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Basics of Bible Literacy Supplement #1

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Hebrew and Greek Definitions Any simple English definitions of Greek and Hebrew root words in this series of booklets are not intended to be scholarly expositions, but merely helpful basics. Students who wish to go into more detail on the technical nuances in the ancient languages are encouraged to seek expert advice on what reference works would be most useful. The definitions of Greek words are derived from a combination of: The online New Testament Greek Lexicon at This Lexicon is based on Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon and Smith's Bible Dictionary Strong's Exhaustive Concordance: Greek Lexicon The definitions of Hebrew words are derived from a combination of: The online Brown, Driver, Briggs Old Testament Hebrew Lexicon at Strong's Exhaustive Concordance: Hebrew Lexicon English Definitions Unless otherwise noted, any definitions of English words in this booklet are adapted from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary at: Biblical Quotations Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations in this booklet are from the THE HOLY BIBLE: NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. (NIV) © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved. Contact Information Other booklets in this series can be requested free of charge from the source where you obtained this booklet.You may also send an email request to: [email protected] Or send a written request to: Oasis Ministries, PO Box 734, Cedartown GA 30125-0734 Be sure to include your full name and address, including ZIP code. © 2008 Pam Dewey

Why so many choices?


Choosing Bible Translations

Pictured above are just four of hundreds of variations of the Bible that are available for purchase through your local book store. Why so many? If the Bible is "the Word of God" as Christians often refer to it, how can there be any variations at all? Shouldn't there just be one perfect Bible, and every copy be all the same? It would certainly make it easier for the new student of the Bible if this was so! In fact, those who have not been exposed in the past to the topic of Bible translations may be utterly bewildered when they realize that they can't just walk into a bookstore, ask for "The Bible," and be handed what they ask for with no more details needed. So before a discussion on how to choose a Bible, it may be helpful for some readers to have a brief overview of why there is such a huge selection of Bibles.

Original Languages

The Bible is actually not one book at all. It is a collection of 66 diverse documents, bound under one cover, somewhat like an "anthology" of short stories you may have read in English class in high school. These documents were not all written by the same author, nor during the same period in history. They were written by a wide variety of authors, during a span of time perhaps 1,500 years or more long. 1

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There are two main sections to a Protestant Christian Bible. The first, usually referred to as the Old Testament, is made up of 39 documents. Although it is impossible to determine exactly when each was composed, the oldest may have been written as long as 3,400 years ago or more, and the last close to 2,400 years ago.

The original authors of these documents (usually called today "books" of the Bible) wrote in the Hebrew language. On the left is a sample of a version of this language, part of a handwritten copy over 200 years old of a scroll of one of the books of the Old Testament.

The second section of the Bible is usually referred to as the New Testament, and consists of 27 documents (also usually called "books," although a number of them were originally personal letters to individuals or groups) written by a variety of authors during the period from about 50 AD to 90 AD. The original authors of these documents wrote in a version of the Greek language. On the right is a page from a copy of the Greek Book of John from the New Testament, written on ancient papyrus perhaps about 200 AD.

Obviously we no longer have the original manuscripts written by the authors of each of the books. We must rely on the fact that those who treasured these writings throughout history diligently made copies of the documents in their original languages to pass down to later generations. The oldest complete copy of the Greek manuscripts making up the New Testament in our Bibles dates back to the fourth century AD. The oldest complete copy of the Hebrew manuscripts making up the Old Testament in our Bible dates back to only 1008 AD. 2

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But the average person in the 21st century is unable to read either ancient Hebrew or Greek. If they are to find out what the Bible says about the history of God's interaction with mankind, they must rely on scholars who do understand those languages to translate them into the common language of each country. The material in this booklet has been prepared for those who speak the English language, so the discussion here will be limited to consideration of the English translations of the Bible.

English Translations of the Bible

Up until the 1300s AD, translations of the Greek and Hebrew portions of the Bible were not made into the common languages of the various countries of the western world. They were made into Latin, the universal language of higher scholarship of the time. This made it impossible for the common man to read the Bible for himself, even if he were educated enough to know how to read his own language. The first translation of the whole Bible into the English language, completed in the late 1300s, was not made directly from the original Greek and Hebrew, but from one of the Latin translations. The first translation of the New Testament into the English language made directly from the Greek was completed in the early 1500s, with the first translation of the Old Testament directly from the Hebrew following soon after. These translations, combined with the invention of moveable type by Gutenburg in the mid-1400s, eventually made it possible for a greater and greater percentage of the populations of English-speaking countries to be able to own and read their own Bible. In the early 1600s, King James I of England decided that it would be valuable for all of the churches in England to be using one standardized Bible translation, and thus he commissioned a group of the most learned Hebrew and Greek scholars of the Church of England to prepare a new version of the Bible. Using earlier English translations as a base for their work, along with the limited collection of ancient Greek and Hebrew manuscripts available at the time, they created what was to be labeled ever after as the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible. First published in 1611, it is recognized even to this day as a literary masterpiece of the English language. It quickly became the standard Bible for not just England but the whole English-speaking world, including, eventually, the United States.


