Over the centuries we have been blessed beyond measure with a wealth of resources for in-depth Bible study, resources that are readily available and affordable today. However, it can be hard to know where to begin when looking for a few solid reference works to help you understand difficult verses, themes, puzzling imagery, people, places, and how it all points to Jesus.
Here are four trusted, solid, foundational, and must-have Bible study resources that are worth their weight in gold and belong on the bookshelves of every student of the Bible. I cannot recommend these reference works highly enough.
The New Bible Commentary
The New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition (Inter-Varsity Press) is arguably the most readable, and accessible, and helpful one-volume commentary on the Bible available for the church today. This volume brings together many of the finest scholars to provide concise and solid commentary on each book of the Bible. It also includes introductory materials on date, authorship, purpose, key themes, outlines, and more.
The stellar list of contributors do an excellent job of being clear, succinct, centered on Christ, faithful to the text and to historic Christianity. Each author who contributed to this work has written larger, more expensive commentaries. But with the New Bible Commentary, you get access to material from all these authors in one volume for one incredibly low price. You basically get their more detailed commentaries condensed down and directed toward the pastor and person in the pew.
Of course, if you want to dive deeper into a particular book of the Bible, you will need to consult other resources. Nevertheless, this commentary has been my constant and invaluable companion for daily Bible study and when preparing to teach and preach.
The New Dictionary of Biblical Theology
Meet one of the dictionaries that will actually make reading a dictionary enjoyable, mind-expanding, and heart-warming: The New Dictionary of Biblical Theology (Inter-Varsity Press). This reference work is hands-down the best and most accessible single-volume dictionary on biblical theology available.
What is biblical theology, and why does it matter? Michael Lawrence sums it up well:
Biblical theology is a way of reading the Bible as one story by one divine author that culminates in who Jesus Christ is and what he has done, so that every part of Scripture is understood in relation to him. Biblical theology helps us understand the Bible as one big book with lots of little books that tell one big story” (Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church, 26).
Churches that promote the prosperity gospel, that appoint modern-day apostles and prophets, that believe America is the new Israel, that affirm sexual immorality under the banner of “love wins,” and that think soup kitchens fulfill the Great Commission all have one thing in common: a poor understanding of, or total disregard for, biblical theology. They all miss the Bible’s main point and fail to understand and apply the Bible properly.
This dictionary is divided into three parts.
- Part one is an introduction with articles on fundamental issues in biblical theology.
- Part two contains articles on each book of the Bible, its particular themes, and how they relate to story of Scripture as a whole
- Part three contains articles on over 200 key themes of Scripture, how they develop, and their significance for the church today. The articles include topics like, atonement, creation, eschatology, Israel, Jesus Christ, the kingdom of God, redemption, suffering, wisdom, and worship.
If you want to understand how the OT law relates to the church today, what the book of Joshua has to do with Jesus, or how the themes of God’s people, salvation, and marriage unfold throughout redemptive history, this is the resource for you. Like the New Bible Commentary, it brings together an all-star cast of respected biblical scholars. I find myself consulting this resource more than any other work in my library when it comes to studies of biblical themes and how different parts of the Bible point to Jesus.
The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery
Anyone who picks up a Bible is almost immediately confronted by its powerful, comforting, and often bizarre imagery. These literary pictures may initially intrigue us, but they often leaves us confused and discouraged in our Bible study efforts. While there are many Bible dictionaries and commentaries that can help, The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (Inter-Varsity Press) is the first reference work solely dedicated to exploring and unpacking the images, symbols, motifs, metaphors and literary patterns found in the Bible.
This unique and outstanding dictionary covers hundreds of biblical images: nature (gardens, rocks, mountains, trees, water, wind, stars), animals (snakes, the leviathan, sheep), people (Adam, Abraham, David, Jezebel, angels), places (Egypt, Israel, Babylon, the Temple, Lebanon, the New Jerusalem), numbers, food, weapons, actions, events, insects, colors, emotions, figures of speech, and so much more. It is an excellent resource to have handy as we study the book of Revelation in our Line by Line class Sunday mornings.
This dictionary makes it abundantly clear that every detail and image in Scripture is there for a reason. Overall, it will help you read Bible with new eyes and appreciate the gift of revelation our God has graciously inspired and preserved for his people.
The New Bible Dictionary
Last but not least is the New Bible Dictionary, also from Inter-Varsity Press. This basic yet comprehensive resource contains the latest developments biblical studies, ancient Near Eastern studies, and archaeological finds. It has been used and trusted for decades by schools, colleges, students, ministers, missionaries, and laypeople.
As you read Scripture, it won’t take too long before you encounter references to people, places, and things that might seem insignificant, especially in the Old Testament. A quick check in the New Bible Dictionary can provide the insights needed to know why the biblical author included particular details, keeping you from becoming lost or confused. Having this dictionary handy will help deepen your understanding and appreciation of God’s Word and all its people, places, customs, things, and events, from Aaron to Zion.
We live in an incredible age where we have easy access to more Bible study resources than we know what to do with. These four relatively affordable books are truly a blessing and will not only increase your knowledge of Scripture but your appreciation for and delight in it. Skip a few trips to your favorite coffee shop or restaurant and pick up these Bible study resources!
Mitch Bedzyk serves as a teacher and worship leader at Elmira Christian Center. He received his Master of Theological Studies from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and works in IT for the NY Office of Mental Health. He and his wife, Sarah, have five children. In his spare time he enjoys reading, coffee, guitar, following the Bundesliga and MLS, and playing fantasy soccer. You can follow him @mitchbedzyk