How to Study the Bible Part 2 – Dig Into the Words

Lost in Translation

“Je ne sais quoi”

(click here to hear this phrase pronounced – then click the blue “volume” icon to the left of the phrase in large, bold font near the top of the page).

Je ne sais quoi is a French phrase that doesn’t easily or directly translate into English. There’s something “lost in translation,” if you will. It translates directly as “I don’t know what,” but that doesn’t do the phrase justice. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, it means “a pleasing quality that cannot be exactly named or described.”

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And even that doesn’t fully explain the meaning. Many times, this phrase is used to describe someone that is physically attractive, but maybe not for conventional reasons. Maybe you wouldn’t look at this woman and think her beautiful in the typical sense, but there’s just something about her…something you can’t quite put your finger on. The “something” you can’t quite put your finger on… that is je ne sais quoi.

If you simply translate the phrase directly, you’ve done your job, but you miss the complete essence of what it means. You miss just a little more understanding that gives you the “a-ha” moment. The hidden understanding you can only get if you look deeper into the meaning.

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After I’d been studying the Bible a few years with the help of the commentaries, cross references, and concordances I had at my disposal, I felt a pull for more. I didn’t quite know what that “more” was, but I knew I wanted something else. Then, I started noticing places in sermons where pastors would explain what a word in a Bible verse meant in the original language. The pastor usually pointed out the original usage of the word when it was different from the way the word would be defined in our culture, when knowing the original usage would give us a deeper understanding of what the verse meant. I came to understand that, at times, when translating Greek or Hebrew to English, something vital was lost in translation. And I don’t want to miss anything.

I wanted to know how to look up scripture in its original language, but I wasn’t going to take a course in Greek or Hebrew any time soon, so I asked our life group teacher if there was access to such information for the laity – us “common folk” who aren’t pastors or theologians but who want to look deeper into what the Bible is saying. He pointed me to several online resources and smartphone apps. Two of those have become constant study tools for me. I want to share them with you because they have added richness to my time in God’s Word.

Blue Letter Bible

Blue Letter Bible was the first site my friend recommended. (I use the smartphone app nearly every day when I study the Bible, so I’ll walk you through using the app; I rarely go on the website itself, so I’m not as familiar with it).

Note: I don’t read the Bible as a whole from this app, (although you could if you wanted). I read it from my print Bible. I use this app when I want to study the scriptures deeper – such as looking up the meanings of words in their original language or looking at one verse in a variety of translations. (I’ll explain both exercises here).

Basics of Blue Letter Bible app

Once you’ve downloaded the app from the App Store and opened it on your phone, you’ll choose the translation you want to use (you can add a translation if you don’t see the one you want). I added the ESV because that’s the print version I have, and I am used to reading that translation.

You can switch between translations by clicking on the word “Bibles” in the top, right corner (see below). Do this anytime you use the app. You can also go back and add more translations later.

Once you’re ready to study verses using the app, toggle back and forth between Old Testament (OT) and New Testament (NT) by clicking the button circled on the image below.

For the purposes of this blog, I’m going to the New Testament and choosing Matthew. You can see that the books are listed in order as they appear in the Bible. Click on a book to open it.

Next select the chapter you want. I’m going to select Chapter 4 to use as an example for our purposes here.

Scroll down and click on the verse you want to study. I’m using verse 17.

After you click on the verse, you get the menu below. I’ll come back and talk about some other features in this app, but for now, we’re going to focus on studying the words of scripture in their original language, so click on “Interlinear/Concordance.”

Below, you’re looking at Matthew 4:17 in ESV. The Greek text is at the top followed by the ESV translation. I click the “Reverse Interlinear” button to put the English words on the left side of the screen. Just makes better sense to my eyes and brain.

In this verse, let’s say we’re interested in the word “repent.” This is what Jesus preached once his ministry started. He began telling people to repent. So, I want to see what he really meant by that. To me, “repent” means being sorry for what you did. But I want to see if there is something deeper here. It seems like an important thing if it was the message Jesus began his ministry with. So, scroll down and click on the word “repent” (somewhere near the English word itself. If you click on the oval in the middle of the screen, it’ll take you somewhere else).

On this screen, you see what the Greek word looks like and can click on the blue speaker icon to hear it pronounced. (I LOVE to do that). You can see the part of speech and any root words. (The blue words are hyperlinks you can click on to go to the entry for the root word).

