II. TAKING NOTES
While we are reading the Bible, we have to jot down notes. Every student of the Bible has to take notes. We need small notebooks, and we need big notebooks. We should always carry a small notebook in our pocket to jot down our thoughts all the time. We should also jot down our questions. In addition to the small notebook, we should also carry a bigger, consolidated notebook. We should write down systematically in this consolidated book all the things that have passed through our mind and all the materials we have collected. We have to categorize this information for future reference. At the beginning we do not need a detailed division; the categorization can be somewhat general. If we want to categorize our material by theological subjects, we can divide it into five sections, concerning the Father, the Son, the Spirit, the church, and the coming age. It is all right to make finer divisions, but for new believers, these five categories will suffice. Prophecies concerning the church can be grouped under the church. All the doctrines from justification to sanctification also can be grouped under the church. At the beginning we can have five notebooks, one for each of these five categories. When we have more material, we can make further subdivisions.
We must exercise care in taking notes. For example, in reading Romans, we should note that reign or reigning is used five times in 5:14, 17, and 21. Much more is used four times in verses 9, 10, 15, and 17. We have to make a note of all of these. Mark 13:9 says, “For My sake,” verse 13 says, “On account of My name,” and verse 20 says, “On account of the chosen.” Why do these three verses say these three different things? Consider the example of Matthew 24 and 25. How many questions did the disciples ask the Lord on the Mount of Olives? How many verses answer one question, how many answer another? The disciples were limited in their knowledge. Their questions were not that pertinent. This is the reason not much is recorded concerning their questions. But the Lord Jesus spoke a great deal in His answers. We have to pay attention to this speaking and find out from which verse to which verse are Jesus’ answers and from which verse to which verse are His additional words. In this way, we will have a thorough grasp of the whole prophecy on the Mount of Olives. Consider the three occurrences of “I said” in Isaiah 6:5, 8, and 11. The first “I said” is a confession, the second “I said” is a consecration, while the third “I said” is a fellowship. We have to take note of all of these. This kind of material is very useful to us as well as to other brothers and sisters. All good readers of the Bible are diligent. They do not become good by accident.
Studying the Bible is like working at a trade; we have to have the proper tools.
A. The Bible
We should have two large-print Bibles for our own reading. We also should have a small-print Bible for our travel and for meeting. If we cannot have two Bibles for our own reading, we should at least have one. The print should not be too small, because if it is too small, it will be easy to miss the meanings in the words. The font must at least be size five. Preferably it should be size four or three. Size two is too large, and it is suitable only for elderly ones. [Translator’s note: These sizes refer to Chinese typesetting conventions, with the higher the size, the smaller the print. The English equivalent of size five is approximately nine points, and the equivalent of size two is approximately twenty-four points.] It is best to have two Bibles for studying. In one of them we can put marks and notes. The other should be left unmarked. By reading an unmarked Bible, we will not be affected by our previous readings, and every time we read a passage, it will be like reading it for the first time. The other Bible should be used for marking and underlining. We can write notes, underline and circle words, or link similar passages together. But we should not spend too much time or be too detailed in doing this. For our daily spiritual nourishment, we can use the unmarked Bible. For research, we can use the marked Bible.
The Chinese Union Version is the best Chinese translation of the Bible. It is also one of the best translations of the Bible in the world available today. One of the reasons for this is that it is based on the best edition of the Greek text. This translation is very accurate in many places, even more accurate than the King James Version. For example, the King James Version in many instances does not distinguish between “Jesus Christ” and “Christ Jesus.” But the Chinese Union Version is always accurate in the order of the two expressions. It is good to buy several different translations and compare them. Another good translation is the Wen-li (classical) Union Version. In many instances, its monosyllabic terms are better than those used in the Chinese Union Version. The vernacular Chinese language does not express itself as well as the classical Chinese language when it comes to terminology. For example, both “making alive” and “raising up” are translated as fu-hwo in vernacular Chinese. But the classical Chinese makes a distinction between the two. One is fu-chi and the other is fu-hwo. In some cases the vernacular Chinese is more restricted than the classical Chinese, and in some other cases, the opposite is true. Another version worth considering is the Joseph (?) Version. He was a Jew, and after he became a Christian, he felt the need to translate the Bible into Chinese. For that very purpose he studied Chinese and later did a translation all by himself. We can also compare the New Testament translation of the “Shin-Ju-Ku” Version. The Christian Gospel Bookroom has also done a translation of the Gospel of Matthew. It can be used for reference as well. The most reliable versions, however, are still the Chinese Union Version and the Wen-li Union Version. If a person can read English, he can also try to have a copy of Darby‘s translation.
Other than the Bible, one should also have a concordance. Courtenay H. Fenn’s compilation is probably one of the better ones. Yet even this one is not too complete. In the future we hope to publish a concordance according to the original Greek. The Lord willing, we will publish an Old Testament concordance as well.
C. Bible Dictionaries
In addition to the above tools, we should also have Bible dictionaries. For example, we need a dictionary to tell us the meaning of Urim and Thummim, the histories of the six Marys, etc. A dictionary can give us all this information. But we should use a dictionary whose doctrinal conviction is sound. One can consult the Bible Encyclopedia by Ou-Er. This can be considered a Bible dictionary. Unfortunately, its Chinese version is out of print. Perhaps one can still find a copy of it in the library or in old bookstores.
D. Outlines of the Bible
We need another book to help us make good outlines of the Bible. We can consult Once a Year through the Bible (see Volume 2 of The Collected Works). This book has good outlines. Many Christians all over the world have used the divisions outlined in this book for their study of the Bible.
These reference books are useful to us in our study of the Bible. They are indispensable tools.
(How to Study the Bible, Chapter 4, by Watchman Nee)