The digital Bible is a game changer.
When I was in college in the late 1990s, I was thrilled to receive a NASB concordance one year for Christmas. I hit the jackpot—there was no Bible study obstacle I couldn’t overcome.
This behemoth weighed about 35 pounds and was roughly the size of a Dodge Neon.
The world of Bible lookup is drastically different now, with the landscape shifting techtonically by the widespread use of digital search.
It’s so easy—open up e-Sword or Logos, go to Bible Gateway, or use any one of dozens of Bible mobile apps, and you can search the Bible in seconds. We have enormous power at our fingertips, power that our spiritual ancestors of even 30 years ago couldn’t have imagined.
There are so many benefits to digital search! You can locate that passage that’s been sticking in your brain by punching in a few keywords. You can find all the occurrences of the names Gideon or Melchizedek with a click. You can jump right to the crucifixion passages.
But, like most good tools, there are misuses we must avoid. And I’ll warn you—they’re mighty tempting.
The Danger of Search
The careless “word study” is one of the most common mistakes made with a Bible search tool. If you haven’t been part of a study like this, you’ve heard about it. A leader or teacher decides to explore “the real meaning” of a single word in the Bible—like “hope,” “peace,” or “lord.” Then he dashes through the first 15 hits on Bible Gateway for that word and draws a once-for-all conclusion.
I’m not here to shoot down all word studies. I think they can be done well. But they are so, so easy to do poorly! And the results of a poor word study can be disastrous. Christians are left skimming the surface, missing out on rich, deep truths in the Bible. And even worse—those surface-level “facts” might just be wrong.
What’s the Problem?
The main problem with bad word studies is that they mishandle the Scriptures specifically and language in general.
If you’re an English speaker, consider the words “hold,” “watch,” or “run.” Each of these words can be used as multiple parts of speech and has several possible meanings in each case. You’d never take a book, collect the search hits for “run,” and claim to know the meaning of the word by this grab bag approach.
But this describes bad word studies in a nutshell.
What’s the Safeguard?
The safeguard against bad word studies is interpreting the Bible in context. Do the hard work of understanding a passage before you connect it to different chapters, books, or authors. The process of connecting disparate parts of the Bible is called correlation.
When putting different parts of the Bible together, it’s best to connect ideas instead of just words. If you know what the original author meant, you can fit that idea together with the main point from a different passage.
My advice boils down to this. Start small (understanding individual passages) and then go big instead of the other way around. Let the Bible itself—not the results from a search engine—form the basis of your small group study.