How I write about the Bible

Last week, I shared a bit of a letter from Paul to Timothy. Because the post had some story-telling that isn’t seen in the actual letter of 2 Timothy, I decided to let you see how I go about doing that kind of writing. This post is the first of several that will walk through the study. Some will be longer than 300 words. I apologize in advance.


I was working on a study on self-management for a Church Administration course I’m developing. I decided to use 2 Timothy. It’s a letter from a mentor, a “here’s what’s important” letter. And in this letter he talks a lot about self-control and self-discipline. So I immersed myself in reading and thinking through the letter.

As I read almost anything, and particularly when I read the Bible, I look at as much of the context of the text as I can find and as read the content as carefully as I can.

When I look at the context, I want to see the people involved, the setting, the timing. (I’ll talk more about this in a couple of days).

When I look at content, I look for choices. Because I am a rhetorical scholar by training, I look at what a person says to see how they are creating understanding. I look at word choice and flow of ideas. I look at metaphors and illustrations. I look at repetition. I look at other places the same person talked about similar ideas to other people. I do what we do all the time when we are trying to understand what someone is saying to us.

Sometimes, I want to understand the specific words, which means looking at the original language of the text. Although I don’t know Greek, I studied it in college. But I do have a reference work called Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words. And I have a New Testament that has the Greek text with an English word-for-word translation on one page and two English translations on the facing page. (The Zondervan Parallel New Testament in Greek and English)

When I am studying (as opposed to reading) a text, sometimes I look at the Greek words in Zondervan, and then look them up in Vine’s. Vine’s lets me see which Greek words were used in the original, where else that word shows up, and some of the shades of meaning of the words in the original language.

Tomorrow I’ll talk about how this kind of word study helped me understand a pun I thought Paul was making.


About Jon Swanson

Social media chaplain. Author of "Lent For Non-Lent People" and "A Great Work: A Conversation With Nehemiah For People (Who Want To Be) Doing Great Works." Writer of I help people understand. Understand some of the Bible. Understand what Lent can be about. Understand what it means to follow.

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