Today’s Bible Study will be completely different. For one, it will truly be a BIBLE study because we will take our time and examine the book that we use from some completely different angles. Secondly, we will attempt to discover some new tools that may be embedded into your Bible. This information will be handy to you as you use your Bible daily and definitely will be useful to you when you shop for a new Bible.
The purpose of this is to ensure that you have a solid understanding of the primary tool that you have for understanding God and His plan in your life. Hopefully, you will discover new ways to make the experience of Bible study more meaningful from now on.
It is imperative to understand the basic concept that a Bible on the shelf does not achieve anything other than to collect dust. The Bible needs to be exercised regularly to accomplish anything. By exercised, I mean that it must be read regularly, its words contemplated, and the issues presented must be prayerfully considered. The Bible is a book that prepares the man and woman of faith. The key here is the word “faith.” This book can be read outside of the context of faith but it is mostly ineffective there. Quoting the words of Scripture secularly totally misses the character and nature of God who gave those words. Simply stating, “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13) is a good thing, but coupled with the loving nature of God, these words reflect His desire for man to live safely within His Will.
The authority of the Bible comes from several sources. Since it is God’s Word, it validates itself in several places which we will examine in this section. In addition, there is abundant circumstantial evidence of the effects of Scripture within the lives of people throughout the millennia. The Bible proves itself to be more than just another self-help book.
Accepting God at face value, and trusting the validity of His revelation to mankind leads us to examine what the Bible states about itself. The pivotal passage of the authority of Scripture is found in 1 Timothy 3:16,17. Also one may consult 1 Thessalonians 2:13 and 1 Peter 1:23 wherein the Biblical record is referred to as the “Word of God.” The Old Testament writers also indicated God’s divine authorship (e.g. 2 Samuel 23:2 and Jeremiah 1:9).
Over the years, God has revealed Himself to man and the Bible is the result of that revelation. The scope of the Bible is to demonstrate God’s being and nature, and man’s problem of separation from God’s plan by the power of sin. Its primary purpose is to instruct man of the problem and show him/her the tremendous plan of Salvation that God prepared for all mankind. While the Bible does address other issues, IT IS NOT THE END-ALL AND BE-ALL AUTHORITY ON SUBJECTS SUCH AS SCIENCE, MEDICINE, ECONOMICS, ETC. This does not mean that God cannot answer any of these questions, it is that He has not chosen to layer His Word with the details of other disciplines. THIS IS BECAUSE THE PRINCIPAL PROBLEM FACING MAN IS NOT THE DISTANCE FROM THE EARTH TO THE PLANET MARS NOR THE DENSITY OF MERCURY AT 30 DEGREES CELSIUS BUT THE FACT THAT MAN IS LOST AND NEEDS A SAVIOR!
Scripture does provide some interesting insights into other disciplines that tantalizingly proves that God is aware of every aspect of His Creation (e.g. Job 26:8;36:27,28;Ps 102:25,26;Gen 15:5). The focal point of the Bible is the first advent of Jesus Christ and His redeeming work for all mankind on a simple cross. The ultimate message of all Scripture can be boiled down to John 3:16-21. All of the Bible prior to the cross points to Christ’s crucifixion and all of it afterwards points to the salvation that the cross brings to all who accept Christ as Lord and Savior (Ephesians 2:8,9). A part of Scripture also anticipates His return to bring all into subjection to God and to His final judgment.
It is important to understand that the Bible is a very old manuscript. Not only is this true, but the Bible came to existence over the course of 1500 or so years. During that period of time, several things changed in the surrounding world. The most critical of these changes is that of language. When the books of the Law were written, they were developed in early Hebrew text. Most of the books of the Old Testament were written in Hebrew, but parts of Daniel was written in Aramaic, a form of dialect that developed during the Babylonian exile around 600 BC. The New Testament was written in Koine Greek which was the common language of the last centuries BC and first centuries AD (even under Roman rule). Even so, some of these books show a distinctive Hebrew flavor in their writing.
One of the key points to bear in mind that Hebrew text is consonantal, which means that there are no vowels. The addition of vowel sounds to the text was done while it was being read by the experienced priests – in essence, the written words were an extension to a vast oral tradition. Essentially, the original Hebrew text is equivalent to this anglicized example:
N TH BGNNG GD CRTD TH HVNS ND TH RTH NW TH RTH WS FRMLSS ND MPT DRKNSS WS VR TH SRFC F TH DP ND TH SPRT F GD WS HVRNG VR TH WTRS.
