I love tools. I watch the sales fliers from various tool sellers and drool over the tools on sale. When I can, I buy tools, everything to tiny screwdrivers to work on eyeglasses to drills, saws, clamps–you name it and I probably want it. And, unlike some people I know, I enjoy using my tools. Having just the right tool on a shelf or hanging on the wall when I need it is one of the little joys of my life. I don’t often need a right angled Robertson number 2 screwdriver–but when I do, I have one in my tool box.
Given that reality, it is probably not strange that I look for tools in all areas of my life, including my faith. So, in this post, I am going to share some of my favourite tools that I use in the context of reading, studying and understanding the Bible. Just as in my workshop, so in dealing with the Bible, there are times when having the right tool can make the difference between success and failure.
The first and most obvious tool is the Bible. And here, the best advice I can give is to get as many different translations as possible. Every translation is an attempt to express the original Greek and Hebrew in the language of a particular time and place. The more such attempts we read, the better our overall understanding of the Bible. Some may even want to learn Biblical Greek and Hebrew to help with the process but for most, using a variety of translations is a cheaper, easier and less time consuming substitute.
A second tool that I find valuable is a way to search the Bible. Back in the pre-computer days, these were called “Concordances”. You looked up the word you wanted and it gave you a list of verses where the word occurred. The difficulty was that each translation needed its own specific concordance and not every translation was popular enough to warrant the production of a concordance.
Today, the concordance has basically been replaced by electronic versions of the Bible, which allow for quick and easy searches. I have Bibles on my phone, my tablet and my laptop and can quickly find any word or topic or verse I want. I can follow themes through the Bible, look at how word usage changes in the Bible and so on. Whether using a paper concordance or an electronic search feature, the ability to find words and ideas is an extremely valuable tool.
A third tool is books that help understand what we are reading. Christians have been reading the Bible in its present form since about 300AD and have written handbooks, commentaries, study guides galore. Whether it is an entry level Bible Handbook or the latest scholarly multi-volume commentary, these books are a valuable tool. We need to be discriminating and careful since not all books have the same value but the thoughts and comments we read can make a big difference in our ability to understand the Bible.
A fourth and often overlooked tool is the church. As believers, we are joined together with other believers to form the church. One of our tasks as a church is to help educate each other, a task that includes helping people better understand the Bible. Through the church and its Bible study groups, Sunday School classes, preaching, special classes and other things, we are all helped in our understanding of the Bible’s message.
Making use of the church and its resources helps us avoid the all too common trap of getting stuck or fixated on some interpretation that is wrong or misguided or incomplete. It is a mistake to think that any one person can understand every part of the Bible perfectly.
The purpose of the tools is to help us understand and follow what we are reading in the Bible. I am convinced that a lot of people who would like to read the Bible are stopped by their inability to understand what they are reading. Having and using the tools mentioned here can make the process of understanding a lot easier. In my mind, anything that enables people to understand the Bible and therefore read it more is a important and valuable.
May the peace of God be with you.