Saturday, May 6, 2017

Tools For the Writer—Some Place You Might Not Have Thought to Look

by Tim Suddeth @TimSuddeth

Many of us use our writing as a means of sharing our own spiritual journeys with others. We do this by writing sermons, Bible studies, and/or devotions. It begins by wanting to share a word or thought that God has first given us.

To make sure our teaching is of God, and not just from us, we need to be sure we understand what the Bible is truly saying. Since the Bible was written two thousand years ago, in three  different languages, and for a different culture or cultures, it’s more important that we try to determine what the original writer was trying to get across. Fortunately, there are some tools to help in our search for the Bible’s truths.

The Bible
Simple, isn’t it? To teach the Bible you start with the Bible. But when was the last time you went into a bookstore or to Amazon and searched for a Bible. For a current book, you may have two choices, hardback and soft. But for the Bible, you have shelves if not cases and hundreds of different versions and types. And I’m not even talking about the covers or size of print.

Well, then which one is the original Bible? That’s like saying which is the original calabash seafood restaurant. Since the Bible was originally written in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic, all of our English Bibles are translations, also called versions.

To keep it simple, we’ll put them into two groups, with most versions falling somewhere in the middle:
1. Literal – These try to keep a word-to-word translation and be readable. That’s like tightrope walking in high heels. Some examples of these are the King James Version (KJV) and the New American Standard Bible (NASB).
2. Dynamic –These translate thought for thought. They may not use the strict wording, but they try to get the thought across. Some examples are the New Living Translation (NLT) and the Message.

The New International Version (NIV) is an example of one that fits in between. It is a purer translation than the NLT but is more concern with getting the meaning across than translating the words.

But determining the version is just the beginning. Now you have to determine which type of Bible to use. For Bible study, you will probably want to use a study or a reference Bible. A study Bible comes with the addition of notes from a scholar or group of scholars. Remember, to evangelicals, the text is inspired, the notes aren’t. But the notes show the results of possibly a life time of research and provide clarity or connect different scriptures you might have missed.

A reference Bible shows other references in the margin on the same topic or using the same word. They can be harder to use.

Online Bibles make using reference Bibles much easier. At a touch, you see the verse in dozens of different versions or pull up other places where your chosen word is used.

A concordance is a list of the words used with the citation of the other passages where it can be found beside it. Sort of like an index. Concordances are written for their own version.

Strong’s Concordance is one of the most used. Not only does it have the English words but, in the back, it also has a numbered list of the Hebrew and Greek words. If you want to do a word study, you can find the number of the word and find where the Greek word was used, no matter how it was translated.

But let’s face it. The concordance is most often used as an address book when I remember the verse or a part of it, but not where it’s found. Today, I’d probably Google it.

Word Studies
There are some words in the Bible that have deeper meanings than what is first obvious. This is where word study books come in. There are Hebrew word studies for the Old Testament and Greek word studies for the New Testament. They can add a much deeper dimension to your study.

A commentary is a book of notes on different verses, books of the Bibles, or topics by scholars or group of scholars. Like a study Bible, they often explain the Bible through their own views or biases, positive or negative, but in greater detail.

Like finding the right type of Bible, finding the right commentary is a matter of personal taste. They come in one volume up to a volume for each of the sixty-six books. Many of the older commentaries can be found online.

I like saving the commentary for last. There is nothing like finding a new truth on your own. Using commentaries is another place where I like to use several. Everyone has his or her own topics that they emphasize, so using several can give you a more balance view.

There are two steps in preparing a Bible study or devotion: interpretation and application. Interpretation is learning what the Bible says. But that does us little good if we can’t or don’t apply it in our daily lives. That’s where prayer and the Holy Spirit comes in. Which would be very presumptuous of us if Jesus hadn’t said this was the reason the Holy Spirit was sent. 

These tools are useful whether you plan to be published, or you’re studying for your own private devotion. Don’t let the size of the books or the fear of the task of translation discourage you. We have a big and wonderful God. The closer you get to Him, the bigger and more wonderful He appears.

Are there any other tools you recommend?

Tools for the writer: some places you might not have thought to look - @TimSuddeth (Click to Tweet)

Tim Suddeth has been published in Guideposts’ The Joy of Christmas and on He’s working on his third manuscript and looks forward to seeing his name on a cover. He is a member of ACFW and Cross n Pens. Tim’s lives in Greenville, SC with his wife, Vickie, and his happy 19-year-old autistic son, Madison.  Visit Tim at and on Facebook and Twitter. He can be also reached at


  1. Tim, Thank you for this great information. I love Biblical word studies, especially in the Old Testament. I've found treasures that I cling to. God gave me the awesome privilege to speak and write about them. I cherish the times when God uses His word to set the captives free and/or heal.

    1. Isn't that awesome? To think that God wants to and stoops to communicate with us and through us. It is wonderful.

  2. "...tightrope walking in high heels." Great word picture that shows your meaning and makes today's message memorable. Thanks for sharing your insights. Write on!

  3. It's a bit expensive, but Biblesoft software -- there are also other good products -- allows me to go deep into a study very quickly -- all the way down to the original languages and even reaqd the thoughts of the translators as they struggled to translate a passage. What took 2 or 3 hours 25 years ago, I can now do in 10 minutes. In addition, I can copy the text of my findings into my own document.

  4. You're right. It's amaIng how much quicker it is now.

  5. Great post. If you can swing it, I find it's also helpful to have two kids with Bible degrees in the family :)
    One thing my time working for a publisher taught me is many readers are (and probably should be) wary when an author quotes from a number of different translations. As tempting as it is to choose the version of a verse that most closely echoes what I'm writing, I think it's good practice to ask myself if I might be angling Scripture to meet my needs rather than being inspired by it. I tend to put more trust in the author of a book who only lists one or two Bible permission statements on the copyright page.

  6. What an abundance of resources. Thank you, Tim.