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What are the best tools for studying Scripture?

Dr. Jim Denison is the CEO of Denison Forum.
His Daily Article and podcast globally reach over 160,000 subscribers. Dr. Denison guides readers to discern today’s news—biblically. He is the author of multiple books and has taught on the philosophy of religion and apologetics at several seminaries. Prior to launching Denison Forum in 2009, he pastored churches in Texas and Georgia. He holds a Ph.D and a Master of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Jim and his wife, Janet, live in Dallas, Texas. They have two sons and four grandchildren.

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Best tools to study Scripture

As you prepare to make a daily time alone with God a priority in your life, you may have wondered what resources could further help your Bible study.

The Lord has led scholars to devote their lives to developing tools and resources that are invaluable in helping you understand his word more effectively.

Study Bibles

The Scofield Study Bible was the first popular English Bible to include explanatory notes at the bottom of the page. Since its advent, a variety of such Bibles have become available. They function as a kind of mini-commentary on the Scriptures, giving you a one-book resource library with explanations, charts, maps, and other resources.

Excellent study Bibles include the NIV Study Bible and the English Standard Version Study Bible.

Commentaries

There are two kinds of biblical commentaries: exegetical and devotional. An exegetical commentary will focus more directly on the meaning of the words and syntax of Scripture, while a devotional commentary will focus more on the meaning of the text for your life today.

Outstanding exegetical commentaries include the Word Biblical Commentary, the Expositor’s Bible Commentary, the Tyndale Bible Commentary, the Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, and the Anchor Bible Commentary. The classic devotional commentary is Matthew Henry’s Bible Commentary; though it is more than two centuries old, it is still popular today.

Individual commentaries on specific books of the Bible are also available and are often the most scholarly tools available on their subject. The classic New Testament commentary is William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible Series. While written from a theological viewpoint that is sometimes less consistent with conservative evangelical thought, it contains outstanding historical and exegetical insights.

Many commentaries and study Bibles are now available electronically, to be downloaded on your computer or reading device. They are often less expensive and easier to utilize in this format.

Concordances

This tool lists every occurrence of a particular word in Scripture. It can help you find a specific verse when you only know a few of its words and can help you study a word in its various biblical references. Strong’s Concordance and Young’s Concordance are two classic and popular examples.

Dictionaries and encyclopedias

These resources provide you with articles on various biblical words and subjects and can give you excellent insights into the historical context of a specific topic. The distinction between the two is that encyclopedias typically provide longer articles on their subject than dictionaries.

Good dictionaries include the Tyndale Bible Dictionary and Holman Bible Dictionary. Excellent encyclopedias include the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia and the Anchor Bible Dictionary.

Atlases

All good study Bibles provide some maps of Scriptural locations and events, but atlases give you the best variety. The Oxford Bible Atlas and Holman Bible Atlas are excellent tools.

Topical Bibles

This resource is similar to a concordance except that it provides texts that relate to a topic, even if they do not contain the specific word you are studying. For instance, a topical Bible will give you a variety of references to the theme of “crucifixion,” including those passages that speak of Jesus’ death but do not use the word crucifixion itself. Popular topical Bibles include Nave’s Topical Bible and the Thompson Chain-Reference Bible.

Digital resources

A number of websites have been developed to provide some of the tools we have been discussing. A good online concordance is www.biblegateway.com; a good resource for some commentaries and other tools is www.blueletterbible.org.

The purpose of Bible study

In this article, we’ve surveyed biblical study helps. These are important tools to help us better understand God’s Word. However, no work of human knowledge can replace the leadership of the Holy Spirit. You must first depend on him for guidance. Only then, as he leads, should you turn to the work and wisdom of others.

Martin Luther, one of the most influential preachers and commentators in church history, made this point well. Let’s close with his statement, drawn from personal experience:

When I was young, I read the Bible over and over again and was so perfectly acquainted with it, that I could, in an instant, have pointed to any verse that might have been mentioned. I then read the commentators, but I soon threw them aside, for I found therein many things my conscience could not approve, as being contrary to the sacred text. ‘Tis always better to see with one’s own eyes than with the eyes of other people.

The purpose of Bible study is to help you see God in his Word, through your own eyes, so that you might know him more personally. Study tools, while valuable, can never substitute for your own work.

The more personal your study, the more personal your faith will be.

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