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Revising the Bible

But English is not a "dead language" like Latin that never changes. It is alive and growing. Word meanings, grammar, spelling, and more aspects of English have changed over time as a natural process. And Bible scholarship and archaeology did not remain static after 1611 either. Many more very early manuscripts of sections of the Bible have been found since then, as well as nonBiblical writings in Greek and Hebrew that have helped clarify what some ancient words and phraseology meant. Thus by the late 1800s an increasing number of Bible scholars had concluded that the King James Version, although it had served well for over 200 years, needed some revision. A number of attempts at revision, as well as a few completely new translations from the Hebrew and Greek originals, were made by individuals and small groups of scholars from the early 1700s on. But the most significant major revision occurred in the late 1800s, when a collection of British biblical scholars, primarily from the Church of England, convened to agree upon a process of revision in which the KJV would be carefully compared to all the best available Greek and Hebrew manuscripts and linguistic and archaeological scholarship of the time, and adjusted accordingly. The complete Bible in this new version, titled the Revised English Version (REV), was published in 1885. The British translators cooperated with a group of American scholars at the same time, and an adaptation of the REV titled the American Standard Version (ASV), slightly adjusted to reflect American English style, was published in 1901. Neither of these versions ever received wide acceptance as a replacement in general use for the King James Version. The ASV became the forerunner of an even more elaborate attempt at revision, which yielded the Revised Standard Version (RSV) of the whole Bible, first published in 1952. Its authors hoped it would be welcomed widely as a replacement for the KJV, but it also ended up with a narrow set of supporters over the years. Finally, a much more extensive revision titled the New American Standard Bible (NASB) was published in 1971. Over the past 30+ years it has gained a wider acceptance as an alternative translation to the KJV than its predecessors, especially since the time, in 1995, that it was revised to change all of the archaic wording such as "thou," "thee," "thy," and "thine" and all the words ending in -eth and -est that had been maintained from the KJV in the earlier revisions, and substitute modern terms.

New Translations

At the same time that these revisions to the KJV were being made, there have been a number of totally new translations from the ancient Greek and Hebrew 4

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manuscripts. Some have been made by just one individual scholar, such as the Moffatt translation, first published in a full Bible version in 1926. Greek and Hebrew scholar and Bible professor James Moffatt created a highly idiosyncratic translation, attempting to make it sound as "modern" as possible. In the process, he often inserted his own opinions and doctrinal interpretations into passages in ways that had absolutely no connection to the ancient texts. In fact, at times he would even change around the order of whole sections of Bible books to line up with what he speculated might have been a more, at least to his taste, logical order of the content. Moffatt's translation never became very popular, but for many years it was one of the few truly modern-sounding renditions of the Bible, and thus was often quoted by some commentators if the wording of some Bible passage in the KJV they wished to use was so obscure that it was nearly impossible for modern readers to comprehend. It has been particularly common in the past century for Greek scholars to offer brand new translations of just the New Testament. However, since the purpose of this chapter is to assist the reader in choosing a complete Bible for basic Bible study, these partial Bibles will not be covered further. In addition to actual scholarly translations from the original languages, there have been a number of attempts in the past century to provide modern paraphrases of the Bible, in which the author considers the content of a Bible passage and decides how to express the same general ideas with more contemporary examples and wording. The most widely-accepted of these paraphrases has been the Living Bible. Although such versions may be pleasant to read, they should not be considered as the Bible of choice for any serious Bible student, for they can easily distort the intended meaning of a passage and mislead the reader. Most have been written by a single author, and thus it is very easy for his own personal interpretations to creep into the text, rather than the kind of objectivity that can result when a whole staff of writers collaborate on a translation, and keep one another from allowing any one passage to reflect one person's doctrinal agenda. The most popular translation made by the efforts of a large staff of translators in the last fifty years has been the New International Version (NIV). First published in a version containing both Old and New Testaments in 1977, it has since that time become the best-selling Bible translation on the market today.


It is not the purpose of this chapter to give a detailed overview of every Bible translation and paraphrase on the market. That would be a massive project. The 5

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comments above are offered only as a very general introduction to the issue of choosing one or more translations for home use by the beginning Bible student. The bottom line of this issue is this: no one translation is going to meet the needs of every person, whether for reading for general understanding of the plan of God, for inspiration for daily living, or for careful examination of the details of Christian beliefs. Each English translation has its own strengths and its own shortcomings, for all of the three needs mentioned. Thus the wisest course for the beginner may be to start out with at least two translations of the Bible. Because a significant proportion of the "Bible study helps" books available, such as concordances and lexicons, are based on the text of the King James Version, it is practically indispensable for every serious Bible student to have at least one copy of the KJV on hand. But because it is also important for the new Bible student to be able to get a broad overview of the basic content of the Bible, to get his bearings before delving into the details of any matter, it is also very sensible to have a modern language version for general reading and daily inspiration. For those working through this Basics of Bible Literacy series, it will be most practical to have a copy of the New International Version of the Bible, as it, along with the KJV, is used throughout the series. This should not in any way be taken as a complete endorsement of the NIV as being somehow superior in all ways to any of the other versions available, nor a claim that it has no errors. Bible commentators have concerns about some details of every translation, and a request for a recommendation of "the best" translation, either classic or modern, from ten commentators might well yield ten different choices!

