and seeing them from the perspective of your culture. We all do this naturally without even thinking. We are all products of our culture and our culture affects our thinking. We must consciously realize that when we study the bible and view things from their cultural perspective to a good understand.
Caution 3: Serious bible study is hard work and there are not short cuts. The good news is that no investment on earth pays higher dividends than time well spent in profitable bible study. These tools make the job easier for you, but success depends on you, not the tools. You can guarantee that God is also willing to help, so if you don’t succeed, it’s not God either, it’s you.
An Overview of Bible Study Tools
Bible study tools can be classified into two groups: Basic Tools and Advanced Tools
I) Basic Bible Study Tools
Basic Bible study tools can be grouped into four categories.
A) Tools for reading the bible
1. A study Bible (a word for word translation like NASB, NKJV)
2. A Devotional Bible (a thought for thought translation like NIV)
3. Two or three additional modern translations or a parallel Bible.
B) Tools for Survey of the bible.
1. A Bible Handbook
2. A Bible Atlas
C) Tools for Understanding the Bible
1. Bible Dictionary
3. English Dictionary
D) Tools for finding verses and passages in the Bible.
1. An Exhaustive Concordance
2. A Topical Bible.
D) Tools for writing
1. A Notebook or Journal
2. A pencil and a pen.
II) Advanced Bible Study Tools
Advanced Bible study tools can be grouped into the following categories.
A) Tools for reading the bible.
1. Additional Translations of the Bible
2. One or two Paraphrases
3. A Parallel Bible
B) Tools for survey of the bible.
1. Treasury of Scripture Knowledge
C) Tools for Understanding the Bible
1. A Bible Encyclopedia
2. Individual commentaries on the Bible books.
3. Vine’s Expository Dictionary
I recommend the basic bible study tools for all believers who want to study the bible. People who want to dig deeper into the word should also get the advanced bible study tools.
Below, I have described each tool, explained how to use it, and suggested types that you can get.
Detail Description of the Bible Study Tools
1) A STUDY BIBLE
What is it? A study bible is obviously your foundational tool for bible study. It not only gives you the complete scripture text of every book of the Bible from Genesis to revelation but adds other features to help you understand the bible better. It has cross-references, introductory notes on each book of the bible, illustrations, maps, harmony of the gospels, dictionary, and a concordance. Some good ones out there are: The Life Application Study Bible and the NIV Study Bible. The Life Application bible comes in most major bible translations and its interpretive notes have a practical focus whereas the NIV Study bible is more focused on understanding the text, not applying the text to real life. My family uses the Life Application Study Bible.
I recommend that you consider the following before buying your study bible:
Good font size large enough so you can read easily. As a doctor, I can testify that I have had patients come with headaches caused by eyestrain from reading very small fonts. Don’t make the same mistake. Check the font before you buy it. I recently had to take a study bible back because I didn’t check the font before buying it. Save yourself a trip to the book store.
Marginal references or cross-references: These are made to help your bible reading by referencing other portions of scripture that are related to the one you are studying. They often show their references between the columns of texts or on the margins or even rarely at the bottom. These references are gathered from years of bible study by hard working bible scholars and so are treasures for us to use to make our study easier.
Word for word translation for bible study – I use NKJV or NASB.
2) DEVOTIONAL BIBLES: A devotional bible has fewer features than a study bible and is designed for daily reading rather than for bible study. Choose a version that is easily readable to you and make sure the font size is large enough for you to read easily without any eye strain.
3) AN EXHAUSTIVE CONCORDANCE:
Get an Exhaustive Concordance. It is a very helpful tool which lists all the words in the Bible and every time a word is used. It gives you part of the sentence in which they are used in all instances it appears in the bible so that you can quickly survey a word and find the quotation that you desire among many quotations where the word is used. The words are listed alphabetically like in a dictionary but instead of the definition it lists the instances where the word appears. Notice that because different translations use different words, you have to have a concordance for the translation in which your reading study bible is printed.
What is a concordance used for?
