…. they were unschooled, ordinary men …. they had been with Jesus …. the crippled man healed standing with them – Acts 4:13,14
The best explanation of the Bible is the Bible itself.
Let scripture explain scripture.
“Its amazing how much light the Bible sheds on commentaries”
— Howard Hendrick
Here’s some free tools on the Internet that will definitely help enrich our Bible reading. What used to be many heavy volumes in libraries is now freely available on the palm of our hand, anytime, anywhere to read, verify, study, etc.
Let’s seize the opportunity to read firsthand.
Like the Gutenberg press that enabled the Bible to be widely available to the masses to read, … and modern translations of the Bible that use contemporary language that can be understood by anyone, …. the Internet unleashes a storehouse of instant information, knowledge and research that empowers anyone, and tilts information asymmetry in many fields, … all through a childlike mouse click, or finger swipe anytime, anywhere.
The following tools will be demonstrated in this post:
** Book Introduction
** Search (online concordance)
** Original Hebrew or Greek
** Chronological timeline of the Bible
We’ll refer to 4 Internet Bible sites:
These 4 sites have similar tools of varying degree and ease of use.
In the examples shown we’ll use John 3 and John 3:16.
The web page images shown are clickable, which will open a copy of the web page being referenced.
Here’s a quick introduction on How we got the Bible (click here) from biblegateway.
The medium of communication of the Bible is through words and phrases.
A quick word on translations
Translations of the Bible use different approaches — word for word, thought for thought, paraphrase. Bible translation involves:
** Hearing God’s Word the way it was written in the form and structure of the original documents.
** Understanding God’s Word the way it was meant using familiar words and idioms.
Sometimes, reading translations that preserve the original Hebrew and Greek sentence structure helps to shed light on the original intent or flow of thought of the writer.
The goal of translation is to convey the same message in another language.
Here’s an example moving from word for word translation, to thought for thought, to a paraphrase translation.
James 2:17 (NASB ESV, AMP, NIV, NLT, MSG)
Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. (NASB)
So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (ESV)
So too, faith, if it does not have works [to back it up], is by itself dead [inoperative and ineffective]. (AMP)
In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (NIV)
So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless. (NLT)
Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense? (MSG)
By reading different translation helps us understand that this verse does not contradict,
Ephesians 2:8-10 (ESV)
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Note also the positions of the punctuation are not the same for the different translations.
For comparison, here’s another verse showing both the word for word, and paraphrase translations, and where the paraphrase version has paraphrased.
Colossians 1:6 (word for word)
which has come to you,
just as in all the world
also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing,
even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it
and understood the grace of God in truth;
Colossians 1:6 (paraphrase)
This same Good News that came to you
is going out all over the world.
It is bearing fruit everywhere by changing lives,
just as it changed your lives from the day you first heard
and understood the truth about God’s wonderful grace.
All English versions of the Bible are translations of the original manuscripts, there is no “authorized” version.
Also, … avoid personalised paraphrased versions or songwriter versions. Here’s an example
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good
to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (NASB)
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,
for those who are called according to his purpose. (ESV)
And we know that in all things God works for the good
of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (NIV)
And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good
of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. (NLT)
Romans 8:28 does not say in all things God works for our good. (full-stop),
but rather good or the good,
and for those who love God and called according to His purpose.
Different ways of translating a sentence is understandable, … as in our conversations with others from another culture, when we translate terms from our native language into English, sometimes there is not a good word that is synonymous or similar. Sometimes a word expresses a feeling or ‘a way of life’ cultural mindset, or contains cultural nuances that cannot be fully captured by an exact word or phrase in English. Language idioms, proverbs, colloquial expressions may sometimes need a few sentences to explain clearly. Furthermore, translating to another language may require grammatical changes to suit the language and its subtleties. Some portions of Bible use a play of words or puns, which are not easily preserved in translation.
Having worked in multicultural project teams in the marketplace (sometimes with colleagues from 10 nations), I noticed that during meetings, … sometimes English words may not entirely share a common meaning or tone across cultures due to cultural nuances/perspectives, which may cause misunderstandings.
Hence, sometimes cultural English may influence one’s reading.
A well-known example is the English word ‘love’ as it is translated in the Bible. The original Greek uses more than one word in different verses.
The Amplified version attempts to highlight these subtleties, … as in the conversation of Jesus and Peter after His resurrection.