The experienced priest who knew the passage could easily supply the correct vocalization (vowel sounds) to the written words. Experience was the key to understanding which vowels were needed. Look at SPRT as an example. Is that “sport” or “spurt” or “spirit” or some now unused word “sparoot?” Such a priest would correctly read the passage as:
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. (Gen 1:1,2 NIV)
The priesthood established by God in Exodus (the time of the first written Scripture) was essential to present God to the people and to interpret His Word. It was later in scriptural tradition that the priestly families placed in charge of preserving and copying the scriptural scrolls decided to add certain vocalization marks (called diacritical marks) to the text. These marks exist outside of the original Hebrew (and Aramaic) text and do not take away from the normal text. Here is an example of part of the passage above without the diacritical vowel marks:
The Masoretes were a scribal family which preserved the Hebrew text for centuries. It is difficult for our generations to understand the difficulty of preserving text which is an issue that is central in Bible study. We are so used to printing presses (not invented until the 1400s AD) and recently electronic methods of text retrieval and preservation, that we do not have a concept of how important documents were preserved and disseminated in the ancient world. The only way to accomplish this monumental task was by hand-copying each and every letter of every word from the original to a copy. Think about taking just the book of Genesis in your Bible and having to hand-copy it for a friend or for another church to use!
This copying process introduced several problems, for an error in the copy from an original could in turn be copied as “gospel” if that copy were to become someone else’s original! It is for this reason, and no other, that discoveries of old troves of Biblical documents is extremely exciting in the world of Biblical research. For example, the Masoretic text that forms the foundation of most of our Old Testament dates from approximately 600 AD. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947 was extremely important for within their contents was a copy of the book of Isaiah. Why? The Qumran community that had stored those documents was wiped out by the Romans in approximately 70 AD. Therefore, the documents that were located in the caves contained a copy of the book of Isaiah as it had existed prior to that time. This allowed scholars to determine if the Masoretic text had errors which had been introduced into the copying process at some point during the 530 years between 70 and 600 AD!
Another very important milestone in the translation of the Old Testament was a translation of the scriptures into Greek. That translation is called the Septuagint (also known as the LXX) and contains a translation of Hebrew Scripture and some additional books which, according to tradition, was achieved by 70 scholars. This translation was done in Alexandria, Egypt sometime between 275-100BC. Its principle reason for existence was the diaspora (literally, “the spreading abroad”) which followed the Babylonian Exile; the scattering of Jews throughout the ancient world. Many of them fell out of using Hebrew or Aramaic as their native tongue. Since Greek was the common language of the day, a decision was made to allow the Hebrew Scriptures to be translated for common daily use.
The Septuagint is crucial to us in two ways: First and foremost, it is a translated snapshot of the Hebrew Scriptures in the centuries preceding the birth of Christ. In this way, scholars can get a good idea (once again) about the accuracy of the Masoretic text that forms the basis of the Old Testament today. Of course, this view is not as clear as that in the Dead Sea Scrolls since a translation is not as exact as the original text. Second, sometimes the New Testament writers quoted OT Scripture directly from the Septuagint (Which makes sense, since they were writing Greek. It prevented them from having to translate Hebrew into Greek to insert into their Greek writings!).
The Greek New Testament also presents crucial issues in the translation of the Bible. It is compiled from a great series of documents of varying content and ages (the oldest piece of an NT document that scholars have dates back to 165 AD) that the whole New Testament is constructed. Scholars debate the validity of the Greek wording based upon the evidence in the collection of documents. In some cases, there are questions of authenticity of small parts of the NT text. Realize that since text was hand-copied for different uses, sometimes the notes of the transcriber have become intermingled with the text. This creates some controversial situations wherein some translations either mark a passage as questionable (e.g. “The following passage is not found in the most authoritative documents…”), omit it directly from the text, or place its translation in an appropriately disclaimed footnote. One such passage is the ending of Mark. The so-called “long ending of Mark” is in Mark 16:9-20. There is also a “short ending of Mark” which ends at 16:8.
