Studying Your Bible
Written by: Dolim, Michael Posted on: 05/07/2003
Category: Bible Studies
APO:Studying your Bible by Michael Dolim
SOURCES: SPEAK, YOUR SERVANT IS LISTENING by Joe Magliato
HERMENEUTICS by Bernard Ramm
For centuries, skeptics and atheists have attacked the Bible,
claiming it was nothing more than a collection of man's overactive
imagination. "Where did Cain get his wife?" became the question that
was supposed to discredit the Bible, silence its defenders, and place
it on the shelf with fairy tales and other works of fiction.
In a heated discussion over the reliability of the Bible, one
skeptic asked an evangelist, "Now tell me where did Cain get his wife?"
The evangelist answered with this question, "Are you going to let
another man's wife keep you out of heaven?"
Mark Twain once said, "Most people are bothered by those passages of
Scripture they don't understand, but for me, I have always noticed that
the passages that bother me are the ones I do understand."
People do not reject the Bible because it contradicts itself, but
because it contradicts them. What the Bible has to say to us can be
very disturbing. This is why people have, for centuries, tried to bury
the Bible in their funeral services of ridicule. But, the Bible gets
resurrected over and over again, always managing to outlive its pall
Voltaire, the outspoken skeptic said, "In a hundred years, the Bible
will be a forgotten book, found only in museums." One hundred years
later, the home in which Voltaire made that prediction was occupied by
the Geneva Bible Society.
Why does the Bible have this ability to survive its critics? Why
does it continue to be the number one best seller of all time, and the
most printed book in the world? Why is it the Bible never grows old? We
grow old. Our houses, cars, and cities grow old, but the Bible never
changes. It speaks a clear and vibrant word to every generation, in
If the Bible offers us so much, why have Christians neglected to
study this amazing book? Many have attempted to study the Bible, only
to get discouraged and drop out. The scenario goes something like this.
Mr. Jones hears a rousing sermon about the importance of the Word of
God, and why we are to study to show ourselves approved. He goes home,
determined to read through the bible from cover to cover. He
enthusiastically starts with the book of Genesis, and is delighted as
he reads the colorful stories of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.
Exodus comes next, which is full of the dramatic exploits of Moses, and
the escape of the Jews from Egyptian bondage. Who hasn't seen the Book
of Exodus come alive in living color, as in Cecil B. DeMille's
extravaganza, starring Charlton Heston? Mr. Jones moves on into the
Book of Leviticus, expecting even more historical pageantry, but he is
stunned by the minute detail given to dietary regulations, sacrificial
offerings, and priestly performances. The endless material that seems
so foreign to Mr. Jones is so overwhelming, he closes the book in
discouragement, muttering, "I can't understand this." If only Mr. Jones
had someone to help him understand what he was reading.The purpose of
this study is to introduce some practical ideas to help you in
understanding the most unique book on earth. You will be introduced to
the basic and important rules of interpreting ANY piece of literature
(especially important in the Bible), and you will be introduced to some
of the tools and authors that help in studying the Bible.This study is
not 'gospel' in the sense of saying 'thus says the Lord'. Rather, these
are aids and ideas which have helped many people understand God's Word.
Many of the 'rules' are employed by Bible Scholars and theologians who
seek to ACCURATELY determine what God is saying to man.
Up front, serious study of the Bible will demand two things of you:
time and money.
You must 'make' the time. Perhaps you will have to juggle your
schedule a bit, wake up earlier, go to bed later, take some leisure
time, break away from one of your favorite TV programs, or delegate
work to someone so that you can find the time. There is no short cut.
It will cost you time.
It will also cost you money. Reference books are not inexpensive. As
a mechanic makes a major investment in tools that last him a lifetime,
so will you have to make an investment in the reference books that will
serve you in an eternity of benefits.An opinion on Bible reference
books: I know of no other place where I think it is justified to throw
moderation to the wind. If you find yourself really enjoying bible
study and you really desire to get into it, I think this is one safe
area where you can freely indulge to your heart's content. On the other
hand, for those of us on tighter budgets, take comfort in the fact that
you don't need to run right out and buy EVERY book referred to. It is
highly advisable anyway that you do this a little slowly. When the
reference books are discussed, the more basic, or fundamental ones will
be noted as the ones to get first, again one or two at a time. This may
be done slowly. Gradually, you will acquire a respectable library of
good reference books that will serve you and your family throughout
FIRST THINGS FIRST
The Bible was not addressed to just anyone. Sure, anyone can read
it, but not everyone can understand it - not even with a million
reference books! Not everyone is 'qualified' to understand the Word of
"The natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God; for
they are foolishness unto him, neither can he know them, because they
are spiritually discerned" (1Cor. 2:14).
