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.


Basic Bible Study Tools: Concordance

November 30, 2018

A great deal of Bible study can be done with a few basic tools. One of the basic tools for Bible study is a concordance. A Bible concordance is a list of words occurring in the text of the Bible with the Bible reference given for where this word occurs. A concordance is the name we apply to a printed work with a Bible word list. In a world where many people are accessing the Bible on a phone, tablet, or computer, the search feature in Bible software corresponds to the print concordance.

A concordance or search is based on a particular translation of the Bible or original text. So, you want to choose a printed concordance by the translation you are using for study. Printed concordances are either abridged or exhaustive. Concordances printed with Bibles are always abridged. An editor has selected important words and their occurrences to be helpful. Abridgment allows for a handy size. The printed exhaustive concordance will have most every word except for things like articles, prepositions, conjunctions, and pronouns. A search could give you the answer for any word, although it may not be significant to know how many times the word “and” occurs in the Bible.

In the nineteenth century, James Strong developed Strong’s Numbers for his printed concordance. He gave a number for each Hebrew and Greek word. A Strong’s number occurs beside a verse reference letting the English reader know what Hebrew or Greek word stands behind the English translation. This is accomplished by going to a Hebrew and Chaldee (Aramaic) dictionary and Greek dictionary printed at the back of the concordance and looking at the corresponding number. From this dictionary you learn the usage of the word and how else this particular Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek word is translated into English. Goodrich and Kohlenberger developed an update to the numbering system, but you use G-K numbers the same way as Strong’s numbers. Some Bible software will allow you to access and search on Strong’s numbers or G-K numbers giving the English student a little more access to the original languages.

Besides getting back to the original languages, we use a concordance in a number of helpful ways. Sometimes we are thinking of a passage, but we can’t recall where it is. By remembering some key words in the passage, we can search for them or look them up in a concordance to find the passage’s location. We also use the concordance to do topical and word studies. By looking up every occurrence of a word or topic, we gain a better understanding of this word or topic. We may also see patterns in the text from looking at a concordance or search. The word love occurs the most in the New Testament in 1 John, the Gospel of John, and 1 Corinthians. This pattern suggests those books as fruitful places to study the concept of love. A concordance or software search remains a basic Bible study tool.


Is It a Criticism or a Compliment?

November 24, 2018

A recent class dealt with Paul’s speech to the Areopagus in Acts 17. A private question was asked me: was Paul critical or complimentary of the Athenians in the beginning of the speech? The class had mentioned that Paul was commending them, but the questioner had a KJV in front of him, and it looked like Paul was criticizing them. The KJV and the ESV of Acts 17:22 follow, so that we see the issue: are they superstitious or religious?

Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. (Acts 17:22 KJV)

So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. (Acts 17:22 ESV)

If we bring in other translations, the ASV also has superstitious as well as some earlier English translations, but modern translations since 1901 fall on the side of “very religious” (NKJV, NASB, NET, NIV) or “extremely religious” (NRSV, CSB).

The Greek word in question is δεισιδαίμων (deisidaimōn, G1174). The classical Greek lexicon of Liddell, Scott, and Jones gives the etymology as “fearing the gods” and the definitions as (1) in good sense, pious, religious, (2) in bad sense, superstitious.1 The standard koine Greek lexicon of Baur, Danker, Arndt, and Gingrich notes both of these definitions, but comments on Acts 17:22 “but in the laudatory introduction of Paul’s speech before the Areopagus Ac 17:22 it must mean devout, religious.”2

The NET Bible contains many helpful footnotes with insights about translation issues. In its footnote on “religious” in Acts 17:22, they note: “The term δεισιδαιμονεστέρους (deisidaimonesterous) is difficult. On the one hand it can have the positive sense of ‘devout,’ but on the other hand it can have the negative sense of ‘superstitious’ (BDAG 216 s.v. δεισιδαίμων). As part of a laudatory introduction (the technical rhetorical term for this introduction was capatatio), the term is probably positive here. It may well be a ‘backhanded’ compliment, playing on the ambiguity.”3

Before we leave this question, I want to share J.W. McGarvey’s comments on this verse.

