Tools of the Trade: Dictionaries, Encyclopedias, and Manners Customs books.
Including some information on Strong's Numbering and Vines.
Today I will do another post on tools of the trade. One of the keys to proper interpretation is realizing that the books of the bible were not written for a twentieth century American cultural perspective. It was a first century, middle eastern, perspective heavily influenced by Jewish, Greek and Roman culture.
We must remember two things. What period of time was the book discussing and when was the book written. Both pieces of information is very important in your bible study. I’ve already mentioned commentaries and they are useful at pointing some of this stuff out. If though you are wanting to get at more of the raw material to broaden your own perspectives then try out some of these books.
Encyclopedias & Dictionaries
The name varies but the intent is often similar. An encyclopedia may just be longer or have more volumes but it covers much the same space as a dictionary. There is no hard and fast rule.
Some excellent examples are:
Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible
The New Unger's Bible Dictionary
Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary
Zondervan Illustrated Bible Dictionary
I’ve been teaching the seven churches of Asia and the Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible has helped me to give some of the background history to the cities in the ancient world. You have to know what was going on at the time because sometimes what is written is predicated upon what is going on at that time.
You can look up all sorts of things from the bible in an encyclopedia.
Locations like cities and towns.
Arms and equipment
History of a nation or region
Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, “Thyatira,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 2058–2059.
Thyatira. One of the seven churches of the Apocalypse. The city was founded by the Lydian kingdom and later captured by Seleucus, Alexander’s general. It then served as a border settlement to preserve his kingdom from Lysimacus, his rival to the west. After the kingdom of Pergamum was founded (282 bc), Thyatira became the borderline between Pergamum and the Syrians. The city was without natural defenses. It was not built on a hill and therefore was subject to repeated invasions. The strength of the city lay largely in its strategic location and also upon the fertility of the area surrounding it. Its inhabitants were descendants of Macedonian soldiers and retained much of their ancestors’ militancy. They made formidable defenders of the city. When Rome defeated Antiochus in 189 bc, Thyatira was incorporated into the kingdom of Pergamum, Rome’s ally. Peace and prosperity followed. Under the Roman emperor Claudius (ad 41–54), Thyatira rose to new prominence and was permitted to issue its own coins. The emperor Hadrian included this city in his Middle East itinerary (ad 134), a hint of the importance of Thyatira in the 2nd century ad Prosperity attracted many Jews to this area. Among the commercial activities of the city were textiles and bronze armor. The armorers were in a guild, like the silversmiths in Ephesus. A coin from the city reveals a smith hammering a helmet on an anvil, a reminder that in the letter to Thyatira the Son of God has eyes that glow like fire and his feet like white-hot metal (Rv 2:18). On the coin the coppersmith is the god Hephaestus. The first known Christian convert in Europe was a businesswoman from Thyatira named Lydia (Acts 16:14, 15, 40). She specialized in the costly purple garments which were exported from Thyatira to Macedonia. Here the purple dye, from the madder root, offered a much cheaper cloth to compete with costlier garments dyed with the expensive murex dye from Phoenicia.
This sort of information can be very useful when doing bible studies.
Manners and Customs
Another great resource are books on manners and customs. It is very important.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Lk 7:44–47.
44 Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”
This is Jesus response to the woman who comes in and wipes Jesus feet with her tears and her hair. The Pharisees are critical and Jesus responds. We might be wondering about all of this information. They didn’t give Him water for His feet. They didn’t anoint His head with oil. They gave Him no kiss. What does all of this mean? Why would Jesus say these things?
If we had the proper resources we would find out that giving a guest water to clean their feet was something any good host would do. That anointing his head and giving him a kiss were signs of respect and honor. A guest being treated right would receive such behavior. Jesus was not treated right. He was treated very poorly. They had no respect for Jesus. This example is perhaps an easy one but this one is a bit more of a challenge.
Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds.
The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), Re 2:22.
Jesus is speaking here. He is saying that the Jezebel will be cast into a bed. What does that mean? A Jew of the first century would know but we twenty first century folks would not. The phrase “cast into a bed” is an idiom for making sick. God was going to sicken this lady who was doing evil. Well that makes sense.
James M. Freeman and Harold J. Chadwick, Manners & Customs of the Bible (North Brunswick, NJ: Bridge-Logos Publishers, 1998), 497.
1:5 Wives of Priests There was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Great care was taken in the selection of wives for the Jewish priests, so that the line of priests might be kept in every respect unsullied. One authority states: “It was lawful for a priest to marry a Levitess, or, indeed, a daughter of Israel; but it was most commendable of all to marry one of the priest’s line.” Zechariah was especially honored in having for his wife one of the descendants of Aaron (Leviticus, chapters 8 and 9).
This passage from Manners and Customs concerns Luke 1:5. You can see here now why the writer of Luke mentions that Zachariah’s wife was of the line of Aaron. It was a great honor and mark of respect. We might completely miss that point and think it an odd fact to take notice of in our studies.
Strong’s Numbering System
James Strong invented the idea. He numbered every Greek root word used in the bible. You could then look up an English word in a particular place in the bible and then find the matching number which would tell you the underlying Greek root word. You could then look in the back of the Strong’s concordance and find a dictionary definition.
We have computers now and my Logos Bible Software does all of that for me. The numbers though for those who know very little about Greek can be useful. They can tell you if two uses of an English word are the same in the underlying Greek text which might be important if you were wanting to know that fact.
Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words
Vines is the counterpart to Strongs. It is a dictionary of English words and explanations of what they mean in the context of the bible. A reference is made to the underlying Strongs number so that different numbers may have slightly different meanings. So you need to know the Strongs number. See how this links together?
In your bible studies you should strive to know the context. That means reading the verses before and after but it also means knowing about the setting. You need to know how the original readers of the gospels would have understood what was written because they were the original audience. That doesn’t mean we can’t learn from the bible, by no means! It does mean we must first figure out what was meant and then we can see how to apply it to our own lives.
I know I was late this week. I am so sorry. I never want to go past the weekend. I had a lot going on and I didn’t get it done. I will do my best not to make that mistake again.
Thank you for reading. There will be more God willing. I love you all. I pray God blesses your mission.