It’s been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. There is something powerful about visually seeing what someone has used language to try to describe. The visual provides clarity and detail that words cannot give. This is especially true when we are attempting to understand the Bible. One of the major ways the Lord has used this principal with me to help me understand the scripture is with maps. In this article I’m going to share my experience about how studying the Bible with a map can really open up the scripture to you.
My first experience where using a map while studying scripture really opened up the Bible to me was in February of 2014. I was reading through though Acts 16 and came upon these verses:
9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them. 11 Therefore, sailing from Troas, we ran a straight course to Samothrace, and the next day came to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is the foremost city of that part of Macedonia, a colony. As I was reading through all of these verses, I got bogged down in all of towns listed. There was Troas, Samothrace, Neapolis, and Philippi.
I recognized Philippi because I knew that was where the Philippian church was, but I didn’t know where any of those other places were. I decided to google a map. Below is a replica of the map I googled.
When I began to look a the map I saw the city of Philippi and then I saw it was located in the region of Macedonia (all this is in the top left corner). Before googling this map I had no clue what Macedonia was or where it was. After I saw this, I then looked up Macedonia and found it was part of Greece and the Balkan Peninsula. This meant it wasn’t originally Jewish, it was a Gentile city which gave me insight into the nature of Paul’s ministry there.
I also was able to look down at the red area on the map called Asia and saw the cities where the 7 churches in Revelation are located. I then looked to the right of that and saw Galatia on the map. I saw several cities in Galatia including Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe that are referenced in Acts 13 and 14. The book of Acts never says Paul went to Galatia specifically, it just references several cities he ministered in while he was in Galatia. This gives greater insight as to some of the issues he was dealing with when he wrote the book of Galatians.
When I saw all of these things, it began to make the book of Acts click. All of a sudden I wasn’t just reading about random cities and places and didn’t know how they related to one another. I was able to see the cities and Paul’s travels and the word came alive. When I saw these cities and regions on the map it also helped me to understand other passages of scripture better. For example, look at Philippians 4:15:
Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only;
Paul established in this verse that the Philippian church was the only church that supported him financially in the early days of his ministry. Now look at 2 Corinthians 8:
1 Moreover, brethren, we make known to you the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia: 2 that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality. 3 For I bear witness that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability, they were freely willing, 4 imploring us with much urgency that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints.
2 Corinthians 8 is a famous chapter about giving. This is the chapter where Paul says you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, though He was rich, He became poor so that we though this poverty might become rich. It is obvious from the text Paul is writing about money. What is less obvious unless you know some of what I shared with you is that the Philippian churches in Macedonia are the ones that gave liberally when they were in a state of deep poverty. Paul is using their example to inspire the church in Corinth to also give liberally toward an offering he wanted to take to support Christians in Jerusalem. They were struggling through hardship and still gave knowing God would meet all of their needs according to His riches in glory! Does this impact you more when you study the verses in Philippians on giving? It certainly impacts me!
I hope this article has encouraged you about the use of maps as you study the scripture. I gave a few examples, but I could give dozens more about Jesus and the Decapolis, Paul in Thessalonica, and Erastus of Corinth who later traveled with Timothy to Madeconia (most probably Philippi). I’d encourage you to begin to study out the maps in the back of your Bible or google one when you are studying the Bible. It will help you see where all the places are that the scripture talks about and it will also help you see other cities nearby the characters traveled. This will open up the word of God to you and help you read with greater clarity and understanding!