ALL ABOUT THE BIBLE
How To Study The Bible For Yourself
The Bible is comprised of 66 books which were written over a period of roughly 1,500 years by various individuals as the Holy Spirit moved them. The books themselves fall into different categories which are determined by their literary structure. Between categories, there is often some overlap. Prophecy is not restricted only to the prophetic books but is frequently found elsewhere and much that is within the prophetic books themselves is in the form of poetry, Isaiah is an especially good example of prophecy in poetic form. Many of the Psalms are poetry and at the same time are unquestionably prophetic. (The fact that much of the Bible is couched in poetry should not detract from the value of the text as poetry is often a far more capable method of expression than is in an ordinary form.)
Old Testament (39 books)
1 & 2 Samuel(2)
1 & 2 Kings(2)
1 & 2 Chronicles(2)
Song of Songs
(Note 1 to 6 refer to above and below)
(1) These are also referred to as "The Law," "The Law of Moses" or "The Pentateuch."
(2) The books of Samuel and Kings give the history of both Israel and Judah from a moral standpoint, while the books of Chronicles give the history of the kings of Judah alone to a restored nation from an idealistic perspective.
(3). Though poetical these are also known as "Wisdom Literature," they also contain a great deal of prophecy and refer frequently to events recorded in the historical writings
(4) Also called "The Song of Solomon"
(5) Major prophets*
(6) Minor prophets*
* Note that the major and minor prophets are not named to signify their importance or the importance of their message but to indicate the size of their prophetic writings, both together are referred to as "The Prophets" by the Jews.
New Testament (27 books)
1 & 2 Corinthians(3)
1 & 2 Thessalonians(3)
1 & 2 Timothy(4)
1 & 2 Peter(3)
1 & 2 &3 John(3)
(Note 1 to 5 refer to above and below)
(1). Known as "The Gospels," biographical accounts of the life of Jesus
(2). The history of the early Church beginning at Jesus' ascension, overlaps most of the letters
(3). Letters to churches, not churches as we know them today groups of believers in various regions
(4). Letters to individuals
(5). An apocalyptic account of the end times and the beginning of eternity, although most of the other books of the New Testament also contain prophecy they are not devoted entirely to prophecy.
Translation is essentially bringing information from one language into another as accurately as possible, and must pay attention not only the translation of the words themselves but also of their setting, or context. A poem that has its words translated accurately but is no longer in poetic form is not accurately translated. Effective Bible translation would therefore, bring the work of the original writers into a modern form that is both readable and intelligible.
In a sense, the process of translation is an ongoing one. The KJV was the most modern and accurate English version of the Bible available in 1611 and it has undergone several revisions over the centuries. Currently, the English Standard Version (ESV) which is one of the most up to date and accurate English versions of the Bible. Years from now there may be an even more modern translation made so that the text of the Bible can be reliably understood by the readers of that day.
All translations of the Bible fall into one of three categories, each of which determines the value of the translation for a given use and each of which has its own advantages and drawbacks. It is a good idea, especially if you have reason to be concerned about the translation of a given passage, to compare the translation of your preferred study Bible to that of another translation in order to determine how other scholars have dealt with the text.
Although there is today a great deal of dialogue concerning the value and integrity of the translations replacing the King James Version it is a fact that no modern translation disagrees with any other on any significant doctrinal issues of Christianity. Feel free during your study to compare the English Standard Version to versions such as the New International Version, American Standard Version, the King James Version or others, in so doing you will at the very least satisfy yourself that the passage being studied has been handled accurately and perhaps enhance your understanding of what is being said.
Below is a description of the three major schools of thought with regard Bible translation:
The translation is done in such a way as to make the translated text as accurate as possible and most closely follow the literary structure of the original languages (therefore it is also given the term Literal Translation). In this category are the English Standard Version, King James (and the New King James) Version, American Standard Version and the Revised Standard Version, among others. Though highly accurate and praised for their literary beauty, translations of this style are sometimes difficult to read since the thought processes of the minds that used Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek are conveyed as accurately as possible and are often quite alien our own. Complete equivalence translations seek to bring the Bible to its readers in their own language with as little additional translation as is necessary to make it readable.
In this category are the New English Bible, the New International Version, and several other modern translations. The thrust of this type of translation is to translate the text so that it has the same impact upon the reader today as the original did to its readers of many years ago. Thus many idioms, figures of speech, locations, and weights and measures will be updated to their modern counterparts. The danger of this style of translation is that, although it is usually very readable and coherent, the translated text has already undergone a level of interpretation which may further remove the reader from the truest meaning of a given text. Because of the aim of dynamic equivalence translations, an additional layer of interpretation has been performed based on current understanding of Biblical culture.
