Explore the Bible on Your PDA or Smartphone

Tools for Gaining a Deeper Understanding

Nowhere is genuine understanding more important than in handling God’s word. In this article we will talk about how to understand the Bible more deeply as we read it with our PDA. In particular, we will see how to use Olive Tree’s note taking and highlighting tools to preserve the insights that we receive while reading.

From Black Letters on a White Page to Pictures and Ideas

A good reader is someone who understands what he or she is reading. Such a reader grasps the thought of the writer in the way the writer intended it to be understood.

As a teacher of middle school and high school students, I know that a great many young people love to read; nonetheless, there are many others who complain that reading is boring. I agree with these students that nothing is more boring than staring at black letters on a white page without seeing the “film,” so to speak. Sometimes I think about what the factors are that cause some people to understand what they are reading while others do not.

First, a child needs to develop a degree of fluency, which is the ability to decode the letters and to recognize and say the words. Once this happens, continued success in reading depends on experience, not only with reading but with life. Good readers visualize what they are reading based on prior knowledge, they make connections between what they are reading and their own experiences, they predict or anticipate what will happen next, and they ask pertinent questions, such as “Why did that happen?” or “I wonder what the author is getting at?” Educators call this kind of reader an “active reader,” as opposed to a passive one, because he or she interacts with the text in ways that promote understanding, making reading profitable and enjoyable.

One impediment to effective reading, however, could be called “over-active reading.” I remember in high school trying to read a long poem by a great English author. I injected so much “meaning” (that wasn't really there) into the text that I completely lost the train of the author’s thought. Years later, looking back at the same poem, I understood it easily because I read what it said, not what I thought it should say. I’ve seen this happen with students again and again, and while encouraging them to be active readers, I have also warned them against the pitfalls of overdoing it.

This point is very important when it comes to Bible reading. The apostle Peter says, “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of scripture is of anyone’s private interpretation. For no prophecy ever came by the will of man; but men spake from God, being moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet.1:20-21—ASV). Although this verse is specifically about prophecy, it provides an important principle for the reading and interpretation of all scripture: namely, that God knows what it means, and our job is to discover His meaning, not to inject our own. Let us talk about reading the Bible actively for understanding, while avoiding the imposition of our own “private interpretation” on what we read. To do this, many Bible teachers say, is to let the Bible interpret the Bible.

Understanding Comes by Reading

It is a blessed fact that the Bible promises understanding to those who seek it with their whole heart (Prov.2:3-5). Many of us find the Bible difficult to understand; however, I can honestly say that the more I read it with a prayerful spirit, the more I understand what I’m reading. I believe this is what Paul means by “a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the sphere of a full knowledge of Him [Christ]” (Eph.1:17—Wuest Translation).

When Paul wrote to the Ephesians, his stated purpose was that the believers in that place would understand the mystery of Christ, something “which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets” (Eph.3:5— NKJV). Paul certainly had an appreciation of Christ and His body the church that surpasses common, natural, human understanding. How was it that the Ephesians were to share Paul’s understanding in this mystery of Christ? The answer is in verses 3 and 4: “That by revelation there was made known to me the mystery even as I wrote above in brief [that is, in Ephesians 1 and 2], in accordance with which you are able when you read to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ” (Wuest).

Although this may seem obvious, I’d like to say it with emphasis: an understanding of Paul’s knowledge in the mystery of Christ was to be had not by waiting for something to fall out of the sky, but by carefully reading what he wrote about the mystery in the previous chapters of his letter. Reading, when our heart is focused on what we read, brings with it understanding.
As I said before, this kind of reading is not a passive, casual sort of reading, neither is it our “reading into” Paul’s text our own thoughts about what this or that should mean. Rather, it is a kind of reading that is careful, thoughtful, prayerful, and thorough. “Consider what I say,” said Paul, “and may the Lord give you understanding in all things” (2 Ti.2:7— NKJV).

