At the end of a recent post, I mentioned that all Christians should have a basic Christian library of reference type books for studying and understanding the Bible. I am talking basic here. Not everyone needs hundreds of books like me! Nor do you need as many books as the pastor of a church or a Bible professor. But rather 5 to 7 books that can be used to help you understand the Bible, verify information, and clarify beliefs. Here is a list of suggestions, all geared toward everyday people, for starting a little shelf of helpful books on the Bible and Christianity:
- Own 1 or 2 study Bibles. (A devotional Bible is NOT a study Bible.) I love my classic Ryrie study Bible but many study Bibles are available. A study Bible just contains extra notes and commentary, that is not simply devotional, but designed to help you better understand the text.
- A book on how to read and understand the Bible for yourself. A variety of good ones are available, such as Living by the Book by Howard Hendricks -or- How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Fee and Stuart.
- A 1 or 2 volume Bible commentary that covers all the books of the Bible. A commentary has introductory information on each book of the Bible, and then takes you through the entire book offering explanatory comments on the verses. Several options: The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Nelson’s Bible Commentary, and The Believers Bible Commentary. They are for everyday people, and not too scholarly.
- A Bible Dictionary, which is just what it says it is – a dictionary of the people, places, and special words found in the Bible. Most Bible dictionaries are illustrated with photos or pictures. Such as this one: Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary.
- A Bible doctrine book, not a systematic theology. A doctrine book is briefer than a systematic theology, and provides an introduction to Christian doctrine or beliefs. Some options: Basic Theology by Charles Ryrie, Bible Doctrine by Wayne Grudem, or Introducing Christian Doctrine by Millard Erickson. I like how Grudem has content and applicational questions to help you understand the material.
- A Bible atlas which provides maps and information on the lands and places of the Bible. A better grasp of geography can really help certain Bible stories come to life and make more sense. Such as: Holman Bible Atlas.
Reference books can be expensive, but not necessarily, if you keep your eyes open and shop thrift shops, used book stores, used online, etc. For example, I recently found a like-new Nelson’s Bible Dictionary for only $1 at a community garage sale! I found my like-new Holman Bible Atlas for $10 at a local used book store. Once I saw the OT volume of The Bible Knowledge Commentary, missing its dust jacket, but otherwise in good condition for $1 at a local thrift store. (I do live in the Bible Belt where conservative Christian books are more likely to stumble upon.)
After the books above, I would recommend some basic books on church history, inter-testamental history, and the historical Jesus. (Yes, there are basic or introductory books on these topics that can be complex. But that would be another post.)
Maybe in the New Year of 2016 you can make it a goal to acquire a selection of these books and begin to use them.
Be curious! If your pastor preaches a sermon on a certain text, go home and dig a bit further: Read the introduction to the said book of the Bible in a study Bible or a Bible commentary. If the text covered involved a certain place, look it up in the Bible Atlas. If a certain doctrine was mentioned, look it up in the Bible doctrine book.