This past weekend, I was blessed to spend the weekend with two of the ladies here from Out of the Ordinary. Persis and Melissa and I, along with some other wonderful sisters, met for a weekend of fellowship, fun and food.
Amid much conversation (there were eight women; you can imagine!), we repeatedly went back to the reality of how much we need Scripture. As we reflected on our challenges, joys, and biblical roles, the consensus was that we desperately need the Word of God.
In keeping with that, I thought I would share some of my favourite resources for bible study. While prepared bible studies are good, sometimes we must come to the word without them, and read on our own; study on our own. Here are some things that I have found useful.
The ESV Study Bible. If you don't like the ESV, you can still benefit greatly from the articles and study notes. Each book of the bible has an outline and introduction that is useful for providing a bit of an overview before reading. Yes, it is big, and no, you may not want to carry it around, but it's a good resource. You can also access it online.
Reading the Bible For All Its Worth, Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart. What I like about this book is that the authors deal very thoroughly with the genres of biblical literature. While there are general principles for all genres of study, there are differences from one to the other which we must take into account. They aslo emphasize the importance of authorial intent. What was the author's purpose for writing? They actually go through bible passages to demonstrate their principles.
Bible Study: Following the Ways of the Word, Kathleen Buswell Nielson. This is an excellent book if you're new to study, and you only want to buy one book. She, too, discusses genres of literature. Her seven questions to ask the text is my favourite part of the book. She also emphasizes why we study, what the Word is, and what the implications are.
40 Questions About Interpreting the Bible, Robert L. Plummer. Each chapter of this book addresses a particular question about biblical interpretation. It focuses on general questions such as "Why is biblical interpretation important?" to more specific questions like "How Do We Interpret Proverbs?" and "Is the Bible Really All About Jesus?" Each chapter finishes with questions for application and understanding, and suggested resources for further study. Books that provide further reading suggestions are always big winners with me.
The Message of the Old Testament, Mark Dever. I really like this volume. I know there is one for the New Testament as well, but I haven't got it yet. Dever provides an overview of the themes and topics found in all of the Old Testament books. It is done in a very pastoral way. Technical commentaries have their place, but biblical teaching from this perspective is also beneficial. I hope to get the New Testament volume at some point.
An Introduction to the New Testament, Douglas Moo and D.A. Carson, Editors. This is a more advanced, more technical approach to introductory work than is Dever's. I like this book for setting the context and discussing possible interpretive issues, but it definitely has a text book feel, so if that's not something you're looking for, don't buy it.
Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem. If you don't want a big, fat book on your shelf, Grudem's Bible Doctrine is a condensed version of this. This book is useful for definitions. There is a glossary in the back which directs the reader to the relevant sections in the book. When we come across bible terms such as sanctification, propitiation, mercy, grace, or whatever, it is always helpful to find clarification. Bible Doctrine is intended for study use, and has excellent questions for discussion for the student who wants to explore something further.
The Let's Study series, by Banner of Truth. These excellent little books are like commentary and study guides in one. There is explanation in them, but there are also good questions to generate study. I think an individual could use these to help her go through a book of the bible on her own if she didn't have someone to study with. I'm using them for reading Galatians and I John.
Concordances. I use the ESV, so I use the Crossway Concordance of the Holy Bible, by William Mounce. It is a very thorough volume. Whatever your version of the bible, find a concordance to help you see how the words you are studying are used in other sections of the bible.
Recommended Commentary page at Ligonier. Ligonier has a page where commentary recommendations are given for every book of the bible. There are some technical recommendations, but they always give something that is for a general reader. I have found their recommendations to be very good. A new series of commentaries, The Reformed Expository Commentary series by P&R, edited by Dan Doriani are really good from the ones I have seen. I have volumes on Acts and Matthew. Dale Ralph Davis is an Old Testament commentator who writes very readable books. They are not cumbersome, but are edifying and helpful. I have his commentary on Joshua, and I found it really helpful. Commentaries are not only good for explaining things to us, but by reading them, we can learn how to interpret from someone who is a scholar and knows his material well.
Two resources I hope to comment on in the future are Dig Deeper by Nigel Beynon and Andrew Sach, and and D.A. Carson's Exegetical Fallacies.
Of course, there is bible software like Logos to help, but I don't know much about those at this point. One certainly doesn't need a huge array of resources, but it is good to gather materials to help us study God's Word, because it will be an ongoing process as we grow in our faith. You don't need to buy everything, but it is at the very least good to have some guidance as how to study and interpret Scripture. We all interpret even if we are not aware of it. The moment we ask ourselves how to apply something, we are interpreting, because we can't apply devoid of meaning. Basic skills to study are useful, and will help us for years to come.