Reference books are the tools of the trade for people who study the Bible, that is, you and I. As with any trade, there is a large investment in tools. Bible Study is no exception. This is the one place I can think of where you really can throw moderation out the door. Here, you can completely indulge yourself. Buy all the books you can afford, get into them, and learn of God! Some of us don’t have that kind of budget though! So where do we start? Hopefully, we will answer that question, or at least address it so that we don’t wander aimlessly through the local bookstore spending lots of unnecessary money on something we don’t yet need. These ideas are mostly my own, so remember Acts 17:11!
THE MOST IMPORTANT BOOK
Easily, and without debate, the most important book you will ever own is a Bible. What kind of bible do you buy? What translation? Translations are pretty much a matter of personal taste, and there is much to be said for each one of them, except of course the New World Translation (from the Jehovah’s Witnesses)! In a bible to be used for study, the choices basically come down to three possibilities: King James, New American Standard, and the New International Version. An important concept to keep in mind is that
whichever translation you choose, stick to it! Why? Because you’ll find it MUCH easier to remember verses and figures of speech if you stay with one text.
The King James is the classic translation used for years by almost all bible teachers. The good points in choosing King James is that most reference works key themselves to King James, almost all the commentators quote from King James, and it is a very well known translation – the Standard. On the bad side, the King James is difficult to get used to. Many of the words used are outdated, there are some inaccuracies in the translation (all of which by the way are addressed in reference books), and it is by far the least readable of the translations.
The New American Standard sought to be a more literal translation of the Bible. It is probably the second most popular translation in use today, and there are many reference books that key to it. On the bad side, the classical commentators did not have a New American Standard to quote from, so not all reference works will key to it. While the New American Standard is a definite improvement in readability over the King James, it is not the most readable of the three most popular translations.
The New International Version is the most readable translation. Modern English was used (it is the newest of the three translations). On the bad side, almost no reference books quote from New International … yet! This translation is gaining in popularity probably faster than any other translation today. OK, so which one do you go for? Well, how good are you at the English language? How diligent a student do you plan to be? Are you willing to overcome the difficulties of old English? Perhaps you’d like two different translations. One for study, and one for casual reading. I highly recommend King James if you can put up with the old English, if for no other reason than that almost all reference books key to it, and quote from it. Once you get used to the language, it becomes second nature to you. If you find that you have trouble with King James, pick up a New International Version for casual reading. But in the end, the choice is up to you!
Once you’ve selected a comfortable translation, the question is which bible to buy. This is the last place you want to skimp on! A good reference Bible is an absolute necessity! There are many out there, of which I’ll name just a few that I’m familiar with.
The New Scofield Reference Bible
This is probably the one for the serious student seeking the most scholarly, or advanced work. However, Scofield is quite opinionated. Scofield’s notes and outlines reflect a heavy bias towards Dispensational Theology, and a pre-tribulation rapture. These notes are quite valuable if you hold these views, but I imagine would be a pain in the neck if you don’t. Scofield has many many cross-references which are a definite aid when studying, and there is a small concordance in the back of the book, as well as a few maps and chain references. This is the Bible I use, if you haven’t already guessed.
The Open Bible
This is a delightful Bible for those who are just beginning in their Bible Study quest. It is available in King James and New American Standard, and contains all kinds of valuable study aids which allow you to put off purchasing many of the reference books for awhile. There is a special edition of the Open Bible which gives an in-depth study of the end times. It is called the Prophecy Bible, and is available from The World Bible Society, Box 1, Los Angeles, California 90053. If I couldn’t have a Scofield, this is the one I’d get. Also, if I couldn’t afford to buy a lot of reference books, or if I was just starting out, this is definitely the Bible to get.
Those are the only Bibles I use, but through talking with people, I’ve heard many good things about The Thomas Nelson Chain Reference Bible, and the Ryrie Study Bible.
