In this article, we will consider simple methods for digging deeper into a verse of the bible. This concept of bible study allows us to spend a study period meditating solely on a single verse that we’ve selected. The selection of the verse may stem from many things: from a scripture read during a recent sermon or class; from a bible class that we’re preparing for; from our own personal bible reading or study of a book or chapter; or maybe a verse that we’ve always loved and want to spend more time with. However the verse is selected, we can be assured that we’re about to gain a deep understanding of the text that will not be soon forgotten, and the many fruits that come by opening our hearts to God’s breath cannot be exaggerated. Let’s consider how this may be accomplished.
- Understand the context.
First things first, reading the context that surrounds the selected verse will do us a world of good. The context will provide the proper setting for the verse and keep us from subconsciously making up our own setting which may adversely affect our approach and understanding of the verse.
- Read the verse out of other translations (parallel study).
While this is not absolutely necessary, it is a quick and easy step we can take, and more often than not, we’ll be glad we did it. Reading the verse out of a few different translations can make the verse more understandable, for we will have read the same message from different arrangements and word choices. Selecting a few word-for-word translations like the NKJV, ESV, and CSB, are a good start, followed by a (so-called) “enhanced” translation like the NLT or NIV. I would never recommend an “enhanced” translation to be anyone’s primary bible, as they can give an incorrect interpretation to the text; so, while they can be helpful for deeper study, they should always be taken with a grain of salt. The text of 2 Timothy 3:16 is a good example of the differences in translations that we can benefit from in our studies:
- NKJV: All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness
- ESV: All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness
- NLT: All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It straightens us out and teaches us to do what is right.
- Write out the verse yourself.
A critical process in bible study is the writing portion. There simply is no substitute for it. Nothing can compare to writing when it comes to committing something to memory. But the exercise of writing out a verse is not merely memory work, that’s only a side benefit, it is for seeing every single detail in the verse. And if you want to take this a step further, write down the verse, starting from a new line on the paper after each word that you feel you want to emphasize. You may end up with 2-3 words on each line, or even just one word on each line. It would look something like this for John 3:16,
- So loved
- The world
- He gave
- His only
- Begotten Son
- Whosoever Believes
- In Him
- Should not perish
- But have
- Everlasting life
- Ask the Five W’s and How.
Just like we discussed last week when studying a chapter, the same questions can be asked for single verses, too. Write down the answers to the questions (any that apply) of who, what, when, where, why, and how. This technique of investigators and journalists will help you gather all the facts and see every detail. Taking again the example of John 3:16, here is what this step looks like:
- Who? God
- What? Loved
- Who? The world
- How? By giving the world a gift
- What? He gave His only Son
- Why? To give the world everlasting life
- How? Whoever believes
- Who? The Son
- Look up words from the verse.
By this point, we are well on our way to a full comprehension of the selected verse, however, we can employ this step if we just want to dig even deeper, or if we are still having some difficulties understanding some of the verse. Usually, at this point, the difficulties that remain are due to the word usage of the verse. A good start would be to use a standard English dictionary to look up as many words as we want from the verse. But if we need something more, I recommend the use of dictionaries of bible words, such as:
- Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew Lexicon (for old testament words)
- Thayer’s Greek to English Lexicon (for new testament words)
- Strong’s Concordance with Hebrew and Greek Lexicons (for both old and new testament words).
All of these are easily obtainable nowadays and are free to use on the internet and free bible study software and bible study phone apps. If you want to consider more information, you can use an expository dictionary, such as:
- Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words
- Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words
These expository dictionaries go beyond the definition of words and attempt to explain the words as they are used in the biblical text. For example, Thayer’s Lexicon defines the word agapao, translated “love” in John 3:16, as “of persons: to welcome, to entertain, to be fond of, to love dearly.” While Mounce’s Expository Dictionary says this concerning agapao, “In secular Greek especially before the time of Christ, it was a colorless word without any great depth of meaning, used frequently as a synonym of eros (sexual love) and phileo (the general term for love). If it has any nuance, it was the idea of love for the sake of its object. Perhaps because of its neutrality of meaning and perhaps because of this slight nuance of meaning, the biblical writers picked agapao to describe many forms of human love (e.g. husband and wife, Eph. 5:25, 28, 33) and, most importantly, God’s undeserved love for the unlovely, in other words, its meaning comes not from the Greek but from the biblical understanding of God’s love.” So, we see how an expository dictionary can be helpful, however, a regular lexicon of bible words is more important, as they give the direct definition of a word without adding their own spin on the word, which could potentially contain faults.
May these methods aid you in your studies, and may much fruit be produced from your labors in the word of God.
Article by Tanner Campbell.