John 21:15 (AMP)
So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love (ἀγαπάω agapaō) Me more than these [others do—with total commitment and devotion]?”
He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love (φιλέω phileō) You [with a deep, personal affection, as for a close friend].”
Jesus said to him, “Feed My lambs.”
The English language has also evolved over time, and still evolving, such that certain phrases or words are seldom used, and their meaning of the old English word becomes unclear to modern readers. Here’s an example with an old translation (16th century) and a modern translation (1982) of a phrase in a verse.
Philippians 2:1 (KJV, NKJV)
If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies,
Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy,
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; (KJV)
The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God (NIV)
The beginning of the [facts regarding the] good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. (AMP)
Some original phrases and titles which have meaning (eg Christ, Messiah, Pharisee, etc) are included in Bible translations, eg.
Matthew 27:46 (NASB)
About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
By the way, the phrase is in Aramaic.
Early historical manuscripts of the New Testament text are in Greek, while the Old Testament is in Hebrew, with Ezra and Daniel in Aramaic
If one were to open a page of the Hebrew Tanakh/Torah, equivalent to the Old Testament in the Bible, one will find a section containing the full original text, and another section containing the Masoteric text. The full original text only contains Hebrew consonants, and no punctuation (eg, YWYH). The Masoteric text added the Hebrew vowels to the consonants to form words. (see Wikipedia on Bible Translations (click here)).
On a side note, most scripts used to write Semitic languages omits some or all of the vowels, which is feasible for these languages because the consonants in the Semitic languages are the primary carriers of meaning. (see Wikipedia on Semitic Languages (click here))
Early manuscripts of the letters of Paul and other New Testament writings show no punctuation. The punctuation was added later by other editors, according to their own understanding of the text
The original versions of the Bible did not have chapters and verse numbers. This was only introduced in the Middle Ages and later. Paragraph breaks are also introduced by the translators, paragraphing may vary between translations.
Hence, when reading the Bible, chapter, … verse or paragraph breaks (or a full stop) may not signal the end of a thought or passage.
Some translations have added section headings within the chapters to help the reader; note, this was not in the original.
Also, worth noting is that the Bible uses Hebrew literary styles/structures to communicate (eg. parallelism, hyperbole, metaphor, chiastic, etc).
Here’s a more scholarly look at translations and original manuscript (click here).
It helps to read a few translations if one is looking for a clearer understanding.
As for the question ‘Which translation to use?’
In the past, one would buy a copy or several copies of the Bible. It was cumbersome to read several translations; i.e. opening and reading several physical Bibles at the same time.
However, through technology, we can now easily read or check a few mainstream translations quickly all through simple mouse clicks or finger swipes. Internet tools also enable us to instantly check the original Greek and Hebrew.
All helping us to understand the original intent, and meaning to the original hearers.
Previous Post: Best Bible Translation (click here)
Here’s an example from Biblegateway, on how we can read different translations of the same verse.
Biblegateway has more than 200 translation versions in more than 70 languages, 50 English translations. Here’s the list (click here).
An example from Biblehub.
Biblehub has more than 10 English translations.
By the way, cross references of this verse are listed by Biblehub on the right hand side of this page.
Reading different translations of the same passage (parallel),
an example from Biblegateway.
Sometimes, when different translations differ, its good to read the translators’ footnotes for the verse.
Here’s an example from NASB, (by scrolling down to the bottom of the page)
To get an overview and introduction of the book.
An example from Biblica — an introduction to the book of John.
The NIV Study Bible, introduction of each book of the Bible is available on Biblica.
Search (online concordance)
Trying to recall a verse, but not sure where in the Bible it is?
Useful for examining where words or phrases are repeatedly used in the Bible; word studies.
An example from Biblegateway.
On the right handside, one can jump to particular books, instead of scrolling all the verses. For any verse, one can read the context, view the full chapter or view other translations of the verse. This helps in gaining a clearer understanding the verse with respect to its context.
Google or Bing search engines are very useful too, as it is able to search across multiple translations.
Cross references are references in other parts of the Bible that will help to elaborate on a word or phrase in the verse, or where a similar thought is expressed. Using the Bible to explain the Bible. Similar to web hyperlinks, which made the web so valuable for research, and ease of use.