"The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are
life" (John 6:63).
"For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness;
but unto us who are saved it is the power of God" (1Cor. 1:18).
Before even bothering to attempt to understand the Bible, in order
to qualify, you must be born again.
BALANCING THE BOOKS
One of the charges made against being 'dependent' on using reference
books is that someone will say something like 'the Holy Spirit will
reveal the Word to me. What do I need man-made helps for?' Well, you're
right in the sense that the Holy Spirit will reveal the Word to you. No
one else CAN! Concerning man-made helps though, take a look at your
bible. Notice that there are chapters and verses? These, themselves are
man-made helps that ALL of us use. Some of the reference books do
nothing more than provide data and background. Others aid you in
understanding the Word by giving an explanation of the passage.
Why use these works? Primarily, it saves time. Authors of Bible
Commentaries have spent years (sometimes lifetimes) building their
knowledge on others' study. They've written down the results of their
years of study. Now you can benefit from what they've already done, and
go on from there.You will have to be cautious of course. There are many
wolves attempting to write 'sheep-books'. Your best defense in the
beginning is to be familiar with the basic doctrines of Christianity.
"Prove all things; hold fast that which is good" (1Thes. 5:21).
"These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they
received the word with all readiness of mind, and SEARCHED THE
SCRIPTURES DAILY, WHETHER THOSE THINGS WERE SO" (Acts 17:11).
So we see that man-made aids and reference books can be valuable,
but understand that they can never replace The Word of God. They aid
you in understanding the Word, but they cannot substitute your reading
of the Word.
THE PURPOSE OF THE BIBLE
We also must understand the purpose of the Bible. God gave us His
Word. He could have given us a million more books. He could have given
us less. What He did do is give us 66 books, written by over 40 people.
Everything He had to say to man is in the Bible. Nothing in the Bible
is unnecessary, or not applicable to you and I today, in the twentieth
century. Everything from the Levitcal laws to the extensive genealogies
have a purpose and a meaning to us.The purpose of the Bible is to
reveal Jesus Christ.
"the volume of the book is written of Me" (Psalm 40:7)
"Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life;
and they are they which testify of Me" (John 5:39)
"For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed Me; for he wrote
of Me" (John 5:46).
It has been said that the Torah (the first five books, written by
Moses) lays the FOUNDATION for Christ. The Historical Books are the
PREPARATION of Christ. The Poetic Books are the ASPIRATION for Christ.
The Prophetic Books are the ANTICIPATION of Christ. The Gospels are the
MANIFESTATION of Christ. Acts is the PROPAGATION of Christ. The
Epistles are the INTERPRETATION of Christ. And Revelation is the
CONSUMATION of everything into Christ.The Bible shows us God's plan for
man. It is quite condensed in the sense that EVERYTHING God wants us to
know is contained in it concerning our relationship with Him.
"And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of His
disciples, which are not written in this book; But these are written,
that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and
that believing ye might have life through His Name" (John 20:30-31)
"And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which, if
they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself
could not contain the books that should be written. Amen" (John 21:25).
DON'T! Don't open your bible in front of a blaring television or
radio, and expect to put some quality time into your studying. You need
a quiet place and some quiet time alone. Make sure it's away from
ringing door bells, telephones, distractions, and interruptions. Set
aside a time and place. It may be morning or night that is more
convenient for you. Whatever that time is, guard it jealously. You will
be presented with many 'reasons' to set your study time aside. Don't do
it! Don't study in an inconsistent fashion. Letting five days go by,
and then, 'doubling up' to make up for lost time is an enemy to good
study habits. It would be far better to set aside less time, and study
consistently, than to lump a lot of hours together, and study
haphazzardly.Don't trust your memory. Even after you have finished
studying, your mind will continue to turn over the truths you have gone
over. Inspiration does not keep office hours. You will discover it
comes when you least expect it. So, keep a pad and pen handy, and be
prepared for a sudden burst of insight, or you will lose it. It would
be a good idea to keep a pad and pen handy near your bed at night.