Bible Handbooks and Surveys
These books are really great. They contain background, archaeology studies, histories, explanations, mini-commentaries, notes, outlines, maps and all kinds of information you would otherwise have to pour through volumes and volumes of books to get. This is the basic reference book. There are two pretty much standard works used by almost everyone. Halley’s Bible Handbook (about $10-15), and Unger’s Survey of the Bible ($11). There are many others that are quite good, but these two seem to me to be the most useful.
Bible Dictionaries and Encyclopedias
A Bible Dictionary or Encyclopedia lists just about any concept or topic in the Bible and seeks to explain it, or give background on it. You might look up chariots and find out all kinds of things about a chariot. You might look up Paul and get a brief biography of him. These books are not just parallel passage works (although they contain that as well), but also contain archaeologic and historic information not found in the Bible. You could spend many a fulfilling evening browsing through one of these books. Some names to look into are Unger’s Bible Dictionary, Smith’s Bible Dictionary, New Bible Dictionary, Davis Bible Dictionary, Harper’s Bible Dictionary and many many others. Depending on where you go, and which one you like, you’ll spend between $10 and $25 for these. Unger’s Dictionary is also available in a generic softcover for less than $10 when you can find it.
A Commentary seeks to explain the scriptures to us. There are many many many commentaries out there. The list is endless. Their focus ranges from devotional to expository, from practical to prophetic, from surface level to in-depth, from complete sets to individual books, from one-volume commentaries to 20, 30 and 40 volume sets. Everyone should probably have a one-volume commentary, at least most people think so! The classical, standard one to have is Matthew Henry’s one-volume commentary, but deserving of mention is the Wycliffe One Volume Commentary. These are pretty much basic, devotional commentaries that will help with insights that you can use every day.
But you don’t just buy a one-volume commentary thinking that you’ll never buy another one! A one-volume commentary is of very limited use. More useful is to buy a commentary on a book you are studying. For this, you’ll have to become familiar with authors until you find your favorites. I probably have five or six commentaries on the book of Revelation alone, not to mention at least that many sets of commentary tapes on the book of Revelation! The best I can do to stretch your commentary dollar is to list a few authors I like. To name just a few out of literally hundreds, I’d say Ray Stedman, Arthur W. Pink, Donald Barnhouse, G. Campbell Morgan, M.R. DeHaan, and John Walvoord. But don’t go out and buy a million commentaries right away. Just pick up a one-volume commentary, and gradually acquire a collection later.
Now we get into reference books where YOU do the work instead of benefiting from work already done. It is important to get an exhaustive concordance. An exhaustive concordance will list EVERY word in the Bible alphabetically. There are many uses for this. When you can’t find a certain passage, but you know a couple of the words, look it up in the concordance. When you do a word study of, say the word gold, you can find ALL the places where gold is mentioned. A good concordance will also give you the Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic definitions of all the words in the Bible.
Despite their size, concordances are not all that expensive. If you shop around, you can find concordances for $10. There are two popular concordances: Strong’s and Young’s. I guess I should just say to go for the best deal. Just make sure it is an exhaustive concordance.
Manners and Customs Books
These books give insight into the backgrounds of the culture and practices of Bible times. There is no real set standard here, but a valuable feature in one of these books is that it is keyed to the Bible reference rather than by topic.
An expository dictionary differs from a Bible Dictionary in that we actually look up a word used in the Bible and get a complete definition of that word as used in the text, as opposed to a general definition as you find in a concordance. Here, the standard and basic work is Vine’s Expository Dictionary. Available in a single volume, the price is quite modest. Also, there is Wilson’s Dictionary of Old Testament words, and others. Often, these works are not exhaustive, but will contain just about any word you’d like to look up.
An Interlinear Bible will have the actual original language of the Bible and a literal, word for word translation right below it, with a King James (or other) text on the facing page. The word for word translation will be in all its glory of being in bad English grammar (obviously) and sometimes misleading, but nevertheless QUITE valuable when you need to know the exact word, or you’d like to see what the text says literally.
