The Pastor/Teacher’s Toolkit: Bible Dictionaries

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The Bible is full of names, places, and terms that aren’t familiar to modern readers. But Bible dictionaries provide important background information to illuminate these, including:

  • Concise definitions of unknown words
  • Cross-references to other occurrences in Scripture
  • Historical and cultural information
  • Original language insights
  • Customs and descriptions of daily life
  • Theological observations and practical applications.

Delving into this material helps us understand what the Bible is actually saying. Bible dictionaries in print are helpful and informative, but using them in WORDsearch unlocks their potential even more.

Imagine this scenario:  You are studying Revelation 3 for a sermon or Bible study next week. When Jesus addresses the church in Laodicea in verses 15-16, He says, “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth”(ESV). What does Jesus mean here when he uses the term ‘lukewarm”? What would that mean to the original audience? And what is Jesus wanting the church to be like?

To begin finding answers, open Revelation 3  in WORDsearch, and right-click on the  word “lukewarm.” From there, select the option “Definition for lukewarm.” The Word Definition box opens, providing you with definitions from all of the dictionaries you own that contain an entry for that term. You can easily switch between your dictionaries to compare the various definitions and explanations.

For example, the Holman Bible Dictionary states:

LUKEWARM: Tepid; neither hot nor cold (Rev. 3:16). The city of Laodicea received its water from an aqueduct several miles long. The lukewarm water which arrived at the city served as an appropriate illustration for a tasteless, good-for-nothing Christianity.

Suppose now that you’d like to find out more information about the city of Laodicea. You can repeat the process by right-clicking on Laodicea to once again access your dictionaries and a definition. Here you learn more about the original audience and how they would interpret and understand what Jesus was saying.

Looking again at the Holman Bible Dictionary, you find:

…Laodicea is best known today to readers of Revelation where Jesus criticized Laodicea, using imagery drawn from its daily life (Rev. 3:14-22). First, Jesus said Laodicea is neither cold (like the cold, pure waters of Colossae) nor hot (like the therapeutic hot springs of Hierapolis). Laodicea is lukewarm and provides neither refreshment for the spiritually weary nor healing for the spiritually sick (Rev. 3:15-16). Despite their apparent spiritual uselessness, the Laodiceans were claiming a spiritual wealth equal to their material wealth; and further, they were claiming to have acquired both by their own efforts. In reality, however, the Laodiceans, while they may have had material wealth, were spiritually poor, blind, and naked (Rev. 3:17)—an obvious reference to the textile and banking industry and medical school of Laodicea. According to Jesus, what the Laodiceans needed more than anything else was the true gold, white (not black) garments, and ointment that only Christ could give (Rev. 3:18). A true spiritual foundation is laid only in Christ, not human effort.

Now that you’e found these helpful insights, you can copy and paste any of the information into your word processing program – using WORDsearch’s or a different one. Having read the definitions of just two words, you now have several specific insights that help you understand Jesus’ meaning and how it can be applied to believers today.;

It is obvious from these entries that Jesus’ metaphor would have been well-understood by the Laodicean church: be hot and healing, or cool and refreshing, but don’t be lukewarm and complacent. Instead, make yourself useful to the Lord and others. Jesus is also telling the Laodiceans not to trust in their material wealth, but in Him and His saving work.

As this example shows, Bible dictionaries are an essential tool for studying God’s Word. Not only that, but looking up words in WORDsearch is easy and fun! Any time you need to know more about a person, place, event or term, you are only a few clicks away from becoming more knowledgeable student of God’s Word.

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  1. […] Boyd’s Bible Dictionary provides self pronouncing, concise definitions with textual references, along with curious facts and information about the Bible. Learn more about using Bible dictionaries in WORDsearch here. […]

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