Basic Bible Study Tools: Maps and Atlas

January 18, 2019

The narratives of the Bible deal with real people, places, and events in history. Maps and atlases help us better understand the places of Bible events. With a map, I find the stories come alive in a way that wouldn’t happen without the map. When we read accounts of journeys, seeing a map of the journey and distances involved aids our understanding. This happens when you look at a map of the Exodus and Wilderness wanderings in the Old Testament or the Missionary Journeys of Paul in the New Testament. When reading the description of the tribal allotments in Joshua, it helps to see those tribal allotments on a map. It makes the descriptions become more meaningful, which otherwise might be a bit dry and meaningless to read. We read of military campaigns and political pressures on Israel. Maps help us visualize the situation. Some atlases may even give detailed maps of important battles. Seeing the various empires surrounding Israel and how those changed over time, helps us understand this history better. It is hard to understand the Babylonian Captivity, if you don’t know where Babylon is?

Many Bibles will contain a few maps at the back. Looking at those may help you understand the kinds of things you will find in an atlas but with greater detail and description. You typically find a topographical map which shows elevations and climate. Often your read of people going up to Jerusalem. If you use a map, you will find sometimes they are coming from north of Jerusalem. I typical say when I’m going south that I’m going down. But when you see the topography of the land, you realize they are talking from the standpoint of elevation. They are going up in the sense that they are at a lower elevation, and they are climbing to a higher elevation in Jerusalem. Climate information helps us recognize deserts and wilderness areas as opposed to places with more water or fertile plains and valleys.

Maps are also given for various historical periods. Typically, you will find a map for the Patriarch period, The Exodus and Wilderness Wanderings, a map of the tribes, the United Kingdom, the Divided Kingdom, the Assyrian Period, the Babylonian and Persian Periods, the Roman Empire, Israel during the Ministry of Jesus, and Paul’s Missionary Journeys. An atlas may also give you maps of the Hellenistic and Maccabean periods between the testaments as well. You may also find a map of Jerusalem, and in atlases maps of other cities of interest.

Using a map correctly means going to the right historical period in which you are studying. It’s helpful to notice the distance scale on a map. Remember there may be multiple cities with the same name. Be aware that some sites are questionable as to location because the memory of them has been lost in history, and a map may give you several alternatives.

My favorite Bible map at the moment is a mobile app called Bible Map from http://www.ploughboy.org. It gives the ESV text on the left with locations underscored as hyperlinks. Clicking on the location puts a pin on a Google map on the right. You can change the view of the Google map between standard, hybrid, and satellite. Clicking on the information button at the site pin will take you to a detailed description with photos. The app is free, but unfortunately, it is only available in Apple’s iOS operating system. I would still recommend using other maps and atlases, but this app provides quick answers when reading.

Maps and atlases are a basic Bible study tool which will enhance your study and knowledge of the Bible.


Basic Bible Study Tools: Nave’s Topical Bible

January 11, 2019

The best-known topical Bible is Nave’s Topical Bible. It is the work of Orville J. Nave, who was a chaplain in the U.S. Army. The original copyright dates for the work are 1896 and 1897. He states his purpose in the preface, “The object of this book is to bring together in encyclopedic form and under familiar headings all that the Bible contains on particular subjects.”1 A concordance is an index of Bible words. A topical Bible is an index of Bible topics. The topic word doesn’t necessarily have to occur in the verse listed as long as the idea is there. The original Nave’s has 5,324 topics with more than 20,000 subtopics and 100,000 scripture references. There are 31,202 verses in the ESV which illustrates the fact that a verse may be listed multiple times in a topical Bible. He also has cross references to similar and antithetical topics. Nave originally keyed his topical Bible to the KJV and later added examples from the Revised Version, which was the British predecessor to the ASV.

