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I use the word “must have” loosely. I strongly believe that the Holy Spirit is the greatest tool you can ever have at your disposal to dissect and understand the Word of God. All these tools were written and created by people like you and me, inspired by the same Spirit. Therefore, if the Lord used them mightily then he can also speak to you and give you wisdom to understand his word.
These tools should be an addition not a substitute for the Holy Spirit. If you are able to incorporate these suggestions in your study, you won’t be sorry. Your bible study will be greatly enriched by them.
1. Multiple Bible Translations
The bible was not originally written in the language you are currently reading unless you are reading it in Hebrew or Greek. The old Testament was originally written in Hebrew and the New Testament in Greek. If you speak more than one language than you understand better than anyone that translating a word from one language to another can change the meaning altogether; that same word can have different meanings in the original language which the translated language doesn’t perceive or express. Hebrew and Greek are much more complex than the English language. Using multiple translations helps in better understanding the context of the verse you’re reading. There are different types of translations: word for word (New King James or New American Standard Bible), thought for thought (New Living Translation) and paraphrases (The Message). Personally, I alternate between word for word translation and thought for thought, I tend to distance myself from paraphrases (The Message) and I wouldn’t recommend that you use this as your primary bible because the true meaning of the verse is embellished. I also tend to be weary of preachers who only use this as their bible when teaching God’s Word.
For further information on bible translations:
History of bible translations
How does the translation process impact the inspiration, inerrancy, and infallibility of the Bible?
2. Exhaustive Bible Concordance
Another great tool that would go hand in hand with having multiple translations is an exhaustive concordance. A concordance is an index of every word in the Bible. The most popular concordance is Strong’s Concordance completed by James Strong. This is the version I use, it contains both the Hebrew and Greek words. A concordance is organized in a numbering system, every word has a number associated to it. The words are indexed in alphabetical order.
Why should you have an exhaustive concordance?
When you use a concordance for the first time, you will quickly realize why it’s so important to refer to it. One word in Hebrew can have multiple meanings or can be written in different ways. For example, the word “way” in Hebrew has at least 5 different root words and meanings. An exhaustive concordance helps you to better understand how the original language was translated. Having this tool has allowed me to have a more accurate understanding of a verse and significantly reduces the ability to misinterpret the meaning.
According to biblestudytools.com, the Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance is the most complete, easy-to-use, and understandable concordance for studying the original languages of the Bible.
You can purchase a concordance bible online through Amazon or you can use one through the software I will suggest in tool #6.
One of the theologians I’m really enjoying these days is Charles H. Spurgeon. Spurgeon noticed that people tend to make little use of commentaries or think that they are sufficient in of themselves to tackle the task of biblical exegesis (interpretation). He had this to say:
“In order to be able to expound the scriptures and as an aid to your pulpit studies, you will need to be familiar with the commentators: a glorious army, let me tell you, whose acquaintance will be your delight and profit […] It seems odd, that certain men who talk so much of what the Holy Spirit reveals to themselves, should think so little of what He has revealed to others.”
The last sentence sums up the reason why you should consult commentaries from time to time when you read your bible. The same Holy Spirit who speaks to you, has spoken to others and it is unwise to isolate oneself when reading God’s Word. “A respectable acquaintance with the opinions of the giants of the past, might have saved many an erratic thinker from wild interpretations and outrageous inferences.”
“The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.” Proverbs 12:15
You shouldn’t depend on commentaries but they are useful. Every Sunday, you are listening to a verbal commentary when your pastor preaches.
A good source for Christian commentaries, is CCEL (Christian Classics Ethereal Library).
4. Podcasts and Sermon Directories
Sermon Audio (available online, google play and apple store)
“The largest and most trusted library of audio sermons from conservative churches and ministries worldwide.”
This site contains sermons, books, podcasts and videos from the ministry of John Piper
The Gospel Coalition
One of the most visited Christian website in the world consisting of a network of evangelical churches. “Their mission is to encourage and educate Christian leaders by advocating gospel centered principles and practices”. They accomplish this through their website, conferences and various projects.
Source of written Spurgeon sermons
The Bible Project (available on Youtube): a Portland based non-profit that makes the bible story accessible to everyone through fully animated videos, podcasts and study guides. They are committed to understanding the Bible in its historical context and communicating its wisdom to the modern world. The following image is a poster created by the bible project that you can receive by mail if you become a recurring donor or you can download for free on your computer. 5 Minutes in Church History (hosted by Dr. Stephen Nichols)
A weekly podcast that provides an informal and informative look at church history.
5. Bible Dictionary
This is a tool that I’ve discovered recently and I have to say that it’s pretty neat!
A bible dictionary provides definitions and explanation of various topics found in the bible. Biblestudytools.com states that Bible dictionaries are one of the most practical and useful theological reference books available.
If you prefer using electronic tools rather than hardcopy, then a software tool is the way to go. One of the pros of using an electronic software is that all of the previsouly mentioned tools can be accessed through a single interface.
E-Sword (available on Mac and PC) (FREE)
Features: Audio Sermons, Reference library, compare bible translations, powerful searches, Strong’s Concordance, Scripture tool tips, Journal notes, Prayer Request tool
I highly recommend E-Sword, it is a powerful software and it blows my mind that it’s free. This software has been downloaded over 35 million times in 235 countries around the world.
MySword Bible (available on Google Play) (FREE)
“MySword allows you to read the Bible, compare different translations, lookup Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Lexicon, read popular commentaries and even write your own insights and study notes directly on your Android device.”
Olive Tree (available on Android, Windows, Mac, Kindle Fire and iOS) (FREE)
Features: Access to their online store, topical reading plans, notes, highlight verses, bookmark scriptures
Logos (Available on Google Play, App Store and Kindle Fire) (FREE & $$)
“Bible software that puts insights from all of scripture and all your books right at your fingertips”. Logos is available under 4 different plans: Basic (Free), Starter ($), Bronze ($$) and Silver ($$$). The basic plan includes devotionals, commentaries, taking notes, searching and highlighting and 33 books.
Bible Works (Available on Mac and Windows PC Computers) ($$$)
Bible Works is suitable for all levels of users, bible study, sermon preparation and detailed bible research. It includes the Greek, Hebrew and Septuagint Manuscripts and many other translations for your computer.
My picks for the every day user: E-Sword, My Sword and Olive Tree
7. A Journal
This is something I personally need to improve on. Journaling can be one of the biggest blessings when it comes to studying God’s Word. The Holy Spirit constantly speaks to us but we tend to forget the riches that he has imparted on us. Journaling can help us remember what we’ve read and what God has shared with us during our quiet time with him. I have a friend who has kept a diary for over 10 years and she’s been writing all the things that God has done for her. Isn’t that amazing? Most of us can’t even remember what God did for us last week which is why I encourage all of you to start writing what God is teaching you through his word and how he is blessing you everyday. 10 years from now, you won’t regret doing it and you can share this with generations to come.
You can get yourself a nice paper bound journal, Dayspring is a Christian company that desires to make Christ known through the printed message and they have great journals that you can choose from. You can also journal on your phone, it’s not as cool but you can do it, just make sure to save your notes virtually in case your phone conks.
If you have time, go to your local bible bookstore, browse the shelves for some of these items and explore how they can enrich your study in God’s Word.
Let me know what tools you use and what you’d like to start using in the future.