Harvesting the Fruit of God’s Word: Part III: Tools for the Harvest
Growing up in the farmland of Ohio, I was no stranger to farm machinery. Although our family did not own a farm, our home was bordered on two sides by cornfields where we as kids often sat on tin pails and watched the tractors, harvesters, and combines work their magic. Farm machines are really amazing little inventions. They have transformed the agricultural world, being able to do in a fraction of the time what people once had to do by hand. Of course, this is true in every field, including biblical studies; the better the tool, the more efficiently the work is done and the greater the fruitfulness. This is why working with the right tools to study the Word is so important.
Over years of studying scripture, I have found four kinds of tools indispensable. Today, I’d like to introduce you to some of those:
1. Concordance – An exhaustive concordance is a book listing words in the Bible and all occurrences of that word. Let’s say, for example, you want to do a study on “justice” in Isaiah. You could go the long route, read through the book and find every time justice occurs. Or, you could grab a concordance and look up “justice.” There you would find every verse it occurs. Furthermore, every occurrence will be labeled with a number connected to an index in the back which tells you what the word is in the original language and other possible translations. From there, you can use other tools to find out more about that word.
2. Dictionaries and Lexicons – These are helpful for gaining more insight into Hebrew and Greek words. Some good options are Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of New and Old Testament Words (William Mounce) and The Complete Word Study Dictionary, New Testament (ed. Zodhiates). For more in depth study, try the New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (ed. Colin Brown) and the New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology (ed. Willem VanGemeren). These latter two are five volume sets so check out the less expensive electronic versions if you want to purchase these.
3. Commentaries – These are single author works written on a specific book or books in the Bible. There are also a few single Bible commentaries that offer brief notes on every book of the Bible, although these are certainly not as helpful. While I always recommend beginning with your own study first, once you’ve spent some time with just you and the text, your next step is to consult an expert on that book and see what they have to say about the passage you are studying. While they are not always right on everything, they have usually spent a great deal of time in that book and have great insights to offer. Just make sure to consult more than one, to get a broad range of input on the passage.
4. Computer Programs – When I began to study the Bible, there really were no great Bible programs in existence. Now, we have a number of great options. My own personal favorite is Bibleworks, which I have been using for over ten years and have found it indispensable to serious study. Here are my favorite things to do with Bibleworks:
- Word searches – Bibleworks functions as a concordance making searching for terms in scripture a breeze. You can search the entire Bible or limit your search to a book or to just the old or new testament. You can search in any version you prefer and you can also search in Hebrew or Greek (and other languages like Spanish and French). You can even search for whole phrases, such as “in Christ.” This alone makes this a better choice than a hardback concordance.
- Cross referencing – It is really easy to find other bible passages that relate to the one you are studying with Biblework’s cross-referencing feature. It lists verse that are commonly seen to relate to the specific verse you are studying, allowing you to make scriptural comparisons to help with interpretation.
- Word studies in dictionaries and lexicons – Bibleworks comes loaded with several word study tools, including expository dictionaries and lexicons. You can also buy extra modules to load onto it as well (including the five volume dictionary sets I mentioned above). Not only does this save you valuable shelf space, but time as well as searching is much quicker. You can see the range of meaning for Greek and Hebrew words and more extensive discussions on those words.
- Vocabulary study – Bibleworks has a great feature in which you can learn and review Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic words. If you have studied biblical languages, you know how easy it is for vocabulary to slip. This feature keeps Hebrew and Greek sharp and allows you to acquire a broader range of vocabulary in the languages.
- Speaking and teaching notes – You can easily cut and paste the Hebrew and Greek text into Word documents to have a nice clean copy for translation or taking notes on. This allows you to keep the Greek text and notes in the same document which is so helpful for teaching or preaching preparation. You are also able to easily transfer other things to Word documents, including lexical entries and lists of occurrences of words which is great for preparing handouts for teaching Sunday school or Bible classes.
- These things are only the tip of the iceberg for all Bibleworks can do. If you have an older version of Bibleworks, consider upgrading to the new version, which has even more tricks and gadgets for bible study including the ability to have several tabs open for studying multiple passages, the full Moody atlas of the Bible, new statistics features, and many more perks. One of my favorite things about the new version is the fact that it consistently checks for updates and you can apply them immediately so you never have to wonder if your program is up to date. For more information on Bibleworks, check out their website: www.bibleworks.com
- So, if you want to get more serious with Bible study for your own devotions or ministry, consider loading up on a few of these tools to allow you to be more efficient in your study. You will find that not only are they time savers, but they will make your study of the Word considerably more fruitful.