Picking out Bibles at the Bookstore

Unfortunately, just knowing the name of the versions you want to purchase is not going to make your trip to the bookstore quick and easy. For if you walk into the store and ask a clerk to get you a copy of the New International Version of the Bible, she will ask you first, "Which edition of the NIV do you want?" And she may then show you a shelf with two dozen or more totally different styles of the NIV, not including different choices of color for the cover on those editions which are bound in leather. To find out more on how to sort through this stage of your choice of Bibles, see the next section of the Toolbox, Do You Need a Special Bible Version?

Resources for Further Information

For more complete details on the history of the English versions of the Bible: 6


Do You Need a Special Bible Version?

Even More Choices!

Let's say that you have decided, after studying into the qualities of various Bible translations, that the most useful Bible translation for your own personal Bible study at this time seems like it would be the New International Version. If you walked into a Christian Book Store and asked a clerk to get you a copy of the NIV, would you expect her to reach behind a counter, pull out a Bible, hand it to you, and ring up the sale? It would be nice if it was that easy. But it isn't. You will have to choose one among many different copies of the NIV. And the differences among them will not just be the color or quality of the binding. In addition to perhaps deciding if you want a black or a brown or a burgundy cover, and whether you want leather or an artificial binding, there will likely be two dozen or more completely different editions of the NIV for you to choose from that have varying content along with just the text of the Bible itself. You will first need to decide which one of these will best meet your needs. Very few Bibles are sold which have nothing between the covers but the Bible text. Bible publishers realize that the average Bible student is going to want at least some minimal additional content, and they have found ways to make a whole Bible smorgasbord out of just one translation by seasoning it with varying extras. Multiply this by the numerous translations available, and the reality is that there are hundreds upon hundreds of Bibles to choose from in most Christian Book Stores.

Reference Bibles

Add an index of some of the places in the Bible where you can find important words and proper names, and suddenly you have a simple "reference Bible." Most editions labeled as a "reference Bible" have much more than just an index added, however. Many will have a center column reference feature, in which a narrow band of text between the two main columns of each page contains references to other 7

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passages of the Bible that may be related to the particular sentence or paragraph you are reading. Tiny superscript abc78 letters or numbers next to words in the main text of the Bible lead you to the same letter or number in the center column, next to the references showing you the location of passages elsewhere in the Bible that may apply. Many Reference Bibles include at least a small selection of maps in the back of the volume, showing the location of Bible lands of ancient times. Some also include more detailed maps covering such things as the location of battles and the routes taken by famous Bible characters, like the "Missionary Journeys of Paul." It is also common for reference Bibles to have short introductions to each book of the Bible, explaining some of the background of the book, such as the author and the general time period covered. Other features may include an abbreviated dictionary of Bible terms, charts of weights and measures used in ancient times, and timelines of important Biblical events. None of these features can be too comprehensive, or else the size of the volume would become unwieldy. But they eliminate the need to carry around a whole stack of reference books just for daily reading purposes.

Special Sizes

In fact, if you expect to regularly carry your Bible with you away from home, you might want to consider one of the special sizes of Bible created for just this need. A regular standard size Bible is often about 6.5 X 9.5 inches and 1.8 inches thick. A compact Bible is one printed in perhaps smaller type, and with thinner paper, and can be as small as 4.6 X 6.3 inches and 1.4 inches thick or less. There are even versions, usually called something like a "thin-line" edition, that are printed on such exceptionally thin paper that they are under 1 inch thick. Thus some thin-line editions are literally small enough to tuck into a small purse or a suit jacket breast pocket. If you would like to be able to make notes to yourself while you are reading, but don't want to have to carry around a notebook with you everywhere, you can get a wide-margin version of a number of translations. These provide a blank column down one or more edges of each page that is an inch or more wide. 8

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Study Bibles

Bible editions that are similar to reference Bibles, but which contain much more extensive extra materials, are often called Study Bibles. The introductory material to each of the books of the Old and New Testament in these is usually much more comprehensive, often including even a detailed outline of the book and explanations of the major themes covered. Extensive footnotes may provide in-context commentary about the contents of sentences, paragraphs, or chapters. Extra chapters of commentary may be added to the beginning or end of various books of the Bible, or to the end of the text of the complete Bible. These may examine themes that repeat throughout the Bible. In this context, it is important to recognize the distinction between commentary that clarifies "facts" ... such as documentation when or where an event took place or what some obscure ancient animal or plant was like ... and commentary that attempts to speculate about the intent of the original author, particularly in matters of "theology." This latter sort of commentary can be affected by the personal opinions, point of view, or denominational prejudices of the authors of the commentary. While it may be valuable as input for your own study, it is best not to swallow it whole as the ultimate authority on any matter. Once you have read the Bible through for yourself and have examined some of the debatable issues in the interpretation of significant Bible passages, you will be more equipped to come to your own conclusions about the validity of the speculations of commentators. Many Bible students and teachers have found the NIV Study Bible to be one of the most helpful one-volume reference works available today. In addition to the usual maps, indexes, and book introductions, its system of footnotes is particularly comprehensive. Almost all references to time, distance, and weights and measures in the Bible text are translated for the reader into the modern equivalents in the footnotes. Unfamiliar customs of ancient times are explained. Alternate possible translations for debatable phrasing in the Hebrew or Greek is provided. References to earlier events in any given passage are often clarified by pointing the reader to the earlier information. Even "puns" or poetic elements in the original Hebrew of an Old Testament passage, which often are lost in the translation into English, are pointed out and explained. The authors of the commentary do, indeed, sometimes insert their own speculations about the interpretation of some debatable areas of Biblical thought, so it is wise to take those types of comments with a grain of salt. But otherwise, 9