Recognizing the Main Idea

Active readers consider what they are reading. Their goal is to identify the main ideas and the most important supporting details in the text. When they find something notable, they may make a note to themselves in the margin. To keep a record of what is most important or to follow the train of thought, they may highlight or underline significant words, phrases, or sentences. They do whatever helps them to get into the thought of the writer and to determine and remember the meaning. They want to pinpoint what is most important and mark it in some way for future reference.

Pinpointing Important Ideas by Highlighting

Highlighting is a commonly used method of pinpointing what strikes us as important about a passage of scripture. Olive Tree’s BibleReader™ highlight configuration screen gives you a way to highlight text in up to eight colors. It also enables you to make words bold or underlined. An eraser function is available so that you can undo your markings as needed.

Of course, every word of scripture is important, but if we highlight every word, we might as well highlight nothing at all, for we just end up where we started. For this reason, I would like to suggest a few things to highlight when we are reading for a deeper understanding of the word of God.

Highlight Repeated Words

One way the inspired writers of the Bible emphasize main ideas is by repeating key words and phrases. In Hebrews 11, for example, the phrase by faith appears eighteen times. Highlighting or underlining this phrase gives us an outline of the writer’s thought, pointing to the many examples of living by faith which the chapter contains. Considering each case, from Abel to Samuel, we begin to grasp the central role that faith in Christ and His word plays in our lives.




Highlight Contrasting Words

The biblical writers often use contrasting words and phrases to emphasize a point. Consider Romans 8, for example. Here Paul is contrasting two laws: the law of sin and death, which brings us into condemnation, and the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, which frees us from the other law. Paul relates these two laws to two sources for our living: the spirit and the flesh. Using two colors, we could highlight the words flesh and spirit in this chapter to see the contrast between
the two ways of living Paul describes.

Highlight Expressions of Emphasis

The most direct way to see the main idea in what we are reading is to look for expressions of emphasis in the text. For example, after showing again and again the superiority of Christ’s priesthood over that of Aaron, the writer of Hebrews says, Now the main point of what we have to say is this: We have such a High Priest, One Who is seated at the right hand of the majestic God in heaven” (Heb.8:1—Amplified Bible). By highlighting the expression Now the main point of what we have to say is this, we will be reminded whenever we come to this passage that the awesome superiority of Christ is the main idea of Hebrews.

Highlight Connecting Words and Phrases

Writers use transitional words and phrases to help readers follow their train of thought. Often these words reveal important relationships between ideas: like cause and effect, or purpose and result. Consider Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3. Four times in verses 16-19, he uses the word that to show how one idea connects to the next: “That he would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God.” That, which could also be translated in order that, shows that each point of Paul’s prayer lays the foundation for the next point, with the final purpose being that the church would be filled with all the fullness of God. Highlighting these seemingly unimportant connecting words helps us to see the crescendo in Paul’s prayer and the deep desire expressed by it.

Highlight Relationships

Another excellent use of highlighting is to show relationships in the Bible. These could be relationships between ideas, or qualities, or people, or objects, or events, or places, or anything you observe to be important.

The many characters in the story of David (1 and 2 Samuel) stand or fall depending on their relationship with David. It would be very interesting to do a study of these characters, dividing them into two groups: 1) those who remain loyal to David, such as Jonathan, Abigail, and Zadok, the priest; and 2) those who stumble in their relationship with David, such as Saul, Joab, and Absalom. A reader could use two colors to highlight the two groups. He or she could also use colors to highlight passages that illustrate different character traits, such as humility, generosity, honesty, jealousy, deceit, rebellion, etc. Such a study would yield a strong impression of the contrasting qualities of the Spirit and the flesh that struggle for dominance within us all (Gal.5:17).

Highlight Key Passages

To obtain a deeper understanding of the Bible requires diligence. Sometimes we know that certain riches are hidden in the Scriptures, but we need to get them out, like a miner searching for gold.

It has been said that the whole Bible reveals Christ. Suppose you want to find out for yourself how true this is. You can explore the scriptures, looking for key passages that reveal Christ, either through prophecy or typology. Perhaps you will use a certain color to do this throughout your whole Bible. Many people have done so.

