18 May 2011

20 Minute Bible Word Study Method

Dear Lissy,
We had a wonderful visit with Aunt Tori from Zambia yesterday, and as we left to go home, Grammy gave me a teacup for my collection that had been given to her by  missionary friends from Africa, Jim & Judy Camp.  They stayed with us when I was a little girl living on Old Loudon Road, and they used to leave the word "Thank You" written in pennies on my dresser when they left.  It's funny what you remember, isn't it?

There will be many, many times that the Holy Spirit illuminates a verse and you want to study it further.  As you meditate upon it, you will find that one or two words rise to the surface like cream.  Studying those words in depth unlock important truths about God's character and ways.

The Tools:
I have a free, powerful Bible program,  Online Bible downloaded on my computer, which both your father and I have used exclusively for 20 years.  You do not have to be online to use Online Bible, the name is from 1987 before the internet existed.

Studylight.org is hands down my favorite site for Bible study tools online.  Do exercise discernment, however, as there are many articles and resources that contradict basic Bible truths also available on this site.

I can't imagine anyone still spreading books out around them, but all of the tools mentioned below were originally published as huge, thick volumes.  Their size and expense make them impractical, and a 20 minute verse study will turn into an hour long project if you are trying to flip back and forth.

Don't use a Study Bible or commentaries until you have studied the verse on your own first!

The Method:
We'll use Psalm 46:10a as our sample:  "Be still and know that I am God"  For this letter we'll take a look at the word still.

Determine the context of the verse
This verse and word are found in Psalms 46, a Psalm that references God being a refuge and strength for His people during times of trouble.  The entire Psalm contrasts God's stability with the instability of wars and natural disasters.

Define the key word(s) in the original language
In your computer program or Strong's concordance, you will discover that the word still is the Hebrew word raphah (Hiphil).  You are seeking to understand the Hebrew word raphah, not the word still!
Hebrew words have a wider spectrum of meaning than English words.  If I said "orange", a color immediately jumps into your mind.  In truth, though, there are dozens of oranges from a light pinky peach to a deep tomato-ey color right through into the brown family.
When I say still, or raphah in Hebrew, it can be understood as:

  • to let drop
  • abandon
  • relax
  • refrain
  • forsake
  • to let go
  • let alone
  • to be quiet
in English.  That is substantially different than the dictionary definition of still, "not moving, free from disturbance".

Greek is just the opposite.   It often takes a sentence to impart the exact nuance of a Greek word in English.  Meek is a good example.  It has no overtones of weakness in the Greek, but rather indicates a controllable strength.  The word was coined to describe the horse that won a chariot race.  It was not just the fastest horse, which could end in a 4 chariot pile up ala Ben Hur; but was instead the fastest, strongest horse that was also able to be guided expertly to a first place finish.  Puts a whole new light on "meek and quiet spirit", doesn't it? 

Do a search of the word in the original language
This step, often skipped, allows you to see the word as God sees it.  In a Bible software program you can type the Strong's number into the search bar and print out or look at every verse in the Bible that uses that same Hebrew or Greek word.  Because English is a different language family than Greek or Hebrew, the English words vary dramatically depending on the context of the word in the original language.

Raphah (7503) is used 44 times, mostly in verses related to wars.  It is translated:

  • feeble
  • frail
  • weaken
  • let go
  • alone
  • idle
  • stay
  • slack
  • faint
  • forsake
  • abated
  • cease
  • slothful
Now plug those variations of the word still back into the verse.  Are you getting a better picture of what God is trying to tell you?

Divide the Word accurately: Investigate the topic in both testaments
This is a beautiful place to simply meditate and allow the Spirit to bring to mind verses where the believer sees God's strength in his own weakness.  You can also use a good source like the Treasury of Scripture Knowledge or the Thompson Chain if you need a little boost.  Don't forget Bible stories, too.
When I typed "weakness" into the search box on the Thompson Chain link, it returned a result of "weakness-power" which I chose.  That then gave me dozens of verses to look through.

Double check your study against a definitive source
I prefer Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible, Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown's Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, and the Life Application Study Bible notes, but ask your pastor if you prefer another source.  Gill & JFB give a solid, academic commentary, and the LAB notes bring it down to the "what does this mean for me today?" level.
When I looked up Psalm 46:10, Gill and JFB, brought out another aspect I hadn't thought of, that of God calling the nations warring against Israel to lay down arms because He is their protector.  I felt that this explanation actually fit better with the context.  Knowing God's power and sovereignty also allows us to rest and trust him implicitly.  Gill also affirmed the meaning I concentrated on, that of an overwhelmed believer letting go and seeking God's strength.
The LAB also brought out the concept of resting and praising God now for His future victory and dominion.

Hopefully after spending 20-30 minutes studying through these four stages you will have a clearer understanding not just of the verse, but of an aspect of God's character.  Most word studies provide hours of fodder for meditation, too.  If you want to try your hand at this method, use the other word in the verse, know.  I would also encourage you at some point to study all of the verbs in Proverbs 31: 10-31, a study that took me the better part of a year and changed my life.



  1. Rebecca, This is fabulous. I've not seen someone detail how to independently study the Bible in this manner before. Lissy is so blessed to have you as a Momma. Thanks for sharing!

  2. You gave a lot of good instructions on studying the scriptures in this post. thanks for the insights.
    Blessings to you!
    Living Waters by LeAnn

  3. Thank you for taking the time to lay this out for us. I have done word studies before, but never as in-depth as this! You are a treasure! Lissy is so blessed and so are we who also need "motherly" advise! I will think of you every time I do a word study and you will be in my prayers.
    Much Love,

  4. I absolutely love the idea of & content of this post. I didn't grow up in a Christian home, and feel it would take me nearly my whole lifetime to get so wise...
    Thanks for sharing with your daughter, and the rest of us...

  5. Thank you all for your kind comments. Wisdom is knowing and DOING what is right. We all have a lifetime of work ahead of us :-) I was blessed to have a Jr. High youth pastor that taught us how to do word studies using this method. Back then they took an hour because all we had were the books.

  6. Thanks Rebecca - I will look up the references provided and add this link to another of my favourites on my blog.

  7. Awesome Bekki. Thanks for sharing with the group. I love how you explained the different languages.
    I also like to do my SOAP first before I read the others or a bible comment site. Blessings Nicole