Bible Study Tools: Part 6
Our overview of Bible study tools has explored Bible translations, study Bibles, and commentaries. Today we will look at some other resources to round out your library. They are divided into two broad categories: materials that help us understand the cultural background of the text (history, geography, climate, social norms, economics, customs, politics, etc.), and resources that help us with the original languages (concordances, dictionaries, lexicons, etc.)
A good place to start investigating the historical and cultural background of a text is a Bible Handbook. These provide info (arranged alphabetically) on the significant people, places, and things mentioned in Scripture.
- The most current is the 2014 revision of Halley’s Bible Handbook (Zondervan).
- Unger’s Bible Handbook (Moody) is a bit older (revised 2005), but an excellent resource.
Another valuable resource is a good Bible Atlas–a book of maps that go far beyond those in the back of your Bible. An atlas is a helpful visual aide when studying historical passages (e.g., the travel routes David took while fleeing Saul can be consulted while reading 1–2 Samuel). Most atlases provide useful notes alongside the maps.
- My favorite for many years has been the Carta Bible Atlas, fifth edition, revised 2011 (Carta Jerusalem).
- I recently purchased The Satellite Bible Atlas, by Bill Schegel (bibleplaces.com) that used Landsat satellite imagery to create large (7.5 by 10.5 inches) and clear maps. On the page opposite each map are notes on history, geography, and archeological discoveries. This may become my new favorite atlas.
After you spend some time with an atlas, you will begin to appreciate the role geography plays in the Bible narratives. An excellent aid is The Geography of the Bible, revised in 1967 by Denis Baly (Harper Row). Helpfully divided by region with lots of valuable information about topography, geology, climate, rainfall, crops, etc. Used copies of this book can be found on Amazon for a few dollars–grab one!
In the realm of language resources, your first purchase should be an exhaustive concordance. Most Bibles have small concordances in the back, but you need a concordance that contains every occurrence of every word in your Bible. And always purchase a concordance that matches the Bible version you use.
- If your primary Bible is the NASB, get The Strongest NASB Exhaustive Concordance (Zondervan). Contains Strong’s lexicons and numbering system.
- If your primary Bible is the NRSV, get The NRSV Concordance Unabridged (Zondervan).
- If your primary Bible is the ESV, get The ESV Comprehensive Concordance (Crossway). It is currently out of print but can be purchased for a reasonable price in the secondary market.
- If your primary Bible is the NKJV, use the NKJV Concordance (Nelson).
- The most popular KJV concordance is the revised Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance. It has brief Hebrew and Greek lexicons and uses a convenient numbering system that has been widely adapted. It’s ability to link to other Bible study tools make it especially useful, but it is only available for the KJV and NASB translations. A Strong’s concordance is a must-have in the library, but for word studies, I prefer the layout of Young’s Analytical Concordance. It organizes English words according to the original Hebrew and Greek words they stem from. For example, if I am doing a word study on the word “love” in the New Testament, I can quickly compare the verses using phileo to those using agapeo.
- If your primary Bible is the NIV (or any version not mentioned above), I would encourage you to change your primary Bible to a word-for-word translation like the ESV, NASB, NRSV, NKJV, or KJV. Read part 1 of this series to learn why word-for-word translations are the best choice for a primary Bible. And if you are adamant about using the NIV, get the 2015 revision of The NIV Exhaustive Concordance (Zondervan).
Some Bible students have a desire to read the Scriptures in their original language and take seminary classes to learn Ancient Hebrew and Koine Greek. Others take courses online or teach themselves by using concordances, lexicons, and other resources. But most Bible students do not learn the original languages and are content to rely upon the expertise of trusted scholars.
The most popular introductory language resource for many years has been Vines Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament (Nelson). The New Testament dictionary is more complete, but a number of important Hebrew terms are covered in the Old Testament section.
A better choice for Old Testament word studies is the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (TWOT), by Harris, Archer, Waltke (Moody). TWOT is arranged alphabetically in Hebrew and the words are not transliterated, but the book is easy to use because it is keyed to Strong’s numbering system. And if you want what many scholars consider to be the best one-volume Old Testament language resource, the Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Hendrickson) is also keyed to Strong’s.
Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Hendrickson) also has a version that is coded to Strong’s numbering system, but most New Testament lexicons require familiarity with the Greek alphabet because the letters are not transliterated. My favorite is the classic Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, by Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, and Danker. But the non-Greek reader must also purchase the Index to the Revised Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich Greek Lexicon, by J. Alsop. It arranges the entries according to the Bible verse the word is found in. So, for example, if I am reading the Sermon on the Mount and want to learn more about the word “kingdom” in Matthew 6:33, I can look up the verse in Alsop’s Index, and it will tell me what page to go to in the lexicon. And for those ready for the deep end of the pool, there is the majestic ten volume set by Kittel, the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Eerdmans). I did a little price checking recently and was amazed to see this set for sale (new!) for less than $100.
Our series on Bible study tools has looked at many resources; my best advice is to take your time and do lots of research. Some of these books are expensive, and you want to be sure they provide the information you need.
Next: A basic biblical library for teachers and students