In the New Testament, there are numerous references to the Old Testament (eg. prophecy), people and items in the Old Testament (eg. Abraham, Moses, laws, tabernacle, feasts, etc). Cross references help the reader to find these references to gain a fuller understanding of the background.
In the Bible, there are also similar narratives recorded, eg. Kings and Chronicles, and the 4 Gospels. Cross references help us locate the parallel narrative/s for further details of the account.
For example, in the feeding of the 5000 which appears in all 4 Gospels, only John pointed out the generous donor, the boy.
Where? Luke tells us its near Bethsaida, while John said it was on a high mountain.
Prior to this miracle, Matthew said Jesus healed the people, Mark recorded Jesus taught, Luke said He did both, while John’s account is silent.
Was there fish in the 12 basketful of fragments, or just bread?
Yes, Mark recorded this one :-).
The divine is in the details? 🙂
An example from Biblegateway.
By clicking on the right-hand toolbar (gear), and selecting the cross-reference checkbox, displays the cross-references for each verse in the passage. On Biblegateway, one can find cross-references for NIV and NASB.
Here’s how to view a cross-reference within a verse, by clicking on a superscript.
Here’s all the cross references linked to one verse — by searching a verse on Biblegateway (eg John 3:16), after switching on cross-references.
Original Hebrew or Greek
Its interesting to check what does the original Hebrew or Greek word mean, to help us understand the verse better.
If you’ve heard someone expound on the Greek meaning of words in a verse, etc,
here’s how you can do it in the comfort of your home or in the palm of your hand :-).
From Blue Letter Bible, by clicking on tools menu, and clicking on the Interlinear option, gives the Greek or Hebrew version of the verse.
Here’s the Greek version of the verse.
By clicking on the Strong number G25, we get a dictionary meaning of the original word, ἀγαπάω.
Scrolling down, there is a section that gives all occurrences of this Greek or Hebrew word in the Bible.
Chronological Timeline of the Bible
The Bible is framed within human history, events and empires. Often events in the Bible are recorded relative to historical events. For example, around the time of the birth of Jesus
Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. 2 This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.
Luke 2:1 (NASB)
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, …
Matthew 2:1 (NASB)
On a side note,
did both the shepherds and Magi arrived to welcome Jesus on the same night ? 🙂
There are also long genealogical records in the Bible as well.
In most parts of the Bible, historical eye-witness accounts are given, for example, the life of Jesus in the Gospels, the book of Acts, the prophets who spoke and lived in the times of the kings of Israel and Judah, Canaan, kingdoms of Egypt, Persia, Rome, etc, etc.
Chronological timelines help us relate who in the Bible were contemporaries; living around the same time. What were the historical events happening when a prophet wrote his book? Who were the kings alive during the time? What empire was in power at that time? etc, etc
Hence, its helpful and interesting to look at chronological timelines of the Bible, and how the books of the Bible relate with each other chronologically, and how the Bible relates with world history.
Romans 12:4 (NIV)
4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.
A timeless, consistent word from God spanning across history, empires and culture.
A Chronological Map from the Creation to the Fourth Century A.D. from Blueletter Bible (click here). (Please read the disclaimer)
The Bible is framed within human history and contains Jewish terminology and practices, geographical places, kings, kingdoms, etc. A Bible dictionary helps to explain terms, words, people, places, background of books, etc, used in the Bible,
An example from Blue Letter Bible.
From Blue Letter Bible, by clicking on tools menu, and clicking on Dictionary option, gives words or concepts in the verse that are explained in Bible Dictionaries related to this verse. Clicking on the Dictionary tab in the pop-up window also opens the Dictionary screen.
The Bible often refers to places and geographical regions. A map of Bible lands helps us understand places relative to other locations, distances, topology, time to travel, battle strategies, etc.
An example from Blue Letter Bible.
From Blue Letter Bible, by clicking on tools menu, and clicking on Miscellaneous Aids option, gives related maps on the verse. Clicking on the Miscellaneous tab in the pop-up window also opens the Maps screen.
Some useful maps for example are the Jesus ministry, missionary trips of Paul, Abraham’s journey, etc.
A google search will reveal many other sources of Bible maps.
Try out these tools in your daily Bible study, and you’ll be amazed at the treasures you’ll uncover in God’s word.
by 林弟兄, bro Lim
February 10, 2016
Copyright © 林弟兄 bro Lim, Laymanointing, 2014-2016 – All Rights Reserved
Creative Commons License