How I Bible Study: Tips, Recommendations, and Resources

I’ve been going back and forth on making a post like this for quite some time now. There isn’t one right formula for studying your Bible, and I’m not saying there is. As long as you’re reading God’s word, praying for His guidance, and working to know Him better then you can have a productive study. I don’t want to imply the way I study is the “right” or “best” way. But a few people have asked me to recommend Bible study resources, and I also realized that some of the study tools I use to help me understand the Greek and Hebrew behind our English translations aren’t familiar to everyone.

In this post, I’ll go through resources I use frequently and highly recommend. If you have other resources that you like to use, I’d love to learn about them. Please leave a comment so everyone reading can benefit from the recommendations 🙂

Disclaimer: Some of the links on this page are affiliate links (marked with an *). This means that if the resource I mention is available for purchase on Amazon, I provide a link and if you use that link to make a purchase I will receive a commission (at no additional cost to you).

Background Reading

Whenever I’m reading a text, I like to ask myself contextual questions. When was this written? Who was it written for? What culture(s) influenced the writer? When reading the Bible, the ultimate author behind the text is God, but He used human beings who were influenced by the world they lived in. Modern, Western Christians often think of Christianity as a Western/European religion and either don’t think about or misunderstand the ancient Eastern cultural context. This can lead to misinterpretations of the Bible and misunderstandings about underlying concepts such as how language works.

Misreading Scriptures with Western Eyes (coupled with attending a Messianic congregation for several years) fundamentally changed how I read the Bible, I think very much for the better. The modern world, particularly modern Western culture, is not very similar to the Biblical world. While God’s message is simple enough for a child to understand and His word can speak to everyone where they are, it’s also full of riches so deep we’ll never reach the bottom. Familiarizing yourself with the cultural context is key to understanding the Bible on a deeper level. These are my two favorite books I’ve found so far on that topic:

Digital Tools

There are three free digital resources that I use to support a deeper study of God’s word. These tools provide a variety of Bible translations, the ability to compare those translations, resources for studying the Greek and Hebrew behind our English translations, and a variety of commentaries. I use all of these tools to varying degrees, depending on exactly what I’m trying to study.

  • MySword app–this is a free-to-download Android app. I use this app on my phone as my Bible when at church, traveling, and often when studying at home. It makes it easy to compare translations, look up words in a dictionary, and do pretty robust word studies all in the palm of your hand. It’s also a great supplement to the language tools I’ll talk about in the next section.
    • The search tool for MySword is pretty good, and you can search for Greek and Hebrew words by searching for the Strong’s number in translations that include those. However, the free version of MySword doesn’t include all the search tools that eSword has and it limits you to 100 results.
  • eSword for PC–a free-to-download Bible study program. I mostly use this one if I want to search for specific words or topics in the Bible. The search tools are robust (even more so than MySword) and make it easy to search for parts of words, whole words, and Greek and Hebrew words (by searching for the Strong’s number). You can also have a Bible, dictionary, commentary, and your own notes all open on the same screen.
  • BibleGateway–an online resource that makes comparing Bible translations very simple. It’s the easiest tool I’ve found for looking at multiple translations side-by-side and doing full text searches of more than one translation at the same time. I use it all the time when writing my blog posts for this site. One thing I like about this website compared to MySword or eSword is that it includes full footnotes (very handy with translations like NET).
screenshot of eSword Bible program showing search tools using the example  of searching for partial matches to the words "love law"
Screenshot showing eSword search tool

Language Tools

I’ve done some formal study of Greek–enough to recognize words, understand basic grammar, and read it a little–but not much for Hebrew. The tools I use to study the Bible’s original languages aren’t a perfect substitute for really learning the languages, but I think they do make it easier for someone with a basic understanding of how language works (something any of us can learn relatively easily) to get a deeper look into the nuances of the Bible without devoting their lives to a study of ancient languages.

In both eSword and MySword, I recommend Thayer’s Dictionary for Greek and Brown-Driver-Briggs (BDB) for Hebrew. Both of these digital tools offer downloadable modules that link those dictionaries to Strong’s numbers. For any Bible translation that includes Strong’s numbers, you can click on that number and go right to the dictionary. Some of the translations also offer codes that give you more insight into how the word is used. For example, here’s what John 1:1 looks like in the MySword module for A Faithful Version with Strong’s numbers and Morphology (AFV+) if you click on more detail for the word translated “Word.”

