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Tools for Personal Bible Study
Resources for Enriching Your Study of God's Word
Evangelical Christians believe that the Bible is our sole "rule of
faith." That is, the Bible alone is our authority for
determining correct doctrine. This principle of sola
scriptura presupposes that the Bible is clear and
understandable by the average person when it speaks about essential Christian
beliefs. This is not to say that there are not "hard
sayings" in the Bible, but rather that essential doctrine will not be
presented in a single, obscure verse or passage. It also does not
mean that hard work is not sometimes required to arrive at a correct
interpretation of Scripture (2 Timothy 2:15). Over the centuries,
certain principles of interpretation have been developed to help us
"rightly divide the Word of truth." The discipline that
defines these principles is Hermeneutics. See here
for a general introduction to hermeneutics.
We are fortunate to live in the times that we do, for we have the benefit of the collective scholarship of gifted teachers and Bible scholars that have preceded us. Many of these teachers have written works of great learning that can enrich our study of God's Word. These works are, of course, not inspired and discernment is always necessary. However, by using some or all of these tools, we can achieve a deeper understanding of Scripture and - with the illumination of the Holy Spirit - gain a proper understanding of the essentials of our Faith as declared by God in His Word.
The following list is not meant to be exhaustive. It it merely a starting point - a few tools that I have found useful (in some cases, extremely so!) in my personal studies.
Comparing translations can often help us understand difficult or ambiguous passages of Scripture. Remember that all translations are ultimately the work of men, well-intentioned and scholarly though they may be.
Word for Word Equivalent Translations:
New American Standard Bible
New King James Version
King James (or Authorized) Version
English Standard Version
Dynamic Equivalent Translations:
New International Version
Young's Literal Translation
These translations provide the Hebrew or Greek text, a literal translation just above or below the original language, and often a common translation (such as the KJV) in the margin.
The Interlinear Hebrew-English Old Testament (Zondervan)
The Interlinear NASB-NIV Parallel New Testament In Greek and English (Zondervan)
New Living Translation
Bible Handbooks usually offer concise background information on Bible history, geography, culture, and people. They often contain introductions and summaries of every book in the Bible.
Halley's Bible Handook
Bible Dictionaries define common Biblical terms.
Smith's Bible Dictionary
Holman Bible Dictionary
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testaments
Topical Bibles provide verse references arranged by topic. For example, if you wanted to see all the verses dealing with marriage, you could consult a topical Bible index for a list of those verses.
Nave's Topical Bible
Concordances are keyed to a specific Bible translation. You can use a concordance to see what Hebrew or Greek word is "behind" an English word, and then see a list of most or all verses containing that word. Many study Bible's have abridged concordances in the back. The 'standalone' concordances offer more words and verse references. There are three levels of concordances: Concise; Complete; and Exhaustive. Concordances also typically number every word found in the associated translation - the most common numbering scheme being Strong's. This number can be helpful in using more advanced language tools that are keyed to Strong's.
As the name implies, a concise concordance is smaller than other concordances. It may lack some words or verse references, but its small size makes it convenient to use.
A complete concordance contains an entry for every word in the associated translation (with the usual exceptions of "a," "and," "or," "but," etc.). However, a complete concordance may not list all verse references for a given word.
As you have probably guessed, an exhaustive concordance lists every word and every verse reference. In practice, this is the most useful type of concordance, and if you only have one in your library, make it an exhaustive, keyed to your favorite translation.
The Strongest Strong's Exhaustive Concordance (keyed to the KJV)
The NASB Exhaustive Concordance
A lexicon is similar to a foreign language dictionary in that it provides English translations of Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek words found in the Scriptures. Some lexicons are key to English translations; others use transliterated Greek with English cross-references; others use Greek letters, which require at least a knowledge of the Greek alphabet to use.
Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testament
English words from the KJV, provides transliterated Hebrew or Greek, Strong's Number, and brief definition.
Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Abridged)
Transliterated Greek words with English index. Provides definitions summarized from the multi-volume TDNT (see below).
The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon: Coded with Strong's Concordance Numbers
Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Code with Strong's Concordance Numbers
Vocabulary of the Greek Testatment, JH Moulton and G Milligan
A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Bauer, Ardnt, Gingrich & Danker (2nd or 3rd Edition)
Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains, Louw & Nida
Bible Software comes in all price ranges, from free to over $1000. Even inexpensive Bible Software usually combines some or all of the resources listed above. For intermediate-to-advanced work with original language versions of the Bible, a software package like one of these is essential - whether or not you are well-versed in the original languages themselves. In fact, a good software package with original language support is a great way to learn!