You barely have time to just read your Bible. Why would you add reference books on top of that?
Would you if the rewards outweighed your effort?
While there’s no guarantee that acquiring more knowledge will translate to greater insights or to spiritual transformation (it takes a work of the Spirit to do that), you can position yourself to be more open to growth.
That’s one reason I love Bible dictionaries. For a small investment of time, you can reap big benefits.
What is a Bible dictionary?
Bible dictionaries are concise reference tools that, at a minimum, provide a short definition of an English word. But they can also give definitions of the original Hebrew or Greek words. Some add scripture references, pronunciation guides, parts of speech, word derivations, synonyms, and brief contexts. There are also dictionaries for Bible names, subjects, places, backgrounds, and themes.
While a few are written specifically for scholars, the most popular ones are easily understood by those of us with no formal theological training.
My favorite source is the free Bible software from e-Sword.net. They offer fourteen free dictionaries and three paid ones, plus multiple other resources.
How to use
Here’s a simple example. I saw an interesting post here on “came” (translated “rushed” in ESV) in Judges 14:19. I wanted to know more.
So I looked up the verse in e-Sword and clicked on the Hebrew word tsalach, which is Strong’s number 6743 (each Hebrew and Greek word is assigned a number). Strong’s Hebrew Dictionary showed me the Hebrew spelling (okay, useless to me but maybe helpful to you?) and several definitions.
I then typed in 6743 in my favorite online Hebrew dictionary to hear the pronunciation, learn more definitions, see other words translated from this one, and get a quick glance at other verses where it’s used.
So what? Well, understanding more fully how the Spirit didn’t just “come” upon Samson in a passive way, but “pushed forward; rushed; advanced; broke out” teaches me I can be more confident in how He’s capable of working in me, too—all from a small piece of information easily accessed in a Bible dictionary.
While a dictionary won’t provide an all-encompassing study and won’t give you much context (other resources are available for that), it is a great starting point and is often all the extra information you need.
Understanding God’s message more clearly can help you see God Himself more clearly. The more you see, the more you’ll love and want to share His love with others.
So the next time you see an interesting word in your Bible reading (maybe one of these?), I encourage you to go look it up. See what new treasures you will find to build your faith to ultimately honor the Father!
Quick Links for Bible Dictionaries
- Bible Gateway – Easton’s Bible Dictionary, Hitchcock’s Bible Names Dictionary, Smith’s Bible Names Dictionary
- Bible Study Tools—Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, King James Dictionary, more
- Blue Letter Bible—multiple search tools
- E-Sword – free downloadable software with 14 dictionaries
- Katie’s Top 10 Online Bible Study Tools
- Study Light—Hebrew and Greek lexicons based on Thayer’s Bible Dictionary and others
Do you have a favorite Bible dictionary? How do you use it? Please share comments and questions below.