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the commentary in the NIV Study Bible is most often exceptionally objective and historically factual, more so than that in many other Study Bibles and in most stand-alone commentary volumes.

Targeted Group Bibles

Some editions of the Bible are targeted directly at specific groups. For those with poor eyesight, there are both large print and giant print editions of many translations. In recent years there has been an extreme proliferation of editions targeted to one age or gender group. Teen Bibles often have covers and illustrations with a deliberately "exciting" look to attract the attention of young people who might think that Bible study has to be boring. Such teen Bibles usually have material interspersed in boxes within the text of the Bible and in separate chapters that addresses topics of interest to teens such as peer pressure, sex, dating, anger management, and the temptations in popular culture such as TV and movies.

Children's Bibles most often are abridged versions of a particular translation. But some do include the whole Bible, attempting to make it more "accessible" to children with appealing illustrations, and study materials focusing on the interests and concerns of preteens, such as making friends, fears and phobias, and dealing with parental expectations. Devotional Bibles are volumes with inspirational thoughts, comfort, and suggestions for meditation interspersed within the text of the translation. These are most often targeted to specific groups, with the added material geared specifically to the interests and concerns of each group. There are devotional Bibles aimed at women, men, girls, boys, mothers, fathers, couples, grandparents, people involved in Twelve-Step Recovery Programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous, members of the Armed Forces and their families, and even sporting enthusiasts. (One sporting version has inspirational insights from professional athletes, coaches, and commentators.)


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Life Application Bibles

Some Study Bibles also come in what are often termed Life Application versions. They have some of the usual reference materials to help in understanding the text. But they go beyond this to provide, interspersed within the text, insight and suggestions by the authors of the edition of ways that the principles you are reading about might be applied to your daily life. The quality and soundness of the advice in these Bible editions are connected directly to the level of wisdom and spiritual understanding of the author or authors. Although such volumes can be very helpful to some readers, it is important to note when the author is drawing a sound conclusion that obviously is present in the text, and when he or she might be indulging in highly speculative ways to apply a certain passage.

Parallel Translations

It is possible to purchase Bible volumes with two or more different translations included, printed side-by-side so that you may compare the choice of wording of each passage. Since two or more complete versions of the Bible are within the covers, this leaves very little room for any reference materials at all. In fact, especially for those which contain more than two translations, the size gets pretty unwieldy to carry around. So although this might be a convenient way to get multiple versions for study, and it is a useful way to quickly compare translations, it is probably best not to choose one of these for your primary Bible that you use for in-depth study.

Interlinear Translations

An interlinear translation has a section of the text of either the actual Hebrew of the Old Testament or the Greek of the New Testament printed on each page, with a literal translation of each word or phrase printed below it. Because such a "bits and pieces" translation often makes the overall meaning almost incomprehensible, since it may not render the thoughts of the writer into understandable English grammar, such translations often have the interlinear material on the right hand side of each two-page spread, and a standard English translation on the left hand page of the same material. 11

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Bible Software

The latest entry into the field of Bible versions are computer Bibles and Bible study software programs. There are many software programs that have the complete text of one version or many versions of the Bible to display on your computer screen. The computer allows you to instantly search for words and phrases in each version, copy and paste verses into word processing documents, and more. Such software can cost anywhere from $20 to several hundred dollars. But the following website has an amazingly complete program of this sort for absolutely free download. It comes highly recommended by many Bible teachers and students. If you have a high-speed Internet connection, there are also websites with large collections of Bibles in various translations that you can access freely online. The following website has twenty of the most popular English Bible versions, as well as versions in over 30 other languages.



