To truly grow in the Christian life and be a strong soldier for Christ today, you need to sharpen your tools. You need to dig into the Bible, because that’s where the power is. First and foremost, you need a good Bible. Then you need some faithful and reliable guides and teachers. And you must develop a personal habit of discipline to STUDY the Bible (not just read it, but STUDY it).
#1: A GOOD BIBLE TRANSLATION
We begin this brief guide by encouraging you to get a GOOD Bible. Many Christians ask: Which translation (version) of the Bible should I use?
There are some English Bibles that are NOT translations, but only paraphrases: e.g.
Good News Bible
Good News Bible, Chinese version: 《給現代人的福音》（現代中文譯本）
New Living Translation (older name: The Living Bible)
You should not use these for Bible STUDY; but only for armchair (leisure) reading for your pleasure.
There are some English translations which are adequate, but not so reliable in terms of doctrinal stance:
New International Version (NIV) – International Bible Society (IBS)
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) – National Council of Churches of Christ USA (NCCC)
New English Bible (NEB) – Oxford and Cambridge University Presses
Two translations are most faithful to the original:
New American Standard Bible – published by the Lockman Foundation (La Habra, California). The translators try so hard to be faithful to the original, that you can almost “smell” the Greek grammar from the English! It has always been the favorite for many conservative Christians, e.g. Southern Baptist and Campus Crusade staff. Now you can now purchase a copy of this excellent translation, with parallel columns of the Chinese Bible – temporarily $30 at EFC Christian Bookstore, 9358Telstar Ave., El Monte, CA 91731. (626) 307-0030. Otherwise, $40 at Alleluia Chinese Christian Bookstore榮主, www.ccbookstore.com: 603 N. New Ave., Monterey Park, CA 91745 (626) 571-6769.
English Standard Version – This is a much newer translation, and more elegant than the NASB. The ESV Study Bible was a recent bestseller! Thank God that there are many Christians with good taste and a hunger to study God’s Word faithfully and accurately.
Two other translations are always reliable, however you may find the English a little old for reading:
King James Version (1611)
The New King James Version
The two major Chinese translations of the Bible are both excellent; no need to choose:
The traditional Bible is called 和合本, published in 1919 – most Chinese Christians won’t read anything except this translation, mainly because of habit. The newer translation, 新譯本 (make sure you have the correct name!), has taken into consideration recent research, and eliminated some Chinese characters which are almost impossible to pronounce (for people like myself, who only had 9 years of Chinese education).
There is a vigorous debate (and competition) between the publishers of these two translations. I personally find both very helpful, so I carry around a Bible which has BOTH translations – 和合本，新譯本 in parallel columns! Available at your local Chinese Christian bookstore.
#2: A GOOD STUDY BIBLE
To study the Bible and truly benefit from its contents, most Christians today need a good STUDY BIBLE. The good news for Chinese readers is, we now have a truly solid study Bible:
(found in Third Millenlium Ministries eStore)
This fairly new study Bible is the 新譯本combined with the study notes translated from The Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible. A few dozen new articles are written by Chinese authors. Also, the best of the Protestant confessions of faith are included, in Chinese (which I personally have proofread and revised – I also proofread all the Chinese articles plus the footnotes for 7 of the 66 books of the Bible).
The Spirit of the Reformation Bible (edited by Dr. Richard Pratt) follows the tradition of the Geneva Bible, giving you the meaning of the Bible in the context of the overall structure of doctrine taught in Scripture – this is rare among study Bibles.
These two Bibles are both revisions of The New Geneva Study Bible (New King James Version).