Hebrew and Greek Concordances
What? Another concordance? Yes, this time instead of looking up a word in english and finding all the occurrences of a word, we can look up the original Hebrew or Greek word and find all the occurrences! So what if you don’t read Greek or Hebrew? No problem if you bought Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance! You look up a word in Strong’s and get Strong’s word number (there is a number for every word in Strong’s) then, you take that number, and if you buy Baker’s Hebrew and Greek Concordances, look it up. The book will list ALL the places that exact word is used. Of course, I’d definitely recommend the Concordances published by Baker. The official titles are: The Englishman’s Hebrew and Chaldee Concordance of the Old Testament numerically coded to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance by George V. Wigram, and; The Englishman’s Greek Concordance of the New Testament numerically coded to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance by George V. Wigram. Both are published by Baker Book House and go for $20 each.
Now that we can look up all the occurrences of the original words, we can get even more complete definitions of words! Again, coded to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance and published by Baker Book
House, there are Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon to The Old Testament – a dictionary numerically coded to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance with an exhaustive English index, and Thayer’s Greek-
English Lexicon of the New Testament – a dictionary numerically coded to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance. Again, these two books are $20 each, and match the two concordances previously mentioned. Now, understand that you aren’t locked in to purchasing only these works. There are lots of others. The advantage to these is that you don’t need to read Greek or Hebrew, otherwise, good luck!
That about sums up a BASIC reference library, although I’d be quick to add that there are a few books worth getting that don’t really fit into a reference classification per se, but nevertheless are great references. A partial list is below.
Harmony of the Gospels
History of Christianity
Foxe’s Book of Martyrs
The Works of Josephus
Meredith’s Book of Bible Lists
Number in Scripture (E.W. Bullinger)
Wilson’s Dictionary of Bible Types
The Life and Times of Jesus The Messiah (Edersheim)
The “All The…” series by Herbert Lockyer
Saving Your Money
One of the most frustrating things is to not be able to afford the reference books you need to indulge in a certain study. I have two possible solutions to this problem. One way of getting reference materials free is to resort to commentary tapes. There are many many good sets of commentary tapes available free from one of two sources:
4901 Green River Drive #9
Corona, California 91720
Firefighters for Christ
8866 Barcelona Plaza
Westminster, California 92683-5495
Both places have catalogs available, just write to them. The other solution is purchasing your books through the mail via one of the Discount Book Distributors. One source is:
Christian Book Distributors
P.O. Box 3687
Peabody, Massachusetts 01961-3687
They always have great deals on their books. Usually, you can get 30-50% off or more!
The following is a list of books that I’ve found to be quite helpful in understanding God’s Word. Hopefully, these will serve you as well as they’ve served me. Also, hopefully this list will save you a few bucks worth of books that look really informative, but weren’t what you expected.
THE INVISIBLE WAR by Dr. Donald Gray Barnhouse
This should have a subtitle, “Required Reading for all Christians intending to be Serious at all.” Aside from the Bible itself, I find this to be the single most important book I’ve ever read. Dr. Barnhouse explores the situation man is in since the Garden of Eden affair. Barnhouse was one of those people who were unsurpassed in gleaning insights from the Bible. Absolutely profound.
EVIDENCE THAT DEMANDS A VERDICT by Josh McDowell
This is the definitive apologetic work on Christianity. An apologetic is a defense of the faith. In this book, Josh McDowell, probably one of the greatest Christian minds living today, gives irrefutable evidence for the Christian faith. The book was not written for casual reading. Rather, it was written with documentation to be used in debates, college papers, witnessing and basically anywhere Christianity might be challenged. Josh McDowell’s tape series that goes along with this book (or used separately) is available free on Manna BBS.
KINGDOM OF THE CULTS by Walter Martin
If you don’t already know Dr. Walter Martin, you will find him to be probably the best authority on Comparative Religion in Christianity today. This, his best selling book is a survey of the most popular
cults around today. He doesn’t go into A LOT of detail, but there is enough here to gain an understanding of the many false teachings in the world today that claim to be Christian. The book was written in the 60s, and has been revised at least once since then, in order to keep current with our changing world. Dr. Martin has also written other books about specific cults (Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc.) which are also available at your local Christian bookstore.
