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How to Better Learn the Bible: 3 Tips on Choosing the Right Resources for You
All things being equal, the more you read, the more you'll be able to help people.
—Gary T. Meadors, Editor of Moving Beyond the Bible to Theology
How do you learn about the Bible?
Do people ask you questions about the Bible?
Hopefully you know some knowledgeable, trustworthy people who can answer your Bible questions — or who can at least point you in the right direction. But if we rely solely on others for our Bible knowledge, we're probably hampering our own spiritual growth.
So how do you “go deep” and get beneath the surface of Scripture? The bookstores and websites you visit have such a wide selection of Bible reference tools, the sheer number and variety can be overwhelming — especially when you’re unsure which ones you really need.
If all the Bible reference options leave you feeling a little intimidated, you're not alone.
Here are three tips to help you find and select the right reference books for you.
1) Determine Your Needs
What are your reasons for seeking Bible study tools? It’s important to ask yourself how you plan to use these tools:
- Do you plan to join a group study?
- Will you begin a systematic personal study on a biblical topic or book of the Bible?
- Are you just looking for answers to your occasional questions about the Bible?
After you determine why you need Bible reference tools, you need to determine what you need. Here are three things to keep in mind when choosing tools to meet your Bible study needs:
- Begin with the basics. If you’re fairly new to using Bible reference tools, you may want to start with the basics: a Study Bible (here's an example) and books from the Core Reference Library mentioned below. From there, you can expand your library as your needs change.
- Consider physical appearance. While it might seem odd, how a book looks and “feels” may also be a factor in your choice. Pleasant page designs, rather than cluttered and confusing ones, matter when it comes to aiding your study. A nice binding and jacket will ensure your references last through years of wear.
- Select for your translation preference. Choose reference books that are designed with your Bible translation in mind. This is important because different translations use different words, which impacts the contents of reference works. So if you use an NIV Bible, you are best served by NIV-based reference books.
2) Understand Your Options
There are many options of Bible reference book, and some people find this overwhelming. It's easier to make a decision when you realize that most of your options fall into just a few categories. These categories represent works that will make up your Core Reference Library:
- Bible Handbook—An overview of the Bible arranged in the order of the books, providing background, commentary, illustrations, and topical and historical notes. See Example
- Topical Bible—A guide to relevant subjects addressed in the Bible, listing the most important verses where the topic is found. See Example
- Concordance—A dictionary of sorts that lists common words found in the Bible and shows where they occur, enabling you to do word studies and locate verses. See Example
- Bible Dictionary—A resource that expands your understanding, giving you more detailed information about people, places, words, and events in the Bible. See Example
- Commentary—A single-volume work or series that explains the meaning of Bible passages with clarity and depth. Examples: Single Volume, Series
This may take some pressure off, too: remember that you're not making a lifetime decision! All you need to do is find the reference tools that meet your needs for now.
3) Get Recommendations
Finally, ask a few people you respect for recommendations. Your pastor, student director, or professors from a local seminary can recommend the right resources to fit you needs.
But remember, not everyone thinks or studies in the same way. Explain how you plan to use the resources, and your comfort level with the Bible, to help someone recommend books that meet your needs.
Bookstores can provide great recommendations. Bookstore staff or websites can often point you to the most helpful and popular references. Whether online or at brick-and-mortar stores, look for tools that answer the kinds of questions you are likely to ask, and for books that are organized in a way that makes sense to you.
Browse a few different options before you decide. Read the back of the book and the inside flaps; also make sure the inside lives up to the claims on the cover. Skim the table of contents and spend some time browsing in the book. Using the “Look Inside” feature at online retailers is an invaluable way to find the right reference book for your Bible study needs.
We hope these tips will help take the stress and confusion out of finding and choosing the right reference books for you. If you need a place to start filling out your Core Reference Library, here are a handful of resources to get you started:
- Study Bibles:
- The new NIV Exhaustive Concordance, third edition, General Editor: John R. Kohlenberger III, releases 3/31/15
- The Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible, which is essentially a beefed-up, illustrated Bible dictionary
- Halley's Bible Handbook, the latest edition released 9/9/14
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