Peace if possible. Truth at all costs. ~ Martin Luther

The First Language Tool You Should Get For Bible Study

bible studyI’m sometimes asked by members of our congregation, “Pastor, I’d like to go deeper in my study of the Bible, can you recommend some tools to dig into the original languages?”

I love to hear questions like that, because it means these folks have a healthy appetite and desire for God’s Word. It’s a great indicator that the Holy Spirit is at work in their life, and their Christian walk is strong.

But, while I appreciate all the resources that are available, and I myself own lots Bible study tools, the advice I usually give to others getting started might surprise you.

I have a small New Testament Greek language tool on my desk that alone cost me about $40 twenty years ago.  I’d hate to think what it might cost today. Multiply that amount many times over for all the other volumes and sets of word lexicons I have on my shelves.

In addition to that, I’ve invested considerable time at Bible College, and in the years since, studying Greek (primarily) and Hebrew (somewhat) to be able to understand and use those language tools fruitfully. I’m not a language scholar by any stretch of the imagination, but I can handle the tools competently.

It’s true that looking up the meaning of words and structure of sentences in the original language can open up new insights in Bible study, but if you’re not careful it can also lead you up the garden path!

You know the old saying:

“A little knowledge is a dangerous thing!”

The problem with language studies if you’re not a trained language scholar is that very often you can become bamboozled by the “possible” etymology and shades of meaning of different words and phrases.

For instance, you look up a New Testament word in a Greek dictionary and it might say that Plato used it in a certain way to mean a certain thing. But guess what. Plato didn’t write for the Bible. He wasn’t an Apostle … he wasn’t even a Christian!  Let me give you an example. It’s far less important to know what Plato meant when he used the Greek word “logos” compared with the real issue at hand: what did the apostle John mean when he used the word “logos” in a distinctively Christian way when he was writing his gospel?

One of the most helpful exercises you can do to find out what John meant when he used the word “logos” in John chapter 1 is to look up every other time he used the word in his writings.  That way you can build up a picture of what the word meant to him. This exercise can be accomplished with a simple Strong’s Concordance (one of the most underrated “bread and butter” tools for students of the Bible).

Even before a good concordance, however, there’s a simple and absolutely essential tool you should get for Bible study (in fact, the chances are you already have one).  THE first language tool you should get for Bible study. I’m amazed that I have so rarely heard this advice given to aspiring Bible students:

Get Yourself a Good English Dictionary!

It was one of my old Bible College lecturers who first said this to me, and it has been such invaluable advice over the years. One of the best language study tools you can use with your Bible is a regular English dictionary.

You see, we have a number of translations of the Bible available to us that are very good, and the translators are expert language scholars who have spent untold hours poring over the best English words to give the sense of the original.  So find out the meaning of that English word that they chose to use during their work of translation and it can give you great understanding.

Combine that with careful reading and thinking, and you’ll be able to do a lot more serious Bible Study than you ever imagined possible.

A WORD ABOUT TRANSLATIONS:

You may have a favorite translation (most of us do), but getting into arguments about one being exclusively superior is a dead end street.

Just think about 2 simple facts:

  1. The early Christians. They didn’t have any of our translations.
  2. Foreign mission fields. When the Bible has to be translated into a brand new language for a people group who haven’t had the Bible before, it’s not your favorite translation that they receive.

The fact is that God has used many, many different translations down through the centuries and all over the world to bring people to salvation and grow them in their faith.

Some good reliable English study translations include:

•    King James Version
•    New King James Version
•    English Standard Version
•    New American Standard Bible
•    Revised Standard Version
•    New International Version.

None of these are “paraphrases”, so they are good for serious study.

Just keep that English Dictionary handy!