Great Tools For Bible Study
Have you ever wondered what tools you need to have in your Bible study arsenal so that you can study God’s word effectively? This new year, I would like to share with you tools recommended by Austin Bible Institute to do just that.
Until I started seminary school, I did not know that there were plenty of great practical Bible Study Tools available to help every believer study God’s word better and dig deeper. For example, in the past, if we wanted to study the Bible in the original languages, we needed to go to seminary school and spend years learning Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Today, these languages are still great to know. However, you can effectively study the Bible for yourself and use these languages to understand the Bible without learning a single word in any of the languages. Today’s technology, years of research, and the hard work of many Bible experts who have gone before us have culminated into great resources that make studying the Bible so much easier.
Here I share some of these with you to enable you create your own bible study library. If you are a believer, I encourage you to invest in some of these tools if you can afford them. They are expensive but worth their cost. They make Bible Study so much easier for you.
I classify Bible study tools into two groups: Basic Tools and Advanced Tools. Basic tools are tools that I think all Christians should have if they can afford it. I know this is not always possible. Advanced tools are tools that would benefit people who want to dig even further into the word of God.
I) BASIC BIBLE STUDY TOOLS
Basic Bible study tools can be grouped into four categories:
A. Tools for reading the Bible
1. A Study Bible (a word for word translation like ESV, NASB and KJV)
A study Bible is your foundational tool for Bible study. It not only gives you the complete scripture text of every book of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, but also adds other features to help you understand the Bible better. It has cross-references, introductory notes on each book of the Bible, illustrations, maps, harmony of the gospels, dictionary, and a concordance. Some good ones out there are: The Life Application Study Bible and the NASB Study Bible. The Life Application Bible comes in most major Bible translations. My family uses the Life Application Study Bible. I recommend that you consider the following before buying your study Bible:
- Good font size large enough so you can read easily. As a doctor, I can testify that I have had patients come with headaches caused by eyestrain from reading very small fonts. Do not make the same mistake. Check the font before you buy it. I recently had to take a study Bible back because I did not check the font before buying it. Save yourself a trip to the bookstore.
- Marginal references or cross-references: These are made to help your Bible study by referencing other portions of scripture that are related to the one you are studying. They often show their references between the columns of texts or on the margins or even rarely at the bottom. Hard working Bible scholars have gathered these references from years of Bible study and so they are treasures for us to use to make our study easier.
- Choose a word-for-word translation for Bible study. Examples include: ESV, NASB, KJV, NKJV etc.
2. A Devotional Bible (a thought for thought translation like NIV)
A devotional Bible has fewer features than a study Bible and is designed for daily reading rather than for Bible study. Choose a version that is easily readable to you and make sure the font size is large enough for you to read easily without any eyestrain. For recommended devotional bibles, click here >>
B. Tools for bridging the gaps
1. A Bible Atlas
A bible atlas gives you maps and diagrams that help you understand the historical and geographical setting of the biblical drama scenes. For suggested atlases, click here.
2. Bible Handbook
A Bible handbook provides a survey of the Bible together with background information and commentaries on each Bible book. It helps tremendously to enhance Bible study. I recommend reading the book in the Handbook before actually studying it in the Bible. It is arranged book by book from Genesis to Revelation. For suggested Handbooks, click here
C. Tools for Understanding the Bible
1. A Bible Dictionary
A bible dictionary defines, describes, or explains Bible words, customs, events, people, places, and topics in the historical and cultural context that prevailed at the time of the Bible. For suggested Bible Dictionaries, click here
2. Vines Expository Dictionary
This dictionary, which is popular among pastors, really can be used by anyone. It helps make it possible to study the meaning of Greek and Hebrew words without having any knowledge of these languages. It is a great resource. Click here to view the dictionary.
3. Conservative Bible Commentaries
Bible commentaries provide interpretation of scholars either verse-by verse or by groups of verses at a time. Commentaries come in different sizes and types. Some commentaries cover the entire Bible in one large book. Others present more in-depth commentaries and come in multiple volumes. The Believer’s Bible Commentary is a good single-volume commentary. The Bible is the Bible’s best commentary; scripture is the best way to interpret other scripture, so rely on the Bible more than any commentary that you use. God inspired the Bible. Commentaries are the work of scholars–although they are helpful. For suggested commentaries, click here.
