Like any job, the task of Bible study requires the right tools. The right tools can make your task easier and less time consuming. Pick the wrong tools and you are in for a long, arduous and unenjoyable task. Selecting the best study helps available can make Bible study most profitable and enjoyable.
1. Word-for-Word-Bible Translation
In my last post, “Which Translation is Best for Bible Study?” I discussed the differences in translations. In short, I highly recommend a word-for-word Bible translation. This is because you will be looking up words in a Bible dictionary or concordance as you study. In a previous post I discussed the fact that the Bible is a literary document that is comprised of words, parts of speech, literary devices and sentences. Because this is true word-for-word Bible translations will help the best. Paraphrase translations are profitable also. They will help you get the thought and flow of a passage.
2. Study Bibles
Rob Zink has done a marvelous job in a post describing how study Bibles can be used and misused. There are many good study Bibles available today. One of the first study Bibles that I ever purchased while in seminary was the MacArthur Study Bible. This was part of my introduction to the ministry of Dr. John MacArthur. I recommend his study Bible because it is completely trustworthy and for the sheer volume of the notes. It contains over 25,000 notes in addition to charts, maps, illustrations, topical index and an outline of systematic theology.
The English Standard Version Study Bible was first published in 2008. It was created by a team of 95 evangelical Christian scholars and teachers. It contains more than 2 million words of Bible text, explanation and teaching—equivalent to a 20 volume Bible resource library. In addition to notes, charts, illustrations and maps it contains several articles on subjects such as “The Reliability of Bible Manuscripts” and “The Original Languages of the Bible.”
3. Bible Handbooks
Bible handbooks help to understand each book of the Bible by summarizing each one’s content, author, evidences of authenticity, and historical context. These handbooks come with illustrations, charts and recreations of biblical locations. My recommendations would include: Holman Illustrated Bible Handbook, The MacArthur Bible Handbook, and The New Unger’s Bible Handbook.
4. Bible Dictionaries
Bible Dictionaries are similar to regular dictionaries in that they give the meaning of Bible books, Bible personalities, geographical locations and theological words. Like Bible handbooks, dictionaries contain charts, graphs, recreations and photographs that will aid in Bible study. These dictionaries will help you learn everything from Alpha to Zuzims. My recommendations include: Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, and the Easton’s Bible Dictionary.
You will also want to consider a dictionary that will help you understand the meaning of Hebrew words in the Old Testament and Greek words in the New Testament. Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words will help you do just that. This resource will help you to study the meaning of biblical words in the original languages without learning Greek or Hebrew. It explains over 6,000 key biblical words.
A concordance lists every word in the Bible and in what verse each word is found. For instance, if you are trying to recall a Bible verse and all you can remember is that it contains the word “mercies” a concordance will help you. Words are alphabetized and you can find every verse in the Bible that contains the word “mercies”. The words have a corresponding number which will help you locate the original Hebrew or Greek word in the back section. The meaning of the words are also found in concordances. The New Strong’s Expanded Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible is probably the most recognized concordance. It can be found online at various Bible study websites too.
6. Bible Atlas
A Bible Atlas will place readers in the geographical, historical, and cultural contexts of the Bible. The number of place names and locations mentioned in the biblical text, most of them unfamiliar, can be daunting. Holman Bible Atlas and Zondervan Atlas of the Bible are both great in their own right.
Commentaries are books that contain an author’s comments on the biblical text. Commentaries have been written since the dawn of Christianity and many of those early commentaries survive even today. It is my experience that commentaries generally fall into three categories: devotional, sermonic and technical. A devotional commentary is usually very short, easy to read and you will not need any theological training to take advantage of them. Devotional commentaries explain the biblical text in a surface level way. They will not contain technical word studies or information that would drown its readers. Devotional commentaries include: Warren Wiersbe’s Be Series, or the Christ Centered Exposition series. The CCE series is new and may be considered more than a devotional commentary but definitely not a technical commentary.
Sermonic commentaries are written based on sermons preached out of a particular Bible book by various pastors. These contain some word studies and theological words, however they do not contain technical issues such as the reliability of ancient biblical manuscripts. I highly recommend The MacArthur New Testament Complete 33-Volume Commentary Set. Some of these sermonic commentaries can be found online, such as Charles Spurgeon’s sermons on the book of Psalms, The Treasury of David. I also recommend the Preach the Word and Boice Commentary series.
Technical commentaries are usually written by men who have advanced degrees in Hebrew, Greek, Linguistics or Systematic Theology. These commentaries tackle issue such as higher and lower criticism, how the text was seen by the church fathers and extensive word studies. These kind of commentaries are going to be difficult to use for anyone who has not had some theological education. Technical commentaries include: New International Commentary on the Old Testament and New Testament. The New American Commentary on the Old and New Testaments, and the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament.
You need to be very careful in selecting and purchasing commentaries for personal Bible study. Not every author holds to the view that the Bible is inspired by God, contains no errors and will do what God said it would do. Read behind authors, pastors and scholars who hold up the Bible as God’s inspired, inerrant and infallible word. I regularly visit Best Commentaries to learn what commentaries are available on a particular Bible book, their cost, strengths and weakness. Consider David Murray’s exhortation regarding how to use commentaries.
8. Bible Study Software
Technology can be both a blessing and a curse. One of the ways it is a blessing is Bible study software. Hundreds of books can be downloaded to your wireless device or computer. I own and use Logos because it is economical and can be added to once you purchase it. Individual commentaries, sets of commentaries or Bible study resources can be bought as a bundle or individually. Also, Logos can be downloaded on as many computers or wireless devices as you own. It is web-based instead of taking up space on the hard drive of your computer. Bible Works and Olive Tree are also great Bible study software programs.
Many Bible study resources are available for free online. Consider their commitment to Scripture and scholarly excellence before you use them. Do not think you have to rush out today and spend hundreds of dollars on tools. Look at used book stores and online book stores before you purchase. Or ask your pastor if you can borrow a couple of books. Buy a few resources along the way and before you know it you will have your own theological library!