But, what I’m mostly interested in here is the “Outline of Biblical Usage” section just over half way down the screen. You can see that the definition of repent, as it is used in this verse, goes far beyond simply being sorry for what you did. And THAT is exactly why I encourage you to learn to use BLB app or some other tool to study the words in their original language. Having this understanding of how the word “repent” was used gives me richer insight into what Jesus meant in his message when he began to tell people to repent. In the highlighted section, you’ll note that repentance is when a person turns “from sin to God” {emphasis mine}. Jesus commanded that people turn away from their past sins and turn toward God. Literally, look at God rather than the sinful world. Man! That’s so rich!

Once you have a better understanding of the general definition of the word, you can go another step deeper: scroll down, and look at the Thayer’s Greek Lexicon – circled below. This portion of the Interlinear/Concordance shows you exactly how the word was used in that specific verse – rather than a simple, dictionary-type definition. So, click on the link that says “Tap to view the entire entry” to open the full lexicon for the word.

Then, scroll slowly and carefully, looking for the specific verse you’re studying. In the New Testament, the verses are easier to see because they are blue hyperlinks. The Old Testament lexicon looks like a PDF copy of an original writing, so nothing is a hyperlink and nothing stands out. It’s harder to find your specific verse. (I’ve also noticed that the lexicon isn’t exhaustive – it doesn’t list all the verses in the entire Bible that use the word in this specific way). I generally have better luck finding the verse I’m looking for in the New Testament lexicon although there have been times I couldn’t find it there either. Maybe I just missed it. Either way, you have the basic definition(s) to go off of to get a good enough idea of what’s being said.

The highlighted portion below shows you exactly how the word “repent” was used in Matthew 4:17.

If you find that you love studying the Bible this way, I encourage you to try rewording the verses based on the original meanings you uncover. To do this, go through the verse, using BLB app and look up each word in the scripture or each key word or each word that was important to you. Once you had a solid understanding of the deeper meaning of the word, reword the verse using the information you found in your study. This has been a favorite activity of mine for Bible study. I do it almost every time I read something whether I am studying a particular verse or focusing on a certain chapter in a book. When a verse catches my attention, I almost always study the original language (Hebrew for the OT and Greek for the NT) and then reword the verse to help me understand it more fully.

*However, be sure you aren’t changing the meaning of the verse when you reword it. To be sure this doesn’t happen, pray through the word study with God, carefully look up each word, read the verse in a variety of translations, read surrounding verses to get context, and read commentary on the verse. Really dig deep into the verse before attempting to reword it. When you feel confident you understand it enough to work with it, then reword it.

*A fun hint I’ve picked up along the way is personalizing scripture. You can add your name into the scripture where a personal address might fit. Here’s an example using Matthew 4:17 – From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, Heather, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Add your name in the place of mine. You can do this with many, many verses, and it helps drive home the idea that God is speaking directly to you through His words in the Bible, and that His Word is still relevant today.

I’ve mentioned reading different versions of the Bible several times in this post, and BLB app makes it simple to do that. Without leaving the app, you can read most of the major translations of the Bible. When you’re inside the verse you’re studying, click “Bible Comparison” to switch between different translations.

When you click “Bible Comparisons,” you start with the version you’re reading, but you can scroll down and read the verse in different translations. This has been such a helpful tool for me; I use it regularly to help me get a better understanding of the verse.

While you’re inside a specific verse, you can also click “Text Commentaries” (see highlighted below) and read commentaries on that specific verse, chapter, book, or the concept being discussed in that verse. A wealth of commentaries are loaded into the app.

I have come to enjoy David Guzik’s commentaries and will usually seek them out when I use this feature of BLB app.

Vine’s Expository Dictionary

Another app I use for studying original meanings of words in scripture is Vine’s Expository Dictionary app. It’s a more straight-forward and simpler to use than BLB. I use it when I already know the word I want to look up – I have a word in mind separate from a specific verse. (BLB is for studying specific verses then drilling down to individual words. Vine’s is for looking up the original language for a word you already know you want to study – not necessarily connected to a specific verse).

Below, the icon is circled, so you can find it in the App Store.

When you open the app, you have two choices for searching for the word – either type it in the search window at the top or click on the box with the corresponding letter of the alphabet and go from there.

I searched “righteous,” a word I often have to look up when I’m studying because I can’t get the meaning to stay in my brain 🙂 Once you find the word you want, click on it in the list.

Then, you can scroll through and read about all the varied meanings of the words in scripture. If you know a specific scripture, you can search the blue hyperlinks.

What helpful bible study hints have you picked up along the way? What tools help you most during your study time? Please share them here.

Wait…I Have to Love My Enemies?

Has this ever happened to you: Someone hurt your feelings? Talked about you behind your back? Someone was difficult to deal with? Made your life hard or unpleasant?

