In last week’s column, I encouraged you to consider studying the Bible —particularly the New Testament — for spiritual edification and enlightenment.
That column prompted this question from a reader: “What tools, books, etc. would you suggest for in depth Bible study?”
Below are some resources that have helped me. Keep in mind, however, I’m only a journeyman preacher, not a tenured scholar on a seminary’s faculty. I’m also a Protestant from evangelical and Pentecostal traditions.
Thus, the materials I find valuable may or may not be the best available. They may or may not suit your religious tradition. So use your discretion. Ask your clergy.
That said, all these websites and books are mainstream, I think.
▪ Biblegateway.com and biblehub.com. Between them, these websites offer extensive, handily indexed biblical tools — free. You’ll find dozens of translations of the Scriptures, in multiple languages, as well as Bible dictionaries, commentaries, reading plans and even sermons, if you’re so inclined.
▪ A Bible, of course. In choosing a specific translation to study from, it helps to know what kind of Bible you’re looking for. (The various translations are often referred to by their acronyms, by the way.)
Simple, modern-language readability? In that case, I’d recommend the New Living Translation (NLT) or the New International Version (NIV). Stricter faithfulness to the ancient texts? Try the New American Standard Bible (NASB). Sheer majesty? The King James Version (KJV).
▪ Reference works that provide history and context. A reader-friendly resource is “The Bible: An Introduction,” by Jerry L. Sumney. I prefer “An Introduction to the New Testament,” by Raymond E. Brown, a pre-eminent Roman Catholic scholar. His book is something of a doorstop, yet isn’t difficult to use.
▪ A commentary or two. Commentaries typically unpack biblical texts passage by passage, providing the commentator’s take on what those passages mean and how they relate to other portions of the Bible. Commentaries, like their authors, vary in accuracy, insight and theology.
I regularly use the Zondervan NIV commentaries on the Old and New Testaments (two volumes). My favorites, though, are the short, popular commentaries of William Barclay, the late Scottish preacher and scholar. His books are dated now, but I remain impressed by the breadth of his reading and the grace of his prose. Barclay’s works are widely available in inexpensive paperback editions.
▪ A general Bible dictionary. As you study, it’s easy to get confused about who is who and where is where and what the heck a shekel was. Good aids include the “Mercer Dictionary of the Bible,” edited by Watson E. Mills, and “The Oxford Companion to the Bible,” edited by Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan.
▪ A concordance and a word-study dictionary. The most spiritually illuminating studies I’ve done involved exploring the uses and etymologies of individual biblical words. That may sound numbing, but in fact it can be fascinating.
Sometimes our English translation of a word or phrase from the ancient sources bears only a passing resemblance to the meaning the writer would have been imparting to his original audience.
To parse this, it helps to own an exhaustive concordance. A concordance provides a list of every use of every single word in the Bible, which is helpful for comparing other contexts in which the same word appears. It also shows each word’s Greek, Hebrew or Chaldean roots. My go-to concordance is “The Strongest NASB Exhaustive Concordance.”
From there, you can drill deeper still with W. E. Vine’s classic “An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words” or Spiros Zodhiates’ “The Complete Word Study New Testament.” There are comparable works for the Old Testament, but I’m mainly a New Testament guy.
I suspect you’re thinking I’m nerdish or else a zealot. But trust me. Do some word studies yourself. Your mind may be blown.
In closing, let me say that resources for studying the Bible are nearly infinite. No other book has been analyzed as often and as thoroughly.
Godspeed in your efforts. I hope you have as rewarding a time of it as I’ve had these past 40 years.
Paul Prather is pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling. You may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.