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.