6/27/2013

Tools, Part 3: Study Bibles

(This article was originally written for my local newspaper.)

Our current series of Soli Deo Gloria articles is exploring Bible study.  This article will look at a very important tool used to understand the Bible: the Study Bible.

A Study Bible contains articles and notes that explain the meaning of particular verses and phrases in the Bible’s text.  I have used several of these Bibles over the years, and I have found them to be most helpful. 

The first Study Bible I ever used was the Thompson Chain Reference Bible in the King James translation.  This Bible contained listings of Bible verses that addressed particular subjects.  These lists could be easily followed because they were labeled in the margins of this Bible along with the next reference in the list.  The insights into theology I gained from studying the verse lists in this Study Bible have stayed with me for a long time.  Systematic Theology is the careful study of what the entire Bible says on any given subject, and the lists of verses by topic in the Thompson Chain Reference Bible are a great help. 

The NIV Study Bible was the next Bible I used with benefit.  This Study Bible had notes that attempted to capture the different ways different denominations and theological traditions understood particular verses.  For a young college student who wanted to be exposed to different conservative traditions, this was particularly useful.  It helped me to choose the tradition that best expressed the Bible’s true meaning.  The Concordia Study Bible is a revision of The NIV Study Bible with notes from a Lutheran perspective that I have also found to be helpful. 

The ESV Study Bible probably contains the most detailed notes and articles of any popular Study Bible.  It is written from an evangelical theological perspective, and people from many denominations find it helpful.  Its maps and charts are the best I can find. 

As a Christian who is a member of a Presbyterian Church, I find that The Reformation Study Bible most closely agrees with my understanding of Scripture.  I find that this book does an outstanding job of explaining the Scriptures from the best view-point that I have ever studied.  I will continue to study, learn and change my opinions in the future, but I think I have found the point of view that I will stay with for the rest of my life expressed in The Reformation Study Bible.

There are many useful Study Bibles on the market today.  Each has its own particular emphasis or point of view.  Read widely and often.  Your understanding of the Christian Faith will be expanded, and that understanding can lead to a changed life.

Our next Soli Deo Gloria article will take a look at one particular area of Bible study and interpretation that seems to cause the most trouble for serious Bible students.  That area is eschatology, or the study of the end times. 

6/20/2013

Tools, Part 2: How to Find Help with the Bible

(This article was originally written for my local newspaper.)

As promised in our last Soli Deo Gloria column, this article will take a look at three tools that are available to help us understand and study the Bible.  Any book that claims to be the very word of God to man is worth understanding, and we should take the time to carefully explore the Bible’s meaning.

Good Bible commentaries are essential.  A ‘commentary’ is exactly what it sounds like: a book that contains a person’s comments or thoughts on a part of the Bible.  No one person is an expert on everything the Bible says, and it helps to consult with scholars who have spent time studying the particular book or passage they are commenting on. 

Commentaries on the entire Bible are a good place to start.  These give an author’s or a team of author’s ideas on the entire Bible.  Examples are The New Bible Commentary published by Intervarsity Press and Eerdmans and the excellent Encountering the Old Testament and Encountering the New Testament published by Baker.

Commentaries that give one expert author’s interpretations and insights into a particular book are even more helpful.  It is difficult to beat Martin Luther on Galatians, Charles Hodge on 1 Corinthians, Derrick W.H. Thomas on Romans, or John Calvin or Douglas Moo on just about anything.   Commentaries allow us to tap into a lifetime of research and study on Bible texts by capable scholars and pastors.

Concordances are also useful.  A concordance is an alphabetical listing of words used in the Bible and their occurrences. The words are listed, and a phrase from the verses which use that word is given along with the Scripture reference.  If you can remember a phrase, such as “For God so loved the world,” you can look up the word ‘world’ in a good concordance and find John 3:16 cited.  I can remember phrases from many Bible verses that I have heard quoted in sermons over the years, and these tools help me to be able to read those phrases in context.  Good concordances have been written by authors such as Young, Strong, and Cruden.

Bible handbooks and atlases help us to understand the history of the Bible’s authors and their cultures.  Some good examples of these include Dictionary of the Bible by Hastings, The Oxford Bible Atlas by May, and The Crossway Bible Handbook. 

These tools belong in the libraries of everyone committed to Bible study.  Not everything in the Bible is easy to understand, and commentaries, concordances, handbooks and atlases can help. 

The importance of in-depth Bible study cannot be overestimated.  It helps transform us into the kind of people God wants us to be.  Our next Soli Deo Gloria article will look at another important tool for laymen like us: the Study Bible.

6/13/2013

Tools, Part1: Which Translation of the Bible Should I Use?

(This article was originally written for my local newspaper.)