The audience were worshipers of demons, or dead men deified. Nearly all their gods were supposed to have once lived on the earth. They regarded it, therefore, as an excellent trait of character to be scrupulous in all the observances of demon worship. Paul’s first remark was not that they were “too superstitious,” nor that they were “very religious;” though both of these would have been true. But the term he employs, deisedaimonestirous, from deido to fear, and daimon a demon, means demon-fearing, or given to the worship of demons.4

I’ve already mentioned the Greek word, δεισιδαίμων (deisidaimōn, G1174). The word δαίμων (daimōn, G1142) is a part of this word. It does mean demon in its one occurrence in the New Testament in Matthew 8:31, but it was also used in Greek for gods and goddesses of Greek and Roman mythology. This word is related to the word δαιμόνιον (daimonion, G1140) which usually means demon in the New Testament, but in Acts 17:21 is rendered “gods” (KJV, NKJV, NIV), “divinities” (ESV), and “deities” (NASB). Paul would agree that pagans were worshipping demons (see 1 Corinthians 10:20 and Deuteronomy 32:17), but as much as I respect McGarvey, I think he is relying too much on the etymology of the word here rather than usage.

Paul appears to be seeking some common ground at the beginning of his speech in Acts 17 and does so by his quotations from Greek literature. Probability seems to favor understanding this term as a compliment rather than a critique in keeping the rhetorical expectation of a laudatory beginning while keeping in mind the NET footnote’s comment that it has ambiguity and may be a “backhanded” compliment.

1LSJ, p. 375, 2BDAG, p. 216, 3NET, see footnote with Acts 17:22, McGarvey, A Commentary on Acts of the Apostles, Acts 17:31.


Thanksgiving Reflections

November 16, 2018

My Grandmother Holden was born in 1886 and died in 1972. Let me just list a few of the changes that came during her lifetime:

  • 1900 – Kodak introduced the Brownie camera. The US had 10 miles of paved roads and 8000 cars.
  • 1903 – First flight of the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk.
  • 1907 – First electric washing machine.
  • 1908 – The first Model-T by Ford.
  • 1909 – Plastic was invented.
  • 1913 – Henry Ford created the assembly line.
  • 1923 – Talking movies invented.
  • 1928 – Television was invented.
  • 1929 – Car radio was invented.
  • 1930 – Bringing electricity to rural America occurred from the 1930s to the 1950s!
  • 1932 – Air conditioning invented and scientists split the atom for the first time.
  • 1939 – First commercial flight over the Atlantic. The helicopter was invented.
  • 1942 – Although Penicillin was discovered in 1928, it did not become viable as a treatment until 1942.
  • 1945 – The first computer was built. The microwave oven was invented.
  • 1953 – DNA discovered.
  • 1960 – Lasers invented.
  • 1961 – First man in space.
  • 1967 – First heart transplant.
  • 1969 – Neil Armstrong was the first man on the moon.
  • 1972 – Pocket calculators were introduced, and the first ones cost over $100.

Listening to older people, you hear stories of the past. None of us are that far removed from a very different time. They recall a time when people had furnaces that had to be stoked by hand, out-houses, horses and early motor cars with bad roads to name but a few items. An older generation lived through the Great Depression and World War II. They experienced rationing and a time before many modern conveniences we simply take for granted.

My kids had a hard time imagining such a time when listening to older relatives, and the truth was so did I. I like thermostats, in-door plumbing, and autos that start with a key or a button and have a heater and air conditioning. When we count our blessings, the difficulty may be to notice them. We take a great deal for granted. It is only as we begin to imagine a different time or place where those conveniences don’t exist, that we can begin to see the magnitude of what we have.

Having received much, let us be wise enough to give glory to God accepting our blessings with prayer and thanksgiving.


Basic Bible Study Tools: Bible Dictionary

November 9, 2018

A great deal of Bible study can be done with a few basic tools. As with any tool the questions are: what is it and what do I do with it? Let’s begin with every reader’s friend, the dictionary.

Through the years, I have asked people in classes and one-on-one Bible studies, “What does this word mean?” I have consistently received fuzzy to wrong answers, which is why I keep asking the question. When you run across a word that you don’t know, you may discern the general meaning of the passage by context. But you won’t really know what the word means until you look it up in a dictionary. Guessing rarely works well especially when the goal is understanding. I’m constantly looking up words.

A standard English dictionary has its place in Bible study. The Bible may have words that are not yet in your vocabulary, and the regular dictionary comes to the rescue. However, a standard English dictionary does have a limitation. It is defining what words mean now. As we read the Bible, we are wanting to know what the word meant at the time this passage was written. For example, the standard English definition will define baptism as sprinkling water onto a person’s forehead or immersing them in water because that is the way the word is used in the religious world today.

The Bible dictionary helps by dealing with words in their biblical context and dealing with the specialized words and names of the Bible. What are some of the things you can look up in a Bible dictionary?

  • Words that you don’t know or are fuzzy on, e.g., propitiation, grace, justification, sanctification.
  • People. If there is more than one person by the name you have looked up, the dictionary will help distinguish them. It will give a survey of what the Bible says about this person. Some dictionaries give pronunciations.
  • Bible Places. It will give a description of what happened at this place and what we know about it, and it will describe its location.
  • Books of the Bible. It will provide basic information to the reader: author, date, destination, origin, and an overview of the book.

