This is a post I’ve had on my “to-do” list for a LONG time now. Many people ask me for tips on how to study the Bible, and how/where to find the answers they need as they are reading. It’s a very common thing (for me and everyone one I know) to be reading along and stumble on a word, a phrase, an idea, a name etc that raises questions, concerns, or curiosity.
So where do you go to find the answers to these questions? Well, I’d like to begin a post here with some sites/books you can use to compliment your Bible Study. I’d imagine that I’ll need to periodically update this post as I find new resources myself – I also intend on starting with a relatively small list and adding as I have time. So here goes…
Bible Overviews and Handbooks
Bible overviews usually take a broad look at whole books, locations, and people in order to distill things into a readable and quick reference. I like:
Wiersbe’s ‘With the Word’ – this is a chapter by chapter summary of the entire Bible. Very cool stuff. Very easy to read.
MacArthur’s Bible Handbook – this book is fantastic. It gives a book by book overview of the entire Bible, including “where is Christ” in every book, an outline of each book, and many other great background and authorship notes. It also has a “tough questions answered” section for each book – very neat and very helpful!
Westminster’s Theological Dictionary – ever wonder what those fancy theological terms mean? Well now you can know! LOL This book is seriously really great. Each definition is only one or two sentences long. Very concise and easy. Very helpful.
New Dictionary of Theology – this is like the Westminster Theological Dictionary, only a little more expanded. It almost reminds me of an encyclopedia. This one is written and edited by Ferguson, Wright, and Packer, so needless to say its VERY good!
What’s in the Bible? – this is a great overview of the entire Bible by R.C. Sproul and Robert Wolgemuth. Its eminently readable, and very helpful if you’re looking to get a quick overview of entire books/sections of biblical history.
Commentaries are probably the most important study resource a Bible Scholar should have on their shelves at home. Commentaries come in a variety of different ways. Some are a collection of notes on each book of the Bible by 1 author (like Calvin or MacArthur), others are a collection of notes on each book by a series of authors, others are simply stand alone notes on one or two particular books of the Bible by 1 author. Some commentaries are expositional and some are more pastoral. The former is focused more on a verse by verse explanation of the text, the latter focuses on the bigger picture only and takes large sections of the text at a time. As you might imagine, commentaries reflect a Biblical theology of the writer, and shouldn’t be taken as “gospel” (so to speak). However, every pastor I know uses commentaries to see what the great Christian men and women thought about the Biblical text long before we were born. Here are some of my favorites (though I may not agree with each person on every point):
Calvin’s Commentaries – these are available online for free and here. These are a blend of pastoral and exegetical. Calvin wrote commentaries on most of the Bible, but some of the OT books are left out, as is Revelation.
Barnes Notes – Albert Barnes wrote these, this is a new testament only. He’s very conservative, and really solid on most every passage. He does a great job of dispelling error and helps you logically sort through the possibilities for difficult verses as well. Really like a lot of his work.
Wiersbe’s Commentary – very pastoral in his approach, this is most of the entire Bible, with a few of the old testament books combined. I enjoy his writing and his overarching points. It’s not a “must have”, but its very helpful on some of the OT books and minor prophets.
Sproul’s Commentary Set – this is very pastor in its approach, and not as in-depth on a verse by vese basis as some of the others. Still, there’s no one with insights quite like R.C. Sproul. Often he has things to say that many of the others simply don’t think of, or are too timid to focus on. He has only done 5 volumes (6 books) thus far. I’ve read through most of all of them (except the Mark edition which I don’t have) and have really enjoyed them thus far.
Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible – great puritan preacher Matthew Henry wrote these notes for teaching his family, not his church. But they have ended up as classics, and show a brilliant depth of understanding, and wonderful heart for God. A blend between exegetical and pastoral style.
Pillar Commentary Set – I’ve used D.A. Carson’s volume on John (which is what this link is for), and have a lot of respect for some of the other authors in this set (some overlap here with the New International Commentary Set). This is a more exegetical/technical commentary set from what I’ve seen. Only New Testament.