This is a legitimate problem for any translator – if the later text is not valid (for example, if it is not found in the documents that are closer to the time of Jesus, the oldest text), then any theology based upon that passage is shaky at best! This has been used for better or for worse by some to criticize newer translations, a fact which I feel is not fair. True Biblical scholars are very serious people who are dedicated to providing the best tools they can for Biblical study and research.
I am convinced that there are people who sincerely believe that the Bible that they hold in their hands fell from Heaven in its final form! Don’t laugh, it is true. It is incredible how many “righteous” arguments have torn through the English-speaking Church on this very issue within our lifetime. There are those who are convinced that the sum revelation of God is encapsulated in the King James Version. Please note that this is not a statement against the KJV, but rather it is a condemnation of the ignorant position that the KJV is the only show in town. The KJV has a tremendous history of salvation, having been used by the Wesleys, Moody and Spurgeon (among others) to convict and to convert!
The Bible that we use is a translation from the original Hebrew (and Aramaic) and Greek Testaments. Unless we are conversant with those languages (and most of us are not), we are all at the mercy of a translation. If we were Spanish-speakers, we would also depend upon a translation such as Reina-Valera or the Version International. It is a simple fact of Christian life that we need translations to read God’s original Word.
Each translation effort has a bias of some sort (e.g. the KJV came to existence to coalesce the English-speaking Anglican Church against Catholic influence) and it has a series of concrete goals. Some examples of such goals may include:
1. Readability – Today’s English Version (1966-1992) (TEV) was executed with a limited vocabulary and with as simple a grammar as possible to ensure that almost anyone who could read some English could understand it. In its foreword, it states that “The Bible in Today’s English Version is a new translation which seeks to state clearly and accurately the meaning of the original texts in words and forms that are widely accepted by all people who use English as a means of communication.”
2. Technical Accuracy – The KJV (1611) is one of the most technically accurate translations ever accomplished. It attempted to maintain the underlying “feel” of the original languages as much as possible. The New King James Version (1997) (NKJV) attempted to keep this tradition alive by using the concept of “complete equivalence.” To quote the preface, “Where new translation has been necessary in the New King James Version, the most complete representation of the original has been rendered by considering the history of usage and etymology of words in their contexts. The principle of complete equivalence seeks to preserve all of the information in the text, while presenting it in good literary form. Dynamic equivalence, a recent procedure in Bible translation, commonly results in paraphrasing where a more literal rendering is needed to reflect a specific and vital sense….Complete equivalence translates fully, in order to provide an English text that is both accurate and readable.”
3. Understandable Accuracy – The New International Version (1973-1984) (NIV) had as its goal an accurate translation of the underlying languages yet its translators desired to be somewhat flexible in maintaining readability. Its preface indicates “From the beginning of the project, the Committee on Bible Translation held to certain goals for the New International Version: that it would be an accurate translation and one that would have clarity and literary quality and so prove suitable for public and private reading, teaching, preaching, memorizing and liturgical use….Concern for clear and natural English – that the New International Version should be idiomatic and not idiosyncratic, contemporary but not dated – motivated the translators and consultants. At the same time, they tried to reflect the differing styles of the biblical writers.”
Translations can also be developed either by committee or individually. For study, a translation developed by a reputable committee is superior to one developed by an individual. This is due to the simple fact that a committee has a higher level of accountability than an individual. Translations accomplished by individuals (e.g. the Phillips New Testament) can also be useful for personal witness and some light study.
Paraphrases (e.g. The Living Bible) attempt to derive the gist of the passage by combining the concepts from multiple translations into one. In general, paraphrases are not suitable for study and are best used for clarification of difficult passages. It must be understood that paraphrases are merely opinions.
Each translation does have some bias (opinion). A committee translation is superior because personal biases of individual translators are minimized by accountability to the entire committee. This is the reason that individual translations are less desirable for intense study.
A student of the Bible should have several committee-translated versions on hand. While it is acceptable to primarily use a specific version, it is extremely helpful to cross-read specific passages in other versions. It is imperative to do this with difficult passages. This process has the net effect of rendering text somewhat three-dimensional, with each version fleshing in a different part or enhancing one’s own understanding of a specific construction.