Finding Your Way Around the Bible

Chapter and Verse

When you were back in high school English class, your teacher may have assigned the whole class to read a classic novel, such as Moby Dick. Everyone would have an identical paperback copy of the book. Each day, during class discussion, your teacher could instruct everyone to turn to a certain page number, and look at perhaps the third paragraph, and you'd all be ready to talk about what happens in that paragraph. What will happen if you find yourself in a Bible Study group some day where the group is discussing a particular part of the Bible? The Choosing a Translation chapter of this booklet made it clear the first hurdle your group will have to surmount: Unless you all agree to use the same English translation version of the ancient Hebrew and Greek manuscripts, it will be very difficult to coordinate the discussion. The Do You Need a Special Bible? chapter made clear another problem in keeping everyone "on the same page" in a group. Different editions of even the same translation of the Bible may have totally different page numberings. A Bible with extensive footnotes on each page will have far less of the actual text of the Bible on each page, and thus the numbering will be far off from the numbering of a Bible with little or no extra-Biblical text on the pages. So what to do? The moderator for the discussion could insist that everyone in the group go out and purchase the exact same edition of the Bible. But some may not be able to afford that, and if they already have one or more Bibles at home, they really don't need to do that. For all modern English copies of the Bible use a distinctive "navigation system" for getting around in them that is not tied to the page numbering. When the ancient original writers of the documents that make up the Hebrew Old Testament, and the ancient original writers of the documents that make up the Greek New Testament, composed these documents, they were writing in languages that did not have the kind of clearly marked divisions of sentences and paragraphs that we use today. This would include no use of anything comparable to "capital letters" to begin sentences and punctuation to mark the 13

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end of sentences. In fact, in many cases they did not even use spaces between words! Diving into the middle of a page of this type of writing could certainly be confusing. Eventually, those who copied material from these original documents began introducing systems by which shorter or longer sections of text could be identified. However, no one system of division was accepted widely until the 1200s AD. Early in that century, a man named Stephen Langton (who later became Archbishop of Canterbury in England) created a system of dividing the documents of both Old and New Testament into chapters, which was eventually accepted by both Jewish authorities for the Old Testament and Christian authorities for the New Testament. A Rabbi Nathan further divided the Old Testament chapters into short verses in the mid-1400s, and a printer named Stephanus introduced the division of the New Testament into verses in the mid-1500s. All of these divisions were first used in printing a Bible in about 1560, and the same system is used to this day. Unfortunately, all of these divisions did not necessarily follow the flow of the thoughts of the original authors. Some were quite arbitrary, and designed only for the convenience of locating passages, rather than helping in understanding of passages. Some divisions into chapters are introduced in mid-thought as expressed by the writer, giving the mistaken impression that the topic has changed. Even sentences themselves are sometimes cut in two by a new verse designation, also giving the impression of a change in thought. The text of King James Version Bibles is laid out so that every individual verse starts on a new line, even if this breaks up a sentence. Thus it is important to remember, when reading any short section in the Bible, to look at the sections immediately before and after the part in question to make sure that you understand the context of what you are reading. Many modern English translations get around this problem by re-formatting the text into actual paragraphs that reflect the flow of the thought, rather than the divisions into verses. They show the verse divisions by small superscript numbers like this 3 right within the paragraph.

Finding a Passage: Books of the Bible

So just how do you navigate around the Bible with this system of chapters and verses? The first thing you need to do is become familiar with the names of the books of the Bible. Most Bibles have a Table of Contents in the front of the volume that shows you the names of all of the books of the Bible in the order they appear in 14

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the translation you have. This order was not "inspired by God" in ancient times, but merely adopted long ago and accepted by most Biblical publishers to this day. The books were all, anciently, totally separate manuscripts, and only in later years were they compiled into a bound collection. The order of the books in most modern English Bibles is generally, but not completely, in the historical order in which the events in the books took place. If you are a student in a high school history class, you are likely going to read your history textbook only one time in your life. Therefore it makes perfect sense to use the Table of Contents (or the index in the back of the book) whenever you need to look something up for your class. After all, you have many other classes, and you will only be using this book for a few months. It would surely seem silly to try to memorize that Table of Contents! But this is not true of the Bible. Most serious Bible students, who want to know more and more about God and His ways throughout their life, will read the Bible, or at least portions of it, many times over the years. They may bring it to church services or Bible studies, and follow along as the preacher or teacher uses Bible references in their speaking. They may study it in their own home on a regular basis. And thus most such Bible students, very early in their Bible education, realize the value of memorizing that Table of Contents so they can quickly turn to a section of the Bible right while someone is speaking. Well, not exactly the whole Table of Contents. The beginning page number next to each book listed in the Table of Contents in each Bible may differ widely from Bible to Bible. But there are two things that stay the same ... the names of the books, and the order of the books. Those are what many people choose to memorize, for if they memorize the names of the books and their order in the KJV, they will already know the names and order in the NIV, the NASB, and almost every other English translation of the Bible.

Thanks for the Memory

But, some people will protest, there are 66 different books in the Bible! Memorizing all of their names is certainly not as simple as memorizing a friend's phone number. No, but most grade school children are able to memorize their "times tables" by the time they are ten. And most grade school children of that age, with a little prompting, are able to memorize all fifty states. As a matter of fact, many children of grade school age who attend religious classes such as Sunday Schools or Sabbath Schools are able to master all the names of the books of the Bible and their order ... even the weirder names such as Zephaniah.