MacArthur’s Bible Commentaries – These are very good, very exegetical, and really helpful commentaries. He takes the time to explain words, phrases, and history even larger themes. This is only New Testament though. They can be purchased as a set or individually.
John Stott’s Set – These are edited and partially written (in some cases) by Stott and from what I’ve read thus far they are really solid.
MacArthur Whole Bible Commentary – these are his Study Bible notes (maybe slightly expanded) put into a one volume edition. A good quick resource for getting a grasp of the passage you’re looking at.
The New International Commentary Set – These are very technical and very good. If you’re interested in knowing all the angles, all the background, and all the key view points on each passage of scripture, I’ve found that these are great editions. Leon Morris, Douglass Moo, F.F. Bruce and others wrote each volume. This link is for the NT, but there’s also OT volumes as well.
Vernon McGee’s Commentary – This is very pastoral, very funny and light hearted. He has some good insights, notes, but you won’t get the kind of in-depth education that MacArthur or Carson will provide. He’s also dispensational in his approach to the Scripture, which means that some of his Old Testament comments are a little wacky.
James Montgomery Boice– This is a link to his set. He’s done Daniel, Romans, Acts, and several other books as well. These are probably some of the best pastoral-styled commentaries that I’ve ever read. He and Ryle are probably tied at the top of my favorites list for men who know how to bring out the very best in a passage of scripture.
J.C. Ryle’s Commentary on the Gospels – He only did the gospels, but its worth looking at anyway! Ryle is very pastoral, but also provides a verse by verse analysis in some parts (especially in John). You can also get his Matthew commentary online for free here.
Crossway Classic Series – This is a set of commentaries that form a compilation of many great authors, including Ryle, Calvin, Manton, Henry, Owen, Hodge and more.
Systematic theologies sound more daunting than they really are! A systematic theology is a book that organizes the different theological topics of the Bible and provides a doctrinal overview of each topic. Topics usually range from election, adoption, the incarnation, justification, sanctification, the millenium and much more. These books are heavily influenced by the theology of the person compiling the volume, but most that I’ve read try and offer an objective viewpoint and reason why we believe what we believe. You really only need one or two at most, because they are SO large! However, these are some of the most helpful tools you can have at home for personal study.
Grudem’s Systematic Theology – if you’re going to buy one systematic theology, it should be Grudem’s. I don’t agree 100% with him on the millenium or on the age of the earth, but he’s very very good on just about every other big theological issue. Just a tremendous resource to have at your fingertips.
Michael Horton’s Systematic Theology – I am borrowing this edition at the moment, and unlike some of his other work, I think its a slightly more readable volume. Horton tends to speak in a sort of unnecessary academic vernacular, so if I had to recommend a volume that is readable for the layman, this probably wouldn’t be my first pick. As I read more I’ll add more information here.
Louis Berkhof’s Systematic Theology – This is one that is a classic, and is really good as well. I don’t have as much experience pawing through its pages as some others, but I can’t begin to count the times that Sproul and others have quoted this volume.
CCEL – this is an amazing collection of online commentaries, essays, sermons and more. Calvin, Ryle, Augustine, Edwards and on and on. All of it is here.
Blue Letter Bible – This is probably the best place I’ve found online to look up the Greek and Hebrew meanings of words in Scripture. It’s simply an amazing resource.
Biblos – One of the best parallel Bibles online today. This site is also just simply terrific. You can get commentaries here as well, and there are some language tools available too. What I like most about it is that when you look up a verse, you can immediate see 10 different versions of the verse. There are also pretty decent maps that go along with some of the passages here.
ESV.org – If you don’t own an ESV Study Bible, well, you should. The notes in the ESV are probably the best notes available today. The general editor was JI Packer, and the contributing editors and authors are nothing short of a laundry list sof the finest scholars in the world. It’s been endorsed by just about every major Christian scholar today. If you have the study Bible, you have automatic access to the online study notes, maps, and other goodies. If you don’t, then you can at least read the Bible, but you need the code to sign up and get the study notes. The site also has the ability to plug in MacArthur’s study bible notes as well if you purchase them.