Friday, February 1, 2013

The Mechanics of Studying the Bible

I list here the various techniques that you can use to study the bible. I learned it by watching my beloved Pastor over the years. These are important. I remember the early years when my Pastor shared about the meaning of the names, the tenses. And no one could really tell me how that could be found. I remember going to Christian bookstore and looking at the big volumes of concordances and how expensive and bulky they are. But now they can be access freely online. I share the resources below as well.
Note these are the mechanics of it. Not the methodology. As an analogy, if you want to take good pictures, what is listed here are the various cameras you can use and where the buttons are. But different people will have different style and workflow of taking a good picture like control your breathing, going out at different times, different equipment setup etc.That is the methodology and I will leave it to your own style of work.
The mechanics of studying the bible:
1) Read the bible, asking the holy spirit to guide you. This is the chief choice.
2) Read different bible versions and compare them.Some bible version uses formal equivalence, a more word by word form of translation or literal translation. Such bibles are great for us to obtain the original flavor of the text. Examples are King James Bible, New American Standard Bible, Young’s Literal Translation, World English Bible. At the other spectrum you have bibles translated using dynamic equivalence. They translate by meaning. They are easier to read but as the meaning is interpreted, some may question their accuracy. Nevertheless, reading them can be pretty illuminating at times. Examples are The Living Translation, The Message Bible. Then there are the in-betweens. They are a combination of both methods. They are easy to read while still trying to keep to the original text as much as possible. Examples are New International Version, Holman Christian Standard Bible, New English Translation. By comparing between different versions, we get a better clue of the meaning of the verse.
3) Read commentaries (like Henry Matthew, Adam Clarke, Charles Spurgeon, Wesley Explanatory notes etc). I seldom do. Again, you will have your own style.
4) Check cross references like the Treasury of Scripture Knowledge (TSK) to find related verses. My Pastor likes to find a verse in the old and support it with a verse from the new. Vice versa.  He is beyond using TSK though. Using cross references has the idea of letting the bible interpret the bible. Pretty powerful in my view. For example, Jesus said this in Matt 4:10, quoting Deu 6:13. We put the verses side by side below.

- Matt 4:10 Then Jesus said to him, "Get behind me, Satan! For it is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God, and you shall serve him only.'" (WEB)

- Deut 6:13 You shall fear Yahweh your God; and you shall serve him, and shall swear by his name. (WEB)

If you compare the two verses you will realize that Jesus quoted "fear" as "worship". Thus, the fear of the Lord is the worship of the Lord. Pretty awesome isn't it?
5) Word (Lexicon) study. Each word in the bible in its original language has been tagged by a number and categorized in a concordance. There are 3 main concordances. Strong’s, Young’s and Thayer’s. NASB and KJV, being literal translations (word for word, or formal equivalence), has the bible’s english words tagged with strong’s numbers. Say Romans 3:25
“Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;”