The most readable of all translations, the paraphrase is also the least accurate and is generally unable, and often unwilling, to hide the bias of the translator. Some popular paraphrases of today are The Living Bible, The Phillips Bible, and The Message. Where literal and dynamic equivalence translations are usually done by a group of scholars commissioned for the task, paraphrases are typically the work of a single translator working to put the text of the Bible into "common speech" and therefore they are less likely to be a balanced treatment of the word of God.
While for general reading they may be of some value as they make the Bible text seem more alive to the modern reader, they should be avoided for Bible study since quite often the translation does not accurately reflect the thoughts of the writers of the Bible. I would not recommend a paraphrase in general and believe that they convey the thoughts of God mingled with the thoughts of the translator. That being said if the only Bible you have is a paraphrase then by all means use it and do not think that it is of no value for study and for gaining some awareness of God as long as you realize that there are more accurate resources available and that you will not gain the best understanding of the Bible if all that you use is a paraphrase. The paraphrased Bible that you study diligently will be of far greater benefit to you than the literal or dynamic equivalence Bible that you ignore.
Even within the various categories of translation, there are differing viewpoints as to how the translating should be done. Some will translate all measures into their modern counterparts and refer to all geographic locations by their modern names, while others will make no attempt to modernize these expressions. There are problems to be found in both schools. If we are to modernize the ancient monetary terms to their modern counterparts then we may find that we have devalued what was a not unreasonable sum of money in ancient times. Likewise, when we modernize locations we will find that on occasion we are operating on assumption and local custom that may be incorrect.
Yet if the archaic terms are retained we will have difficulty putting what we read into its proper context. Until it is interpreted for us into its roughly equivalent modern terms we will have no idea what a shekel is. Yet, once we assign a modern value to the shekel we link the ancient currency to our current problems of inflation and monetary devaluation. By the same token if we tie ancient locations to their modern counterparts we may actually relocate some of them by great distances due to the difficulty in certainly identifying geographic locations that are at least several thousand years in the past.
It is also difficult to place a definite meaning on some terms such as the cubit. There are at least three different lengths assigned to the cubit (eighteen, twenty-one, and thirty-six inches) which makes it almost impossible to understand how big Noah built the Ark or how large was Solomon's Temple until we determine which cubit was in use at the time or referred to in the narrative. Once we are aware which methods the translators of our favorite study Bible have used in their work we can begin to better understand what that translation is telling us.
There can often be a temptation to delve at depth into the original languages of the Bible, especially during teaching sessions, in the belief that this will result in a better understanding of the Bible than is otherwise possible from a translation. While I believe that there is merit to this practice, I also believe that it can be taken to the extreme; to the point that the translation itself is viewed as an unreliable alternative to the original manuscripts. The problem with this extremism is that it could lead people to believe that the translation is untrustworthy and that, to be a true Bible scholar, one must learn the languages that the writers of the Bible themselves used. While certain nuances of one language cannot be accurately translated into an other language; in general we must trust that the translators made decisions that were guided by God as they were choosing how to translate the Bible to more modern languages. In most of the cases that I have encountered in my study of the English Bible (I will not say all cases) the English translation has been of so satisfactory a quality that the there has been negligible benefit from going back to the original languages.
This is not to say, however, that a study of the original language is entirely without value; just that we must be careful to avoid forming the impression that a translation of the Bible is not as worthwhile or trustworthy for in-depth study as the Bible in its original languages. As a Bible student who is conversant only in English, I wish to say that, while we may encounter possible alternate translations of certain passages or ideas, we must trust that the translators are of far greater skill in this area than we who are not. We must trust that their decisions in these situations are made with integrity, the desire to serve and honor God and the commitment to give us the best translation of the Bible in our own language that is possible. We must be very careful with our own retranslation of these passages into possibly "better" phrasing that we do not ignore the overall context of the areas in which these passages are found. The Bible is the word of God and is worthy of our greatest respect. We cannot be making the Bible say what it was never intended to say.
At this point the question "Which translation of the Bible should I use?" should be answered. Although there is a great deal of discussion between the supporters of each of the various translations the best answer is most likely this:
IMPORTANT: As long as your main study Bible is a trustworthy translation created with the aim of portraying as accurately as possible, and as readably as possible, the thoughts originally presented in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic you cannot go far wrong.