The main use of a concordance is to help you find a verse of scripture when all you remember is a word or phrase and cannot locate the verse. E.g. If I all you remembered was “for God so loved” or even just “God”, you would navigate the Exhaustive Concordance like you would a dictionary and go under the word in a word in your phrase or the single word if all you had was one word. If you remember a phrase or a string of words and want to look up a word in the concordance, choose the word that isn’t as common. If you choose a word like “God” or articles and pronouns, then an exhaustive concordance will list all the entries and you will have to go through them all. For our phrase “for God so loved”, I go under love and it will one of the entries will show “for God so loved the world…” which is John 3:16, actually what I wanted.
The Exhaustive Concordance is also extremely useful for doing word studies (i.e. study the use of a particular word in scriptures). E.g. to do a word study on “Prayer” you would go and look up all instances of prayer in an exhaustive concordance. Note that if prayer is presented with a synonym e.g. cry (like cry on to God), or petition God, you would have to know those synonyms to get them. That is where a Topical Bible becomes very helpful. See topical bible heading below.
Suggested Exhaustive Concordances:
The Strongest NIV Exhaustive Concordance, publisher is Zondervan. This is what I use.
Young’s Analytical Concordance to the Bible, Eerdmans
Strongest NASB Exhaustive Concordance also published by Zondervan
Strong’s Complete Word Study Concordance, AMG publishers (I have this one too but use is rarely)
Cruden’s Concordance is another KJV concordance like Strong’s above.
Caution: One English word may be used to translate more than one Hebrew or Greek words. By the same token, one Hebrew or Greek word may be translated into two or more English words. So you shouldn’t lay too much emphasis on the English words. Later, I will explain methods which will help one avoid this problem without learning the original languages themselves.
4) A BIBLE DICTIONARY: Defines, describes or explains bible words, customs, events, people, and places, topics in the historical and cultural context that prevailed at the time of the bible.
Suggested Bible Dictionaries:
Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Holman. I have this one.
New Bible Dictionary, Eerdmans.
5) A BIBLE ENCYCLOPEDIA: is a multivolume Bible dictionary. It covers the same subjects but has longer articles and expanded definitions and explanations. Like the dictionaries, the Bible Encyclopedia don’t define every word in the bible.
Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible
Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible
6) A Topical Bible: Treats a variety of topics addressed throughout the bible. It functions somewhat like an exhaustive concordance or even a dictionary but differs in two important things: 1) It is not exhaustive, you won’t find every topic or every verse that falls under a topic 2) It also lists verses that treat a topic without ever using the key word. E.g. On the topic of “faith”, a topical bible will tell you the verses that have the word faith in them (which the concordance can do as well) but will also tell you the verses that treat the subject of faith without ever using the word faith or maybe using a synonym like believe. So the topical bible complements both the Exhaustive Concordance and the Bible dictionary.
I use the Zondervan NIV Nave’s Topical Bible which is a good one.
7) A Bible Atlas: Gives you maps and diagrams that help you understand the historical and geographical setting of the biblical drama scenes. E.g. Barry Beitzel, Moody Atlas of Bible Lands, Moody.
8) Bible Commentaries: Provides interpretation of scholars either verse-by verse or by groups of verses at a time. Commentaries come in different sizes and types. Some commentaries cover the entire bible in one large book. Others present more in depth commentaries and come in multiple volumes. The Believer’s Bible Commentary is a good single volume commentary. The Bible is the Bible’s best commentary; scripture is the best way to interpret other scripture, so rely on the bible more than any commentary that you use. The Bible is inspired by God, commentaries are not, though they are helpful.
9) A Bible Handbook: Provides a survey of the bible together with background information and commentaries on each bible book. It helps tremendously to enhance bible study. I recommend reading the book in the Handbook before actually studying it in the bible. It is arranged book by book from Genesis to revelation.
Halley’s Bible Handbook is the one I have, which is a good one. Another example is the Zondervan Handbook to the Bible.
11) Vines Expository Dictionary: This dictionary which is popular among pastors really can be used by anyone. It helps make it possible to study the meaning of Greek and Hebrew words without having any knowledge of these languages. It is a good resource.
12) Treasury of Scripture Knowledge: This tool developed by R.A. Torrey is an excellent cross-reference. In addition, it is in public domain and available online for free use. Simply use a search engine to find it or get it in print for low cost
13) Parallel Bible – Provide multiple translations in one single large bible. It is very helpful for comparing translations. Can be a little costly but is worth the price.