There will be times when you will wake up in the middle of the night
with an insight, an idea, or an illustration. Do not remove yourself
from the passage you are examining. You must consciously remove your
twentieth century point of view, but do not remove yourself. While you
are reading, ask yourself, "What does this mean to me? How would I have
reacted, given the same situation? How would I fit into this account?"
Put yourself into the story. Figuratively, slip out of your culture and
surroundings, and get into the sandals of the Bible characters. Feel
the excitement in the air as you walk with little David toward Goliath.
Find youself being forcibly taken to the lions' den with Daniel. Walk
with Ezekiel into the vision of the vally of dry bones. How would you
have felt being asked to preach to a pile of sun-bleached bones? Put
yourself into the story. How would you have handled it? What would you
have done? You will discover a very interesting phenomenon taking place
on occasion. Sometimes, when you hold a magnifying glass over the
truth, you are made strangely aware that the truth is holding a
magnifying glass over you...scrutinizing and examining you. During
moments like this, you will discover how very personal your study can
DO Have your reference books in a handy place, so you can quickly
get the information you may need. Play 'detective' with the text. Go to
the Bible as a private investigator who is on a case. Use questions to
uncover the mystery.
Kipling once wrote: "I keep six honest serving men. They taught me
all I know. The names are what, and where and when, And how and why and
who." Be alert when you read the Bible. Investigate the text. Ask
questions. Don't be afraid to probe. Some have found it beneficial to
keep a 'Bible Diary'. This can be structured in any way that is
comfortable to you. Some people keep binders, others use a plain old
diary or notebook, some people use loose-leaf paper and file folders,
they even have used 'Day Runners', or personal organizers. Use anything
you like. Arrange it any way you find comfortable. Some people go
through extensive planning in how they keep organized so that they can
always find something they wrote down.Always write down your study. It
has been my experience that when you write something down, you will
have learned it FAR better than if you didn't write it down. Just the
act of writing is a MAIN benefit.When you come to a passage that you
can't make any sense out of, it has been suggested that you put Jesus
Christ in the middle of the passage, and many times the passage makes
When you come to a passage that you don't understand, you have a
precious chance to do a lab experiment with The Holy Spirit. We have a
promise given to us by Jesus. John 14:26 says "But the Comforter, who
is the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, He shall
teach you all things and bring all things to your remembrance, whatever
I have said unto you." With this promise in mind, write down your
frustration in attempting to understand the text. The purpose being to
document the problem. Then pray about it and ask for understanding.
Leave the passage, go on to something else for awhile. Come back to it
in a couple of days and you will find that you understand the passage
completely, and can't understand why you never understood it before.
You will have experienced a miracle and will have proven to yourself
once again, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the supernaturalness of
General hermeneutics is that set of rules employed in all materials
which stand in need of interpretation. It is used, with proper adaption
to the subject matter, in art, history, literature, archeology and
translation. Something stands in need of interpretation when something
hinders its spontaneous understanding. To put it another way a gap
exists between the interpreter and the materials to be interpreted and
rules must be set up to bridge this gap. In that the interpreter is
separated from his materials in time there is a historical gap; in that
his culture is different from that of his text there is a cultural gap;
in that the text is usually in a different language there is the
linguistic gap; in that the document originates in another country
there is the geological gap and the biological gap (the flora and
fauna). In that usually a totally different attitude towards life and
the universe exists in the text it can be said that there is a
Biblical hermenteutics is the study of those principles which
pertain to the interpretation of Holy Scripture. Here, we will briefly
consider the following hermeneutics:
- Understanding the Purpose of the Book - Understanding the
Historical Background - Understanding the Culture - Understanding the
Context - Understanding the Meaning of the Words - Understanding the
Parallel Passages - Understanding the Literary Styles - Understanding
How to Make an Application
PURPOSE OF THE BOOK
There are 66 books in the Bible. Each one has a specific purpose
whic relates in the revelation of Jesus Christ. Leviticus has an
entirely different purpose from say, Romans. When you read something in
Leviticus, you would not apply it in the same way as you would Romans.
