Bible Study Basics: Identify Unknown Elements

Step 5 Identify and Research Key Terms

Identify People, Places, Events and Concepts You Don’t Understand

We have a junk drawer in our house. It’s a place where we put things we need or think we need but don’t use very often. In it you’ll find pens, notepads, coupons, tape and a few tools. There are also a few thing-a-ma-jigs. If you’re not sure what a thing-a-ma-jig is then you understand why it’s in the junk drawer. We don’t know what it is either. From time to time we find things in the house that look important but we’re not sure what they are. It could be a spring or odd shaped piece of metal. In the back of my mind is the nagging thought that it may be important. So I keep it around. What reinforces this thought is that occasionally (at least once or twice in the last 30 years) I discover what a thing-a-ma-jig is and that it’s important.

junk drawer - identify unknown elements

We’re on step 5 in learning how to study the Bible on our own. In this step we identify and research biblical thing-a-ma-jigs. I am referring to the things, words, people, places and events in the passage we’re studying that we don’t understand. Understanding this step is easy. Doing it requires some effort.

Bible study is different from reading. It’s common to just skip over things in reading that we don’t understand. This is just as true of reading the Bible as it is a newspaper. If our goal is to get a general understanding of a passage, like with devotional reading, you can do that. Our goal in Bible study is different. We want to fully understand a passage. To do this we need to identify and research whatever we don’t understand in a passage.

There are two steps to this process, identify and research.

2 Steps To Identify And Understand Key Terms In A Passage

  1. Identify
    1. List all words, people, places and events you don’t understand.
    2. Add words you generally understand but want to know better.
    3. Add the most important words in the passage. These are words that if left out change the meaning of the passage.
  2. Research
    1. Look up and make notes on each person, place or event in a Bible reference book. This could be a Bible dictionary or encyclopedia.
    2. Look up the meaning of words in a Hebrew or Aramaic or Greek Lexicon (dictionary). There are books and software tools that enable you to look up what a word means even if you have no foreign language background.

Each step in our study is important. You haven’t completed your study until you have at least a basic understanding of all the terms in it. When you do your research you’ll see much more in the text than you did in just reading it. It’s been said that normal reading of the Bible is like watching black and white TV. Studying the Bible is like watching it in color.

You assignment is to make a list of every term, person and place in Mark 1:1-8 that you don’t understand and do some basic research on them. Tomorrow I’ll give you my list and what I discover so we can compare our work. One free online resource I use to research terms is the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. There are other free ones if you search for them. Remember, don’t leave any thing-a-ma-jigs unidentified.

I’d love to hear from you. How are you doing with our study methods so far? Please share questions or comments below.