What basic Bible tools are available?

screwdrivers_150x159Thanks to the explosion in biblical scholarship that has happened in the past 40 years, Bible students have more available to them now than ever before. Bible study resources available for purchase, online, or in libraries run the entire spectrum from basic introductions to advanced studies in the original languages of the Bible.

If you are navigating the shallows, here are the kinds of tools you need for starters:

  • Bible translations – See the separate question on Bible translations. Purpose: To read and understand the Word of God.
  • Concordances – an exhaustive concordance specific to your preferred translation is what you want. Purpose: to do word studies and to find where a verse is you remember a fragment of.
  • Bible commentaries – These range from simple to complicated. The only way to choose is to take a look at the comments on a few sample passages and see if the comments are helpful to you where you are right now in your understanding. Purpose: To get the opinion of an expert on the meaning of a passage.
  • Bible dictionaries – Again, there is a range from small paperbacks to multi-volume editions. There is also a range from conservative to liberal. Conservative is preferable. Purpose: To find out facts about Bible people, events, and places.
  • Bible atlases – Many excellent atlases are available. Go to a Christian bookstore and take a look at a few. Purpose: To learn the geography of Bible places.

Here are a few words of warning, though.

  1. Tools from public library are a mixed bag – Even though good, God-honoring conservative reference works are available now as never before, the tools you will find in many public libraries tend to be on the opposite (liberal) end of the continuum. I’m not sure why this is true, but it is. Unfortunately at best, a public library will be a mixed bag when it comes to what is useful and what is not. Just be aware of the problem, and when you encounter a reference book in your public library that acts as if the Bible’s origins are merely human, just remember that other (better) books are available.
  2. Many books are reprints – Even though many excellent Bible study books are coming out each year, many of the books that appear are reprints of earlier books, some originally published in the 19th century! Some of the material in such books is excellent, but over a hundred years of archaeology, philology, linguistics, exegesis, and hermeneutical debates have happened since then, which means that newer ought to be better. Check the copyright page before you buy.

Want to go deeper? The following are some of the basic Bible study tools I would recommend for you to get started:

Recommended for purchase:

Bible translation: The NIV Study Bible (rev. ed., 2002). Probably the best study Bible yet produced. More than 20,000 helpful notes, introductions to each biblical book, one of the best cross-reference systems, and the largest concordance ever included in a Bible.

Concordance: You will want an “exhaustive” concordance, which includes the renderings of every Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek word in your English translation. Here are the exhaustive concordances for the NIV and for the NASB.

Bible commentary: You can start out with one-volume commentaries, which provide brief comments on every verse of the Bible. One I recommend is New Bible Commentary (21st century ed., 1994). Produced by conservative/moderate scholars. This is the second revision of the commentary first released in 1970.

Bible dictionary: New Bible Dictionary (3rd ed., 1996). Conservative and generally trustworthy.

Bible atlas: Carta Bible Atlas (3rd ed., 1996). Features maps for virtually every Bible event. It is particularly helpful for understanding military campaigns, in which geography often plays a decisive role. This is the atlas to get if you want a map to illuminate your understanding of a Bible text.

Online resources:

Bible translations

Concordances – English translations | Greek NT

Bible commentaries

Bible dictionary (Holman, 1991)

Bible atlases – Bible Atlas from Space | Online Bible Atlas (Godweb)