D. Tools for finding verses and passages in the Bible
1. An Exhaustive Concordance
An exhaustive concordance is a very helpful tool that lists all the words in the Bible and every time each word is used. Besides listing the words, a concordance gives you the context in which each word appears so that you can easily identify the right passage. It does this by giving you a portion of each sentence in which the word is used. As such, you can quickly survey a word and find the quotation that you desire among many quotations where the word is used. The words are listed alphabetically like in a dictionary, but instead of the definition it lists the instances where the word appears. Note that because different translations use different words, you have to have a concordance for the translation in which your reading study Bible is printed.
What is a concordance used for?
The main use of a concordance is to help you find a verse of scripture when all you remember is a word or phrase and cannot locate the verse. E.g. If all you remembered was “for God so loved” or even just “God”, you would navigate the Exhaustive Concordance like you would a dictionary and go under the word in your phrase, or the single word if all you had was one word. If you remember a phrase or a string of words and want to look up a word in the concordance, choose the word that isn’t as common. If you choose a word like “God” or articles and pronouns, then an exhaustive concordance will list all the entries and you will have to go through them all. For our phrase “for God so loved”, I search under the word “love”, and there look for the entry that says, “for God so loved the world…” which is John 3:16, actually what I wanted.
The Exhaustive Concordance is also extremely useful for doing word studies (i.e. study the use of a particular word in scriptures). For example, to do a word study on “Prayer” you would go and look up all instances of prayer in an exhaustive concordance. Note that if the word prayer is presented with a synonym, e.g. cry (like cry unto God), or petition God, you have to know those synonyms to get them. That is where a Topical Bible becomes very helpful. See topical Bible heading below.
Chose an exhaustive concordance that corresponds to the version of the Bible that you use for in-depth, academic study of the Bible (not daily reading). We recommend NASB, ESV, NKJV, HCSB and other word-for-word translations for Bible study. You need an exhaustive concordance for Bible study, not daily reading. Therefore, chose one that goes with your study Bible, not the Bible you use for daily reading like the NIV, NLT etc. For suggested Exhaustive Concordances, click here
2. A Topical Bible
A topical Bible treats a variety of topics addressed throughout the Bible. It functions somewhat like an exhaustive concordance or even a dictionary, but differs in two important things: 1) It is not exhaustive, you will not find every topic or every verse that falls under a topic, and 2) It also lists verses that treat a topic without ever using the keyword. E.g. On the topic of “faith”, a topical Bible will tell you the verses that have the word faith in them (which the concordance can do as well), but will also tell you the verses that treat the subject of faith, without ever using the word faith or maybe using a synonym like believe. So the topical Bible complements both the Exhaustive Concordance and the Bible dictionary. For suggested Topical Bibles, click here
E) Tools for writing
1. A Notebook or Journal
2. A pencil and a pen.
II) ADVANCED BIBLE STUDY TOOLS
Advanced Bible study tools can be grouped into the following categories.
A) Tools for reading the Bible
1. Additional Translations of the Bible
3. Parallel Bible
A parallel Bible provides multiple translations in one single, large Bible. It is very helpful for comparing translations. Can be a little costly but is worth the price. Click here to view suggested parallel Bibles
B) Tools for a survey of the Bible
1. Treasury of scripture knowledge
This tool developed by R.A. Torrey is an excellent cross-reference. In addition, it is in public domain and available online for free use. Simply use a search engine to find it or get it in print for low cost. Click here to view a hard copy
C) Tools for Understanding the Bible
1. Individual commentaries on the Bible books.
2. A Bible Encyclopedia
A bible encyclopedia is a multivolume Bible dictionary. It covers the same subjects but has longer articles and expanded definitions and explanations. Like the dictionaries, the Bible Encyclopedia does not define every word in the Bible. For suggested encyclopedias, click here
As stated earlier, I recommend the basic Bible study tools for all believers who want to study the Bible. People who want to dig deeper into the word should also get the advanced Bible study tools. Before we look at each tool in detail, let us take a look at how to choose a Bible.