Why use study aids?
While we have been carefully studying Scripture during these few days together, we’ve emphasized how important it is to look directly at the primary source material—the Bible itself. Yet it is also a wise student who knows how and when to use tools or aids to enhance personal Bible study.
After your own diligent study, it can be helpful to consult a commentator’s ideas on the same passage. You may have found exciting things in your study, but you probably didn’t see everything. Another’s diligent study can add to your own understanding. Also, it’s possible that your interpretation may have missed the central idea of the passage. Consulting scholars helps you check your own conclusions against others.
Study tools are also helpful in giving you a clearer picture of the culture, social customs, historical events, geography, government and religions of the world at the time the Bible was written. Centuries have passed since Moses and David and Luke wrote their words. Many things have changed in between which can make it difficult for us to correctly interpret passages we study. We have tools available to help us understand these things.
Thus, study aids have many uses. The more Bible study you do, the more you will know when to use them and how to use them properly.
What aids are available? How do I choose the one I need?
|Dictionaries||When you are unsure of the meaning of a word or phrase, consult a dictionary.|
|English dictionary||Use it if you want to know how the word is defined and used today. (Ex righteous)|
|Bible dictionary||Use it if you want to know how the writer defined and used the word when he wrote. You’ll discover cultural context as well (Ex Gentile, repent, righteous)An excellent one-volume Bible dictionary: The New Bible Dictionary|
|Bible handbooks||When you want to understand the background of a passage or geography or customs, this tool is handy. For example, you can learn about the units of measure used in Palestine or why Jericho is said to be “down” from Jerusalem and not “up.” (Eerdman’s Handbook to the Bible)|
|Concordances||Use this tool when you want o know where else in Scripture the same word is used. Some concordances, like Cruden’s, are small and list the main occurrences of a word. Exhaustive concordances, like Young’s or Strong’s, list every occurrence of every word. These two correspond to the King James Version. Also available are concordances for other versions. Whenever you do a topic or theme study, a concordance is a must to help you locate all the references you’ll need to study as you develop your understanding of the topic.|
|Atlases or Maps||Often overlooked, these are useful tools for any Bible study you do. If you’ve ever studied the book of Acts, you know how easy it is to get lost on Paul’s travels. Having a map at your fingertips would help you avoid the place/name confusion.|
|Commentaries||These give helpful background for your study. A commentary gives the author’s interpretation of the text of Scripture as well as useful information on the author, date, place of writing, and reason for writing. An outline of the book is given, followed by section-by-section or verse-by-verse commentary.If, during the course of your study, you find a difficult passage to interpret referring to a reliable commentary can help you unlock the meaning. Avoid turning too quickly to a commentary. Learn to wrestle with a passage first before trying to find an easy answer. An excellent series of commentaries: lVP’s Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries and Eerdman’s Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. One volume: New Bible Commentary, IVP.|
|Bible translations/paraphrases||Often just referring to a different translation or reading a paraphrased version of the Bible can clear up a tough passage.|
|Bible study guides||As you grow in using your skills of inductive study, it is good to use study guides which delve into the passage through questions using inductive principles. Because guides are written by people who have experience in Bible study, you will be learning more about how to approach Scripture and how to dig deep under the surface of a passage. These can also serve as a good check and balance to your own study if you refer to them after you’ve worked through a particular passage.|
|Books on how to study||Books like How to Understand Your Bible by Sterrett, Knowing Scripture by Sproul, Enjoy Your Bible by Jensen or How to Study the Bible by Job will help you advance your study skills and move ahead in new areas of study.|