Bible study tools

With the advent and growth of the internet, many tools previously available only to clergy have come within easy reach of the lay Bible student. Listed below are just a few of the tools with a description of their uses. Most, if not all, of them are available in various media formats.

Word of caution: The information found in these tools is not the same as what is available for free online. While it may be quick and easy to google “definition of propitiation”, the result will not necessarily be written from a Christian viewpoint, much less from the mind of an expert. Using tools produced by reputable Christian scholars is invaluable.

Study Bible – A study Bible is one that has extra-biblical information. That is, in addition to the books of the Bible, they may have separate sections with the some or all of the following information: a limited concordance, glossary, topical concordance, cross-reference system, commentary, tables of weights and measures, applications, maps, introductions, archaeological data, and visual aids.

Exhaustive concordance – Bible students can use an exhaustive concordance to look up exact words that appear in Scripture. If, for instance, you know a verse contains the words “under the law”, you could look up “under” or “law” and find all the instances that word appears in Scripture to locate the verse. The exhaustive concordance is the equivalent of using quotation marks in a web search; it will list passages that contain the exact word you look up. Compare to a topical concordance, below. Some concordances are more comprehensive than others.

Topical concordance – Unlike an exhaustive concordance, a topical concordance is used, as the name implies, to search the Bible for a topic. The word “euthanasia” never appears in the Bible, but many verses speak to the topic. By default, some level of interpretation is involved in generating the list, so topical concordance content varies greatly from author to author.

Bible Atlas – The serious Bible student will want to have available maps of Bible lands. An atlas will include maps of the areas talked about in the Bible, showing things like the territory of the 12 tribes of Israel, Paul’s missionary journeys, Solomon’s kingdom, and the layout of the city of Jerusalem, just to name a few.

Bible dictionary – Many words have different meanings in the Bible when compared with the way they are commonly used (i.e., “hope” and “grace”). In addition, there are some words used in Scripture that are rarely used outside Christendom (i.e., “propitiation” and “atonement”). A Bible dictionary gives the Christian definition of words and sometimes, rather than just listing a meaning, explains difficult concepts or doctrines in multiple paragraphs.

Bible encyclopedia – An encyclopedia gives information on people, places, customs, events and subjects that impact the understanding of the Bible.

Commentary – Commentary is man’s interpretation of God’s Word, usually broken down passage-by-passage or verse-by-verse. Often written by one person, commentary can range from one book that covers the whole Bible to voluminous sets of 40 books or more. The latter, while extremely in-depth and informative, can be quite costly. Commentary is a useful tool for finding out what biblical scholars have to say about a particular passage.

Lexicon – Since all English Bibles are translations, a lexicon is helpful for investigating words originally used in Hebrew and Greek manuscripts. Knowledge of the original language is not necessary, and lexicons can unlock beautiful patterns and ideas that do not necessarily come across in translation.