Like all the other Bible study tools we’ve examined, a topical Bible is a human effort. The user must make certain that the verse cited for a topic actually supports the topic, which means understanding the verse in context. In fact, a topic and verse may not even agree with Nave’s personal views. He warns, “Passages variously interpreted by different religious schools or accepted authorities are cited under the subjects they are claimed to support, without reference to the personal views of the author.”2

What can Nave’s Topical Bible do for you? Under Jesus the Christ, the reader will find many helpful subtopics. He lists the events in the life of Jesus much in the order that you would find in a gospel harmony with references. He provides a list of attributes of Jesus. He gives a list of all the miracles of Jesus, all the parables of Jesus, and all the prayers of Jesus. Titles and names of Jesus are listed among other things. Under circumcision, you find a basic history of that topic, but also helpful is a list of the figurative uses of circumcision in scripture. Under God, you will find a list of the attributes of God. Under Jericho, you find a history of the city with verse references. Nave’s can help you find something quickly or jump start your study of a Bible topic. For some things, it may be quicker than a concordance.

Students will also find The New Nave’s Topical Bible by various publishers. Zondervan’s has been edited by John R. Kohlenberger keying the work to the NIV and adding additional topics. Logos Bible Software has one edited by James Swanson which also has additional topics. Both based on Nave’s original work but with revision. Electronic versions of Nave’s tend not to give verses in full but only verse references, because the references are actually links which makes viewing the verse in full easy to do. (OliveTree’s original Nave’s is only $4.99.) Nave’s is also available online at: https://www.biblestudytools.com/concordances/naves-topical-bible/. Nave’s Topical Bible is a good basic, Bible study tool.

1Orville J. Nave, Nave’s Topical Bible, 1896, 1897, p. 3

2Ibid., p. 4


Of Specks and Logs

January 4, 2019

My last blog post was “Finding Time for Bible Reading.” This article also appeared in a church bulletin in print and emailed as a PDF. I corrected my mistake for the blog, but I made an embarrassing mistake in the printed editions.

I used a chart from Crossway which gave the times it took to read the Bible at various intervals from one week to two years. I noticed a math error in the one month column. But the problem was complicated because for the bulletin because I created a chart so that it could be easily read. In transcribing the chart into my own table, I made a transcription error in the 1 month column. Instead of reading 1 hr. 53 min. a day, my mistake read 2 hr. 53 mins. Now I had a math error of 1 hr. 1 min. instead of just 1 min in the original. I probably would not have drawn attention to a 1 minute error, but a one hour mistake was something I noted. Unfortunately, I thought Crossway had made the big mistake, where actually I was the culprit. My apologies to Crossway. Their excellent article is here.

I was reminded of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3, ESV) I spotted what was a small math error by someone else, but it took me longer to spot the much larger transcription error created by me. Jesus’ caution is for all of us even ministers and writers.

I did email a correction to the email list. But the problem with something printed and in a PDF is that it may appear in someone else’s church bulletin with the mistake. That bothers me, but it is a lesson about words. Once we’ve said them or written them, they are outside our control.

I make mistakes, but one of the lessons I’ve learned in life is to be honest and admit them. May we be on the lookout for the beams in our eyes. May we never be too proud to admit a mistake and to eat a slice of humble pie.


Finding Time for Bible Reading

December 28, 2018

One of the transformative habits in my life has been regular Bible reading. I use the term regular as opposed to daily, because I miss days on occasion, and I suspect that everyone does. We have days when we are crushed with activities and days when we are exhausted. But even with missed days, I’ve been able to complete my reading goals.

For someone who has not yet established a habit of regular Bible reading, the Bible itself is intimidating. A Bible printed with a standard font will run about 1200 pages. 1200 PAGES! But we must remember that our printed Bible is actually a library of books. If I were to hand you one of the gospels printed by itself, it would be pamphlet to small paperback in size. It wouldn’t be intimidating at all. 24 books can be read in 15 minus or less. 8 books will take about 30 minutes. 9 books will take an hour or less. 14 books will take 2 hours or less. 6 books will take 2 ½ hours. 3 books will take 3 ½ hours. Jeremiah will take about 4 hours, and Psalms will take about 4 ½ hours. Here’s a chart that gives you an idea of how long it takes to read the Bible.