I don’t read AFV+ much just because all those codes can get confusing to look at, but it is great for looking up the nuances behind a translation. If you click on the Strong’s number (G3056), it takes you to Thayer’s dictionary. I don’t have this in the screenshot, but if you scrolled down it would also provide Strong’s definition and a list of all the places this word is used in the New Testament (you could also search for G3056 in the AFV+ or other Strong’s coded translation to see all the places its used).

If you click on the morphology link (N-NSM) this translation shows you linguistic information for the word. Logos is a noun, and here it’s in the nominative case (identifying logos as the subject of the sentence), singular in number, and masculine gender (Greek has gendered nouns much like French or German). I use this tool most often to look up whether a word is singular or plural since you can’t always tell in English (e.g. when Paul says “you are the temple of God,” “you” is plural in the Greek but ambiguous in English).

Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries

In addition to these digital language tools, I also have two print dictionaries that I really like. These provide more complete definitions than the tools in eSword or MySword and also help you understand how different words relate to each other.

  • The Complete WordStudy Dictionary: New Testament* by Spiros Zodhiates—my favorite Greek dictionary. It uses Strong’s numbering system and is simple to use.
  • Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament* (TWOT) by Laird R. Hariss, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke — my favorite Hebrew dictionary. Rather than being tied to Strong’s numbers, this dictionary groups Hebrew words by their root, which provides a much deeper look at the nuances of the Hebrew language. The different numbering system can make this one a bit more challenging to use, but in MySword the BDB dictionary module makes things easy by telling you where to look up the word in TWOT.

Google Is Your Friend

Another general tool that I use a lot is a simple Google search. Don’t know what the Genitive Case is in Greek? There are language-learning tools to help you understand Greek grammar. Partly remember a verse but can’t find it in eSword, MySword, or BibleGateway? Try Googling the words you remember with the word “Bible” and it’ll help you figure out if it’s in a translation you hadn’t thought of or if it’s a quote from something else. Suddenly need an interlinear version of the Septuagint? I recently found one on StudyLight.org. We’re fortunate to live in a time when we have access to Bible Study tools people even just a few decades before could only dream about or could only access in specialized print books.

Finding Study Topics

Most of my Bible studies end up on this blog. That means I’m usually looking at specific topics when I study, so being able to search the Bible effectively, look up Hebrew and Greek words, and compare translations is super helpful. It’s also helpful to be listening to and reading things that prompt Bible-related ideas that can turn into studies which then show up here on my blog. Here are some of my favorite Christian resources for inspiring new studies:

Final Thoughts

As I mentioned before, not everyone Bible studies the same way, and that’s okay. We have different spiritual temperaments and different ways we most easily connect with God and His word. Some might spend more time reading whole books rather than focusing on topics. Some might find the most value in picking one verse and meditating on it for their whole study time. Others could read, then search for ways to put those lessons into real-world action. And I’m sure there are way more study styles than I could list here.

I like Gary Thomas’s book Sacred Pathways* as a tool to describe those temperaments (you can read my full review by clicking here). I most closely align with what he calls the “Contemplative” and “Intellectual” temperaments, and I suspect others with similar ways of relating to God will be the ones that find this post most useful (if they haven’t already tracked down similar resources of their own). Still, I hope some of these tools and resources will be helpful for you whatever your spiritual temperament. And I hope you’ll share some of your own favorite resources in the comments.

Featured image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay

Accidentally Quoting Shakespeare

Shakespeare’s language has a reputation for being hard to understand. To our modern ears (or eyes if we’re reading instead of watching the plays), it can sound outdated, flowery, convoluted, or just plain ridiculous in some cases. No one actually talks like that anymore, at least not “normal” people. Right?

Well, actually we do (at least to a certain extent). It’s just that most of the time when we quote Shakespeare, we’re not doing it on purpose.