Understanding the purpose of the Thessalonian letters greatly helps in
trying to understand some of Paul's comments there. Each of the four
gospels has a different purpose, which explains why they are not
identical biographical sketches.
To aid us in understanding the purpose of a book, we use a Bible
Handbook, or a Survey of the Bible. Commentaries will also contain
information on the purpose of the book. Some Study Bibles also contain
One of the more critical principles in understanding the Bible is to
understand the Historical Background of a passage. For instance, in
Luke 4:25-30, we find the Jews trying to throw Jesus off a cliff
because of what He said. We can only understand why they wanted to do
this by understanding the historical background of the two people Jesus
spoke of. In John 10:22, if we knew the historical background, we would
have very interesting information about why the Holy Spirit saw it as
important to add that the feast of the dedication was in winter.
Understanding the historical background of, say Ezekiel 26 in how the
prophecy against Tyre was fulfilled gives us an example of how God
intends us to interpret prophecy, and with what precision it is carried
out. In Revelation 3:18 we read of the things of which the Lord
counsels the church at Laodicea to buy of Him. If we understood the
historical background of the passage, we'd understand the irony here.
To aid us in understanding the historical background of books and
passages in the Bible, we could look at a Bible Survey, a Bible
Handbook, or a Bible Dictionary. There are also many books available
devoted to the history of specific times during the Bible. Alfred
Edersheim is the classic work on THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JESUS THE
MESSIAH. He also wrote a very interesting work on The Temple. Josephus
was a historian who wrote during the time of Jesus and discusses some
of the verbal traditions of the Jews at the time as well as a 'secular'
view of Jewish history. Charles Ludwig wrote a book on the Rulers of
New Testament Times which is quite inexpensive, very interesting, and
quite helpful. Commentaries, and some really good Study Bibles will
also contain some historical background.
UNDERSTANDING THE CULTURE
Again, a critical subject. Not understanding the culture in a
passage sometimes may lead to a false interpretation of what is read.
In Romans 12:20, for example, if we knew the culture, or customs of the
land, we'd know that Paul is not showing us a way of "Christian
vengeance." In Matthew 13, Jesus draws heavily on the customs of the
day in giving His kingdom parables. Not understanding the customs have
lead many liberal scholars down completely false paths in trying to
understand the purpose of the church.
To aid us in understanding the cultural background of various
passages in the Bible, we use books on manners and customs in the
Bible. Again, some commentaries may contain some of this information.
UNDERSTANDING THE CONTEXT
Misinterpreting Scripture, and wrenching things out of the text that
were never there goes on all the time. It is not difficult to pull a
Scripture out of its context, and give it a completely different
meaning. When interpreting Scripture, it is critical to keep the text
in context. By context, we mean the parts of a sentence or paragraph,
immediately next to or surrounding a passage. Some passages that seem
very difficult clear up nicely when we carefully examine the context.
The whole prosperity doctrine and presumptuous faith movements
largely build their doctrines on taking scripture out of context and
making the Bible say things that it never said.
There is no book really that can help us learn to study the context
of a passage. Our resources here are limited to possibly using a
commentary as a helpful guide in reinforcing, or contradicting our
UNDERSTANDING THE MEANING OF THE WORDS
One of the obstacles we face in understanding the text is finding
out exactly what the author meant when he wrote the words. We must not
impose our definition on the words, but find out what they meant when
they were written. This is a particularly difficult, or at least
tedious task since this problem is compounded by understanding the
english word in our translation, understanding the Greek, Hebrew, or
Aramaic word in the original, and understanding what that word meant
when it was written. Words change in meaning even in our own
generation. Words are not static. They are constantly changing in their
use and meaning. There are many ways we can attack this problem. On the
first level, a good english dictionary should not be overlooked. You
might be surprised at how often this will serve as a valuable tool. On
the next level, it begins to get difficult if you are not familiar with
Greek or Hebrew.Strong's Exhaustive Concordance proves to be the
easiest way to do a complete, original study of a particular word.
