One of the benefits of living in today’s generation is access to some incredible Bible study tools. Study methods that use to take hours in the past, now only takes minutes. And whether you have had any training, know any Greek or Hebrew, or have a clue what “Aorist, Active, Indicative” is, now means very little with the tools available to help you dive deeper into the Biblical text.
But with so many options and tools available, where do you start?
While there are a bunch of tools available, here are the 3 most important ones everyone should have for their Bible study:
1. Bible Dictionary
Much like a Websters, a Bible dictionary defines terms, places, and people in the Bible. What is helpful is that it often gives you background that you might not otherwise know.
Example: In 2 Samuel 5.3 David is crowned King of Israel in a place called Hebron. If I wanted to find out more about Hebron, I could open a Bible dictionary and discover:
Hebron: meaning “association” or “league.” A major city in the hill country of Judah about nineteen miles south of Jerusalem and fifteen miles west of the Dead Sea. The region is over 3,000 feet above sea level. The surrounding area has an abundant water supply, and its rich soil is excellent for agriculture. According to archaeological research the site has been occupied almost continuously since about 3300 B.C. (Holman Bible Dictionary)
Recommendations: There are some great Bible dictionaries available and sometimes it is helpful to have more than one (each give different nuances – one of the benefits of having Bible software: more on that in another post). Here are some good ones:
- Smith’s Bible Dictionary (probably my preference)
- Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words (another favorite emphasizing the Hebrew and Greek words)
- New Unger’s Bible Dictionary
- Nelson’s Bible Dictionary
- Eerdman’s Bible Dictionary
- Holman Bible Dictionary
There is also a great series by IVP that has tons of great articles and details. These are the ones I like:
- Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels
- Dictionary of Paul and His Letters
- Dictionary of New Testament Background
A concordance gives all the Scripture passages of where a particular word is used throughout the Bible. Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance is probably one of the most popular – and an interesting side note, when Strong began to compile his concordance, there were no computers, so he did it all by hand. So he would work through the Bible and every time he saw a word, he would add it to the appropriate list (that is love and dedication).
There are two different kinds of concordances.
1. English: shows all the passages of an English word.
- Example: “love” – it would show you every passage that contained the word “love” no matter if the Greek word was different.
2. Greek: shows all the passages where a particular Greek word is used.
- Example: “agape” – it would only show you the passages that has the word “agape” and not the other passages for different Greek words for “love”
Note: many exhaustive concordances will show English words in groupings of Greek words. In our example above, if you looked up “love” it would show you all the passages with “love” but group them in the Greek words “agape, phileo, eros, storge.”
Most Bibles have a condensed/short concordance in the back (before the maps). While these are often helpful, they do not contain all the references for each of those words and thus the need for an “exhaustive” (or complete) concordance.
3. Cross Reference System
It has often been quoted that the best Bible commentary is the Bible itself—which is why cross references can be such a valuable tool.
Cross References show other passages that contain similar ideas, thoughts, and words to the passage you are studying. A lot of Bibles come with cross references (often the middle strip separating the two columns of text or as footnotes at the bottom of the page). While some of these are good, often the Bible publisher uses a computer program to find similar words and phrases and includes them whether or not they are relevant to the text or not.
Example: Let’s return to our study in 2 Samuel 5.1-3 with the crowning of David in Hebron. If you were to look up a cross reference for David being crowned in Hebron you would find that 1 Chronicles 11.1-3 has the same story from a different perspective. If we took the phrase “Indeed we are your bone and your flesh” that the Israelites make to David in verse one, several references come up that we could look at for further study: Genesis 29.14, Judges 9.2, and 2 Samuel 19.12-13.
- The absolute best cross reference system is the one you make yourself (more on this in an upcoming post)
- The Treasury of Scriptural Knowledge (book)
- Nelson’s Cross Reference Guide to the Bible
- Dakes Study Bible (not a big fan of the Bible itself or a lot of the study notes but it does have a good cross reference system)
- Online: there are several free resources available online