Bible Reading Times

Source of chart is https://www.crossway.org/articles/infographic-you-can-read-more-of-the-bible-than-you-think/. The article contains other interesting charts.

You can make an important life change with 6-12 minutes a day. I would encourage you to start small. Set a goal of reading the New Testament for example. Challenge yourself to become regular in your reading.

Seventy-seven percent of the U.S has a smart phone. Great Bible apps exist. I would encourage YouVersion because of its audio collection, and it’s free. I would also suggest OliveTree which has a free starter version but is better for study and has resources at a reasonable price. The beauty of the smart phone is that you can use wait time for reading your Bible. You can always have a Bible with you. Listening to audio also helps many people. They may listen to the Bible on their commute. You can’t beat the free audio in YouVersion. Audio mp3 files and disks are available too, but free streaming is the cheapest way to go.

Finding time is a matter of setting Bible reading as a priority and commit to a time in your day that works best for you.


Good Gifts

December 21, 2018

Giving gifts doesn’t necessarily come naturally. We give because we have first received. Gift giving means that we have learned to overcome selfish desires and greed. Gift giving means that we have learned to love, honor, and appreciate others. Good gift giving comes from being considerate of other people’s needs, wants, and desires. In gift giving we learn the joy of service — it is more blessed to give than to receive. I suspect that just as we love because God first love us, we give because God has richly given to us.

James describes God as the perfect giver of gifts.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (James 1:17, ESV)

What good gifts have you received?

God is our creator, and he has created a world that is very good, even though it has been cursed because of sin. It is a world that is full of beauty and wonder. It is a world that teems with life. I have enjoyed sunrises and sunsets that were magnificently beautiful. I have felt the awe of storms. I have felt the peace of blue skies and sunshine under the green canopy of trees. I have tasted the bounty of the earth, and I have gazed into the night sky with wonder. I have received good gifts.

God has revealed himself in the Bible. I have received the gift of wisdom that begins with reverence for God and humbly listens to his word. In the Bible I find a message that fills a void in my life. It is as if it is a missing puzzle piece that fills that hole and makes the puzzle complete. Now the world, and life, and values, and meaning make sense. I have received a good gift.

God has given his Son. The Word who knew the glories of heaven became flesh and dwelt among. He became human to save us from our sin. He learned suffering. He was tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin. He died in our place, so that we might have forgiveness of sin and eternal life. I have received a good gift — a priceless and precious gift.

Love and gratitude should be the responses to good gifts. May we experience joy because with grateful hearts we recognize the gifts we have received. May we also learn to be like our heavenly Father and grow as givers of good gifts.


Basic Bible Study Tools: Cross References

December 14, 2018

A study Bible is likely a reference Bible, but a reference Bible is not necessarily a study Bible. The reference part of the name refers to cross references which are footnotes to other passages which are provided to be of help in understanding the passage you are reading. The basic idea behind them is the old adage: the Bible is its own best interpreter. The footnotes are usually indicated by superscript letters and are found either in the center column or a side column of the page. Better mobile software like OliveTree will also have cross references which bring up pop-up windows. A reference Bible will have these cross references but lack the commentary of a study Bible. Most study Bible have cross references too. Cross references are also independent of translator notes which provide alternate translations or alternate manuscript readings.

Several things need to be kept in mind as a user of cross references. Cross references are not inspired. They will reflect the doctrinal orientation of the compiler, and so they must be tested just like any commentary on the text. Jack P. Lewis gives an example of this problem. One set of cross references link antichrist/antichrists of 1 John 2:18, 22, 4:3, and 2 John 1:7 with the man of lawlessness in 2 Thessalonians 2:3. The linking of these two things belongs to premillennialism/dispensationalism.1 For the reader trying to understand either one of these passages, the linking of them by cross reference will likely bring confusion not clarity.