However, this is only the beginning! In conjunction with Strong's, we
use a set of four books published by Baker Book House. These include a
Greek Concordance, a Hebrew Concordance, a Greek Lexicon, and a Hebrew
Lexicon. These books will be discussed later in this text.
Another way to study the meaning of a word is to use a book called
Vine's Expository Dictionary. This book lists the english word, gives
the passages which are relevant and discusses the meaning of that word.
The only real shortcoming in using this approach is that it is not
exhaustive. There are words that are not discussed. However, this is an
easy short-cut if your particular word is listed.
Other approaches are to purchase word studies. Wilson's Word Studies
are very popular. Wuest's Word Studies are also popular and inexpensive.
UNDERSTANDING THE PARALLEL PASSAGES
When studying the Word, one must take into consideration all the
Scriptural passages that shed light on a particular subject. Let the
Bible speak for itself. The Bible in many cases is its own best
commentary. Practice comparing Scripture with Scripture.
Whenever you come accross some new amazing discovery in the Bible
relating to a spiritual principle, there is a nice little rule of thumb
I like to use from the Bible itself. That is, 'by two or three
witnesses shall a thing be established.' What I mean here is that if
this new discovery is an important spiritual principle, I should be
able to find it reiterated somewhere else in the Bible.
The book that really helps in this area is a good Study Bible. I
prefer to use Scofield, but there are others as well.
UNDERSTANDING THE LITERARY STYLES
Throughout the Bible, you will encounter various literary styles,
such as history, poetry, prophecy, proverbs, and parables. We cannot
interpret these differing styles in the same way. History passages
should be interpreted literally, while poetry passages are often
written in figurative language. The greatest help we have in these
circumstances is our common sense. We also have the context of the
passage we are dealing with. If we understand the background of what we
are reading, we should rarely have a problem with literary styles.
Being careful not to jump to conclusions will serve us well.
Let's look at a few figures of speech used in the Bible.
A metaphor is a figure of speech, in which a word or phrase that
ordinarily means one thing is applied to another thing, in order to
suggest a likeness between the two. Examples of metaphors are, "a
copper sky" and "a heart of stone."The Simile A simile is also a
comparison between two things, like a metaphor; only, the comparison is
indicated by, "like," or "as." Examples of this are, "a face like
stone," "as hard as nails," and "his eyes were like fire."
An analogy is a likeness in some ways between things that are
otherwise unlike. There is an analogy between the human heart and a
pump, the Lord and a shepherd, and the saints and sheep.The Hyperbole
The hyperbole is an exaggerated statement, used for effect, and not
meant to be taken literally. An example is in Matthew 7, where Jesus
talks about the person looking for the specks in his brother's eye,
while having beams in his own eye.
The poetic device which takes inanimate objects, and gives them
human characteristics is called a personification. An example is saying
that the mountains sing, or clap their hands.The Idiom Every language
has certain peculiar phrases, which cannot be analyzed by the usual
grammatical process. Idioms are a mode of expression that defies the
rules, and depends on the society to supply the definition. the
dictionary defines idioms as, "a small group or collection of words
expressing a single notion." We often say that "we're in a pickle," or
"it is raining cats and dogs," or "he's dead from the neck up." These
are all idioms, and we depend on everyone "getting the picture" because
they live in our society.
MAKING THE APPLICATION
How do we apply the truths found in the Word? There are some
passages of Scripture that are obviously not to be applied in the same
way they were applied at the time of their writing. Yet, if there was
no application for us today, the passage would never have been in the
Bible for "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is
profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction
in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly
furnished unto all good works." (2Timothy 3:16-17)
Often, in the Bible there are multiple levels of application. Let's
briefly look at a few of these levels.The Practical Application Easily
seen and most obvious level of application, this is when the bible hits
you right between the eyes. ."..this is His commandment, that we should
believe on the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another, as
He gave us commandment." There is no problem in figuring out how to
apply this passage. It is practical, and applicable to our lives right
now, this instant, and also next Tuesday when we are wronged by a
The Secondary Application A Secondary Application is often needed
when we see commandments or teachings that primarily apply to the
culture during the time of the writing. For example, in 1 Corinthians
11, Paul instructs Christian women to cover their heads. At that time,
an uncovered female head was either an unfaithful wife, or a
prostitute. Paul was instructing the women of the day not to exercise
their freedom in this regard in violating the standards of their
culture, thus bringing a scandalous appearance and a reproach to the
Gospel. One of my favorite illustrations of this secondary application
came from a Christian musician who spoke during a concert. He recalled
the story of Peter walking on water. Here, there are TWO secondary
applications. We all know the story, Peter jumps out of the boat and
begins to walk on water when he takes his eyes off of Jesus and begins
to sink. Our application is to keep our eyes on Jesus and not look at
our circumstances. The other application is that there were 12 people
on the boat. The only one who had enough faith to even jump out of the
boat was Peter. The application is that it is better to at least make
mistakes for the Lord than to sit in a nice comfortable "boat."
