Monday, January 20, 2014

Tools in my tool chest

Now that I am starting to explore a bit deeper the meaning of certain passages it is a good time to review the tools that I will be using for this purpose.

Tool #1:  multiple translations

Since I don’t read Greek, I have to read the bible from an English translation.  My translation of choice is the English Standard Version (ESV).  I have chosen this version for two reasons.  Primarily I chose it because almost universally the teachers and scholars that I read and listen to recommend it.  Secondly and in all likely the reason why they recommend it, is because it is a word for word translation of the Bible. 

A word for word translation is also referred to as a functional equivalence translation.  In other words the translation strives to be as faithful to the original with respect to ensuring every word is translated, resulting in a translation that is very literal.  There are other word for word translations, most notably the King James Version (KJV), the New King James Version (NKJV) and the New American Standard Bible (NASB) which are all very popular, however the ESV seems to be gaining considerable traction among evangelicals. 

There is another methodology used by translators which is to translate thought for thought instead of word for word.  This methodology is also called dynamic equivalence, and the translators of the New Living Translation (NLT) the New International Version (NIV) and The Voice Bible among others have used it.

Another newer translation is called the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) and it purports to use what they refer to as the optimal equivalence model of Bible translation, taking the best of both worlds.  Sometimes it is leans more towards the word-for-word end of the spectrum and other times it leans more towards the thought-for-though end of the spectrum.

Finally there are some specialized translations that attempt to give insight into the original languages by expounding on the text.  The Amplified Bible and the Expanded Bible are examples of this specialized translation.

The downside to using multiple translations however is that it is easy to pick and choose whatever translations suits my own preconceived notions, without considering how the translators methodology or even bias might play into the equation.  Nevertheless for comparison purposes multiple translations can provide significant insights, and with the internet today, there is no need to actually own bibles in each translation, since they are all available to be read for free online.  Here and here are good places to start.

Tool #2: cross references

I have heard it said many times that the bible interprets the bible, and this is the reason behind the cross references found in many bibles.  Typically found in a centre column between the columns of text these cross references are links to other passages in the bible that can help shed additional insights.  As nice as these are there is an even better tool, “The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge”.  This book is like those centre column cross references on steroids.  It contains a list of cross references for every verse in the bible.  As an example Philippians 1:6 has 36 cross references listed just for that verse.  It may take some time to look up all those verses but it will provide incredible insights that I wouldn’t find on my own, and the beauty is that they are all verses from the bible and not someone else's interpretation.  This is my preferred tool to use when trying to understand a passage.  Again this resource is available online for free and can be found here.

Tool #3: study bible notes

There is a reason that I don’t use a study bible for my personal reading.  It is just too distracting to have the notes so easily accessible.  This accessibility tends to make me lazy about figuring out the difficult passages on my own.  Nevertheless at some point it is good to see what others have said about the passage of scripture and a study bible is excellent for that.  My main study bible is the ESV Study Bible, but I also have the KJV Study Bible, the Reformation Study Bible, The Spirit Filled Life Study Bible and the Faithlife Study Bible that provide differing perspectives.  The ESV study bible is available online here and is free for 30 days.  The Faithlife Study Bible is currently free online and is available here.

Tool #4: commentaries

When the study bible notes just aren’t detailed enough a commentary will provide a much deeper study of the passage.  I don’t own many commentaries, but there are several free ones that are available on-line.  Matthew Henry’s commentary is a classic, but a more modern scholar with free commentaries available for each book of the bible is Thomas Constable.

Tool #5: Key-word Study Bible

This last tool is a gift that I received for Christmas and I look forward to using it this year.  The uniqueness of this bible is that there is both a Hebrew and a Greek dictionary at the back of the bible.  Additionally in the text of the bible every key word has a number associated with it.  These numbers are then used to look up in the dictionary the Greek or Hebrew word that was translated.  The dictionary then provides deeper insights (in English) into the meaning and nuances of the word.  This bible is a tool that allows students without any knowledge of the original languages to gain insights otherwise unavailable to them.

The downside of this tool is that it provides the user with just enough information to be dangerous, it provides details of the word itself, but not the particulars of how it is used in each individual situation.

So there you have it, the main 5 tools I will be using, in my ongoing study of Philippians.


Anonymous said...

Hey Andrew!

Wow, that's really neat how you are digging into Philippians. Thanks for sharing. is a great resource for studying as well, with a lot of those features (commentaries, concordance, translations etc) available. Just thought I'd mention it!

Laura Devries

A. Lucas said...

Thanks for the encouragement Laura, and thanks for sharing the blueletterbible. It is incredible the number of free resources available today. We truly are blessed.