Friday, June 8, 2012

Ten Tools for Bible Study

SCRIPTURE: 2 Timothy 4:13
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: 8 June 2012

"When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments." (2 Timothy 4:13)
This is the concluding part of a 4-part series on Bible Studies. The information offered is brief and not meant to be exhaustive.

In the days of Paul, there is no convenient A4 or letter size papers. Neither are there emails, Internet connections, and convenient technological tools we are used to seeing. In those days, words are either spoken or handwritten, not typed or printed. Books are not nicely bound like what we see in bookstores or libraries. Instead, documents and letters are handwritten or inscribed on membranes, skins of animals, cloth, or wood-based papyrus.  Information is written on individual garments or membranes, then folded together or stitched to form a "codex." Sometimes, instead of stitching different pieces together, a long scroll is used which can be rolled in or out. The Apostle Paul has apparently written on scrolls, and he needs Timothy to bring them all to him. Like us, Paul needs tools for his ministry. Clothes to keep warm,  friends as companions for his missionary journeys, and written materials for his ministry.

Last week, a good friend sent me a personal message asking about how to help a group of retirees study the Bible. I did not give a fuller description as I was busy with other matters. For this week, I thought it would be good to complete this four-part series on Bible studies with a brief survey of ten tools for Bible study.

1) A Good Bible

Personally, I recommend at least three Bibles. I will be concentrating on mainly English translations.

NIV Student Bible
My favourite study Bible is the New American Standard Bible. I like it for its literal word for word translation. It is close to the original languages and faithfully translated in the evangelical tradition. The second Bible I recommend is a thought-for-thought translation. This can be either the New Living Translation (NLT) or the MESSAGE (MSG). Somewhere in the middle between a word-for-word and a thought-for-thought is the New International Version (NIV), which I included mainly because of its popular usage. For this, I want to particularly highlight the NIV Student Bible which I feel is a good resource for Bible study. (Click here to read my review of that.)

2) Atlas

Nothing beats understanding the biblical world geography than a good map. This is where atlas comes in especially handy. Most publishers have produced an atlas under their label. Moody Publishers gave The Moody Atlas of Bible Lands, and Zondervan's Pictorial Bible Atlas are good resources. While not exactly an atlas, one of the more recent visual Bibles that come with maps is "The Complete Visual Bible." You can read my review here. It gives readers a visual appreciation of each book of the Bible.

3) Bible Software

The world is going increasingly digital, no doubt about that. There is a number of Bible study software that stand out. For the Apple Mac OS X platform, I highly recommend Accordance Bible software. For Windows OS, I recommend either the Logos version or the Bibleworks.  Due to the rising popularity of tablets and mobile platforms, many of these Bible software manufacturers are making Android or iPad versions. My favourite is still Accordance.

There are basically three levels of Bible software that you can use. At the first level, often the cheapest level, general Bible studies, you can choose from English Bible translations with many digital Bible tools to come with it. The second level is often called the Leader's edition, which is a bit more expensive, there are many resources to aid the leader, the pastor, or the small group facilitator. The third level is the scholar's level which comes with lots of indepth materials about archaeology, vernacular translations, the Vulgate, Hebrew-Aramaic, Greek Bibles, and plenty of hardcore Bible references. Needless to say, this third level is often the most expensive. Many offer a basic download where users can add on as they go.

For the layperson, I recommend the Logos Bible Software, which I believe has both the Mac as well as the Windows version.

4) Commentaries

NICOT and NICNT are available in Logos
The number of commentaries continue to grow annually. On the one hand, while single volume commentaries are more convenient, they sacrifice depth for brevity. On the other hand, there are Encyclopedia Brittanica like commentaries that can occupy one's entire bookshelf! The digital option is a good way to go, but it takes some getting used to. That said, here are three for you to consider. The Bible Knowledge Commentary by the faculty of Dallas Theological Seminary, the NICOT (OT) and NICNT (NT) series of commentaries on the whole Bible, and the one-volume Interpreter's commentary, edited by Charles Laymon.

5) Concordance

In an age of computer based software, heavy lifting concordances are being replaced by the more efficient word or phrase search in the software. Even as the concordance becomes increasingly marginalized, for the sake of oldtimers, try Strong's Concordance that often comes with the lexicons from the original languages. It can be accessed online here.

6) Bible Handbooks

Handbooks are meant to be used as a convenient guide. They are more like a guide with a little bit of everything tool. Since my early years as a Christian, I have been using Halley's Bible Handbook, graciously given to me by a dear brother in Christ. Others include the Unger's Bible Handbook, and Eerdman's Handbook to the Bible.

7) Bible Dictionaries

Ever stumble across a Bible place, word, or item that completely baffles you? A good way to go about understanding it is through the use of Bible dictionaries. The classic Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament words by A E Vines is valuable if we want to understand the nuances of the original words.

Another way to circumvent the use of dictionaries is to use multiple translations, or the parallel Bible. By reading wide translations, there is a more than 90% chance you will understand the meaning of the word according to the translation contexts.

8) Bible Helps

Books that focus on how to read the Bible are excellent resources. I highly recommend three. The first is "Living by the Book" by Howard and William Hendricks. This book teaches how to read, to interpret, and to apply the Bible. The second is "How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth" by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart. The third is an extremely helpful "How to Read the Bible Book by Book," also by Fee and Stuart.

I know, I know, Gordon Fee is from Regent-College. Call me biased. Check out the books and you will see what I mean.

9) Bible Study Groups

As much as there are resources for individual study, I believe studying together in groups is still one of the best ways to learn the Bible. If you are already in one, be faithful. If you are not in one, look for one. Otherwise, you will be missing out on one of the best tools for Bible study.

10) Original Languages (Advanced)

If you are a scholar, you need at least some tools to study the Bible in Greek or in Hebrew. For Greek, you need the complete text of the Greek translation, the Nestle-Aland, 27th edition, preferably with apparatus and tagging. Choose a Greek language lexicon to accompany your Greek text. For Hebrew studies, choose the Hebrew text called the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, commonly known as the BHS. Likewise, get a Hebrew lexicon.


Copyright by SabbathWalk. This devotional is sent to you free of charge. If you feel blessed or ministered to by SabbathWalk weekly devotionals, feel free to forward to friends, or to invite them to subscribe online at . You can also send me an email at for comments or enquiries.


  1. I would edit. . MULTIPLE good bibles. No one translation got it all perfect. we are blessed with lots of good translations. We do well to use them.

    Josh Hunt

  2. Hi Josh,

    I agree with you. In Bible school, I was taught to have a minimum of 7. Having said that, I was aiming at a more general lay audience when I suggested at least 3. It encourages readers to go beyond just 1 translation, and at the same time, not limiting them to three.

    The other concern I have is the possibility of being distracted by the translations so much that we unconsciously miss out the Word itself. Anyway, that is for another day.

    Thank you again for your contribution.