Bible study can be daunting at times. Ultimately, it is God’s word, His revelation of Himself to us, and we can gain incredible insights about Him without any study tools. His Spirit enlightens us to understand scripture. We should always first simply read the text, approaching it in a prayerful attitude asking God to speak to us. And He will.
But there are many wonderful study tools available that can give us additional insights. To me, it’s like a diamond. I can have a pretty diamond ring on my finger, and it can sparkle and shine and give me pleasure by its simple beauty, and I can understand the big picture meaning of its possession: my husband loves me and I belong to him. But if I take my ring to a jeweler and he examines it with his expertise and tools, he can tell me many things about it I could never see just with my eyes. That’s what Bible study tools do for us…they bring out many wonderful hidden things about the treasure of scripture that we might otherwise overlook.
One tool I use regularly is the website Blue Letter Bible. It’s relatively easy to navigate and provides a lot of different ways to expand your biblical understanding. I use it most for Greek & Hebrew Word Studies. Here are some tips on using the site.
#1 – WORD DEFINITIONS
The New Testament is written in Greek; the Old Testament is written in Hebrew and Aramaic. I wish I knew both languages because I know that it would greatly expand my understanding of the culture and setting of scripture. But the next best thing is to use tools like BlueLetter Bible.
Let’s take Luke 9:23 for our example: And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.”
Enter this verse in the search box at the top center of the page. You need to select KJV or NASB as the scripture version, as these are the only two that will allow you to drill down into the Greek or Hebrew transliterations. Check the box next to the word “Strong’s” and you will then see numbers beside each word or phrase in the verse. These relate to the Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance.
Click on the number G720 next to the word “deny.” You are taken to a new page where you can learn many things about the Greek word arneomai which is translated as “deny” in our English language. The main definitions (basically, the ways that particular word is translated into English) are listed under “Outline of Biblical Usage.” Don’t get toodistracted with all the grammar references, if you’re not a Greek or Hebrew scholar. I just read through the definitions to get a broad understanding of the word.
Here we learn that “deny” can mean to deny someone, to deny one’s self, to disregard his own interests or to prove false to himself, act entirely unlike himself, to deny, abnegate, abjure, not to accept, to reject, to refuse something offered.
Just above, you will see “Dictionary Aids” and for a New Testament word, you have the option of Vine’s Expository Dictionary. Here you find expanded definitions, and the scripture references where the word is used in that manner. Vine’s is a GREAT resource…I love his insights and explanations. In this case, we can see that “deny” in Luke 9:23 means “to deny oneself, in a good sense, by disregarding one’s own interests.”
Using this same method, we find the following:
Take up (G142) [airō] – to raise up, to lift, to take upon oneself and carry what has been raised, physically” (its most frequent use); to take upon one’s self and carry what has been raised up, to bear
Follow (G190) [akoloutheō] – to follow one who precedes, join him as his attendant, accompany him; to join one as a disciple, become or be his disciple; to be an akolouthos, “a follower,” or “companion” (from the prefix a, here expressing “union, likeness,” and keleuthos, “a way;” hence, “one going in the same way”); used 77 times in the Gospels metaphorically of discipleship
#2 – VERB TENSES
I won’t go into a grammar lesson here (mostly because I am NOT a Greek scholar and it would be the blind leading the blind). However, I have learned just a few key things to look for in the area of verb tenses. Knowing what tense a verb is can change the entire meaning of a verse.
The first two things I look for in Greek verbs are the verb tense and the voice. Here is a short list of definitions of the main ones I look for. Seeing them in contrast helps you understand their meaning.
Aorist – refers to simple, undefined action, referring only to the reality of an event or action.
Present – refers to continuous or repeated action.
Perfect – represents an action that was completed in the past but has continuing results.
Active – represents the action as completed by the subject of the verb.