If you check the concordance, the word “propitiation” has strong’s number 2435
Strong’s concordance:
hilastérion: propitiatory
Original Word: ἱλαστήριον, ου, τό
Part of Speech: Noun, Neuter
Transliteration: hilastérion
Phonetic Spelling: (hil-as-tay’-ree-on)
Short Definition: a sin offering, covering
Definition: (a) a sin offering, by which the wrath of the deity shall be appeased; a means of propitiation, (b) the covering of the ark, which was sprinkled with the atoning blood on the Day of Atonement.
It will also tell you that the word appears 3 times in 3 verses in the bible – also in Rom 3:25 and 1 John 4:10.
By checking the concordance, each word in the bible can traced to how many times that word in the original language appear in the bible and what verses did it occur and what English word was used in the translation for each verse that word appears. From there you can really see what the translators were thinking and have a better insight as to the meaning of that word used in that verse for that particular context.
6) Check grammar. Some concordance may include the grammar. If not you need to obtain it from the interlinear. Interlinears are version of the bible where the english words and the orignal language is written alongside each other. See http://interlinearbible.org/1_john/2-2.htm. The grammar is shown in the last line and if you mouse over you can see the case and tenses. Grammar is important especially the greek grammar as it tells you a lot about what is being spoken. Like which noun is the verb referring to. And if it is past, continuous or future tense, etc.
7) Read the internlinear. Why? You will find that in KJV and NASB where each word has a strong’s number the English word sometimes does not give you the real meaning. This is a limitation of trying to fit the original language to be one to one with an english translation. Translation can never be full literal. When you read the interlinear, make sure the english part is not based on KJV or NASB but is a true word for word of the original language. You can go here http://www.scripture4all.org/ or http://interlinearbible.org. Once it is full literal, the sentences can be very very hard to read. But it is also hard to just check the lexicon and go word by word and trying to link them together. You may sometimes want to see how the words are link up in the original and that’s why you may want to read the interlinear. Note that for OT interlinear the words are in Hebrew and since Hebrew reads from right to left (as opposed to English's left to right), some OT interlinear also needs to be read from right to left. 
8) Refer to the Septuagint (also known as the LXX). It is the greek version of the OT. Together with the Hebrew OT, it forms a like a greek to hebrew and hebrew to greek dictionary. If there is a word in the NT you want to figure out, you can check if that word appears in the septuagint and if it does, you can have the hebrew corresponding word to check on its meaning. If there is a hebrew word in the OT you are not sure of, you can refer to its corresponding Greek word in the LXX and from there get a better insight. I am not too good with this as I am not well versed in greek. You can find it here http://apostolic.interlinearbible.org/. Interestingly the greek OT is not word for word with the hebrew OT. There could be some differences in some verses.

9) Parallel and Interwoven Gospels. There are 4 gospels and many stories are mentioned in more than one gospel. So the challenge is to find the same story in the different gospels. Parallel and Interwoven Gospels take the guess work out. The Parallel Gospels (http://parallelgospels.org/) lists the bible stories, putting the same story in the different gospels alongside one another. The Interwoven Gospels (http://interwovengospels.com/) puts 4 gospels into 1, so you can read one gospel and won't miss anything. 

I prefer the Parallel Gospels over the Interwoven Gospels as the latter has too much human meddling and I am not sure if they have weaved the gospels well into one. I checked and I am not sure at all.

Why do we need to read the same story covered by different gospels? Isn't reading the account in one gospel good enough? The answer is no. This is because each gospel brings about a different viewpoint and added together, we can obtain a more complete picture. An example is when Jesus first met the Peter at the Sea of Galilee. The Parallel Gospels listed this as "Finding Four Fishers of Men" - and it contains Matthew 4:18-22, Mark 1:16-20 and Luke 5:1-11. Now Luke gives a more detailed account. But if you read Matthew and Mark you will learn two new things at least. Firstly, Jesus has been watching Peter and Andrew casting their nets that morning when they were still fishing in the dark. Thus, right from the start the Lord knew they were unsuccessful that morning and the Lord chose them. Using their boat isn't a coincidence. Secondly, we see that though James and John were amazed at the catch, Jesus need to call them to service after the boat docked and they were mending their nets (not washing, signifying the miracle of the large catch has taken place). We then know James and John did not follow Jesus after the miracle, but went back to their trade and had to be called.

Interesting, isn't it? :). I hope all these listed mechanics help you find the Word of God. And the Lord bless you richly and cause His Word to come to pass in your lives.

Shalom.
Resources: 
Good iphone bible app with concordances you have the Holy Bible by Paul Avery and The Touch Bible. Concordances you can find at www.blueletterbible.org. Exhaustive resources (everything you can think of and more) is found at www.biblos.com. A very cool bible study environment based on the NET is provided here net.bible.org.
Ok. That’s what I know. If you have more you can add on for yourself. May you find God’s words well. It is life to you and health to all your flesh (Prov 4:22). Be blessed.

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