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Reference Books



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.

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   Many of the words  used are outdated, there  are some inaccuracies in the translation (all of which by the way are  addressed in  reference  books), and  is  by  far  the  least  readable  of  the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  The  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 recommend 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.

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,  Smith'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 find it.


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.


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.

Expository Dictionary

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.

Interlinear Bibles

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 occurrences of a word, we can  look up the original Hebrew or Greek  word and find all the occurrences!  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 recommend 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.


Now that we can look up  all the occurrences 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.   From: Michael Dolim - A BIBLE COMPANION copyrighted shareware  software Version 5.0

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Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture on this website was taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION(r). Copyright (c) 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.

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