ESSENTIAL CHRISTIANITY by Walter Martin
Again, Walter Martin has written what I think to be the perfect balance between a statement of faith, and a Systematic Theology. A Systematic Theology can weigh you down with thousands of pages of doctrine, and defense of that doctrine. They are generally hard to read, harder to understand, and even harder to stay awake through, not to mention a few of the weird ideas of the day! This book solves that problem quite nicely. This is a little paperback which discusses the ‘essential’ doctrines of the Christian faith. Dr. Martin shows from the Bible why these are doctrines, and how we defend these doctrines without getting completely boring! This is a fantastic book for a new Christian since it explains all the basic Christian doctrines we hold.
THE TWO BABYLONS by Alexander Hisslop
I hesitate to mention this one since it definitely upsets our Catholic brothers and sisters. This book goes into many of the old pagan rituals and shows the similarities to current Roman Catholicism. He gets a bit radical at some points, but there is a lot of interesting reading here.
A CHRISTIAN MANIFESTO by Francis Schaeffer
In this book, the late Dr. Schaeffer examines our current society and shows how we’ve fallen spiritually as a country in just the past 50 or so years. He shows why it happened and what we can do to reverse the trend. Dr. Schaeffer calls for each one of us to stand up to the shocking effects of humanism in our country today. This is a pretty heavy book to read in that Dr. Schaeffer deals with complex thoughts, but is well worth the effort.
MADE ACCORDING TO PATTERN – THESE ARE THE GARMENTS – THUS SHALT THOU
SERVE by C.W. Slemming
This set of three books is very inexpensive (about $3 each) but worth their weight in gold! They are hard to find, but again, worth the effort. In ‘Made According to Pattern’, Slemming looks at the Tabernacle and its spiritual significance. In ‘These are the Garments’, he studies the High Priest’s robes. He considers the
colors, textures, and all the accessories, and shows the significance of each one. In ‘Thus Shalt Thou Serve’, the topic is a study of the offerings and feasts of early Jewish worshipers, and how this applies to us. Together, these three books will help you come to appreciate the Torah more than you ever did before. This is a wonderful demonstration of just what you can get out of using typology as a way of understanding all the more tedious parts of the Bible.
THE TEMPLE by Alfred Edersheim
Primarily focused on the Temple at the time of Christ, this is a fabulous study on the Christian significance of the Levitical observances by a noted Rabbi who became a famous Episcopal Bishop.
A PROPHETIC WALK THROUGH THE HOLY LAND by Hal Lindsey
Hal Lindsey is the most popular writer in Christianity. He has sold more books on prophecy than anyone else. He is easy to read, yet is quite informational. His books are timely, so I’d suggest reading the newer ones like ‘There’s a New World Coming’ and ‘The Rapture’.
ADDICTED TO MEDIOCRITY by Franky Schaeffer
In this book, Franky Schaeffer discusses how so many of us Christians insist on separating our spiritual life from our secular life, and how this can cause so much trouble. He discusses the error of reading books, going to movies, or listening to music and appreciating art only if it has some kind of ‘Christian Stamp of
Approval’. A very thought-provoking book, he has also given a lecture that is parallel to it which is available on Manna BBS.
SATAN IS ALIVE AND WELL by Hal Lindsey
THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS by C.S. Lewis
These books discuss how Satan works in the world today, and the games he loves to play with us Christians when we are basically too stupid to recognize these games. Hal Lindsey’s book is more on the factual, scriptural side, while C.S. Lewis’ book is more of an imaginative scenario of a demon assigned to hassle a believer.
THE LIGHT AND THE GLORY by Peter Marshall and David Manuel
Don’t ever let anyone tell you that God does not have a plan for this country! This book examines the lives of the founding fathers of our country from Columbus to Washington. This is not a fictional book, but rather, is written from actual diaries and documents written at the time. This is a highly exciting and readable history of the United States where you can re-learn our heritage from a Christian perspective.