Of course. We’ve all experienced hurtful situations and challenging people. We may not think of these people literally as our enemies. I definitely don’t think of myself as having enemies. That word’s a little harsh. But we certainly don’t think fondly of people who have wronged us. I know I have people in my life who are difficult to love. They rub me the wrong way. Our personalities don’t mesh well.

However, Jesus was clear that believers must love our neighbor – anybody we come into contact with during the course of our day – and we must love our enemy – the people who have hurt us.

Lately, I’ve been interested in exactly HOW to love others. Does the Bible give me specific instructions on exactly what to do to show love to my neighbor and my enemy?

To find out, I went back to the verse that started this whole thing: Ephesians 5:2, “And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (ESV).” And I studied the two Greek words for love used in the verse – agape and agapao. Agape is a noun: a thing, concept, or an idea. Agapao is a verb: something you do, an action.

Using the Blue Letter Bible app, I read through all the verses that used agapao and noted verses that gave explicit directions – something specific to do to show love. The first concrete instructions in the New Testament using the verb agapao were given by Jesus. In Matthew 5:44, he said, “But, I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (ESV – emphasis added).”

How do we love others? How do we love people who have done us wrong? Pray for them – all of them – the ones who wronged us, treated us poorly, talked about us behind our backs, don’t deserve our kindness…

Jesus told us to have a conversation with God about that person; that’s what prayer is anyway, a conversation with God.

Can you ask God to burn the bread they’re toasting for breakfast or to give that person a flat tire on the way to work?

NO 🙂

But, you can ask God to change him or her…to make that person into someone who acts kindly, stops spreading rumors, leaves your child along at school. All those requests are fine. In our conversations with God, we’re allowed to tell Him our hearts’ desire.

However, Scripture specifically instructs us to pray for our enemies’ salvation, to express thankfulness for those people, and to pray for their well-being (1 Peter 3:9).

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Sounds extremely difficult, right? When you’re upset with someone, the last thing you want to do is to pray for that person’s well-being! No! You want to call your best friend and tell him or her about who wronged you and how angry you are.

But, this has no place in the life of a Christ-follower. Jesus said we were to love the people who persecuted us. He also said, “do good to those who hate you (Luke 6:27 ESV).”

The apostle Peter echoed this when he wrote, “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called that you may obtain a blessing (1 Peter 3:9 ESV).”

Do good to people who hate you? Bless people who have done evil to! Can you imagine?

The Greek word used for bless means “speak well of,” and this is what God calls us to do. Don’t repay gossip with gossip or cruel words with cruel words.

Instead, try to say something pleasant to or about that person. Or, maybe try what my grandmother and mother taught me: If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.

Do you know what might happen in prayer with God when you talk to him about this person who is difficult to love? He might have some things to say to you as well. A conversation goes two ways, right? He may convict your heart to pray for that person’s soul and salvation. He may encourage you to overlook the offensive things that person has done and will do. He may command you to forgive. To continue to be kind no matter how you’re treated. To speak well of that person (or at least to keep your mouth shut).

So, in your prayer time with God, specifically about this difficult person, who is God actually changing?

You.

Crazy how that works, isn’t it.

I’m not saying the other person won’t also change as a result of your prayers. That is a likely outcome as well. But, God will definitely change you during your time in prayer with him.

Try it.

Right now, think of a person in your life who is difficult to deal with. Someone who has said something to you or about you or done somehting to you and upset you.

Stop right now and pray for that person. Ask God to speak to that person’s heart. Ask God to pursue that person for an intimate relationship like He (hopefully) has with you. Pray for that person’s soul and salvation. Pray for that person’s family. Job. Health.

Ask God to tell you other ways you could show kindness and love for that person and ask Him to give you the strength to do it.

Give God a chance to show you what He can do.

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Maybe this sounds unrealistic or oversimplified. And honestly, you won’t see the outcome you want from each “enemy” you pray for. But that doesn’t matter. It’s what Jesus taught, so it is what God expects. As His children, we should respond with obedience, no matter the outcome.

5 Ways to Strengthen Yourself in the Lord

David and his army of 600 men returned home to find their city burned and their families and the rest of their possessions gone – the result of an Amalekite raid.  (1 Samuel 30:1-5)

David was distressed.  The men were distraught and talked of stoning their leader.

“But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God,” (1 Samuel 30:6b) and called for a prophet to come so David could inquire of the Lord’s will.  Once David heard what God wanted him to do, he and his men followed through and were able to recover their wives, their children, and all the things that had been taken from them.  “Nothing was missing, whether small or great, sons or daughters, spoil or anything that had been taken.  David brought back all.” (1 Samuel 30:19).

The key here is verse 6b: David strengthened himself in the Lord.  The Hebrew word used here for strenghten is “chazaq” which literally means to tie fast, to bind strongly.  It signifies strong adhesion (Blue Letter Bible app).

