Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)*
In my last blog, we looked at some of the various study Bibles being published today and my reasoning as to why I can recommend certain ones and why others should be avoided at all costs.
In this blog, I hope to look at some of the books and tools I consider to be beneficial, if not essential, for every Christian’s study of the Bible. Warning: I will be giving some shameless plugs for some businesses as some tool reviews will contain best sources and prices for the items.
Pentel PH158ST1: I am in the habit of color-coding every Bible I use, a practice I highly recommend as it forces the reader to read slowly and thoughtfully [contrary to how I was taught to read 40-50 years ago in a US public school system—where we were constantly drilled to increase our reading speed]. This practice also forces us to think and develop a systematic approach to reading and studying the Bible. I have found this tool to be the absolute best when it comes to color coding. This is basically a colored pencil which is refillable, and has eight barrels, each containing a different colored lead. This is better than using highlighters because it is a dry process, so the color does not bleed through the thin paper used in printing Bibles. It is also superior to highlighters because there is a wider range of colors available. Although this pencil contains eight separate colors, the refills are available in sixteen different colors. The pencil and refills are available through Lifeway stores [lifeway.com], Christian Book Distributors [aka CBD, christianbook.com], and Tabor Sales [bestpensonline.com]. The best street price I have found is through Tabor Sales—which also offers the best prices on the refills and offers the refills in all 16 available colors in tubes containing two refills of the same color, and which can be bought as individual tubes—unlike Lifeway and CBD, which only offer the refills in sets containing one refill of each color and the colors available are simply the stock colors [brown-lt. blue-dk. blue-pink-red-yellow-brown-orange-lt. green]. One could also use ballpoint pens or gel pens which offer multiple color choices, I have found those method to be messy and cumbersome since one must then obtain and carry multiple pens, the inks tend to bleed through the pages and ballpoint pens [especially the cheaper variety] tend to “glob” when first used.
Zebra 301: A ballpoint pen. I like to carry a ballpoint pen at all times to make notations in the margins of my Bibles. I have found these to be lightweight, inexpensive, refillable and more reliable than any other ballpoint pen costing less than $2. Also the ink formulation Zebra uses does not “glob” when first being used to write. The only reason I cannot recommend these for color coding is that they are only available in blue and black. These pens are available through Wal-Mart.
A small notebook: The best ones I have found are at Wal-Mart. They are bound like composition notebooks [meaning the leaves and cover are stitched together and not bound with a metal or plastic spiral]. They are approximately 5” x 7” in size, so if you use a bible cover, will fit into the accessory pocket most covers have for such a purpose. If one doesn’t use a cover, they are not that thick or bulky and simply can be carried with the Bible.
A Bible Cover: While not an absolute necessity, one of these is definitely useful, especially if you live in a part of the country where on any given Sunday you might have to be in the rain. When I was in high school, I had a Bible get destroyed when I was caught in a thunderstorm one night walking home from a Bible study. While a canvas cover is not absolute protection from the elements, for keeping a Bible dry from house to car and car to another building, it is adequate. Street prices start at $4.99 from CBD. Just make certain the cover is made from canvas or some other water proof or water repellant material. And make certain the cover chosen is available to fit the Bible being used.
Indexing Tabs: Unless the Bible you purchased has thumb-indexing already, these are useful add-ons. There are four main manufacturers: Bob Siemons, Tabbies, Ellie Claire, and Verse Finders. I’ve tried indexing tabs from all four manufacturers and the ones made by Tabbies are the best. They have the lightest weight, so they are the least likely to tear the pages. The adhesive doesn’t tend to bleed from the edges and cause pages to stick together, and the rounded edges make it less likely for the tabs to snag on other tabs. The street cost for any of these brands is about the same. In addition, Tabbies has a line of tabs called “Reflections of You,” which includes seven blank tabs which can be labeled by the user.
Proceeding to look at books I consider essential for a Christian library:
Exhaustive Concordance: These are available for the KJV, the NASB, and the NIV. Want to know look up a passage but not sure where it is found? This is what a concordance is for. As long as you know one of the words in the passage. Look up that word in the concordance and it will list every passage where that word is used in the Bible. An Exhaustive Concordance will also list a numerical code to indicate the Hebrew [for Old Testament Passages] and Greek [for New Testament passages] words used. Lexicons in the back will show the word and all the English terms used to translate the word. The danger of relying on these lexicons is that they do not indicate the rationale for a given rendering or the grammatical nuances involved. But for basic research this is the place to start.
Unfortunately, there is no Exhaustive Concordance for the NKJV. I have contacted Thomas Nelson several times over this issue and the responses received have been inconsistent and confusing. They acknowledge the need, but don’t seem to feel any urgency for such. In 2007 they committed themselves to having one completed by May, 2009, and then in April, 2009, only one month before the announced release date, they informed book dealers the project had been canceled. To this date the company refuses to discuss the rationale for their non-support for their own translation. Throughout the whole process, the responses from Thomas Nelson were dismissive and condescending—which doesn’t speak well for them as a company. But I imagine it will get worse since the company is in the process of being taken over by and becoming a subsidiary to Zondervan.
