On the one hand, it’s simple enough that even a child can understand it. When a young child reads John 3:16, they can comprehend that God loves them so very much and that He sent Jesus to save them.
On the other hand, the Bible is also a profoundly deep, complex book. It is, after all, God’s word. It reveals who God is and what He desires. We should expect the Bible to be deep given that it talks about a God who is far beyond our comprehension.
As Isaiah 55:8 puts it,
“‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord.”
Because God’s word is so profound, we can benefit from a variety of Bible study tools. These Bible study tools can help us gain a much deeper, more nuanced understanding of God’s word. They can bring clarity to more challenging passages and shine a light on sections that may seem confusing.
So, with that in mind, here are eight tools to assist you with your Bible study.
A study Bible contains both the original text of Scripture along with study notes written by very smart pastors and scholars. The study notes help explain things like the:
Study Bibles also often contain things like maps showing Biblical geography, diagrams of structures in Scripture (like the temple), and cross-references between key verses.
Some study Bibles have notes written by a large number of pastors and scholars. Other study Bibles have notes written by just one person.
They are written by regular people. The study notes are a very helpful Bible study tool, but they shouldn’t be taken as definitive.
It’s essential that we study God’s word closely for ourselves, always evaluating what people say in light of Scripture. We must be like the Bereans in Acts 17:11:
“...they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.”
They compared everything they heard to the Scriptures to make sure it lined up.
Commentaries are similar to study Bibles but with a narrower focus. Most commentaries focus on just one or two books of the Bible and go much deeper than a study Bible can. They can give you a very detailed, thorough understanding of the overall structure of the book, the meaning of individual verses, and the context in which the book was written (audience, time period, geography, etc.).
One important thing to note is that many commentaries are very technical, meaning they go really deep into things like nuances of the original language.
Before you get a commentary, take a quick look inside to be sure that it contains the level of detail you want and are comfortable with.
Another helpful Bible study tool is a concordance. A concordance contains an alphabetical list of words that occur in Scripture, along with listings of which verses contain those words. For example, if you look up the word “warrior” in a concordance, you’ll see all the places where that word occurs in Scripture.
This is especially helpful if you want to do a word study. If you want to get a better sense of what the word “love” means in the Bible, you can look it up in a concordance and then study all the different verses that it mentions.
"Easy-on-the-eyes exegesis and squint-free Bible study! Find and see every occurrence of every word in the KJV. The enlarged type has been used throughout the accurate computer-generated text, including the updated Greek and Hebrew dictionaries. Words of Christ are in bold type, and the handy Fan-Tab thumb-index helps you locate information quickly."
Our relationship with Jesus must go beyond Bible study and church attendance. It’s when we get to know and follow Him closely - day in and day out - that our relationship with Him turns into a deep love commitment that compels us to serve people, give freely, love better, and share more.
The Bible contains many names, places, and concepts that aren’t familiar to us. When we read Scripture, we come across words like “shekel”, “Levite”, and “Judea”. Most of us have no idea what these terms mean.
A Bible dictionary provides in-depth definitions and information about a huge variety of Biblical terms and concepts.
For example, the Baker Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology says this about the word “apostle”:
Envoy, ambassador, or messenger commissioned to carry out the instructions of the commissioning agent...In the New Testament “apostolos” is applied to Jesus as the Sent One of God ( Heb 3:1 ), to those sent by God to preach to Israel ( Luke 11:49 ), to those sent by churches ( 2 Col 8:23 ; Php 2:25 ), and most often, to the individuals who had been appointed by Christ to preach the gospel of the kingdom.
If you come across a confusing word or phrase while reading your Bible, a Bible dictionary can be a tremendously helpful tool.
"(Baker Dictionary) provides students of the Bible with quick access to the essential information needed to read the Bible with increased understanding and confidence."
Bible maps allow you to pinpoint where things happened, to see how events in one location are related to events in another.
The events in the Bible didn’t happen in a vacuum. Rather, they occurred in very specific locations. The people of Israel were slaves in Egypt. The apostle Paul traveled throughout Asia. The early church was born in Jerusalem. Knowing exactly where these events took place can give you a fuller understanding of God’s work throughout history.
Thanks to technology, we have access to more Bible study tools now than at any other point in history. Our smartphones give us access to incredibly powerful apps that make Bible study much easier.
For example, the Love Worth Finding app contains a library of thousands of free Biblical sermons, articles, radio broadcasts, television broadcasts, and other resources.
A journal or notebook is another very helpful tool for studying God’s word. As Pastor Adrian Rogers said:
"Keep a pad and pencil handy. I always read the Bible with something to write with, because I’m expecting to receive something from God. If you’re expecting to hear from God, you should be ready to write it down. Don’t just say you’ll “remember it.” The weakest ink is better than the best memory. Pray over it, ponder it, then be ready for God to speak to you."
Writing down your thoughts about different Bible verses helps you to think deeply about what they mean. It forces you to slow down as you read the Bible and wrestle with how God is speaking to you.
Keeping a journal also provides you with a record of God’s faithfulness. In years to come, you can look back on what you’ve written; see different ways that God spoke to you, convicted you, encouraged you, and challenged you.
The words in the Bible are sacred, but the paper on which they’re printed is not. One of the best ways to study God’s word is to mark it up with a pen, pencil, or highlighter. As you read:
The more you write in and mark up your Bible, the more familiar you’ll become with it. You’ll start to see patterns and themes emerge. You’ll make connections between different books of the Bible. Things that once seemed perplexing will become more clear.
Don't be afraid to write in your Bible and make notes in your Bible. Wear it out and get another one! But don't throw the old one away. Save it and keep it and look back on it sometime. I have Bibles that are decades old. Sometimes I go back and find notes I made there and memories will spring back up of things that God taught.
We have so many Bible study tools at our disposal. We just need to put them to use!
The path to spiritual maturity runs right through the Bible. If we want to grow in godliness, be more like Jesus, and live in a manner worthy of the gospel, we absolutely must study God’s word.
Psalm 119:98-100 says:
You, through Your commandments, make me wiser than my enemies;
For they are ever with me.
I have more understanding than all my teachers,
For Your testimonies are my meditation.
I understand more than the ancients,
Because I keep Your precepts.
The Psalmist wasn’t bragging of his intelligence or claiming that he was somehow better than those around him. Rather, he was saying that God’s word provides more wisdom and understanding than anything else. Those who are teachers often rely on their education, those who are aged rely on their experience, but those who are truly wise in God’s eyes rely on the Bible.