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If you are old enough and bright enough to be reading the contents of this booklet, you are certainly old enough and bright enough to commit to memory just 66 names. And while you are memorizing the names you can also be memorizing the order of the names. There is no one "best way" to do this memorizing that will work for every person. There are many gimmicks you can use for memorization. Find one that works for you, stick to it for a short time, and you will find that it isn't as hard as you may have envisioned at first. One method that may work for you is to look at the list in the front of your Bible and just start with the name of the first book of the Bible, Genesis, for the first day. Read it out loud, then spell it out loud as you look at it, and finally cover it up and try writing it on a piece of paper. Check to see if you spelled it correctly. If you didn't, cover it up and try again. When you are able to write it correctly without looking at it in the Bible, stop for the time being. Try it again later in the day, once or twice more. On the next day, look at the list and read the first two names, Genesis and Exodus. Read out loud the name of each, read out loud the spelling of each name, and say the names in order as you look at them. Then cover them both and try to write them in a row, correctly. When you are able to write both correctly without looking, stop. Try writing both again later in the day, once or twice more. Be sure to read the names out loud, spell them out loud, and write them down in your own handwriting. This may seem like a method that is "childish," but it isn't. Educational research has shown that the more senses ... sight, hearing, touch ... that anyone, adult or child, uses when learning something new, the more likely they are to retain the information. The perception of each sense reinforces the others. On day three, add the next name, and follow the same procedure. You are only being asked to memorize one new word per day. Thus, with a few minutes of daily time invested, by the end of 66 days you will be able to recite and spell all the books in correct order. If you find that you can handle more than one new word per day, go right ahead and challenge yourself to learn them two, three, or five a day.

What Next?

Next you may be asking, "If I only know the order of the books, but don't know what page number each starts on, what good is that going to do me if I want to look up a section of the Bible?" It won't allow you to efficiently look up something immediately ... but over the long term you will find it is extremely helpful. Think of how you learned to use a dictionary. If you pick up a dictionary now and want to look up the word "sagacious," would you look in the 16

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front of the volume for a Table of Contents to find out where the "S" words start? No, you would just start rummaging in the book. But would you start rummaging near the front of the book? No, you know that is where the A and B words will be. Would you start looking clear at the end of the book, and work your way backward? No, you know that that is where the X, Y, and Z words are. How about starting exactly in the middle of the dictionary? You probably wouldn't do that because you instinctively know that the M and N words are probably there, and they are several letters before S. How do you "instinctively" know this? Not because you were born with that instinct, but because one time, long ago, you committed to memory the letters of the alphabet and their order. After using dictionaries for many years, you instinctively sense at least the general location in a dictionary for each of the letters. This is exactly the same principle that will come into play as you become more and more familiar with your Bible. If you know the names and order of the first five books of the Bible, and someone asks you to turn to one of them in the text, you will not be tempted to turn to the end of the Bible and work your way backwards to try to find it. You will know that it is early in the beginning of the volume. One last tip--this whole process will work more efficiently and quickly if you have a Study Buddy to do your memorization and look-up practice with. If you can encourage a family member or friend to embark on studying the Bible together with you, you can take turns challenging each other to look up a Bible book quickly.

Back to Chapter and Verse

Once you have committed the names of the books to memory, it's time to go back to the topic of chapters and verses in the Bible. You are used to the concept of chapters in a book already. The concept is the same for the Bible. Each Bible book is divided into chapters, with some books having many chapters, and some having only a few. Then each chapter is divided into tiny bite-sized snippets called verses. A verse may contain just one sentence, or several sentences. A few contain just a portion of a sentence. Thus the location of every passage from the Bible can be identified by telling first the book it is in, then the chapter it is in, and then the verse it is in. Someone speaking out loud and telling you where to turn in the Bible might say "Genesis, Chapter one, Verse 10." But there is a shorthand way that most Bible teachers and students and writers use to refer to the locations. Examples: Matthew 10:2 refers to the tenth chapter of Matthew, and the second verse. 17

Basics of Bible Literacy

Bible Study Toolbox

Jonah 2:18 refers to the second chapter of Jonah, and verse eighteen. In other words, the first number after the book name is the chapter number, followed by a colon : and then the number of the verse. In some writing, particularly on the Internet, the colon is replaced by a dot: Matthew 10.2 Jonah 2.18 A range of verses in one chapter is indicated by listing the first verse, followed by a dash, and then the last verse number: Matthew 2:10-12 indicates the passage that starts with verse 10 of chapter 2 and includes all the material to the end of verse 12. A range of verses that spans two or more chapters has a similar layout: Matthew 2:10-3:16 indicates the passage that starts with verse 10 in chapter 2 and goes all the way to the end of verse 16 in chapter 3. A set of verses that are in the same chapter but are separated by one or more verses is shown this way: Acts 2:13, 18 indicates that verses 13 and 18 of chapter 2 are under consideration. These styles may be combined: Acts 2:13, 18-21 indicates that verses 13, and verses 18 through the end of 21, of chapter 2 are under consideration.