Read the introductory material for your specific Bible. It describes the biases, goals, and descriptions of tools within that specific Bible. A good study Bible is helpful because it provides a number of tools for the student of God’s Word. As we prepare to study this aspect, let us look at some examples.
Here is a sample of Scripture taken from The NIV Study Bible (Zondervan Bible Publishers, Grand Rapids, Michigan. 1985)
14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convicted of, because you know those from whom you learned it,i 15and how from infancyj you have known the holy Scriptures,k which are able to make you wisel for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
3:14 i 2Ti 1:13
3:15 j 2Ti 1:5 k Jn 5:39 l Dt 4:6; Ps 119:98,99
3:16 m 2Pe 1:20,21 n Ro 4:23,24 o Dt 29:29
3:17 p 1Ti 6:11 q 2Ti 2:21
16 All Scripture is God-breathedm and is useful for teaching,n rebuking, correcting and training in righteousnesso, 17 so that the man of Godp may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.q
3:15 from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures. A Jewish boy formally began to study the OT when he was five years old. Timothy was taught at home by his mother and grandmother even before he reached this age.
3:16 All Scripture. The primary reference is to the OT, since some of the NT books had not even been written at this time. (See 1Ti 5:18; 2Pe 3:15-16 for indications that some NT books – or material ultimately included in the NT – were already considered equal in authority to the OT Scriptures.) God-breathed. Paul affirms God’s active involvement in the writing of Scripture, an involvement so powerful and pervasive that what is written is the infallible and authoritative word of God (see 2Pe 1:20-21 and notes).
Now let us look at an example from a different study Bible using a different translation version. This is excerpted from the MacArthur Study Bible (NKJV) published by Word Bibles, Nashville, Tennessee, 1997.
14 But you must scontinue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, 15 and that from childhood you have known tthe Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
14 s 2 Tim 1:13;Titus 1:9
15 t Ps 119:97-104;John 5:39
16 u [2 Pet 1:20] v Rom 4:23;15:4 3training, discipline
17 w 1 Tim 6:11 x 2 Tim 2:21;Heb 13:21
16 uAll Scripture is given by inspiration of God, vand is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for 3instruction in righteousness, 17 wthat the man of God may be complete, xthoroughly equipped for every good work.
3:14 from whom you have learned. See note on 1:13. To further encourage Timothy to stand firm, Paul reminds him of his godly heritage. The plural form of the pronoun “whom” suggests Timothy was indebted not just to Paul, but to others as well (1:5).
3:15 from childhood. Lit. “from infancy.” Two people whom Timothy was especially indebted to were his mother and his grandmother (see note on 1:5) who faithfully taught him the truths of OT Scripture from his earliest childhood, so that he was ready to receive the gospel when Paul preached it. you have known the Holy Scriptures. Lit. “the sacred writings.” A common designation of the OT by Greek-speaking Jews. wise for salvation. The OT Scriptures pointed to Christ (John 5:37-39) and revealed the need for faith in God’s promises (Gen 15:6;cf. Rom 4:1-3). This, they were able to lead people to acknowledge their sin and need for justification in Christ (Gal 3:24). Salvation is brought by the Holy Spirit using the Word. See notes on Rom 10:14-17;Eph 5:26; 1 Pet 1:23-25. faith which is in Christ Jesus. Though not understanding all the details involved (cf. 1 Pet 1:10-12), OT believers including Abraham (John 8:56) and Moses (Heb 11:26) looked forward to the coming of the Messiah (Is 7:14;9:6) and His atonement for sin (Is 53:5,6). So did Timothy, who responded when he heard the gospel.