Accidentally Quoting Shakespeare | marissabaker.wordpress.com
perhaps a bit melodramatic, but I had fun stringing together Shakespeare quotes for the featured image

When this new live-action version of Beauty and the Beast came out, I started listening to the soundtrack and caught some lines I hadn’t in the animated version. I suppose I was just too familiar with the one I knew from childhood to really notice the lyrics. I’m thinking in particular of “The Mob Song” when Gaston sings, “Screw your courage to the sticking place.” Considering Gaston mocks Belle for reading, it’s ironic that this line is a quote from Macbeth (and it’s particularly noticeable in this version, where the book he insults is another Shakespearean play, Romeo and Juliet).

We fail?
But screw your courage to the sticking place,
And we’ll not fail.”
— Lady Macbeth, Act 1, scene 7

Gaston isn’t the only person who accidentally quotes Shakespeare. You yourself may have already done so this week. Have you talked about a “wild goose chase” (Romeo and Juliet, 2.4), spoke of the “green eyed monster” (Othello, 3.3), or waited with “bated breath” for something (The Merchant of Venice, 1.3)? That’s Shakespeare. And if someone has been “eaten out of house and home” (Henry IV, Part II, 2.1) or “seen better days” (As You Like It, 2.7), you’re using phrases we only have because Shakespeare used them first. Read more

5 Tips for Academic Excellence

5 Tips for Academic Excellence | marissabaker.wordpress.com
bg image credit: Steven S., CC BY

It’s finals week (or close to it) for many of the universities, so it seems a fitting time to talk about academics. Unless you’re just in school for the parties, most students want to succeed academically, and we can always use more tips for doing just that.

Different study and learning techniques will work for different people with different personalities and learning styles, but there are a few ideas that work across the board. These are my top five tips for achieving academic excellence, which I used all the time when I was studying at The Ohio State University. Share what works (or worked) for you in the comments!

1) Study Concepts

I think some of the best advice I received was to study with the goal of understanding the ideas behind a subject instead of just memorizing specifics. Knowing facts and formulas can get you through a test, but if you understand why the fact is true then you’re more likely to get high scores.

“B students” can answer questions; “A students” know why the answer is right (that’s not the only difference, but it’s an important one). With this method, you’re not cramming your head full of facts right before a test hoping you’ll pass — you’re studying the subject consistently, trying to really understand and learn it.

2) Take notes by hand.

There’s something about the act of writing things down that helps it stick in your mind. When I was in school, I’d take notes in lectures, while reading textbooks, and as a study aid when preparing for tests – especially for the subjects I struggled with.

This is partly because my primary learning style is “Read/Write,” but psychology studies indicate that it’s true for most, if not all, students. Students who take longhand notes do better on exams and have more accurate long-term recall of facts and concepts than students who take notes on their laptops.

3) Take breaks.

If you’re studying something you love, this isn’t so much of an issue, but for something you’re not passionate about your mind will start to wander. I had to discipline myself to sit down and study for a certain amount of time, then take a walk or work on something else for a few minutes before going back.

4) Sleep

You might think it makes sense to stay up late cramming for an exam or get a few extra hours of study in, but it may actually do more harm than good.

Sleep plays a critical role in thinking and learning. Lack of sleep hurts these cognitive processes in many ways. First, it impairs attention, alertness, concentration, reasoning, and problem solving. This makes it more difficult to learn efficiently.

Second, during the night, various sleep cycles play a role in “consolidating” memories in the mind. If you don’t get enough sleep, you won’t be able to remember what you learned and experienced during the day (WebMD).

On WebMD’s list of 10 effects from lack of sleep, it lists forgetfulness, impaired judgement, and lower cognitive abilities — none of which is good for academic excellence. Know how many hours of sleep you need on a regular basis, and make sure you get it.

5) Talk With Teachers.

When I was in college, it helped me to get to know the professor a little. Some are happiest if you answer questions in a precise way, others will encourage more creativity in assignments. Knowing what they expect of you, and planning your responses accordingly, helps ensure higher grades. And it’s not just about improving grades — some of my most valued connections during my time at university were with faculty members.

Making time to talk with your teachers and ask a question or two lets them know you’re interested in their classes. They’ve spent many years studying the subjects they teach, and love it when students actually take their classes seriously. Be genuine — if you love the class, then it’ll be easy to talk about, but even if you don’t like a class, you can still ask honest questions like “Do you have any study tips? I really want to do well in your class.”