By Allen Rea
Occasionally, though not as often as I’d like, I’m asked how to start a good Bible study library. You do not need thousands of volumes to study the Bible; if you will invest in a few volumes and spend a lot of time in them, then you will grow. When it comes to study tools, you want to deal with quality rather than quantity. Please allow me to walk you through a few necessities.
The one non-negotiable tool for Bible study is the Holy Spirit. It is very wise to always pray asking God to teach you every time you open the Bible. Remember that you are about to read a Book without contradiction or error.
Amazingly enough, you need a Bible for Bible study. Bible study will not happen with a Sunday school book or a book about the Bible. You need a Bible. I will not enter into a translation debate here, but I have a strong personal preference for the New King James Version. Study Bibles with voluminous notes can be a hindrance in the sense that the notes distract from the Bible itself. Remember that the notes are not infallible; the Bible is. Therefore, a Bible that has cross-references is your best friend. I cannot more highly recommend the Scofield Reference Bible and the Thompson Chain Reference Bible. The latter is more pricey but will last a lifetime. If, however, you do want a study Bible that is saturated with notes, my recommendation would be the Ryrie Study Bible.
Next, you will need a concordance. While many Bibles possess a concordance, these are abbreviated. Concordances, though massive, can be bought very cheaply and will be something that you use daily. You can buy concordances based on the translation you are using; however, there are two that I would recommend: Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance and Cruden’s Concordance. You will also want the Bible student’s prized possession, R.A. Torrey’s The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, which has every cross-reference for each verse in the Bible.
Though not as popular as they once were you can still find Bible study handbooks. You cannot find one better or more conservative than Halley’s Bible Handbook—a small volume packed with an amazing amount of information.
What about commentaries? We must be careful that commentaries do not become a crutch. We are to be students of the Bible, not students of men’s comments on the Bible. However, we are wise to find value in the records of what God has taught others. Be warned, however, that not all commentaries are equal. If a commentator does not believe the Bible is the Word of God, then I will not give him the time of day. Among my favorite conservative Bible commentators are J. Vernon McGee, Oliver B. Greene, John R. Rice, and Zane Hodges.
You may also want to listen to sermon series on books of the Bible from pastors. A pastor that practices expository preaching (i.e., preaching verse-by-verse through books of the Bible) can offer you a running verbal commentary. Again, pay no man any mind who does not unapologetically stand on the infallibility, inerrancy, and sufficiency of Scripture. Commentaries should be used only after you’ve spent time in the Word yourself.
The last resource is one that only you can provide—time. Turn off the television, and open the Bible. You cannot obey 2 Tim 2:15 without taking the time to make Bible study a daily reality for yourself. If you invest in the resources and put in the time, you will be an admirable Bible student. Let’s get to work!
Allen Rea is pastor of Higgston Baptist Church in Ailey, Ga.