3:16 All Scripture. Grammatically similar Gr. constructions (Rom 7:12;2 Cor 10:10; 1 Tim 1:15;2:3;4:4) argue persuasively that the translation of “all Scripture is given by inspiration…” is accurate. Both OT and NT Scripture are included (see notes on 2 Pet 3:15,16, which identify NT writings as Scripture). given by inspiration of God. Lit. “breathed out by God.” Or “God-breathed.” Sometimes God told the Bible writers the exact words to say (e.g. Jer 1:9), but more often He used their minds, vocabularies, and experienced to produce His own perfect infallible, inerrant Word (see notes on 1 Thess 2:13;Heb 1:1;2 Pet 1:20,21). It is important to note that inspiration applies only to the original autographs of Scripture, not the Bible writers; there are no inspired Scripture writers, only inspired Scripture. So identified is God with His Word that when Scripture speaks, God speaks (cf. Rom 9:17;Gal 3:8). Scripture is called “the oracles of God” (Rom 3:2;1 Pet 4:11), and cannot be altered (John 10:35;Matt 5:17,18;Luke 16:17;Rev 22:18,19). doctrine. The divine instruction or doctrinal content of both the OT and the NT (cf. 2:15;Acts 20:18,20,21,27;1 Cor 2:14-16;Col 3:16;1 John 2:20,24,27). The Scripture provides the comprehensive and complete body of divine truth necessary for life and godliness. Cf. Ps 119:97-105. reproof. Rebuke for wrong behavior or wrong belief. The Scripture exposes sin (Heb 4:12,13) that can then be dealt with through confession and repentance. correction. The restoration of something to its proper condition. The word appears only here in the NT, but was used in extrabiblical Gr. of righting a fallen object, or helping back to their feet those who had stumbled. Scripture not only rebukes wrong behavior, but also points the way back to godly living. Cf. Ps 119:9-11;John 15:1,2. instruction in righteousness. Scripture provides positive training (“instruction: originally referred to training a child) in godly behavior, not merely rebuke and correction of wrong behavior (Acts 20:32; 1 Tim 4:6; 1 Pet 2:1,2).
3:17 man of God. A technical term for an official preacher of divine truth. See note on 1 Tim 6:11. complete. Capable of doing everything one is called to do (cf. Col 2:10). thoroughly equipped. Enabled to meet all the demands of godly ministry and righteous living. The Word not only accomplishes this in the life of the man of God but in all who follow him (Eph 4:11-13).
Both of these examples illustrate some of the best parts of study Bibles. The center-column contains cross-references that may be of interest to better understand a concept or word. Notice that generally the word or conceptual block is marked with a letter or number which reflects in the center-column.
Of lesser importance, but useful anyway, are the notes at the bottom of the page referring to the text. It is important to realize that THESE ARE OF LESS VALUE THAN THE SCRIPTURAL TEXT OR THE PROMPTING OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. These notes are derived by mere mortals and are not the definitive Word of God. It is easy to fall into the trap of using these as “gospel” when they are not! They can be extremely helpful and may be right on point in most cases, but there are times when a particular bias in the note’s author can mislead someone completely!
Sometimes, a word or phrase may have an alternate rendition that the translators deemed important enough to include. These are generally marked with a letter or number and are reflected either in the center-column or at the bottom of the page. A good example of this is found in the NKJV text of 2 Tim 3:16 above. The word “instruction” is marked and an indication is included that the underlying Greek word has the flavor of “training” or “discipline.”
Another handy tool that is included in many study Bibles is a concordance. This tool permits the user to look up a word and find references where that word is used. Generally, most Bibles do not have an “exhaustive” concordance which lists every instance of the word in the specific translation, however that which they do provide proves to be very useful in practice. Every devoted Bible student should invest in an exhaustive concordance at some point in his or her life.
One’s Bible should become an essential tool in life. It should be well read and studied. Here are some points that I would stress from my own experience.
First, do not be afraid to make notes in your Bible. God wants you to understand His Word and will not object to you making notes of things that speak to you about a passage. These notes may reflect someone’s excellent interpretation of that passage or the Holy Spirit’s prompting you to make some special connection. It is my opinion that you should make such notes neatly in pencil along the margins of your Bible. This way you can make changes later if you need to.
Second, do not be afraid to highlight words, phrases, or passages to make them memorable or readily recognizable. There are special Bible highlighters that will not bleed through the delicate paper of a Bible. I personally recommend the crayon-type which will never bleed through. Some people color-code their references (e.g. Red is grace, yellow is salvation, etc.) . This system works well if you can keep up with your color coding. The system that I use is to use a different color each time I read a passage and recognize something new. This way I can see the tracks of the Holy Spirit’s prompting me at different times.
Third, keep track of crucial dates during your Christian walk in the front of your Bible. Things like baptisms, miraculous events, inspiring moments, and such can be powerful testimonials to you as you struggle with the issues of life. These can be helpful to see the activity of God in your own life.