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


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: 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.