Once a month, you’re going to hear from some of our authors or from our team on how we study the Bible, what resources we use, and what questions we ask. Submit your questions related to these topics by filling out the form here!
Part of my day-to-day job as an editor is fact-checking. If an author says something, we try our best to make sure it is true. We verify everything we can to make sure our resources are trust worthy and so we can easily find the information when someone asks. I’ve spent a full day verifying the origin of a baseball player’s nickname and half a day overlaying modern and historical maps to try to find Mount Moriah’s location.
I’m a bit of a nerd (okay, a big nerd) and love gathering information of all kinds. My team knows this about me and so when Priscilla Shirer wanted some research help with The Armor of God a couple of years ago, they nominated me to lend a hand. I jumped at the chance to find out everything I could about first century Roman armor. Seriously. I told y’all I’m a nerd.
We thought you might like a little peek behind the curtain of how we research here at LifeWay Women. This is by no means a comprehensive guide, but this is a condensed version of my method.
- Start with the text.
For Bible study, we always start with Scripture. I read the passage I’m researching and any relevant context. I always open up a physical Bible or view the whole chapter on a Bible website so that I can get a feel for the surrounding verses. Context can give you clues about the audience, the writer, the culture at the time, etc.
- Go to commentaries, dictionaries, or a study Bible.
This doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive. Study Bibles are a great resource—they often give historical and cultural context in the notes. Some commentaries are available for free online at websites like BibleGateway.com and BlueLetterBible.com. BlueLetterBible.com is one of my favorite resources. I don’t know the biblical languages, but Blue Letter Bible has an easy search tool to help you find the word in Hebrew or Greek, then use several other tools to find definitions, other uses of the word, pronunciation, etc. WordSearch is another great tool where you can get several resources for free just by signing up, or you can purchase additional resources to have on hand wherever you have the internet. It’s like a traveling library!
- Ask questions.
As you’re reading, jot down questions that come to mind while you are reading the text and the commentaries. For The Armor of God, I would ask things like, “What did the belt look like?” “Why did Paul choose that particular sword to represent the Word of God?” Take on a posture of curiosity.
- Pay attention to the footnotes.
Footnotes are the researcher’s best friend. Typically, you’ll start to notice that a lot of commentaries are quoting the same people and the same books. You’ll want to get your hands on those books!
- Go to Wikipedia.
I know this seems strange because Wikipedia cannot be trusted. It’s true. We don’t quote Wikipedia because as a crowd-sourced encyclopedia, it isn’t error free. However, if you want to get your mind around something historical, Wikipedia articles are a great place to start. Not only can you get a decent grasp on the topic by looking at Wikipedia, you can also scroll down to find your BFF, the footnotes. Those footnotes can usually be trusted, and you can then get the information straight from the source.
- Head to the library!
This is my favorite part. If your town has a university, see if you can access their library. You may not be able to check out the books, but you might be able to enter without a university ID and sit with the books you need, taking notes or even scanning pages. Your local city library may also have many resources, or the means to order them for you. For commentaries, check with your pastor! A lot of pastors have great libraries filled with Bible dictionaries and commentaries they trust. You can also check Google Books. They have many public domain books in full online. Another trick of the trade: if you’re just trying to verify a quote, check Amazon’s preview feature. You can often search for specific words and preview the page.
Every Bible study needs research. You want to make sure whatever you are writing or saying is true, especially when talking about the living and active Word of God. Research can be time consuming, but what you learn can give you valuable insight into the message of Scripture. Pretty soon you’ll be swapping friendship bracelets with the footnotes and breathing deeply whenever you enter a library.
What tools and methods have you used for research in the past? Let us know if you have any tips or questions in the comments!
Elizabeth Hyndman is an editor and social media strategist for LifeWay Christian Resources. When she’s not inserting Oxford commas and answering questions about Bible studies, she likes to drink chai lattes, write, and explore her home city of Nashville, Tennessee. She blogs at edhyndman.com and tweets @edhyndman.