I remember the first time I started to study the Bible seriously. I was still a new-ish Christian. I’d been regularly reading my Bible and beginning to wrap my head around some parts while my confusion around others grew. (Which never changes, I’ve been assured.) But I wanted to go deeper. To learn more about books that made me extra-curious, like Daniel, Jude, and Revelation (because, of course).
I had my Bible. I was ready to go. But it didn’t take long before I realized I was in over my head.1 And it wasn’t just about the content of the different books I was trying to understand. It was even knowing where to start when it came to finding the right Bible study tools to help me as I went along.
Where do you start with Bible study tools?
What tools should a beginner be looking for? What resources help get someone started, and which ones are overkill? Do we even need tools at all, especially if we have the Holy Spirit in us, who teaches us and guides us to understand God’s Word?
Chances are you’ve asked these questions or been asked them (and more likely, both). As disciples and disciple-makers, we want to grow in our faith and help others to do so as well. Bible study plays a huge role in that. So where do we start? Here are the kinds of study tools I recommend.
A good quality reference Bible
The Bible you study is the most important tool in your toolkit. There are plenty of great translations out there that take different approaches, all with the same end in mind: to communicate the message of Scripture in a way that is faithful to the author’s message and clear for readers today. (Pick one you like to read.)
But one aspect you’ll want to focus on is its references. These are the footnotes pointing to different passages that relate or connect in some way. Learning to use these references matters because it helps you see how the whole Bible works together to share one overarching message, as well as gain insights into one specific passage based on what you read in a related one.
There are plenty available in whatever translation you prefer. Two I recommend from Thomas Nelson Bibles are The NKJV Verse-by-Verse Reference Bible (MacLaren Series) and The NET Single-Column Reference Bible.2
A Bible Dictionary
Bible dictionaries define the words used in the Bible. While not exhaustive, these are very handy to help you understand the significance behind certain places, names, and rituals that are unfamiliar to people today. I like the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Dictionary and the Nelson Illustrated Bible Dictionary a great deal.
A Bible Concordance
While a concordance might look similar to a dictionary at first glance, it has a different purpose. Where a dictionary defines words, a concordance is designed to show you where they appear in Scripture. Many Bibles will include a condensed concordance as part of its supplemental material. But condensed is the keyword. These included concordances do not contain every word, so you’ll want to look for an exhaustive one. I recommend Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, although, again there are plenty of options available.
A Bible Atlas
A Bible Atlas focuses on giving you a better understanding of the geographical landscape of Scripture. This kind of tool is helpful to make sense of the setting of the Bible’s stories. A couple that I like are the Zondervan Atlas of the Bible and the Holman Bible Atlas.
A single-volume Bible commentary (optional)
A single-volume commentary is a good introduction to the world of Bible commentaries. These offer guidance for understanding and applying Scripture for students of any experience level. When it comes to single-volume commentaries, I recommend ones that feature multiple contributors rather than those based primarily on the views of a single individual. The Moody Bible Commentary is a solid option, as is the Believers Bible Commentary.
What about Bible study software?
I love solutions like Logos Bible Software.3 I’ve used Logos at least weekly for over 10 years. It is as close to a must-have in a practiced Bible student’s tool kit as you can get. But I also remember feeling very overwhelmed by it initially. For a beginner, it might be a bit more intense (though they have great starter packages too). Some free and paid solutions that allow you to dip your toes into this space are Bible Gateway Plus and Blue Letter Bible.
Tools to enhance your study experience
Getting started with Bible study can feel overwhelming. This is why Bible study tools are so valuable. A good set of tools helps you understand the more foreign aspects of Scripture. To see how the Bible works together. And, ultimately, to experience a vibrant and lived-out faith.
- Starting with Daniel and Revelation probably wasn’t the smartest move, but what did I know?
- Full disclosure: I work for the publisher, but I recommend these because they’re Bibles I genuinely like.
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