Middle – represents the subject as acting in some way upon himself or concerning himself
Passive – represents the subject as receiving the action of the verb
The definitions above are taken from my Key Word Study Bible(another resource I’ll tell you about soon). To find this information on Blue Letter Bible, go back to the screen where your complete verse is written out. Click on the box that says “Tools” next to the verse reference. This opens up a new menu (see screen shot below).
I encourage you to have fun exploring all the tabs, but what we’re focusing on now are the verb tenses and voice. Find the word “deny” under the list of English words and click on “Parse” on the right hand side. A pop-up appears, in which you find the information we are looking for: Tense, Voice and Mood. By clicking on each word, Aorist, Middle Deponent, and Mood, we discover the following:
Deny is simple, undefined action, and the subject (him…whoever wants to follow Christ) performs the action (the definition of Middle Deponent tells us that this is really the Active voice.) Mood tells us this is an imperative, or a command.
So…to deny ourselves is not something that happens continuously (that would be present tense), nor is it something that happened once in the past and its result continue, as though we do not have to deny ourselves again (that would be perfect tense.) Remember our definition of deny: disregarding one’s own interest. So each time our own personal interest gets in the way of God’s interests, we are to deny self – a simple act of reality. Then the next time our own interest gets in the way, we deny ourselves again.
Because this blog post is already longer than you’ll probably read, I want to summarize what I learn from exploring the other words in this verse, just through definitions and word studies.
We are to take up our cross. Take up meant to take upon oneself and carry what has been raised. It is aorist tense, active voice, imperative mood. A command for the subject to perform simple action. What has already been raised? Not our cross…Jesus’ cross. His death on the cross defeated sin. His death is what gives us the power over sin, to say “no” to sin, to deny ourselves.
To deny ourselves and take up our cross is to face our own personal interest, our own desires, with the power of the cross that has already been raised for us. It is not simply to bear up under something uncomfortable in our life. That is a biblical principle too, but it’s not what this particular verse is teaching us. Jesus is prophetically saying here that His death, His cross, will give us the power to deny ourselves, and that we will have opportunity to deny ourselves many times in life – every time “self-interest” or “fleshly desire” rears its ugly head. We are told to take up our cross daily, so obviously Jesus knew human nature well!
To follow is to become a disciple, literally “one going in the same way.” It is present tense, active voice, imperative mood.
Present tense, we learned, is continuous, repeated action. Following Christ does not stop. It is not something we must stop and think about, and give consideration to, unlike the daily decisions to deny ourselves and take up our cross.
I picture it this way:
I am going along in my journey with Christ, spending time in His word, listening, praying, obeying. It is my lifestyle my habit, my way of life. I am a disciple. But suddenly, an opportunity arises. It might be good thing: a new job, a move to a new city, a new relationship. Or it might be a temptation: an opportunity to sin. At that moment, I must decide to deny myself, by taking up the power of the cross in my life. My self-interests are set aside, and I seek God’s interests. If it’s sin, it’s nothing even something I need to pray about: just say NO! But good opportunities may take some time in prayer to discern what my own interest is and what God desires. Then, I go on in my journey with Christ, continuallyfollowing Him.
What if I fail to deny myself and make the wrong choice? I never stop following, or being a disciple. But as in any relationship, confession and forgiveness must be sought, and then the fellowship is restored.
Why are studies like this important?
The main reason I believe God’s Word is worth the time and effort of studying deeper, is God’s Word is worth the effort and time! It is a treasure trove of God’s love for us. The “payoff” for me, besides the joy of greater understanding, is the time I have spent with God in His Word. Having those “ah-ha” moments, where I know beyond a shadow of a doubt He led me to that particular truth. Studying in this way forces me to slow down and meditate and ponder over His word.
So many times, we simply read through a text, give an intellectual assent and say “thank you” to God, then move on. I encourage you to stop, and dig in. There’s just no predicting what wonderful gems you will discover about the God who loves us and gave His life for us, so that we could know Him.