In this last chapter, Sproul discusses resources that may help in studying the Bible. This section hasn’t been updated in 32 years, and so I’ll include only the parts I consider to be still relevant today.
6. Practical tools for Bible study
A few suggestions for those seeking a deeper knowledge and understanding of Scripture.
There are differences in the translating methodologies that must be noted:
- Verbal accuracy. These are the translations in which strict faithfulness to the ancient language is stressed. Pros: verbal accuracy. Cons: a cumbersome and awkward literary style. Such translations are useful for study purposes, but somewhat awkward for normal reading. An example is the NASB.
- Concept accuracy. This is the predominant method of translation, which seeks to maximise reading style and minimise verbal distortion. The goal is to produce an accurate rendition of the thoughts or concepts of Scripture. An example is the RSV.
- The paraphrase. This is an expansion of the concept method in which the concept is extended and elaborated to ensure that it is well-communicated. Here the premium is on readability and relevance to modern thought patterns. Paraphrases are not recommended for serious study since there is the danger of distortion. Examples include the J. B. Phillips ‘translation’, The Living Bible and The Message.
Some Bibles have marginal notes and footnotes containing definitions of words and customs; indicating textual variations; indicating cross-references.
There exist various ways of cross-referencing:
- Commentary notes. Sproul objects (on a matter of principle) to those Bibles which have a running commentary. The problem, he says, is that the average person fails to distinguish, especially later in recalling what was read, between the text of Scripture and the human comment.
- Translations and commentary. In a sense, every translation is a commentary, as the process of translation involves decision-making with respect to words and ideas. Each translation will reflect the individual or corporate bias of the translator(s). Such bias is normally kept at a minimum and shouldn’t be a cause for concern.
The King James Bible
This version enjoys a pre-eminent place of acceptance and usage over a long period of time. However, Sproul has one concern: the KJV is less accurate in its representation of the original writings of Scripture than most modern translations. This stems from the fact that it was translated from an inferior Greek text (the Textus Receptus). Manuscript discoveries since the 16th century have greatly enriched our knowledge of the original texts.
Commentaries, concordances, dictionaries, atlases
Commentaries are useful in that they provide a check and balance for the tendency to private, prejudicial interpretation.
Every layman’s ‘toolbox’ for studying Scripture should also include at least one of the following: a concordance, a Bible dictionary and a Bible atlas.
Sproul’s vision is for a multitude of articulate and knowledgeable Christians making an impact on culture, which cannot be realized unless we know and use the tools of intelligent Bible study.
I’m with him on that!