RULERS OF NEW TESTAMENT TIMES by Charles Ludwig
This is a great shortcut to understanding the times of Jesus and Paul from a historic perspective. Its greatest value is that it is so easy to read. Again, a very inexpensive book ($2.25).
SPIRIT-CONTROLLED TEMPERAMENTS – TRANSFORMED TEMPERAMENTS by Tim LaHaye
Tim LaHaye is one of the best authors to read. He has great experience in counseling which gives him a lot of experience in understanding people. In these two books, he examines the temperaments of human beings, and how God can actually use each temperament. In the second book, he examines four examples of the four basic temperaments, which is an interesting look at the personalities of Abraham, Moses, Peter and Paul.
THE HIDDEN DANGERS OF THE RAINBOW by Constance Cumbey
THE SEDUCTION OF CHRISTIANITY by Dave Hunt & T.A. McMahon
These two controversial books are extremely good to have just to wake us up to the times we live in. These are quite controversial books in that many people object to them. You can cut the air with a knife whenever Dave Hunt lectures on his book in some places. Nevertheless, we should be aware of the issues discussed in both of these books since they are discussed so often today.
To find these, you have to check out one of the secular bookstores. They are not generally found in Christian bookstores.
WORLDS IN COLLISION – EARTH IN UPHEAVAL – AGES IN CHAOS by Immanuel
Imaginative and scholarly classic; caused major uproar when originally published, but has captured increasing respect in recent years. Stimulating background reading, although not a Christian apologetic.
PROPHECY IN STONE by David Webber and Noah Hutchings
If you ever wondered about the Great Pyramid in Egypt, this is an inexpensive and easily read little book that discusses it. To get it, you need to write to: The Southwest Radio Church, P.O. Box 1144, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73101.
THE LATE GREAT PLANET EARTH COUNTDOWN TO ARMAGEDDON THERE’S A NEW WORLD COMING THE RAPTURE
Now, I’d like to take some time to list a few of the authors that whenever I see their books, I buy them on sight because their insights into the scripture are just that valuable.
Dr. Donald Gray Barnhouse
Dr. Barnhouse has written commentaries on Romans, Genesis, and Revelation. He is quite readable and probably one of the best devotional authors.
Arthur W. Pink
My favorite author, this guy gets more out of a single verse in the Bible, than most people get out of the whole chapter. He isn’t as readable as a lot of other writers, but he packs more information into a book than anyone else.
Another one like Pink, but DeHaan also keeps the big picture in view. He’s more apt to look at things chapter by chapter. A bit easier to read than Pink, DeHaan was also a doctor.
G. Campbell Morgan
His books are transcribed from his sermons (like many other authors). He, like Pink and DeHaan examines things using typology when applicable. He has a great set of commentaries out on the gospels, and another great book on the Parables and Metaphors of Our Lord.
Ray Stedman is a teacher in central California who is always writing new books. He is quite readable and the first choice when it comes to the New Testament in particular. He also has one of the best commentaries on the Book of Esther, which is a book still debated about today as to whether it belongs in the Bible at all. Reading this book will confirm beyond a shadow of a doubt that Esther VERY MUCH
belongs in the Bible.
John F. Walvoord
This man is one of the editors of the Scofield Reference Bible, is president of Dallas Theological Seminary, and has written a couple of really good commentaries. The value to his commentaries are that they are contemporary. His commentary on Daniel deserves to be in everyone’s library, as is his book ‘The Rapture Question’.
There is another source of information that you should be aware of, that is the Southwest Radio Church. This ministry broadcasts interviews and Bible Studies all over the country. They frequently feature books in their newsletter at reduced prices. They also have a monthly newsletter called the Gospel Truth where they examine one issue each month, usually quite timely. Also, they have a monthly booklet called Bible in the News, where they examine the news events of the month and how they relate to Christianity. In addition to all of that, they have a whole list of intriguing and fascinating studies written by a host of authors available at quite reasonable prices.
You can write to them at P.O. Box 1144, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73101.
Contributed by The Manna System