I would choose a newer dictionary over an older one, so that you have recent archaeological information. The venerable Smith’s Bible Dictionary published in 1863 has Dagon as a fish god. Archaeology has demonstrated he was a grain god. I would choose a dictionary written by conservative scholars (e.g., dictionaries from Holman, Nelson, and Zondervan). Check the preface for theological outlook of the editors and contributors. Dictionaries are also keyed to a particular translation, and some are cross referenced to several translations (like Nelson’s and Holman’s). The preface should let you know the translation on which the dictionary is based. Finally, remember that with all reference works, they must be tested by scripture itself. Bias that doesn’t match up with what the Bible actually says can be found in dictionaries as well as commentaries.


The Bible and Archaeology

November 2, 2018

Admittedly, archeology does not necessarily interest everyone, and some aspects of archaeology can be tedious, but many of the results of archaeology are exciting for the student of the Bible.

Backgrounds. Archaeology has helped us understand ancient customs and the background to certain passages. The Nuzi tablets, for example, contain marriage contacts which obligate a childless wife to give her husband a handmaid who would bear children for the couple. This helps us better understand the actions of Sarah in giving Hagar to Abraham (Genesis 16:1 ff.) and of Rachel in giving Bilhah to Jacob (Genesis 30:1-3). This doesn’t make the actions moral in the eyes of God, but they would have been viewed as socially acceptable for the time.

Translation. The meaning of the Hebrew word, pim, was unknown in 1611. The KJV translators conjectured from the context of 1 Samuel 13:21 that it mean “file.” The KJV reads, “Yet they had a file for the mattocks …” Archaeologists have found small weight stones in Palestine with the word pim on them. The name of the weight was evidently the expression of the price for sharpening the plowshares, making a pim about 2/3 of a shekel. The ESV taking advantage of what has been learned from archaeology has “… and the charge was two-thirds of a shekel for the plowshares…” (1 Samuel 13:21, ESV).

Defense. The criticism of alleged inaccuracies in scripture have been refuted by certain discoveries. For example, the Hittites were unknown outside the Old Testament, and many thought this was a case of an historical error in scripture until archaeologists discovered the Hittite city of Hattusas. Before the ivory finds in Samaria, some skepticism was expressed over the phrase “houses of ivory” in Amos 3:15. We now know that ivories were used either to adorn the walls as paneling or were inlaid in furniture. “Houses of ivory” were houses decorated with ivory not built out of ivory as archaeology has now shown. Amos knew what he was talking about.

Many more examples could be given to illustrate the importance of archaeology to Bible study. But archaeology reminds us that we are dealing with real people, places, and events.


The Discipline of Children

October 26, 2018

I’m now a grandfather. The raising of small children is in my past. I’m proud of our children who are both Christians and hardworking, productive people. So, I will venture to say a few things on what I’ve learned about disciplining children.

I have learned that sometimes a child acts up in order to gain attention. The way to fix that problem is give them the positive attention he or she is seeking. Of course, this means recognizing the problem in yourself that maybe you’ve been too busy.

I have learned that sometimes acting out has to do with stresses in the child’s life. We need to know what’s going on in our child’s life. We may have to sit and talk, ask questions and explore. Otherwise we are only treating one side of the problem and maybe making things worse. We are adding a stress rather than discovering and dealing with the stress. A problem at school can manifest itself with acting out at home, and vice versa.

I have learned to distinguish childish behavior from rebellious behavior. The latter received the greater punishments. By the way, I include lying with rebellious behavior. Part of our teaching, training, and disciplining children should results in a person who respects authority.

I have learned that children will try to divide and conquer, so it is important for Mom and Dad to be on the same page which means consulting one another.

I have learned to start small. The danger is that we will give a snap decision of a punishment that we will later decide is too severe, and then we will change our mind. Best to start small, and if the same infraction occurs, build slowly with greater punishment.

I have learned that children will test boundaries, but if you are inconsistent in your boundaries, the testing of those boundaries will be worse. I’ve seen children out in public that seem to push their parents buttons all the time. If you are always using anger to discipline your child, you are doing it wrong. The problem probably lies with your inconsistency.

I have learned that corrective discipline needs to be unpleasant, so we avoid repeating the offense. “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11, ESV). What works for one child may not for another.

Discipline is more than correction. We also teach our values and beliefs about God, and those values and beliefs need to be seen in our daily lives.

The goal is consistent, fair discipline, which involves knowing what is going on in your child’s life. This goal includes the positive sharing of values and beliefs. The reward is wonderful times and conversations with your adult children who are moral, spiritual, and responsible adults.