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Sidewalk Theology: Questions I Get Asked a Lot #4

Originally posted on Tuesday, September 14, 2021. Click here to view original.


Q: Could you recommend some resources to help me study the Bible?


Most bizarre interpretations and weirdo Bible talk comes from sloppy reading habits, so getting beyond a comfort food reading of the Bible is a great thing. According to the New Testament, serious study of scripture invites an approval from God that superficial reading does not.


A Bible That Fits


The best answer to the 'which translation is best' question is, the one that you will actually use. The King James Version is a fine translation if you remember words can change meaning in four centuries and if you have no problem with Shakespeare or the metaphysical poetry of John Donne. The New American Standard is my preferred choice for serious study, but the New International and English Standard versions are also good. Pick one that has a decent margin so you can jot notes. I prefer a single column format because it better presents the poetic passages (and there are tons of them in the Hebrew scriptures/Old Testament - more than the Psalms). Avoid paraphrases like the Living Bible, the Passion Translation or the Message. They can be helpful, especially in a devotional sense, but aren't true translations and can limit careful study. Also, avoid doctrinally driven versions or annotated study Bibles. You can add those later and there are some that are worthwhile, but they have the added purpose of reinforcing a specific point of view.


Topical Bible


Everyone wants to start with commentaries. There are good ones, better ones and poor ones but beginning study there may narrowly inform your understanding rather than broaden it. As you wade into the any text - secular or sacred - you want an expansive vision of the landscape and settling too early on one scholar's conclusions could short circuit your own investigation. If you're paying for the dinner, you want to chew it yourself - for several good reasons.


Start with a good topical Bible. They aren't exhaustive, but do arrange a ton of passages by general topics - pride, death, miracles, prayer, money, etc. and in most cases the entire passage is presented. At a glance you can take in most of the main verses dealing with a wide variety of Bible topics, allowing you to quickly compare scripture with scripture. You can then look at each passage in your Bible in its larger context, getting closer to the original meaning and any current application.


A good one is Nave's Topical Bible. Get a recent edition with an index.


Concordance


This tool contains most words in the English Bible - including, as Dr. Suess says, "little words like if and it." and lists where you can find them. It becomes a valuable go-to tool for doing word studies and comparing how the word was used in different settings by different biblical authors and how frequently.


Young's Concordance and Strong's Concordance are both very good. The numbering system in Strong's is used by other reference works you may want to get later, making it a little better investment.


YouVersion


This free app is a must have. Dozens of translations will be available for quick comparison. Owning them all would be a sizeable investment and take a up a lot of shelf space. Having them at your fingertips on phone or computer means you can access them faster than you could turn pages at your desk or workspace if they were physically open in front of you.


Bible Dictionary


This is good for place names or unfamiliar characters and customs you'll run into in the text. Harper-Collins, Zondervan, Nelson and Holman all have good ones. Make sure it's a recent edition.


Okay, Okay! Commentaries


There are different kinds of commentaries: Textual, historical, homiletic, critical, devotional and some of them require a knowledge of ancient languages or technical jargon making them almost unusable to most of us. Some writers assume the Bible is inspired and some don't. Some are friendly to the text and some hostile. You can dump a load of money without much return on investment so, be guided by your own research and go slow in locating a tool that will actually help you and answer your particular questions. Over time you will find voices you can trust. Maybe in a later post or on our Thursday night Ask Me Anything live stream I'll recommend a few.


Lucky You


A lot of these resources are available online at sites like Crosswalk.com, BibleHub, Bible Gateway and others.


So . . .


That will get you started in the right direction. Get serious and you'll probably sacrifice some sleep because the quiet of late night is the best time to wander through the incomparable Hebrew scriptures and New Testament writings, connecting dots and making discoveries. You'll see why holding up this inexhaustible library for a closer look made the hearts of some early Jesus followers burn within them.

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