5. Carefully Select Your Resources
Depending on the type of study you should choose, there are many resources available. There is no longer any need to become encumbered with piles of books that crowd your table. All can easily be found online at your fingertips. There are numerous apps available that can be downloaded to your PC and smartphone. Entire biblical libraries can easily be navigated online. Before your spiritual juices get flowing, I suggest starting with the basics:
First Things First: Get a Reliable Bible
Whatever you do, study with a reliable Bible. A reliable Bible with cross-references, which you are familiar with, is worth its weight in gold. It will provide you years upon years of precious reading and study. Make sure it is a word-for-word translation. Using a bible for study which you are not accustomed to, have not read, or one of a different version will only distract and frustrate you. Choose a bible version and be faithful to it. Choose a bible and be faithful to it, using it for both reading and study. Make sure your bible is one you can make notes in such as dates, times, prayers, key words, notes, insights, etc. Do not be afraid to highlight, circle, and underline specific texts. I encourage you to do so.
Commentaries can be excellent, but they are not always factually-based (although they contain factual information). This makes them prone to the opinions, interpretations, and indoctrinations of men. Therefore, carefully consider your source, as they are authored by men and women with varying doctrinal viewpoints and opinions. Again, this can breed confusion. This is where becoming Berean in your manner of study is of utmost importance. I caution you: DO NOT take the teaching of someone else at face value. With all due respect, weigh and test everything by the Word of God, asking the Holy Spirit to bring you absolute truth. He will quickly shimmy up any crooked lines. He is your Teacher. Jesus Christ is the Word made flesh. There is no division in Him. Truth will always and forever remain true. He does not change. He will, in time, reveal all things as you seek Him and wait upon Him. Personally, there is no specific commentary I favor over another, and I confess to rarely using them. My habit is to go to Christ and seek Him first in prayer. Therefore, I cannot make a valid or firm recommendation. However, if and when you use a commentary, always select more than one. I suggest at least three. Find out what is being said about a particular passage, and prayerfully compare the notes. A good commentary will always give plenty of scriptural resource to validate an opinion. As you do this, you will quickly learn just how diverse biblical opinions and doctrines can be. Whatever the case, do not allow commentaries to be your plumb line. They are not. They are simply resources to aid you, which can be fallible (as we all are). Nothing—absolutely nothing—can compare to God’s Word. Christ Jesus is your plumb line. Also, do not allow commentaries to breed confusion. If this begins to be the case, I suggest you put them away. Nothing can shipwreck your faith quicker than conferring with contrary opinions which breed confusion and multiply doubts.
A good lexicon is an invaluable resource, allowing you to understand the original Greek and Hebrews texts. It is personally my favorite and most used resource of any. These are important if you want to know the depth of original meaning. However, overuse of these can frustrate you as well. Therefore, I’d like to give some pointers in the correct use of a lexicon. Overuse of a good lexicon can get you stuck in a revolving door, hampering your progress. If you spend time looking up every solitary word, it will wear you out. Not only is this unnecessary, but it’s time consuming and overwhelming. Here are some examples of how to use your lexicon strategically so it may truly profit your study:
1.) When meanings are unclear or ambivalent between related passages
2.) When you don’t understand the definition or you feel the English word needs to be clarified.
3.) When words have more than one meaning.
4.) When there is a ‘heavy-weight’ that stands out in the crowd (i.e. words uncommonly used, or one that packs a punch).
5.) For topical study, and you desire deeper revelation on that specific topic
6.) When you find words repeated within one passage. This points to their inherent significance, so definitely take the time to find the definition. You’ll be surprised. Many times the same word in different passages can have entirely different/unrelated meanings in the Hebrew and Greek. This is where the English language can fail us, because often words have more than one meaning. This alone gives evidence to the importance of seeking the aid of a lexicon for understanding of the original texts.
A good dictionary is a wonderful resource because it expounds upon the historical aspect of a given word or meaning. Biblical dictionaries are much like encyclopedias, offering a wealth of information from various perspectives including historical, cultural, practical, genealogical, traditional, etc. They provide times, dates, people, places, and cultural insights. You get a much fuller meaning which provides a clear setting for the text. With this being said, dictionaries provide an understanding of context for the entire passage. I strongly suggest using them, and frequently. Dictionaries are not opinionated textual aids. They are factual, being a reliable source of information. When you see a person, place, or thing noted in Scripture, grab your dictionary. Chances are, there will be a wealth of information that will open your eyes in ways you didn’t know was even possible. There are different types of bible dictionaries. Some are strictly cultural. Vine’s is one I can recommend without hesitation, as it is widely known and used.
A good concordance is always helpful, as it allows you to cross-reference texts. Strong’s is by far the most widely used, and I highly recommend it. A good concordance will also point you toward a lexical aid when necessary, through inherent meanings of words listed throughout the Word of God in various contexts.