There was a Dutch Scholar who once said, “When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes.”
While we might not agree with the order of his priorities, I think we could all agree that growing in knowledge and particularly biblical knowledge is a worthy investment. In the last canonical letter that he ever wrote, the apostle Paul requested two things for himself, a cloak to warm his body and books to warm his soul. Listen to his last wishes just days before his execution…
2 Timothy 4:13 When you come bring the cloak which I left at Troas with Carpus, and the books, especially the parchments.
Is it too much to assume that the books Paul requested were spiritual in nature? A dying man hardly needs to be entertained by fiction and fantasy. Our souls are comforted and warmed by the understanding of Scripture. As Psalm 19 says…
Psalm 19:8 The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart;
To that end, I would like to offer a few resources that I would recommend investing in, if you haven’t done so already. This is a short list and Lord willing in another post I’ll add to it. Below are some basic resources you should think about owning as a part of your biblical library, in addition to a good reading Bible of course J.
1) A Study Bible
This is like a one stop shop for Bible Study. A good study Bible will give you historical introductions to every book of the Bible, explanatory comments on virtually every passage, maps to help you figure out where certain events took place and helpful cross references to correlate various passages to each other. It’s one of my first stops when I am starting a new book of the Bible.
My favorite Study Bible is the MacArthur Study Bible, which won’t come as a surprise to many of you, but I also use the ESV Study Bible, which is a close runner up and the Reformation Study Bible.
2) A Bible Survey or Bible Introduction
For more detailed introductory information, I often turn to a Bible Survey or Introduction. An easy to understand and accessible volume is Talk Thru the Bible by Bruce Wilkerson and Kenneth Boa. They include helpful charts for you to get an overview of a book at a glance and a more detailed outline of the sections contained in the book. You will find information on the Author, Date of writing, as well as the Theme and Purpose of writing.
The other introductions I frequently use are authored by D. Edmond Hiebert and Donald Guthrie.
3) A Bible Encyclopedia
So who were the Hittites? What is a Millstone? What is a Centurion? You could just pray and hope that these answers will drop out of the sky (you might be waiting for a while) or you could turn to a resource that will give you information based on historical research. Bible Encyclopedias provide a wealth of information on all kinds of things that we wouldn’t be able to learn by osmosis.
I often use the 4-volume International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. I also refer to the 4-volume Bible Encyclopedia produced by Baker. A less expensive option that offers some of the same help in a condensed form is a good Bible Dictionary like the New Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Merrill F. Unger happened to be a Baltimore Native).
4) An Exhaustive Bible Concordance
What was that verse again? Have you ever been racking your brain for a verse but can only remember 2-3 words from that verse? Or have you ever wanted to read every verse on the Seraphim but didn’t know where to start? An Exhaustive Bible Concordance will give you every word in the entire Bible. The classic Concordance is the Strong’s but there are also others out there (and yes I know you can probably do the same thing on internet sites like Bible Gateway). The cool thing about a Strong’s Concordance is that it assigns numbers to each Greek and Hebrew word. So for instance, if there happened to be more than one Greek word for “love” (which there are) and there just happened to be a verse where more than one Greek word for love was used (and there is) you would be able to know exactly which word is which.
5) A Single, Double or Multiple-Volume Commentary on the entire Bible.
Commentaries are not meant to be a replacement for your own study of the Word of God but rather an enhancement for the study of God’s Word. Sometimes I’ll hear people say, “I don’t use commentaries, because the Holy Spirit is my teacher.” My next question for them might be “And where did you learn that?” And the answer is “from the Bible, which was written by a man the Lord used to teach that.” That same Bible also tells us that God has appointed teachers in the church (1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4:11). My point is, the Holy Spirit uses people. And why wouldn’t you want to benefit from someone who has labored for hours over the very text you are trying to understand?
One of the best purchases I’ve ever made and that I have consistently turned to for over 25 years is the 2-volume Expositor’s Bible Commentary set. It is well worth the investment. It is written by solid conservative scholars and is the abridged version of the multi-volume Expositor’s Bible Commentary, which provides expanded commentary on each book of the Bible.
I would also recommend the Tyndale Bible Commentary on the Old and New Testament. The Old Testament is particularly excellent in this series. MacArthur has also produced a commentary on every book of the New Testament (the only living author to accomplish this task).
One Volume Commentaries are usually just a notch above a Study Bible, so if you already own a Study Bible, I would just go for the 2-Volume Expositor’s Commentary but I have found help from the single volume Wycliffe Bible Commentary and the Believer’s Bible Commentary.
6) A Good Systematic Theology
Would you be able to offer a sufficient explanation of the Personality, Deity, and Work of the Holy Spirit? What are the differences between His ministry in the Old Testament and the New Testament? To answer a question like this, you could either look up every reference for the Holy Spirit in a Concordance and hope you didn’t leave anything out, or you could turn to a good systematic theology.
I have benefited greatly from Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, even though I have serious disagreement with him over his view of spiritual gifts. A newer Systematic Theology that I am working my way through is Biblical Doctrine edited by John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue (who will be teaching for our marriage get-away next year).
I also refer to the Systematic Theologies by Louis Berkhof, Charles Hodge and John Frame.
7) Word Studies
There are a number of helpful tools for words studies for the English speaker. Prior to Seminary I often used Vine’s Expository Dictionary as well as Vincent’s Word Studies.
For a more advanced study I would recommend the Abridged Single-Volume Theological Dictionary of the New Testament as well as the Dictionary of New Testament Theology. For the Old Testament I would recommend the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament and the New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis.
8) Devotional Reading
Not only is it important to study Scripture well, it’s also important to study yourself as well. Many Puritan and Reformed authors didn’t just examine the Scriptures, they also examined their own lives because they wanted God to search their hearts.
As the Psalmist said
Psalm 26:2 Examine me, O LORD, and try me; Test my mind and my heart.
Psalm 139:23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts
Books that have convicted me and warmed my own heart have been books like:
Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions by Arthur Bennet
The Existence and Attributes of God by Stephen Charnock
And pretty much all of the Puritan Paperbacks by Banner of Truth or the volumes put out by Soli Deo Gloria.
There is rich food for the soul contained in these works, which I am thankful has not been lost to history.
9) Biographical Reading and Church History
I could have included Biographies and Church History under the Devotional category, because that’s how they minister to me but it deserves it’s own category.
God’s faithfulness in the past offers us incredible encouragement for the future. A great introductory volume on Church History is Sketches from Church History by S.M. Houghton. I have also used Church History in Plain Language by Bruce Shelley among others.
I have also been blessed by a number of Biographies. One that I have often turned to is the Life and Diary of David Brainerd. Brainerd was an 18th century American missionary who ministered among the Delaware Indians of New Jersey. He died from tuberculosis, at the young age of 29 and his writings help set my gaze on things above.
Okay, I know I said it would be a short list and please believe me, this is a short list. There is so much more I would want to share but what I mentioned above would be enough to feed your soul for years to come.
If you have a little money and you don’t own a small library of Biblical and Theological works, I would consider these books. If you have any money left over, buy food and clothes.
In Christ Alone,