Tips for Studying Scripture
In the our pursuit of Truth we often find ourselves at somewhat of a loss. For most of us, it is the simple fact that we can only read English. Now don’t get me wrong, I love the English language. But for most students of Scripture, you eventually hit a wall; I have hit it numerous times. This proverbial dead end street of words and phrases usually looks something like this: you’re reading Scripture when all of the sudden you can’t seem to figure something out. You check your Strong’s concordance, you Google your question, but still the answer seems to escape you. It could be something as small as "How on earth could Isaac NOT know it was Jacob that he was blessing?" (See Genesis 27), or it could be something larger. These larger problems are a sure cause of angst for most of us that seek to understand Scripture with a Hebrew mindset, and these problems usually come from Paul. (If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, read the books of Romans and Galatians back-to-back).
Constructing a Hebrew mindset is very difficult. Not simply because it is a different language, but also because it was a different era, different culture, and vastly different society. There are many teachers out there that teach from a Hebraic point-of-view, yet we seldom find ourselves reading Scripture once over and automatically understanding it. One cannot expect to read an ENGLISH translation of the Bible, and fully understand all of its passages. Remember that YHWH did not give His Word in English. So we have a bit of a handicap, and therefore we need to utilize other resources to aid in our studies.
So how about some tips? Well to begin with, a Strong’s Concordance is DEFINITELY a great tool to have. I use it for every study I put together, and can hardly get through an entire chapter of Scripture without referencing it. Yet it should be noted that James Strong was not perfect, nor did he live thousands of years ago when the Torah was being written by Moses. So how do we go beyond our English translations and Strong’s concordance?
I suggest using a Thayer’s Greek Lexicon (or one similar) for understanding word usage in the Greek. I also highly recommend Jeff Benner's Ancient Hebrew Lexicon of the Bible. Many suggest using a Chumash for better understanding of the Torah. Though, do bear in mind that pretty much any Chumash will be heavily steeped in Rabbinic tradition, so take it with a grain of salt. The Artscroll Chumash (Stone’s Edition) seems to be a favorite, and Artscroll does produce some WONDERFULLY well-made books. Remember, too, that with a Chumash, there English translation is a bit of a paraphrase, so if you're using it for your weekly (or daily) Torah readings, I suggest reading alongside with another English Bible. I also employ the Septuagint for my own personal study. I find it useful to compare words used in the NT to those used to represent the same idea/phrase in the Tanakh (See “More Tassel, Less Hassle [pt. 1 & 2] for an example of this).
As for Bible translations, we are, naturally, a bit partial to the Shem Qadosh Version, which you can purchase here. Though I have been known to utilize the NASB, WEB, ESV, ISR, and even the occasional NIV from time to time; it all depends. Naturally for regular reading, I prefer a version with the Names restored.
Another of my personal favorites is actually a website. Biblehub.com is perhaps my favorite. I actually prefer this website over the E-Sword software. It takes some time getting used to it, but the multiple dictionaries and lexicons available on it are quite useful. You can also save time by utilizing the search feature rather than having to flip pages of a book. The Orthodox Chabad Jews also have a website that has a lot of insight (just be careful) at chabad.org, which is helpful when reading/studying Torah portions.
All in all, the number one BEST tip for studying Scripture is this: READ IT! Sure, you might know the book of Numbers from front to back, but how can you connect the content of one book to another if you’re not familiar with the others? Simply reading Scripture is the best study tool, and is necessary to build up your “Scriptural Knowledge Bank.” I usually avoid commentaries from Christian theologians; and I will consult commentaries of Jewish Sages from time to time, simply because they had a much better grasp of historical context than most of us do today. Just beware not to be pulled into Orthodox Judaism.
As far as online resources are concerned, I also recommend the following websites [Note: J. A. Brown and Bechirah may not be affiliated with any of the following. As such, I will not say I fully agree with, or fully endorse all theories, doctrines, and/or teachings from the following sites]:
119 Ministries (if you are not familiar) publishes MANY video teachings that provide wonderful studies. They also have MANY videos that are great introductions to Hebrew Roots/Messianic doctrine that EVERYONE should be able to agree on. While I do not agree with everything featured and taught on the site, they have a number of videos that are GREAT, especially for those new to this walk of Torah observance.
The Refiner’s Fire is a site run by a couple that has many articles covering a wide range of topics relevant to Believers today. Though I will again mention that I do not agree with everything featured on the site, many of the articles are great, and should be read by any serious Believer and Follower of The Way.
The Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon (CAL) website is also an extremely useful tool for those that want to better understand the Syriac Aramaic Peshitta, or any Aramaic text at all. The CAL website contains what is, essentially, interactive manuscripts, tied to Aramaic Lexicons. You can click a certain Aramaic word (from the Tanakh or the Shelichim Writings, in the case of the Peshitta) and look up its definition, root word, etc. It is also useful in studying the Targumim (Aramaic Paraphrases of the Tanakh) as well as the Aramaic texts found at Qumran among the Dead Sea Scrolls. These, of course, include fragments of Enoch.
A good companion to the CAL is the Dukhrana Peshitta NT site. It allows you to compare different translation of the Aramaic NT into English, and is tied to the CAL lexical entries for definitions and such. It also has options for reading the same passages in Greek and Hebrew via the Delitzsch Hebrew NT.
Messianic Apologetics is a website operated by John and Margaret McKee. They publish many articles and have authored numerous books, including some very useful and insightful commentaries on the Pauline Epistles. John has a Master's Degree from Asbury Theological Seminary, and employs his training in his writings. He was also the 2009 recipient of the Zondervan Award for Greek. His commentary on Romans is definitely something that every Torah-Observant Believer should own.
I also highly recommend studying the Apocryphal and Pseudepigraphal books. That is why I have spent so much time and effort - indeed, many hours over many months - putting together Sefer Maqabiym (1 & 2 Maccabees) and Genesis Retold (Enoch, Jasher, Jubilees, Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs). Though you can debate whether these books should be in the canon (I try to avoid this debate, as it tends to create factions), they are nonetheless important for other reasons. First, history and context. Maccabees provides a wonderful historical account of what happens after Daniel and before Matthew. It describes the events of the Greek invasion and persecution that everyone needs to understand. One cannot expect to understand Judea under Roman occupation, without understanding Judea under Greek persecution. The New Testament must be read - and studied - in its own historical setting. And Enoch, Jubilees, and Testaments may or may not provide additional true details (I believe they do), but they do, at the very least, place you in the mind of a 2nd or 3rd Cent. BCE to 3rd Cent. CE Jew. Even the later 'Christian' interpolations found in the Testaments are useful, as they give a description of some of the beliefs of early Pre-Nicene Believers. Plus we must remember that these books are not only paraphrased, but also QUOTED DIRECTLY by the writers of the NT. Overall I highly recommend these books not as much to seek "untold answers" but to aid in interpreting the Scriptures through a HISTORICAL and CULTURAL lens.
Lastly, to the right at the top of this page (or perhaps at the bottom, if you're on mobile) is a banner for HomeschoolingTorah.com. We at Bechirah have recently become partners with Homeschooling Torah, and are very pleased to help promote such a wonderful option and curriculum for the Body of Torah-Observant Believers. I (J. A. Brown) was home-schooled myself from Kindergarten to 12th grade (start to finish) and I am definitely thankful for it. I only wish something like this had existed back then. I intend to use many aspects (if not all) of Homeschooling Torah's resources for when my own children reach the age to begin home schooling.