Your search may lead you to Genesis 3:15, where it says that the seed of the woman will crush the serpent’s head. You highlight this passage as an early Bible prophecy concerning Christ and note its fulfillment as expressed by Paul in Galatians 4:4. You have begun to develop a set of key passages that you can use to show throughout the Bible “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph.3”8—ASV). No doubt, such a study will strengthen your faith and prepare you to help others see the pre-eminence of Christ in the Bible.

Pinpointing Light by Taking Notes

Sometimes the light we see while reading and studying the scriptures is fleeting. This is why we might use highlighting or underlining to pinpoint the insights we receive.

Another important way to capture these insights and to remember them is to take notes. Yes, you can even take notes on a handheld computer. The BibleReader™ for either Palm OS or Pocket PC provides a note-taking window, an on-screen keyboard, and copy-paste functions to make your job easier.

Suppose you have just read 1 Corinthians 13 and are impressed by the characteristics of love enumerated there. You want to make a note about these characteristics, something you can look at whenever you return to this passage. You can collect details from this passage as well as from other portions of scripture.

Here are some quick steps you can take to do this. Open the note window, tap on the keyboard icon, type something like, “The characteristics of love are,” tap Save, and exit back to the text. Now copy and paste as many elements as you want into the note. In a few minutes you have created a note that lists such qualities for love as “slow to lose patience,” “looks for a way of being constructive,” “not possessive,” “not anxious to impress others,” “does not cherish inflated ideas of its own importance,” etc. (1 Cor.13:4—Phillips). To type all these words would be a daunting task, but pasting them is manageable. You might even be able to use your note for a Bible study or lesson of some sort.

How to Create Notes Using
Desktop Assistant

Although the method of note taking described above is workable for short-to-medium-length notes, it would be too cumbersome for in-depth note taking. Therefore, Olive Tree developers created a Desktop Assistant. After considering what the Bible reveals about the role of Christ in creation, I used Desktop Assistant to produce the following note for Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

God made everything through Christ. This is seen in Proverbs 8:22-31, where Wisdom is personified as a skilled workman who was with God in the beginning and was daily His delight (see Prov. 8:30 and compare Matt. 3:17). Wisdom, here, clearly refers to Christ (who in 1 Corinthians 1:24 is called "the Wisdom of God"). The fact that God made everything through Christ is also seen in John 1:3, where the apostle writes, "All things came into being through Him [Christ, the Word], and apart from Him not one thing came into being which has come into being." Colossians 1 further testifies to this fact when it says, "In Him were all things created...all things were created through Him and unto Him" (1:16). In the great, inconceivable act of creating the heavens and the earth, God did not do anything apart from His Son. Rather, He did everything through Christ. See also Heb. 1:2, 10.

Now, whenever I go to Gen. 1:1, in any Bible version, an asterisk will be there, telling me that this note is present. Tapping on the asterisk will bring up the note in a second window. Some users of Olive Tree Bible Software have used this feature to create extensive notes on their PDA Bibles—a kind of personalized Bible commentary.

Applying what you’ve Learned

Probably, you are beginning to realize that this kind of deeper study of the word has many beneficial applications. Firstly, it can be useful to you in sharing your understanding with others. The portions of scripture that you highlight could easily form the basis for an outline to be used in a Bible study or a teaching lesson. You might share your insights with an unbeliever, a family member, or a Christian friend. Sometimes you will find yourself flowing out biblical truths that you didn’t even know were in you—because at some earlier point in time, you made the effort to consider God’s word in a deeper way. Secondly, you will find that you yourself are personally edified. Coming back to a scripture passage and seeing a note there, your memory will be refreshed with the light you once saw and may have since forgotten. If you are like me, you will find yourself saying, “When did I see that?” And you will be glad that you took the time to write it down.

In our next article we will share more about getting into the word in a focused way, this time by using the Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, a wonderful set of cross references. (It was by using this tool that I was able to collect the biblical material for the note on Genesis 1:1, which is written above.) In the article you will see how you can use cross references to let the Bible interpret the Bible.

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