Once you begin studying the Bible regularly and reading other material that refers to the Bible frequently, you will realize that it will get to be tedious if you try to write out the full name of each book every time you want to indicate a passage of the Bible like those above ... especially for the books that have longer names that are spelled oddly, such as Thessalonians. Fortunately, Bible commentators long ago agreed on standard abbreviations for the names of each of the books of the Bible. The most common of these in use are the three letter abbreviations. 18

Basics of Bible Literacy

Bible Study Toolbox

The first three letters of all but four of the books of the Bible are unique from one another. So those three letters are used as abbreviations for all of those. In other words, the standard abbreviation for Genesis is Gen, the standard abbreviation for Matthew is Mat. Two books start with Jud (Judges and Jude) and two start with Phi (Philippians and Philemon.) So it was decided long ago to use Jdg for Judges and Jud for Jude, and Phm for Philemon and Php for Philippians. There are several books of the Bible that start with numbers because two or more related books have the same name. An example is 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians. These are also sometimes designated by Roman numerals: I Corinthians and II Corinthians. The common abbreviation for these is the number followed by the first two or three letters of the name, such as 1Cor. There is no hard and fast rule whether the abbreviation of a book must have a period after the abbreviation. The custom varies with publishers. Although the three-letter abbreviations seem to be the most common choice of authors, there are other systems that may use just two letters, or a combination of two and three. Most abbreviations are pretty clear even in systems that are unfamiliar. Ge would still obviously stand for Genesis. The following web page has a chart with most of the alternative abbreviations you might ever run into in your reading. You might want to print it out and tuck it into the back of your Bible while you are still learning to navigate through it.

Footnotes and Center Column References

Your first exposure to the book abbreviations described above may be in the center column references and/or footnotes in your Bible, if your version has these. Either may have relevant notes about the text tucked in by the publisher or translators. Little superscript letters and numbers like a and 7 are inserted into the verses next to words or phrases that have notes about them in the center column or footnotes, next to the appropriate letter or number. Some of these notes have to do with alternate ways to translate a word, or other commentary. But many of them are what are referred to as "reference" notes. This means that the translators or publishers have provided one or more connections--references--to other parts of the Bible that may have a similar theme or may explain something in the verse. 19


Building a Bible Reference Library

Relief Is on the Way

It is impossible to establish with complete accuracy the exact years of the writing of the original documents that now make up your Bible. But it is wellestablished by most Bible authorities that almost all of those that are included in the Old Testament section of your Bible were originally written over 2,500 years ago--some of them perhaps as long as 3,500 years ago. And all of those that make up the New Testament of your Bible were composed over 1,900 years ago. God has made sure that copies of the Greek and Hebrew originals have survived down to our day, but most modern Americans are unable to read Greek and Hebrew. And most of them know little or nothing about the ancient societies in which they were written. Translators do their best to try to make these ancient writings understandable to people in their own language and time. But there is only so much they can do with the raw words of the Greek or Hebrew text. Some ancient phrases and concepts are so foreign to our modern ways of expression and thinking that it is difficult to translate them in a way that makes complete sense. And even if we can read the words clearly that describe ancient customs of Bible times, some of those customs are so foreign to our experience that we have a very difficult time understanding what they were all about. The same is true for the geography and animal and plant life of the Bible. The Middle East of the 1st century AD is far from the American Midwest of the 21st century, in both location and way of life. Christians are convinced that the Bible is, in many ways, an "instruction book for Mankind," revealing the Creator and His plan for His creation. But if you have trouble understanding that book, you may end up with a garbled understanding of that plan. Perhaps you have bought a piece of computer equipment such as a printer, and opened the manual that came with it only to find that it was written by people who obviously had very poor communication skills! It can take you days to get your equipment up and running if you can't understand the directions in that manual.


Basics of Bible Literacy

Bible Study Toolbox

If you have started reading the Bible and found that it is a bit like that equipment manual, really hard to understand in spots, then relief is on the way. Bible scholars long ago realized that the average person needs help in wading through the Bible, and they have been busy for centuries creating Bible Reference Works that can aid Bible students in their studies. If you plan to be a serious Bible student, then you need to begin building your own home library of such reference works. This final chapter of the Toolbox booklet will provide you some general tips on how to inexpensively begin such a project, and ideas on what your own Bible Reference Library should include. Many of the types of reference works outlined below are usually available from local libraries, even in the smallest of towns. So you won't have to wait to buy your own to be able to start learning to use them. And you don't have to invest in expensive, brand new, hard-bound editions of any of these unless you want to and can afford them. Many are available in new paperback versions, often for well under $10. Used copies of both hard-bound and paperback editions, sometimes priced as low as $1, can frequently be found at used book stores, book sales at local libraries, book sections in antique and collectible stores, yard sales, and on the Internet at both E-Bay and used book sections of online book stores such as


What if you are trying to find a passage in the Bible that you recently read or heard, but you forgot to write down the chapter and verse, so you don't know how to find it again? A concordance will help you most in this kind of situation. This is a book that lists either all the words in a given version of the Bible--even including "a," "an," "the"--or a selection of what the author believes to be the most significant words. After each word listed, the author provides chapter and verse references to either all the passages in that version of the Bible that include that word, or what the author believes to be the most significant passages containing the word. Many reference Bibles and Study Bibles contain at least limited concordance sections in the back of the volume. Although these may help you on occasion, the longer you study the Bible the more you will be convinced that you really need a more extensive concordance. Most Bible students find that a concordance is the first reference work that they plan to buy. Strong's Exhaustive Concordance has long been the most popular.