A Bible Dictionary: There are several one-volume dictionaries I can recommend. The first is the Wycliffe Bible Dictionary [Ed. Charles F. Pfeiffer, Howard F. Vos, and John Rea, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1998]-$19.99. Another excellent one-volume dictionary is The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, Revised and Expanded [Ed. R. K. Harrison, Chicago: Moody Press, 2006]-$25.99. Either of these would be excellent. If you want more in-depth coverage than a single volume dictionary allows, there is only one multi-volume encyclopedia I recommend. That is the Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible [Ed. Moises Silva and Merrill C. Tenney, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008]-$149.99. While it is more expensive. It is worth the price.
An Expository Dictionary: These provide expanded meanings of major words found in the Old and New Testaments. There are three major expository dictionaries: Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words [William D. Mounce. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006]-$17.99; the Expository Dictionary of Bible Words [Stephen D. Renn. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2010]-$14.99; and Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words [Ed. W.E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, and William White, Jr. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1996]-$12.99. While all of these are useful, I have found the one by Renn to be the best. It is the most thorough, and also includes a CD-ROM containing the software version of the Dictionary and other resources which can be installed as .pdf files on a PC.
Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties [Gleason L. Archer. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982]. This is a wonderful tool for dealing with those skeptics who blithely dismiss the Bible as having errors. Dr. Archer, researched all claimed inconsistencies or “errors” in scripture to demonstrate that with research, what are imagined to be errors can be explained and proven not to be errors at all.
Nelson’s Cross Reference Guide to the Bible [Jerome Smith. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007]. This supersedes Smith’s previous work in The New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge. Most reference Bibles offer only 60,000 cross-references. This offers over 100,000 cross-references. This also puts the cross-references in a clear readable font, instead of squeezing the references into a 4- or 5-point type in a small center column between two columns of text.
The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict [Josh McDowell. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1999]. In the 1970s, Josh McDowell issued two apologetic masterpieces, Evidence that Demands a Verdict and More Evidence that Demands a Verdict. As a young university student on a public campus with many professors who were not merely hostile to Christian belief, but determined to lead young believers into apostasy, this was a true godsend. In the late 1990s, McDowell reedited both volumes, combining them into one, and expanding its scope to include evidence refuting such issues as post-modern thought and the Jesus Seminar.
Zondervan’s Charts of. . . series [various authors. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, various dates]. There are over twenty different volumes in this series, touching on such issues as cults and world religions, theology, church history, philosophy, and apologetics. Street prices range from $14.99 to $19.99 depending on which volume is being purchased. If considering these, I recommend the volume to begin with is Charts of Christian Theology and Doctrine by H. Wayne House.
The Word [software series—available from theword.net]. See my review of this software in the blog “Bible Software Reviews (Sometimes the Best Things in Life Really Are Free).” This has multiple versions of the Bible, including the ESV [English Standard Version—in both the original edition and the 2011 update] and the HCSB [Holman Christian Standard Bible], which offer much better alternatives to the NIV and NLT, along with commentaries, and the complete 38-volume set of writings of the Ante-Nicene, Nicene, and Post-Nicene fathers. In other words, one can get a library of 200+ volumes—and the only cost is your time for downloading from their website [and a flash drive or CD to keep a copy]–in other words: FREE. There are other modules with bible versions [such as the NASB and the NKJV], commentaries and other resources which are available to download for a fee, but the fees are more reasonable than those charged for adding on to such software libraries like Libronix [Logos] or Wordsearch.
Making Sense of the Trinity: Three Crucial Questions [Millard J. Erickson. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000]. Only 108 pages of material but this is a great study on the Trinity. As a companion to this study, I also recommend The Trinity: The Classic Study of Biblical Trinitarianism [Edward Henry Bickerstith. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, n.d.].
Church History in Plain Language, 3rd Edition [Bruce L. Shelley. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008]. This has been a part of my library for the past thirty years starting with the first edition. Shelley is professor of historical theology at Denver Theological Seminary—but writes for non-academics.
Introduction to Philosophy: A Christian Perspective [Norman L. Geisler & Paul D. Feinberg. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1980]. For one to intelligently discuss the shortcomings of the competing philosophies of the world—one has to be able to identify them. Coming from an academic background which had little exposure to this academic discipline, I relied on this work extensively when I was thrust into classes in graduate school which presumed a working knowledge of the discipline. As companion volumes to this, I also recommend The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics [Ed. Ed Hindson & Ergun Caner. Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2008] and Christian Apologetics, 2nd Edition [Cornelius Van Til. Philipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 2003].
A Handbook of Contemporary Theology: Tracing Trends & Discerning Directions in Today’s Theological Landscape [David L. Smith. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1992]. The title describes it all. Granted, this work is not exhaustive and could use some updating—for example it fails to evaluate the “Seeker-Sensitive/Purpose Driven” theologies of the Bill Hybels/Rick Warren cults, or the occultic counterfeits of the Renovare/Navigators/Spiritual Formation movement. Still it provides great overviews of some of the major theological movements today. As a companion volume I also recommend The Moody Handbook of Theology, revised and expanded [Paul Enns. Chicago: Moody Press, 2008].
All the Doctrines of the Bible [Herbert Lockyer. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1964]. Lockyer, in his lifetime, published almost 20 volumes in his All the. . . of the Bible series. They are all excellent books: well-researched and well written. Fortunately, one can buy individual volumes and not have to purchase the complete set as the volumes are written as standalone volumes. This is the essential volume to obtain if I had to pick one over another. And apart from my Bible and a Boy Scout Handbook, this is the book I would want to have if stranded on a desert island.
*Except as noted, all Scriptures are from the New King James Version (NKJV). Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.