Updated: Nov 5, 2019
The Bible is actually very easy to understand. Some people have this perception that there are all kinds of ways to interpret Scripture verses. There isn't. It really is pretty straightforward.
There are still going to be some words we don't know or some passages we don't quite get and we will have to look things up if we want to learn. Or perhaps we just want to dig deeper into a particular concept.
How do we go about looking up information on the Bible?
When I am reading the Bible and I come across a word I don't know, I stop and look it up. Some words I've looked up over the years: pharisee, sadducee, sanhedrin, justification, sanctification, covenant, kingdom of God, bond-servant, amen,...
To look up a biblical word I don't know, I start with the dictionary/ concordance in the back of my Bible. Unfortunately few Bibles have a dictionary in the back of them. I also have a reference book called The Essential Bible Dictionary by Moises Silva (affiliate link.) You probably won't have a dictionary in your Bible or this reference book. Look the word up in a regular dictionary or an online dictionary. However, note that sometimes the biblical definition of a particular word is a little different than the secular definition. An example of this is the word "inheritance." It has a fuller biblical meaning than what The Merriam-Webster Dictionary says: 'to receive from one's ancestors or to receive by genetic transmission.' The Essential Bible Dictionary says, "In the Bible, the term has special significance, indicating (1) the gift of the land of Canaan by God to Abraham and his descendants; (2) the spiritual blessings that God gives to His people; (3) the people of God as His own possession." So when you search online, enter "the biblical definition of inheritance." Doing this I see the definition is in the New Testament is "Generally, the promise refers to the possession of salvation. The believer's inheritance is described more specifically as eternal and joyful existence with God."
Notice in this picture below that it will list a few verses where this word is found. This is the concordance part of a Bible. A concordance is "an alphabetical list of the important words present in a text, usually with citations of the passages concerned." Most Bibles have a concordance.
Picture of my Dictionary/ Concordance in my New American Standard Bible (NASB)
Concordance of a 1984 New International Version (NIV) Study Bible
An important rule of Bible study is to let Scripture interpret Scripture. If I want to look at what the Bible has to say about the word "inheritance", I go to my Concordance and look up the Scripture verses listed that have the word "inheritance" in them. This gives me a sense of the word used in Scripture.
Note a concordance will not list every Scripture verse that has that word. It will only list a few of them. But if you go to a website like Biblegateway.com, enter the word and the version of the Bible you read, and search - it will list every time that word is used. And you can read all the verses in one place. I use this a lot more than I do my concordance.
Another place I would learn about this word or phrase is in the text notes of a study Bible. I highly recommend having a study Bible. They have a wealth of information in them! I usually read from a regular Bible which doesn't have text notes. But when I don't understand a word, cultural tradition, or verse - I go to one of my study Bibles and read the text note for that verse.
Say I'm reading the New Testament and I see the word pharisee or the word sadducee and I don't know exactly what they mean. I'll go to my dictionary and to my text notes in a study Bible.
Dictionary/ Concordance of my NASB Bible
Text note for Matthew 3:7 of English Standard Version (ESV) Study Bible
Text note for Matthew 3:7 of 1984 NIV Study Bible
Say I am familiar with a verse, but I don't remember where it is in the Bible. I can go to the concordance and look up a key word or I go to www.biblegateway.com or the internet and type in the part I remember. Say I remember "No one comes to the Father but through Me." I just put that in the search engine and John 14:6 comes up.
www.biblegateway.com is an excellent internet resource. If I want to to a topical study on a certain word like resurrection, I enter the word, the version of the Bible I use, and search. In the New American Standard Bible (what I read from) there are 51 verses with the word resurrection in it. The text of each verse is listed for you to read.
Note you can click on Topical Index which goes a little more in depth. This picture shows how it differentiates the verses on our bodily resurrection from what we usually think of which is Jesus' resurrection. And it gives other Scriptures which have the same teaching.
If I want to compare a verse in different versions, I again go to www.biblegateway.com and enter the verse, the version of the Bible I use, search and then click on parallel (the red icon with the lines through it on the right.) You can compare the verse in up to 4 versions of the Bible on your computer, but only 3 versions of the verse (or passage) on your mobile phone. In the pictures below I looked up 2 Peter 3:18 and then clicked on the "add parallel" icon and added 3 parallels.
Again, the Bible is readily understandable. But if I am unsure of the meaning of a passage or I want to just dig deeper, I turn to a commentary. A commentary is "a set of explanatory or critical notes on a text." There are a lot of commentaries readily available online.
Another great internet resource is www.blueletterbible.com. Most seminary students and ministers use this source. Honestly, it is incredible! Click on "study" and you will find Bible Commentaries, Bible Reference, Theological Resources and Multimedia. This site is a bit scholarly though, but an excellent resource.
If I want to research a general topic like prayer, I first do a topical study in the Bible looking up verses that have prayer in them using a concordance (which won't have all the verses listed) or a website like www.biblegateway.com (which will list all of the verses with prayer in them.) Then I might find some good books on the subject and read them.
There are a ton of Bible reference books. I recommend getting a couple good reference books. My favorites probably are Rose Book of Bible Maps, Charts, & Time Lines Set, Volumes 1-3 (affiliate link) and The Complete Guide to the Bible (affiliate link.)
Often I have some offbeat questions. Once I heard a song about praising God with hands lifted and I wanted to know if this was biblical. It is. Once someone asked me why the Bible always talks about God's right hand and Jesus being at the right hand of God. I had not thought about this one before. I researched this and found the right side is a position of favor. These questions just take a general internet search and stuff will pop up. However, be a bit skeptical of what you read if you aren't sure of the source.
There isn't any question you have about the Bible that someone hasn't researched.
The answers to what you don't know or your questions are out there.
Repeating from my last post, What is the Truth? - to get answers to your questions:
Pray before you begin.
Begin with what the Bible says.
Feed your mind with reliable sources to the best of your ability.
Have discernment as you read from sources outside the Bible and hear information from others. (This is called testing it.)
It has been my experience that the more I learn about the Bible, the more I want to know!
Bible study. It's exciting. It really is.
But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen.
2 Peter 3:18