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In response to a potentially catastrophic situation – their families might be dead for all they knew, and the men were angry enough to kill David – David caught hold of the Lord tightly.

Can you see David doing that?

He seized hold of the Lord with both hands.

He bound himself to God and asked Him what to do.

The seizing, the binding, the holding tightly…this strengthened David.

The Bible doesn’t tell us exactly how David strengthened  himself here…I’m reading into the situation based on the original Hebrew word used.

But, we know from other verses of scripture, there are many instances in Psalms for example, exactly how David strengthened himself in the Lord at other times.  And we can read story after story of how other people in the Bible made themselves strong by turning to God.  So, we can learn from God’s Word and apply this knowledge to our own lives.

5 Ways to Strengthen Yourself in the Lord

  • Pray
  • Read
  • Write
  • Worship
  • Fellowship

PRAY – Time spent in prayer binds you to the Lord

Romans 8:26: Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.  

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There is no one, right way to pray.  As the scripture above explains, when we can’t even think what to say in our own prayers, the Holy Spirit will mediate on our behalf.  However, I have heard of an acronym for PRAY to guide you when you go before the Lord.  (I have heard it from several different sources and explained in a variety of ways over the years.  While I cannot give a specific source citation, I can tell you that this isn’t my original material).

P = PRAISE – Begin your time with God by praising Him because He is worthy.  Thank Him for His blessings.  Sing Him a worship song.  Recite Bible verses that show gratitude and thanksgiving.

R = REPENT – Confess your sins and ask for forgiveness.  Ask God to help you truly repent and turn from that sin back to Him.  Ask God to show your sin to you and convict you so you cannot commit that sin again.

A = ASK – Share your prayer requests with God.  Talk to Him about the suffering and needs of others as well as things that are troubling you.  Ask Him to help you make a decision.  Talk to Him about your job, your health, your relationships, your future.

Y = YIELD – Finally, tell God that, above all else, you want His will to be done even if it is different from your desires.

Hint – as you seize the Lord with both hands in prayer, He will change your heart.  He will convict you of things you weren’t even aware were sins.  He will reveal His will and begin to change your heart to reflect His plan.

Make prayer an every-day priority.

Read – Time spent reading the Bible binds you to the Lord

Exodus 24:7 – Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people.  And they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.

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Scripture is God’s love letter to us.  It is God’s Word.   His Word teaches us.  It encourages us.  It strengthens us.  It rebukes us.  It points us to God.  The more you read your Bible, the more you understand who God is and how much He cares for you.

Take time to read your Bible each day.

Write – Time spent writing about your faith binds you to the Lord

1 John 5:13 – I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.

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Write your prayers.  You’ll have a written record of them and can go back to this when God answers you.

Journal about what you learned in the scripture you read.  Sometimes when I do this, I ask God questions about what I didn’t understand and write out what he teaches me from the story.  Other times I may paraphrase verses or summarize Bible stories, explaining in what happened in my own words.  The exercise of journaling helps me glean more meaning than reading alone.

Write or journal about your faith journey as often as possible.

Worship – Time spent worshiping binds you to the Lord

Luke 4:8 – And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’ “

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Sing God a worship song.  Dance to worship music on the radio.  Do you play an instrument?  Learn to play worship music on your instrument.

Prayer is also worship.

Go for a walk and admire the things God created.  Praise him for the warmth of the sun and the singing of the birds.

Serve in a local soup kitchen or homeless shelter.

Show kindness to a stranger for no reason.

Go cheerfully to your place of employment and do your work to the best of your ability.

Love and care for your family.

Let everything you do worship the Lord.

Fellowship – Time spent in fellowship with other believers binds you to the Lord

Acts 2:42 – And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

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Participate in a church service.  Attend a Sunday school class/life group.

Invite friends to a fellowship meal at your home.  Share a meal with someone in need.

Join a Bible study group.

Focus on Christ-centered conversation with friends.

Find a Christian mentor or become a Christian mentor to someone “younger” in the faith.

The idea here is to be in community with other followers of Christ.  To talk about Him.  To worship together.  To read scripture and study the Bible together.

Participate in Christian fellowship whenever you get the opportunity.

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Spending time with God in prayer, reading scripture from His Word, praising Him in Worship, writing to Him or about Him, and joining in Christian fellowship guide you into a deeper relationship with Him.  All these are acts of binding yourself to the Lord your God.  Hold onto Him tightly.  He is your Rock and your Shelter.   Like David, a man after God’s own heart, you, too, can strengthen yourself in the Lord.

{ This post was written as part of Five Minute Friday’s Link Up }