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by Brian Flewelling on November 16, 2023
Understanding the Bible can feel daunting at times. How do we make sense of stories that are three thousand years old, written in different languages, and under very different circumstances? Here is a list of resources that will help you read the words of the Bible but also understand the historical context of the words that were written.
Hopefully, with practice and knowing a few ground rules, you can be on your way to understanding 85%-90% of what you are reading in the Bible. If you struggle, know that you are not alone. That’s why we have scholars, historians, and pastors who dedicate countless hours to deciphering some of these texts so that you can understand those details that are more difficult to interpret. We believe that you have the capability to grow in understanding God’s truths, receiving his life from his word, and learning to walk in his ways.
1. Bible Translations
Having a Bible translation that is both readable and accurate is extremely important. The original biblical texts in Hebrew and Greek do not change. But the way that we translate them into English—in order to understand them—does change. Today, we are blessed with dozens of English translations of the Bible provided for free on apps like the Holy Bible app. Click here to read an article on Petra’s recommendations for a good Bible translation.
2. A Bible Concordance
A Bible concordance helps you to search for a word, or combination of words, used anywhere in the Bible. It will provide a list of how many times that word is used and all of the chapter and verse references so you can look each of them up. If, for example, you searched the word “redeem” in the NIV, you would find that it occurs 40 times, starting in Exodus 6:6 and ending in Titus 2:14. With digital technology, you can now find free Bible concordances on such websites or apps as Bible Gateway or Olive Tree.
3. A Bible Handbook
A Bible Handbook, like Halley’s or Zondervan’s, provides very broad insight and overview of the different books of the Bible, their focus, their themes, and an introduction to the historical background. A Bible Handbook is arranged in the order of the Bible’s 66 book entries. The latest copyrighted Handbooks are very friendly to look at. Filled with colored pictures, timelines, graphs, and easy-to-understand summaries of entire books or chapters of the Bible. This is a very helpful resource for people trying to understand the bigger picture.
4. A Bible Dictionary or Encyclopedia
A Bible dictionary, such as Nelson’s Illustrated or Eerdmans’s Dictionary of the Bible, is different from a Bible Handbook. A Handbook will focus on the text of the Bible. A dictionary or encyclopedia will provide the historical context of the Bible arranged alphabetically. For example, one entry might discuss the “Plants” found in the land of Israel. Another entry might focus on the “gods” worshipped by the Mesopotamian nations. The most recently copyrighted Bible Dictionaries are also filled with colored pictures, timelines, graphs, and photographs of archeological and Biblical artifacts that help the reader understand the historical time period in which the Bible was written.
5. Old Testament Survey or New Testament Survey
An Old Testament or New Testament survey is more specific than a Bible Handbook. Not only does it introduce the reader to the various books within the Bible, but it will also help the reader understand the different literary genres and how they move God’s truths forward in their various formats of poetry, law, historical narrative, etc. The Survey of the O.T. by Hill and Walton is fantastic and helps the reader understand the Bible in its ancient literary context.
6. Bible Commentaries