Basics of Bible Literacy

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Bible Dictionaries

A Bible dictionary usually contains definitions and descriptions of a wide variety of Bible words and names that the author feels may be unfamiliar to the average reader. If you don't know what a shofar is, or don't know who Hagar was, a Bible dictionary is the easiest place to start your search for such information. Many reference Bibles and Study Bibles also may contain a small Bible dictionary in the back, but they are usually very limited. So after obtaining a concordance, a good Bible dictionary might be a very good choice to add to your library. Two very popular ones are Unger's Bible Dictionary and Smith's Bible Dictionary.

Overviews of Bible Times and Lands

This type of reference work contains more extensive information than is in a Bible dictionary regarding the customs, agriculture, animals, plants, social life, and more of people in Bible times.

Bible Atlases

A Bible atlas will contain an extensive collection of maps related to the story flow of the Bible. Many reference and study Bibles include at least a small collection of maps in the back of the book. But particularly if you are fascinated by geography, you may want to know a lot more about the details of Bible geography than is in such limited collections.

Bible Encyclopedias

Bible encyclopedias may be in one large volume, or several volumes. In addition to the kind of definitions included in a Bible dictionary, the encyclopedia will go into much more extensive details on everything from Bible characters to the customs of ancient times and the meaning of Bible symbolism. Most are extensively illustrated with drawings and/or photos. They will also likely include charts, diagrams, timelines, and more that help to clarify unfamiliar concepts.


Most comprehensive Bible commentaries start with the book of Genesis and provide a sequential collection of comments on every verse, or selected verses, of each book of the Bible. Sometimes these comments are designed to just 22

Basics of Bible Literacy

Bible Study Toolbox

provide historical, sociological, scientific, and linguistic background information to make the content of the passage clear to the reader. But frequently they also include extensive personal opinions and speculation of the author or authors on just how one ought to interpret the implications of a passage. Although this can be valuable in assisting you to apply what you read to your own life, you need to remember that no commentator is infallible, and it is possible that there may be multiple other, conflicting interpretations of some Bible passages. In debatable areas you shouldn't just rely on the interpretation of one favorite commentary. Compare and contrast what several different commentaries say on the issue. In addition to such comprehensive commentaries, most Christian book stores carry a wide variety of series of Bible commentaries, usually in small paperback format, on just individual books of the Bible, or perhaps small sets of books such as the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.


A Bible lexicon is a reference work that has listings either of Hebrew words used in the Old Testament of the Bible or Greek words used in the New Testament. Each word is shown in the alphabet of the original language, along with a "transliteration" of what the sounds would look like in English. Then each word is defined, and, in some cases, all the words used to translate the word in a specific translation version, such as the KJV, are shown so that you can see the various nuances of the word. A lexicon is often connected directly to an English concordance. Each English word in the concordance will have a reference number next to it showing what Hebrew or Greek word it has been translated from. Using the reference number you go to the lexicon to see just what the word was in the original language.

Special Topic Reference Works

In addition to these broader reference materials, there are books which provide systematic reference materials for special needs. One of the most useful of these are compilations of explanations of "alleged discrepancies of the Bible." Bible students for the past 2000 years have noticed some verses and passages in the Bible which seem, at first glance, to contradict one another. And thus Bible scholars have collected and categorized examples of this type of supposed discrepancies, and created books that methodically discuss them and attempt to provide reasonable explanations for the seeming contradictions.


Basics of Bible Literacy

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For a brief comparison of some of the features of the 16 most popular Bible versions:

Computer Bibles and Reference Collections

Many standard reference works of all the types listed above, and most common English Bible translations, are available in software packages to use with your computer. Although you can buy "stand-alone" versions of the Bible to use by themselves on the computer, the most popular Bible software in the past decade has been the Reference Collection. These often include multiple translations that you can search, compare, and contrast, and a wide variety of reference works, including maps, concordances, lexicons, dictionaries, commentaries, and more. One of the most significant features of computer sets such as these is that all of the various reference works can be directly interlinked. With the click of a mouse you can find a passage in the Bible, look up the meaning of just one word in it in a lexicon, switch to find out more about that word in a dictionary, and then switch to a commentary to see how the word might be interpreted in context. These computer reference sets can get a bit expensive, particularly for the new Bible student who isn't exactly sure what he needs or wants yet for his own collection. But the free E-Sword collection mentioned earlier is almost as extensive as some of the commercial sets, so if you have an Internet connection, consider downloading it. Another easy way to have free access to much of the same material is to visit one of the many websites that provide free map collections, lexicons, Bible versions, commentaries, dictionaries, and even encyclopedias. These may not be real convenient for you to use if you have a slow dial-up connection for your Internet service. But if you have cable or other high-speed connection, it's almost as convenient as having the software on your own computer. One very effective online collection of resources is .


All you really need to get started studying the Bible is a Bible. So don't think you have to wait until you assemble a whole collection of the types of volumes described in this booklet. Just open up the Bible you have and begin reading, and add other volumes as you have the time and interest.



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