As you may know, a group of ladies at my church group started a scripture writing group a few years ago. One of us studies a topic and shares a list of scriptures with the other ladies, then we all write those scriptures over the course of a month, and finally we meet again to discuss the topic. It’s been such a good way to connect with each other and dig deeper into God’s word.
Whenever I make the list for the month, I share it here on my blog as one of the free resources available to all my readers. For February, I have the topic “Inspiring Music.” Here it is if you’d like to follow along with us. The version I’m sharing here has 30 days instead of 28, so you can use it any other month as well.
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).
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:
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).
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).
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.
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:
“Truth Be Told” podcast–a thoughtful and thought-provoking “theology and apologetics podcast born out of a love of God‘s word, a hope to find common ground with those who study it, and a desire to outline truth as the Bible tells it.”
Listening to Sermons–usually I don’t go out of my way to listen to extra messages, but I hear ones very much like those I link to for this point every week at my local church. So many of my ideas for Bible studies and then blog posts come from a phrase or scripture that catch my ear in a message someone else is giving, often on a completely different topic.
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.