January 27, 2014

Deeper Still: Tools, Not the Rules

Remember how I briefly mentioned that this series sorta has three phases to it? Welcome to phase-ish two. 

Before sharing about some different Bible study tools though, we need talk about the Bible we're using. If you walk into a Christian bookstore to buy a Bible, you'll notice very quickly that there are dozens and dozens of different versions--or better put, translations. Scripture was originally written in either Hebrew, Greek, or Aramaic. Three languages that I'm guessing most of us don't speak or read. So over time the scriptures were translated into different languages, thus resulting in all the different translations sitting on the shop shelf. During the translating process, some men decided to go phrase-by-phrase in their translating, others did it word-by-word, and so on.  

Picture inside your head a spectrum: On one side we have the translations that go word-by-word, and at the other end we have paraphrase translations (meaning they capture the feel of scripture in its original form). We could then take all the translations and put them on the spectrum: Some would lean heavier to one side than the other, and some would be smack-dab in the middle. Here's a visual to give you the gist: English Bible Translations Comparisons.

When it comes down to studying the Bible (i.e. we're looking up words, cross references, digging into the history/culture, etc.) we can afford to be a bit more academically nit-picky and use a translation more on the word-by-word side of the spectrum. It'll actually make our job easier in some ways, because I cannot speak for you, but there's just not spare enough time for me to learn three new languages. Therefore, we need to have a rather solid translation to work as our home base... something that will get us as close as we can get to the original and still be in English. I personally like the ESV; it's a good match for me, but you may prefer a different one... so go with it. I just would venture from the paraphrase side of things. Don't get me wrong, I really like The Message for some uses, but not for the more in-depth studying. We need both broad, devotional-like reading of scripture and the in-depth/analytical. It's not an either-or thing, it's both, but for this series we're focusing in on the latter. When it comes to this type of studying we read with devotion, not devotionally. 

Secondly, after picking the translation, get a copy of it as a study Bible. Most study Bibles come with some really helpful tools in them such as mini commentaries, reference materials, background information for each book, maps, concordances, cross references, and more. 

Now let's move on to some tools to help us in our personal study. Emphasis on the word tools. They're not rules. You don't need or have to have these things to gain from study. But below are a couple of tools that I've found to be personally helpful in aiding or guiding my study, and may be worth looking into for you too.

Reading Plans: Plans are great if a person needs some direction. Some like to do the whole reading the Bible in a year challenge, but I find it hard to believe that that's a good approach with studying. Personally, I like to take it one book at a time. Pitch a tent, settle down with a bag of marshmallows, and be cool with camping out there in the text for a while. It gives you more time to sit in front of the toasty fire and stare at awe of the mountains. If you're new to the Bible don't start in Leviticus... you'll thank me later. I wouldn't recommend just opening to a random spot either, because the next thing you know you're reading about how much Job's life sucked or when Elijah prayed for God to kill some punk young men who made fun of him for being bald, and God delivered on that request by sending a bear to mull them. (Yes, that is in the Bible, and I happen to really like that story.)  

Other Bible Translations: Because we may gain more understanding by reading how it's translated in other versions at times. Don't have room for 20 different Bible on your shelf? Me either, here are some places to look online for free...

Other Books: Because some authors have written some great stuff on how to go about studying scripture yourself without having to rely on a pastor to spoon-feed us everything you spiritually eat. By far my favorite is Living By the Book, mainly because the authors, seminary professors, set up the book as if the reader were sitting in their classroom. Highly practical and applicable with specific reading strategies and techniques. Some others...

On the Web: There are some great websites out there with apps and other tools to use...
  • Bible Hub lets you compare verses in different translations and paraphrases, has a couple of basic commentaries, some word studies, and lets' you see the words in Hebrew and Greek if you like. Bible Gateway does much of the same. 
  • P-R-E-C-P-T A-U-S-T-I-N. Hebrew/Greek word studies, links to dozens of commentaries, Bible dictionaries, and tons more. I seriously love this site, and it's a gold mine once I figured out how to use it.
  • YouVersion. Take the Bible with you anywhere, take notes electronically, but also interact with others who are reading the same passage. So you could get a few friends together to read a plan with you, and share with them via iPad, laptop, etc.
  • She Reads Truth. I've had several friends use their plans, and then blog/tweet what they're learning, and they've loved it

If you have any other helpful tools, let me know in the comments to share!


  1. Hi Natalie! Wow, this is great stuff. I never really thought about the study vs. interpretation type bibles. I think you're right though. Having a bible that is more literal would be better for study.

    Wonderful books to look at too for preparation and study. I have not heard of most of them, so I am so happy to see them here! Have you used any of them yourself? I wonder which ones were of most help to you.

    Bless you for your dedication to the Word!

    1. I actually have used/owned all the books mentioned here Ceil. I think the best one though is "Living By the Book".

  2. Wow, this is awesome. I've actually never heard of most of these resources, and excited to check them out. I do enjoy using whole commentaries in deeper Bible study, too. They are difficult to read cover-to-cover; but for difficult passages, they're very helpful to reference as needed. Like translations, those should also be chosen with discretion. :)

    1. Spurgeon's Commentary is probably my favorite =)

  3. I'm not certain Craig has that, which is surprising and unfortunate! I will have to remedy this. :)

    1. It's up for free through the Precept Austin site

  4. Thank you! Thank you! I loved your line, "We read with devotion, not devotionally." Truth, sister.

  5. My church is actually taking the time to go through the old testament just now which is SHOCKING since we focus so much on the new. Both are important - without the old, there wouldn't be a new, and since we've been sitting in this particular Sunday school class, the teacher has talked about how important he feels it is not just to read the Bible, but also to listen. Because of that, my family plans on trying to find the best way to download the Bible onto whatever device is easiest for each of us.

    Thanks for all this advice and link resources. :)

  6. Natalie, this is awesome. I love the idea of "tools, not rules", because we are all wired differently and God has a special and unique way of teach each of us His word. Thank you for extensively sharing resources for your blog followers to dig deeper in the Word. I have loved She Reads Truth and agree that is a great resource. I also totally agree with "pitching a tent" on a certain book to study.


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