As promised in our last Soli Deo Gloria column, this article will take a look at three tools that are available to help us understand and study the Bible. Any book that claims to be the very word of God to man is worth understanding, and we should take the time to carefully explore the Bible’s meaning.
Good Bible commentaries are essential. A ‘commentary’ is exactly what it sounds like: a book that contains a person’s comments or thoughts on a part of the Bible. No one person is an expert on everything the Bible says, and it helps to consult with scholars who have spent time studying the particular book or passage they are commenting on.
Commentaries on the entire Bible are a good place to start. These give an author’s or a team of author’s ideas on the entire Bible. Examples are The New Bible Commentary published by Intervarsity Press and Eerdmans and the excellent Encountering the Old Testament and Encountering the New Testament published by Baker.
Commentaries that give one expert author’s interpretations and insights into a particular book are even more helpful. It is difficult to beat Martin Luther on Galatians, Charles Hodge on 1 Corinthians, Derrick W.H. Thomas on Romans, or John Calvin or Douglas Moo on just about anything. Commentaries allow us to tap into a lifetime of research and study on Bible texts by capable scholars and pastors.
Concordances are also useful. A concordance is an alphabetical listing of words used in the Bible and their occurrences. The words are listed, and a phrase from the verses which use that word is given along with the Scripture reference. If you can remember a phrase, such as “For God so loved the world,” you can look up the word ‘world’ in a good concordance and find John 3:16 cited. I can remember phrases from many Bible verses that I have heard quoted in sermons over the years, and these tools help me to be able to read those phrases in context. Good concordances have been written by authors such as Young, Strong, and Cruden.
Bible handbooks and atlases help us to understand the history of the Bible’s authors and their cultures. Some good examples of these include Dictionary of the Bible by Hastings, The Oxford Bible Atlas by May, and The Crossway Bible Handbook.
These tools belong in the libraries of everyone committed to Bible study. Not everything in the Bible is easy to understand, and commentaries, concordances, handbooks and atlases can help.
The importance of in-depth Bible study cannot be overestimated. It helps transform us into the kind of people God wants us to be. Our next Soli Deo Gloria article will look at another important tool for laymen like us: the Study Bible.