Our last Soli Deo Gloria article talked about the original languages of the Bible, and it promised a longer look at English translations.  This article will attempt to guide the reader toward a Bible translation that is just right for a given situation.  A book that gives us information on how to get to heaven and how to live our lives on Earth the way God wants us to is a book that should be translated carefully.

There are two basic approaches to Bible translation: formal equivalence and dynamic equivalence.  Formal equivalence attempts to translate each word in the original language by an English word whose meaning is very close.  This is a ‘word-for-word’ translation approach that places the importance on the meanings of each individual word. 

The dynamic equivalence approach attempts to translate the thoughts of the authors into English.  This ‘thought-for-thought’ approach attempts to understand the idea of the original author and express that idea in easy to understand terms.  This approach yields a Bible that is easy to understand, but the original author’s idea is interpreted by the method of translation.  The reader does not understand the words so much as the translator’s understanding of the words. 

Bible translations fall somewhere along a scale between these two approaches.  The New American Standard Bible and the English Standard Version follow a more formal equivalence approach.  The King James and New King James fall somewhere in the middle.  The New International Version and the New Living Translation lean toward the dynamic equivalence approach. 

The ‘paraphrase’ is ultimate expression of the dynamic equivalence approach.  A paraphrase translates ‘idea-for-idea’ in such a way as to make the translator’s idea of the meaning easy to understand.  Famous paraphrases include The Living Bible and The Message.

These paraphrases have limited use.  They can mislead someone because there are not very precise.  Some ideas are difficult to translate, and a more ‘word-for-word’ translation will yield slight differences in meaning that a paraphrase will completely ‘gloss over.’ 

My favorite Bible for everyday use is a large-print English Standard Version translation.  It gives me the strengths of a formal equivalence approach without being as difficult to read as an even more ‘word for word’ translation like the New American Standard Version.  I have a reliable text that is great for in-depth study.  I heartily recommend this translation for your use.

Whichever version you select, there are many other tools available to help us understand the meaning of the Bible.  Our next Soli Deo Gloria article will look at some of these tools.

6/08/2013

Let’s Get Practical, Part 2: It is in Hebrew and Greek, Right?

(This article was originally written for my local newspaper.)

In our current series of Soli Deo Gloria articles, we have been examining the greatest of books, the Bible.  The Bible was originally written in three languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.  So the Scripture must be translated into our language in order for us to know what God has told us in its pages. 

This process can be a difficult task.  Aramaic is a ‘dead language,’ which means that it is no longer spoken.  The Hebrew of the Old Testament is very different from the Hebrew language spoken today because all languages change over time. In fact, the Old Testament text did not have vowels, and vowels had to be added in order to be able to read the passages of Scripture.

The same tendency for language to change over time applies to the New Testament, which was written in Greek.  This Greek is different from the language spoken today but also different from the Greek written in ancient times. This was the Greek commonly spoken by the people, different from the Classical Greek spoken by the upper class.

Some of the grammatical rules that applied to those languages are no longer in place today; some of the expressions of the time are no longer current, and some terms have changed their meaning.  It is a difficult task to translate any ancient book, and, since the Bible is the Word of God, there is a tremendous responsibility to be faithful to the original intent and wording of the authors.

Should a believer be able to read the original words of the Old and New Testaments, that is, the actual words of the prophets and apostles?  It would be of great benefit, but one scholar warns us not to ‘go half-way.’ 

At a recent Reformation Bible Conference at Grace Presbyterian Church in Troy, Jonathan T. Pennington, the Associate Professor of New Testament Interpretation and Director of Research Doctoral Studies at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, recommended intensive study in New Testament Greek.  He said that a little knowledge of Greek can be a dangerous thing because mistakes are easy to make.  He recommended serious study.

It is a difficult task to try to read the ancient languages, but there is good news.  We have a wealth of resources and many experts that can help us.

This author does not know much about the Biblical languages, but he finds many resources that are written by scholars which can assist with Bible study.  Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance contains a numbered system that allows a person to find the particular Greek or Hebrew word that was translated by many English words used in the Bible.  A brief definition is also given.  This word can then be researched with other tools. 

Where does one go to conduct that research?  The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, edited by Kittle, is available in a both a multi-volume set and a single volume edition.  This book contains scholarly articles written by experts on most of the words of the New Testament.  These articles cover how the words were used in ancient common Greek in both the Bible and in other places in ancient writings.  The Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament is also available.  (Please note that contributions to these two dictionaries are not always made by conservative Christian scholars.)

It would certainly benefit any believer to learn Hebrew and Greek, but you can be confident in the many excellent English translations, which God uses to communicate His truth in a reliable fashion today.  Our next article will look at two different approaches to Bible translation and present some recommendations from those approaches.

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