The other problem that Lewis notes is when cross references to English words are not actually corresponding occurrences of the same Greek or Hebrew words, and as he says, “… merely lead the reader along the arbitrary choices of English words made by translators.”2 The point is that like commentary, the user of cross references must be cautious and test things against scripture itself. We must always check the context of the cross reference to make certain that it is actually talking about the same thing as the passage we started with. Also, beware that a cross reference may refer to only a part of a verse and not to the whole verse. Finally, if all we are doing is going from one cross reference to another, we may be failing to study the text at hand. We may end up with a string of passages which we don’t understand in context. Cross references may at times be helpful, but they are not always needed.

How can cross references be helpful?

  • They may provide the Old Testament scripture reference that is being quoted or alluded to in the New Testament. The New Testament author often intends us to read more of the context.
  • The may provide parallel passages to a narrative. In Matthew 14:13 which begins the feeding of the 5000, the ESV gives a cross reference of Mark 6:32-44, Luke 9:10-17, and John 6:1-13. These are the parallel passages of the feeding of the 5000 in the other gospels. A similar situation occurs with 1 and 2 Kings having many parallels to 1 and 2 Chronicles.
  • They may provide additional passages for a theme. The NASB on Deuteronomy 4:2 which deals with adding to and subtracting from God’s commands provides the following cross references: Deut 12:32; Prov 30:6; Rev 22:18.

There are different systems of cross references. These will vary from translation to translation and from publisher to publisher. This warns us that not all cross-referencing systems will be the same. Used wisely, they provide a basic tool for Bible study.

1Jack P. Lewis, “Are Cross References Reliable?” Questions You Have Asked About Bible Translations, pp. 182. Dr. Lewis’s book chapter came from a Gospel Advocate article. It is well worth reading, and can be found online at http://lakeside-church-of-christ.org/articles/guest/guest.php?id=cross-ref [accessed 12/14/2018].

2Ibid, pp. 183-184.


Basic Bible Study Tools: Study Bible

December 7, 2018

What is a study Bible? It is a Bible printed with commentary. The goal is for the commentary to be brief enough, so the study Bible is still manageable in size to carry (although some study Bibles get to be pretty hefty). The format of commentary printed on the same page as the Bible text is designed to be helpful to the reader. It is there to provide quick answers. The creation of study Bibles has exploded in recent years. I count 22 study Bibles in my personal library, most of which are electronic. On a bookseller’s site I counted about 35 different study Bibles, and I suspect the real number is larger.

Study bibles have commentary for different purposes. Some provide basic commentary on the text. Others focus on helping the reader apply the text to daily life. Study bibles have been written to provide the reader with archaeological information, cultural background information, and even doctrinal background. Study bibles may treat themes like stewardship and justice.

Remember on this page layout you have the inspired text of scripture and uninspired comments. The text of scripture should test the comments. As a teacher, it is frustrating to ask a question about the text and receive the answer, “My study bible says.” Focus on scripture and use the helps of the study bible wisely. The helps of a study Bible (or any commentary) may provide the following.

  1. It provides context for a book: date, authorship, original audience, and overview of the book.
  2. It provides historical and cultural background information.
  3. It provides information on the context of the passage by reminding the reader of context within the book, the particular author, or the Bible in general.
  4. It may treat a difficult passage by explaining how different authors have understood this passage and giving the evidence for you to think through the issue on your own.
  5. It provides helpful information on the original language or aspects of grammar in the original language that impacts the interpretation of the passage.
  6. It provides helpful genre information, e.g., the nature of Hebrew poetry, characteristics of proverbs, characteristics of parables, etc.
  7. It may help you see literary patterns or structure in the passage or book.
  8. It may provide useful maps and charts.

Used wisely, the study Bible can be a useful part of the Bible student’s toolkit.