By Jamie Harms
Until we moved into our current house, I had lots of garden space. I let my tomato plants sprawl, my cucumber bushes take over large plots of space, and my squash vines creep into the yard. However, now that I am more limited in space, I am contemplating some additions to my garden — beautiful iron tomato cages to force my plants to grow up and some colorful ceramic pots to contain my other sprawling plants. I technically don’t need cages and pots for my garden to grow, but these extras would give my garden a bit of pretty pizzazz. The three Bible study tools that we are going to talk about today are very much like cages and pots. They are not foundational to study, but they are extras that enhance our time in God’s Word.
As you get started reading a book of the Bible, it is sometimes helpful to have an overview of what you are going to be reading and its structure. The Bible Project is a great online resource with brief video overviews — about 5 minutes each — on what you’ll be reading. I have even found these helpful when reviewing a book even after I have read it, for the videos show the bigger picture conveyed by the author.
The use of a commentary is our second extra today. Often, as we spend time in Scripture and mull over the context and use cross references, we find we are still not sure exactly what the passage is saying. After we have first spent time in God’s Word, we can use a commentary to get some thoughts on the section. It is common for study Bibles to have commentaries built in, but there are also good online commentaries on blueletterbible.com and biblehub.com.
What we do need to remember when using commentaries is that they are not the inspired Word of God. Commentaries can give us historical background or insight into what another person thinks the passage might mean, but I would encourage you to use discernment and check the information against your own study. Use multiple commentaries after you have taken time to study the Bible passage yourself, remembering that this tool is not foundational but meant to help train what is already there — just like my tomato cages are useless unless tomatoes are already growing within them.
Over the years, one of my favorite extra tools is simply to handwrite Scripture passages. I take a blank piece of paper or a journal, create a large right margin for notes, and then copy out the passage I am studying. This may sound a bit silly, but it slows me down, helping me pay attention to the little details and think more deeply about the text.
After I have written out the passage or book, I pull out my set of colored pencils and begin to mark repeated words, underline transition words, and figure out how the before and after are connected. I compare and contrast ideas from the passage, write down cross references in the margin along with dictionary definitions, and record thoughts, questions, or observations of my own. When I am done, my sheet of paper is a thing of beauty full of colors, thoughts and ideas written in my own hand. I remember the truths I have studied much better this way than just reading through a section.
Each of these tools — the Bible Project, commentaries, and writing out Scripture — is a great tool to tuck into your toolbox to enhance your time in God’s Word when needed — just like adding cages and pots to one’s garden. May your study of God’s Word this week make it come alive and be filled with a bit of pizzazz.