The Prophetic Application
In this application, we are not so much considering the end times as
much as we look at God's plan for man. There are scads of places in the
Bible where we use this application, mostly in the Old Testament. This
is easily seen in all of the laws and regulations laid out in the
Torah, or the five books of Moses. There are fantastic discoveries
awaiting you by studying each and every detail in these tedious laws.
The many sacrifices all look forward to Jesus Christ as the final,
ultimate sacrifice. Daniel's prophecies tell of the last days, Isaiah
53 tell of the coming Messiah, Ezekiel 28 tells of Satan. Almost every
chapter in the Old Testament has a prophetic application.
The Mystical Application
What I mean here is applying the text in order to understand the
Lord more. All over the Bible, we are commanded to know the Lord. The
Lord often says "And they will know that I am the Lord." We can learn
of the ways in which God deals with people, points that the Lord tries
to make, get an insight into eternity, we can gain insight into
understanding how God thinks, and why He does certain things. In this
case, the question we seek to answer is "why did God put that there?
"One of the most dramatic and consistent insights we get from making
the Mystical application is the evidence of design in the Bible. We can
see Jesus Christ on every page. We see the fingerprint of the Holy
Spirit throughout the Bible. This strengthens your faith, and gives you
a respect for the authority of the Word in every situation.
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. 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 is a very well known translation. The Standard. On
the bad side, King James is difficult to get used to. Many of the words
used are outdated, there are some innaccuracies in the translation (all
of which by the way are addressed in reference books), and is by far
the least readable of the translations. 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 New American Standard is a definite
improvement in readability over King James, it is not the most readable
of the three most popular translations.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 reccommend 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 alot 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, Simth'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
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 occurrances of a word, we can look
up the original Hebrew or Greek word and find all the occurrances! 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, and look it up. The book will list ALL the places that
exact word is used. Of course, I'd definitely reccommend 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 a piece.
Now that we can look up all the occurances 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.
Topical Bibles Harmony of the Gospels History of Christianity Foxe's
Book of Martyrs The Works of Josephus Chronological Bibles 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) Systematic Theology The "All The..." series by Herbert
Lockyer Bible Atlases
And there are many many more. This does not include a really fine
background books which will be discussed in the next installment.
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 you'd like to take on. I have two possible solutions to this
problem. One way of getting reference matierials for free is to resort
to commentary tapes. There are many many good sets of commentary tapes
available for free from one of two sources:
Philologos Tapes 4901 Green River Drive #9 Corona, California 91720
Firefighters for Christ 8866 Barcelona Plaza Westminster, California
Both places have catalogs available by just writing to them.
The other solution is by 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
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
THE INVISIBLE WAR by Dr. Donald Gray Barnhouse
This should have a subtitle "Required Reading for all Christians
intending to be Serious at all." There is a book report on this book
available on Manna BBS. Ask the Sysop to put it online. 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 Chrisianity. 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 for 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 ALOT 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 alot of interesting
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 worshippers, 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 Ederscheim
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.
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. To find these, you have to check out one of the secular
bookstores. Not generally found in Christian bookstores.
THE LATE GREAT PLANET EARTH THE 1980'S: COUNTDOWN TO ARMAGEDDON
THERE'S A NEW WORLD COMING THE RAPTURE 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
though-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 recognise 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.
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.
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 counselling which gives him alot of esperience 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.
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
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 alot 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.
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