In other words, for English users you have 4 excellent choices:
Reformation Study Bible (my choice)
Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible
ESV Study Bible (most popular, most expensive)
New Geneva Study Bible (no longer printed)
#3: STUDY GUIDES
One of the most helpful ways to study the Bible, is to use a study guide, which “forces” you to look into the passage of Scripture you are reading. This method is called “inductive Bible study.”The major advantage of this method is, again, forcing ourselves to LOOK, LOOK, LOOK into the Bible, rather than rely on my own feelings, interpretations and inclinations. In my university days, I benefited greatly by using one such guide, which is still in print in English: this is a true spiritual workout, the best equipment you can find:
Search the Scriptures (IVP)
The Chinese translation is out of print, but a good friend of mine is now translating it, bit by bit, into Chinese. You can find it here:
《研經日課》 on blogspot called 守誠齋
Search the Scriptures is one of the most challenging study guides. It is truly a spiritual “workout.” For each passage of Scripture, two questions are given. The two questions are often divided into sub-questions. If you truly dig into that passage of Scripture, and answer both questions in full, you will have a good essay, a short sermon ready! It takes you through the Bible in 3 years.
If you are not really for the Olympics of Bible study, perhaps you need a personal training coach which takes you first through some stretching exercises! Here is a similar study guide, which takes you through the Bible in 4 years:
This Morning with God (IVP)
The Chinese translation: 《清晨靜思主話》 （香港：種籽出版社）is almost completely out of print. I will try to find as many copies as I can, but I doubt if we will now have the complete set.
One other series of study guides is Navpress’ LIFECHANGE SERIES. I have personally used 2 such guides. Like Search the Scriptures, it asks you questions, and forces you to dig into Scripture. It has more blank space for you to fill in answers, so it accommodates us, modern and postmodern consumers, who want our note-paper readymade right in the book!
#4: VIDEO COURSES (CURRICULA) FOR SMALL GROUPS OR SUNDAY SCHOOL USE
We live in a day and age, when churches, Sunday Schools, fellowships and small groups tend to “spoil” the Christians by giving them what they want, rather than what they need. Fortunately, we don’t live 40 years ago, but we live in the 21st century – there are solid, ready-made Sunday School/small group video curricula, complete with discussion guides, which you can use right away.
Two sources of these excellent materials are:
Ligonier Ministries – www.ligonier.org
Third Millennium Ministries – www.thirdmill.org
Ligonier is the teaching ministry of Dr. R.C.Sproul, a Christian philosopher and theologian. The strengths of his videos are: he makes difficult doctrines clear and easy to understand. For example, his own personal favorite is the one on the holiness of God. Others find his explanation of predestination very very clear. He also has several study series based on books of the Bible.
Third Mill is the teaching ministry of Dr. Richard Pratt (both Pratt and Sproul are based in the Orlando, Florida area!). Pratt has a PhD in Old Testament from Harvard, and is a graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary. He taught at Reformed Theological Seminary (Orlando) for a number of years, and now feels called to take seminary material and make it available to the Third World. Third Mill video lectures, like Ligonier’s, are about 25 minutes each (suitable for Sunday School or small group use!). Here is where you can download Third Mill’s courses:
One example of the ingenious teaching of Dr. Pratt is his book, Designed for Dignity (now available in Chinese from Third Mill’s bookstore). Pratt tackles the problem of “self-image” from the Bible, taking you through the Old Testament characters in historical order! So it is a Bible study, it is a thematic (doctrinal) study, and it is intensely relevant! http://www.thirdmill.org/store/shopexd.asp?id=83
The good news for us is: Third Mill courses are now available with Chinese voice-over plus Chinese text. So you watch Dr. Pratt’s face, but the voice you hear is in Mandarin (Putonghua)! The director of the Chinese ministries division is Rev. Biao CHEN, who also pastors the Orlando Chinese Christian Evangelical Church. One of Dr. Chen’s elders has begun a Chinese (Reformed) evangelical seminary on-line.
My own courses can be used for serious study, available in Mandarin (some in Cantonese). A good number of these courses are available on-line at www.ccntv.org (go to 教育視窗). In order to benefit from my courses, go to Madison Chinese Christian Church (www.madisonccc.org) and browse in their e-library. You will find all my lecture notes and reading material there, and direct links to the CCNTV videos. For example, 神學導論 has 59 lectures – by far my most comprehensive course, though only an introduction. Think of it as a giant plate of appetizers! It will really get you started and interested.
Happy studying! May God make you effective for His use long-term – I believe that “long term effectiveness” should be our goal, don’t you?
Redondo Beach, California
January 12, 2010