Four Bible Dictionary Skills that Make Sense

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July 2, 2024 by Leave a Comment

*This is the third in a 4-part series on strengthening our skills as students of God’s Word written by G. Dwayne McCrary.

Bible Dictionaries are our friends. We should not fear them or ignore them while sitting by themselves in the corner. In them we find articles about a wide range of topics usually in alphabetical order that define or describe the topic. We may even find multiple articles on the same topic name but with very different purposes in mind. Picking up a Bible dictionary and beginning with the first entry and reading it like a book makes little sense unless we are trying to get a nap. We want to use these tools well and in a way that makes sense. Here are some ways of making the most of this trusted friend. 

For the sake of illustration, let’s imagine that we are studying the Book of Job. We have our Bible Dictionary on our tablet screen. The most obvious article to read first is the entry on Job. We locate the article and find an entry several that takes several swipes on our screen to move through. The article is more about the book than the man.

The first skill involves us reading the article on purpose. We scan the article looking for sentences about the man himself. The first paragraph tells us that many believe Job lived during the patriarchal days or earlier. We also find a section about Job possibly being an Edomite based on the backgrounds of his three friends mentioned in the Bible book. We also find a section that focuses on the faith demonstrated by Job as he faced the challenges that came his way. Other things are included in the article that focus on the structure, literature genre, and outline of the Bible book, but we move past those things because we are reading on purpose, focused on the life of Job the man. 

A second skill involves us comparing articles. We know Job had three friends with whom he dialogued (Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar) and that a fourth person also addressed Job (Elihu). We then review the articles on these four people, looking for similarities and differences. We compare what we find out about them with what we discovered about Job. We find that the four men, especially Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, are viewed very differently than Job since they interpreted Job’s losses in terms of judgment for an unconfessed sin. We are getting a clearer picture of Job and the potential emotions and cultural presuppositions he faced. We might even compare articles from different Bible dictionaries just to see if we find the same information. 

A third skill involves us reading an article as a means to find more leads. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar are identified as Edomites. That might prompt us to look at the entry in the Bible dictionary about the Edomites. The biggest thing we discover is that the Edomites were descendants of Esau, Jacob’s older twin brother and their father’s favored son. This adds to the intrigue since the Edomites were not always on friendly terms with their cousins. We also might notice that the original article about Job pointed to three other articles; faith, suffering, and wisdom literature. In reading the two articles on faith and suffering, we begin to see a picture of how faith and suffering are connected, helping us appreciate the faith exhibited by Job. 

One more skill comes from our review of these articles and the passages we find listed. Several Bible passages are usually listed in each article that gives us more to consider. We find out that Job is referenced in Ezekiel 14 and James 5. In the article about suffering, we find passages about others who raised questions about the righteous suffering. We read Psalm 73 and Habakkuk 1 and compare those passages to what we find in Job.    

A Bible dictionary serves as a springboard to discovering new insights about the Bible. By following the trail, we can piece together key passages and connections that give depth to our study. This depth helps us understand the truths we can live out in our own lives. Each step along this trail also gives us a deeper understanding of the unit of the Bible and how it all works together. 

G. Dwayne McCrary is manager of Adult Ongoing Bible studies at Lifeway.

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