Bible 202 – how to use yours…is the next in our series on the Bible. In this piece, we shall look at some features of your Bible. You may not have bothered with them before but they will greatly enrich your understanding of what God has to say.
1. Familiarise yourself with the Contents Page
Many are the times I have sat in church and watched people flicking back-and-for looking for the passage being read. Often the reader has finished before the person has found the passage. There is no need to be in such difficulty because most Bibles today have a Contents page at the front. Make it easy for yourself.
When you are the Reader in church or synagogue, you can help the congregation. You do not need high technology. Simply state the passage clearly and be patient while everyone finds the passage. Giving the page number also helps.
2. Familiarise yourself with the maps and other helpful material at the back of your bible.
Almost every Bible has a set of maps at the rear. Looking at them to see where the events described took place enriches our understanding. Where is this event happening… in relation to somewhere else: Nazareth, a mountain, a river, Jerusalem, a lake, Judah or Galilee and so on? Places had size, journeys took time, events took place in time and space. You may also find word lists that improve understanding of the words you come across and a great variety of other helps can be found.
3. Familiarise yourself with the cross-reference system
The cross-reference system is normally a narrow column in the centre of the page on view. In it you will find connections to other verses in the Bible. Keep your spectacles handy or even a magnifying glass. Look up the verses and see what you find out. Here is how it works.
While you are reading, you may find a letter in italics at the beginning or end of a word. Let us say the letter f. In the centre column look for the verse number in which you found the letter f. There will be a reference to another passage in your Bible next to the letter f. Let us say you are reading verse 10 of Matthew chapter 5. The letter f will send you to 2 Timothy 2:12 which will give you an expansion of Matt 5:10. The v in Matt 5:4 will send you to Isaiah 61:2,3 and so on.
The purpose of this system of references is to show connexions between related portions of the Bible. That is especially important with the words of Jesus. Follow references to the Old Testament and you find that Jesus is saying what has been said or discussed or taught in the ancient past. Much of what He said was not original. In the case of the Law, Jesus expands on what was already understood among the Jews of His day (In the case of Matthew 5:18 &19 Jesus strengthens the Law/Torah, “until Heaven and Earth pass away”).
4. Familiarise yourself with the notes at the bottom of the page
At the foot of the Bible page you will find numbered notes. If you do not, go and buy an ESV Holy Bible, on paper. In the same way as the cross-references there are numbers attached to some words. At the foot of the page you will find those numbers with short notes. Mostly these notes give an alternative translation of the word text. Sometimes they offer explanations.
5. Let us apply this to a particular page
Mark 13/14 is a useful place to begin. At the foot of page 1025 in my ESV Bible, there are five separate numbered notes. Note 2 ., indicates that the Greek word in the text that is translated into the English “servants” could have been “bondservants”. In other words, the servants being referred to have to pay a sum of money to be released from their servitude. Note 5., explains that the word in the passage, “denarii”, refers to a coin valued at “a day’s wage for a labourer”.
6. Things you can safely ignore
The whole Bible is marked with Chapters and verses. These were added long after the writing and are only there to make it easy to find passages or track your reading; rather like Ordnance Survey Map References. For reading long passages You can ignore them completely.
Sadly, you will find in almost all Bibles brief sub-headings. Return to Mark 14 and you find “The plot to kill Jesus”. These were added by the Editor, who works at the Publisher, to suggest what the passage is about. It may have been done originally with good intentions but they pre-empt your reading of the text and most importantly, they are not part of God’s word.
The worst illustration of this is at Mark 14:22 “The Institution of the Lord’s Supper”. Because of this sub-heading, almost everyone assumes that this is what the passage speaks about. Go further back to verse 12 and read through to verse 26. Before you do, tip-ex out the sub-headings. Now think about the whole passage and ask yourself what do the other gospel descriptions say on this. You will need to keep your Tip-ex to hand.
That’s it. Happy reading.