The remains quite popular and has the significant advantage of having a great many study helps referenced to its text. Three of the tools mentioned below (Young’s Analytical Concordance, Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, and The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge) are themselves most helpful when used with the KJV translation. The majestic structure of its language lends a grandeur to the text to which many modern translations cannot compare. It is quite literal and very specific in its use of English phrasing and so is highly accurate.
A drawback of this translation is that it contains many words which, due to the changes in the English language since 1611 which were not updated in the subsequent revisions, are obsolete or used in a different manner than they were when it was originally printed and thus require translating themselves. It is also a difficult translation to read in public for the same reason, although in general its sentence structure is easier to read than that of the NIV.
A worthy successor to the rich tradition of the King James Version is the New King James Version, which updates much of the language but retains the beauty of the text and accuracy of translation while making available the results of modern textual research. One outstanding feature of these translations is that they indicate by use of italics words that have been added during translation to make the English flow more easily (this practice has also been adopted for all texts quoted in this document).
Is one of the more popular translations of our day, much as the King James Version was in its day, and it comes in a wide variety of formats and is accompanied by an ever growing list of supplementary references. It is a good translation though not as literal as some others (as it was translated by a group of scholars from a variety of Christian denominations in an attempt to avoid denominational bias).
Coupled with the fact that most people read regularly from the NIV and are familiar with its text makes it a natural choice if you wish to share the results of your study with others and have them feel comfortable with the manner in which the Bible is quoted. Personally would recommend the New International Version to give to those new to the Bible, New Christians and developing Christians. A suggested list for those not familiar with buying the right Bible for under $15.00 at www.christianbook.com here.
The ESV is a highly literal translation of the Bible that is also highly readable. One of its predominant features is the use (as much as possible) of consistent English translations when the same word or phrase is used in the original languages. The ESV well deserves its growing reputation and is justifiably becoming one of the favored translation of Christians throughout the world. Continuing the fine tradition of the King James Bible into the twenty first century is the English Standard Version.
American Standard Version - Another fine translation is the (an Americanized descendant of the Revised Standard Version which was published in the United Kingdom). Though not found in as wide a range of study Bibles the ASV is considered by many to be one of the most literal translations available and maintains much of the linguistic beauty of the KJV in more contemporary style of language.
IMPORTANT: When choosing a translation you will need to be sure that it is relatively free from such dangerous bias and poor translation methodology as would cause a distraction from the Bible study itself; we are, after all, embarking on our Bible study to learn more about our God, not to be annoyed by the foibles of our fellow man. No one translation is entirely free from bias but some are far more serious than others. If you know where errors of this nature occur in your Bible you can overlook them but over time they may become annoying and also begin to act as a detriment to Godly study.
A good selection of the translations discussed above are available in most of the current selection of study Bibles so your primary question will eventually become: "Which set of study helps do I wish to have accompanied the Bible I use?" It is recommended that the study Bible you use for yourself not be one of the special interest Bibles currently on the market. While these Bibles will contain worthwhile study helps they are generally concentrated along a narrow topic of interest or doctrinal stance and may overlook other areas of study. Be sure to look for a study Bible that has a proven history of limited bias, and a conservative interpretation of doctrine.
Many study Bibles with in text notes (such as the NIV Study Bible, or the Life Application Bible) is that the notes are often an abbreviated or condensed form of commentary and that there is consequently a great temptation to allow the textual notes, which are printed on the same page as the verses to which they refer, to determine how the text itself is to be interpreted. It is important to realize that any study notes, all chapter and verse divisions, as well as all section headings were not originally part of the Bible and have been added subsequently by human editors as study helps to the reader. They are very often trustworthy and can enhance our understanding of the text but they can never be placed on the same level as the text itself.
Remember that the purpose of Bible study is to allow the Bible to speak to us as we study, keeping in mind that the Holy Spirit will teach the willing heart just as Jesus promised:
John 14:26 - 26 "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you."
Let your motive in Bible study be not as much as head knowledge, but the Holy Spirit ministering and working in us as in 2 Corinthians 3:17 -18. "Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord."
CHAPTER 4 >
IMPORTANT BIBLE STUDY TOOLS - CHAPTER 4
1. THE BIBLE: a. ESV Study Bible, b. Thompson Chain Reference Bible, c. New Inductive Study Bible, d. Open Bible, e. NIV Study Bible, f. NIV Thinline Reference Bible
2. Bible Dictionary or Encyclopedia, 3. Concordance 4. Lexicon,
5. Interlinear Bible, 6. Parallel Bible, 7. Cross Reference,
8. Commentary, 9. Background Resources, 10. Dictionary,
11. Computer Software, 12. The Most Essential Tool