My favorite Bible study tool is a concordance. It contains only scripture, so you do not have to worry about comments with elements of Calvinism, Premillenialism, or other prejudices. But you do have to learn to use it to get the most out of it. In the past I used one just to find passages, but now I can build whole lessons with just a concordance and a Bible.
I prefer Young’s Analytical Concordance. (Yes, I hear some of you preachers snickering, but this is not for preachers.) There are things you can do with it that you cannot do with any other concordance on the market, and you can usually get one for about $13-14. Yes, it is built on the King James Version, but that and the original 1901 American Standard are the two safest versions out there. I usually start my studies with them, then branch out to other translations to get a little more insight. By starting with something you can trust, you will be less likely to fall into error caused by a mistranslation or, as some versions seem to be, a commentary in disguise.
The first step in using a concordance is just to get acquainted with it. Think of a word in a verse you know, but cannot find. Let’s say you wanted to find the passage that talks about being able to do anything “through Christ who strengthens me,” but you do not know where it is except somewhere in the New Testament. Pick the least common word in the phrase because that will give you fewer choices to have to look through. “Strengthen” fits that description. Look up “strengthen” in your concordance. I find that word on page 940. (All my copies of Young’s appear to be the same—the difference in size and price has to do with the thickness and quality of paper and binding.) Under that word you will see several groups of words. Each group has either a Hebrew or Greek word, and its anglicized (English-lettered) version, followed by every passage that translates that particular Hebrew or Greek word by the same English word, and a snippet from that verse. Immediately you can skip over the ones in the Old Testament because you know it is a New Testament verse. Finally in group 18 you see endum, the anglicized Greek word, and the two passages that use that word, translating it “strengtheneth,” including Phil 4:13 and the snippet, “through Christ which strengtheneth me.” That sounds a lot like what you want, so you check it out and, sure enough, it is the passage you had in mind. Sometimes it isn’t and you just have to keep looking, but if you have the word right, you will eventually find the passage you are looking for.
That’s really handy, but not what you would call a deep Bible study, right? Exactly. There is much more you can do. We will start with some simple things that are still interesting and useful.
First, I am sure you can see the value in knowing what other verses have to say about the same word. So you can actually choose a word in a verse, then after you find the word in the concordance, look up every other time that word is used and translated by the same English word. You will learn a lot if you just jot down a point from each verse. Primarily, you will learn that some of our simplistic definitions are wrong! “Faithful” does not mean “full of faith.” In fact, we do not even have to look that one up in the concordance to figure that out. What do we mean when we talk about someone’s husband not being “faithful?” We mean he was not true and loyal to her. Now look up that word in the concordance and every passage using it, and see what I mean. Try the same thing with “godliness,” often defined as “a short form of ‘god-like-ness’” (as if it were actually written in English to begin with). You might be surprised at what you learn!
Here’s another interesting use for this wonderful tool. Many times in English we have different words for what is essentially the same thing, but the new word adds a little something to the meaning. How about “bread?” What if I say “loaf” instead? “Baguette?” “Biscuit?” “Bagel?” See what I mean? It is all bread, but there is something different about each. The same is true in Hebrew and Greek. Look up “queen” in your concordance. You will find several different Hebrew words for that one English word. Read the verses and make some notes. You will find that one of those words seems to indicate a woman of royal lineage, another seems to refer to queen mothers, and still another is used when the woman is simply the king’s wife, but not of royal parentage. Doesn’t that make you wonder about some other things? What were David’s wives called? How about any other queens of God’s people? What was Jezebel called? Look up every passage using “queen” and you may be amazed. You may even find some that do not refer to women at all. Before you know it, you have spent two hours studying and have some little tidbits of information that probably no one else has ever bothered with—not even your preacher.
Yes, we can get into more serious word studies, and I plan to show you how to do a comprehensive one next time. But for now, try some of these things. The more you use your concordance, the easier it will get.
And they read in the book, in the law of God, distinctly; and they gave the sense, so that they understood the reading. Nehemiah 8:8