A few years back I spent a couple months working with a company that installed hardwood floors. I was totally unqualified for the position. The owner of the company gave me a job because I really needed one and he was a nice guy. But it quickly became apparent that I had no experience in manual, skilled labor. If I were to guess, the first clue was when I showed up on the first day with zero tools in hand. To the praise of God’s glorious grace, the Lord provided me a job for which I was better suited after just a few months.
Last week, my pastor preached a fabulous sermon from Ezra 7:10 on being devoted to the Word of God. In response, we asked our Community Groups to commit to make a plan to begin studying God’s Word. I quickly learned that many Christians are intimidated with the idea of becoming a serious student of Scripture and may not know where to start. That is what this blog series is all about. I want to help put tools in your bag to become skilled in the labor of Bible study.
As you prepare to study the Bible, you will need several basic tools. The most important tool you will need is the Bible itself. It’s obvious that without a Bible, you cannot study the Bible. You would look (and feel) like I did on my first day installing hardwood floors.
So, which Bible should you choose?
Several decades ago, there were only a few decent Bible translations available for study. But all that has changed. Now, there is an overwhelming number of options. To simplify the selection process, let’s narrow down the categories of Bible translations. There are basically three types of Bible translations available in the English language.
First, you have formal equivalence translations. Think: word-for-word. This is where the translators and editors attempt to find an exact (or close to exact) translation for each Hebrew or Greek word in the original text. The goal is faithfulness. The KJV falls into this category, as does the ESV and NASB. Some of these can be precise, but difficult to read.
Next, you have dynamic equivalence translations. Think: thought-for-thought. This is where the translators and editors attempt to match the intent and overall meaning of a sentence or unit of thought from the original text. The goal is clarity. The NIV is the most popular dynamic equivalent translation. Others include the CSB and NLT. Some of these can be easier to read, but a little less precise.
Last (and least), you have paraphrases. Think: idea-for-idea. This is where a translator or editor takes a very free rendering of the original language to communicate a similar idea in English. The goal is impact. The Mesage Translation and the Living Bible are the most popular paraphrases. It is my opinion that these ought to be avoided as the line between original meaning and modern authorial intent (or theological agenda) can easily be blurred.
Here’s a little infographic that may be helpful to see where translations fall on the spectrum.
JUST TELL ME WHAT I SHOULD GET!
If you’re looking for a literal, word-for-word translation: I recommend the NASB or the ESV.
If you’re looking for an accurate, but more readable thought-for-thought translation: grab a CSB or NIV.
If you’re looking for a paraphrase, I urge you to reconsider.
There’s one more thing I highly recommend for whichever translation you choose: invest in a good Study Bible! These offer detailed explanations of difficult passages, cross-references, scholarly notes, and other great tools for your benefit.
One benefit of living in the 21st century is that all of these Bible translations and even Study Bibles are available in any good Bible app. My favorite digital tool is ESV.org, which offers a subscription wherein you get access to 8 study Bibles, 2 commentaries, and several other awesome tools for $40/year. And it’s available as an app, too. (That’s what I use).
LET’S GET STARTED!
Now that you have a basic understanding of Bible translations, pick up a copy of God’s Word and start reading!
If you need a suggestion or have a question, email me.
If you need help purchasing a copy of the Scriptures, email me.
If you need people to hold you accountable as you begin studying God’s Word, join a small group at your church!
If you need help with your shopping list, check out the resources below.
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