|Although we have thought it important to include this page, we should start by emphasising that Confidence in the Word does not stand to benefit financially from your acquisition of any of the items we mention. On this page we simply highlight a number of items we have found helpful at various times. Such advice as we offer is therefore based on our own practical experience.
What we would suggest is that, as your means allow, you should invest in one or two books or software packages, perhaps starting with a study Bible or concordance. Such an investment will repay its cost many times over. (The author has a concordance he bought with a preaching gift nearly 30 years ago, and which is still in constant use!)
There are so many excellent books and software packages to help you read your Bible that it is difficult to know where to begin! Your local Christian bookshop, if you have one, will be only too pleased to help you choose the particular editions that are right for you (and your pocket). What we attempt to do here is to introduce you to some of the most common types of publications.
- The simplest way to think of a concordance is as an index to the Bible. Because, as we have already seen, a word in the Bible can only be understood in its context, a concordance will normally show the phrase in which each occurrence of a word appears. Like dictionaries they come in all shapes and sizes! The most comprehensive type of concordance (called an exhaustive concordance) will include every word in the Bible. Smaller concordances (often referred to as concise or shorter concordances) will include entries only for those instances of the words most often referred to. A complete concordance will show every occurrence of each word it includes, but will omit the less important words.
Larger concordances will often include a lexicon of the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek equivalents of the English words used in Scripture. This can be very helpful as it enables you to see how the translators have used a variety of English words to convey the meaning of the original words in different contexts. Although a lexicon will be arranged according to the alphabet of the language concerned, most include a numerical reference system to enable you to identify the equivalent the English words in their original languages.
- Sometimes called an Expository Dictionary, word studies seek to explain the meaning of those words most frequently found in the Scriptures. Such a book may be based on either the original languages or their English translations. If it is based on English, it will refer you to the original languages, and vice versa.
A word study will give you many fascinating insights into the way the Bible Writers were inspired to give everyday words a new significance when describing spiritual realities, but one which did not do violence to their original secular meaning. Occasionally, the Bible will use such words in their original sense as well as their new one.
Such a word is the Greek word ekklesia, generally translated as church in the New Testament. An ekklesia was an assembly of people in a particular place who were called together for a particular purpose, so its use in the New Testament to describe the Church tells use something very important about it. In particular, it never refers to a building! But in just one chapter the word is also used in its secular sense, when it is applied to the public assembly of the Ephesian citizens (Acts 19:32, 19:39 and 19:41 (NIV)).
- This is somewhat similar to a word study, but will also include accounts of significant events and biographies of leading Bible characters. It will explain the Bible's leading themes, such as salvation and covenant, together with a host of others, such as assurance, atonement, baptism and sacrifice. It will explain the meaning of some of the more obscure references found in the Bible, such as manna and leaven, also the various groups of people such as nazirites, sadducees and pharisees. It will also give useful information about the lands of the Bible and may include some maps and background information to events and situations.
- A comprehensive Bible atlas will not only give maps of the lands of the Bible as they were at the time of Our Lord, but as they were at various times during the whole period covered by the Scriptures. It may also include plans of sites of cities and battles, and show the migration of people, such as Abraham. A map or plan will often help you to visualise an event described in Scripture, such as the division of Canaan between the twelve tribes of Israel, which would otherwise be difficult unless you were familiar with the history and areas concerned.
[The allocation of the land is recorded in detail in Numbers 32:1-42 and 33:50-35:34 and Joshua 13-21). (The latter reference has to be viewed in two sections since the number of verses exceeds those which may be accessed in a single Bible Gateway reference.)]
- A Bible commentary is designed to help you understand the meaning of Scripture in its original context. Such a work will be the result of much research and careful thought on the part of its author, and will invariably build on previous commentaries. However, it may be written from a doctrinal viewpoint which is somewhat different from your own. So, while a good commentary will give a fair review of a range of different interpretations of difficult passages, some may include only one. As with most Bible reference works, commentaries come in a variety of sizes! Some cover the whole Bible or a testament, while others are concerned with just a single book, or group of books (eg the Minor Prophets or the Gospels). Some will deal only with the interpretation of the Bible text (either in English or the original language), while others will draw out contemporary practical or doctrinal implications. A commentary can be most helpful in enabling you to check your own understanding of a particular passage of Scripture against the general consensus of Christian thought. A good commentary will often introduce you to many new aspects of understanding of God's Word.
- A study Bible combines many of the features of a concordance and Bible dictionary. It may also include an atlas and some word studies together with a commentary. The chief merit of a study Bible is that the study aids are designed specifically for the translation used and it is all contained within a single volume. In addition, a study Bible will include centre references or chain references which will enable you to refer to other verses having a bearing on the same subject as the one you are reading. A study Bible is an indispensable aid for thematic Bible reading.
- In addition to the types of reference works we have already mentioned there is a vast range of others available. These include Bible surveys and general introductions, which give an overall view of a book, group of books, testament, or even the entire Bible. Still others will combine the features of one or more of the more specific types and may be described as Bible handbooks or Bible guides. Other general works may deal with particular aspects of the Bible such as doctrine, history, miracles, people, prayers, prophecies and promises. All are intended for a single purpose - to help you to discover the infinite riches of God's Word for yourself.
Just as with printed reference works, there is a a wide variety of Bible software available. Some questions you will need to ask of any prospective purchase are:
- Will it run on my computer?
- How easy is it to use? Can I understand the manual (if there is one)? How helpful are the on-screen helps?
- Am I likely to use all the features it contains, or would something simpler (and less expensive) be sufficient?
- Does it include the complete text of the Bible in the version I use most frequently?
- Does it include the text in the original languages in the edition from which the translators have worked?
- Can it be added to easily?
A comprehensive Bible software package should include:
- The complete text of the Bible in one or more versions (including translators' footnotes and alternative renderings).
- A comprehensive concordance and lexicon, with the ability to search for word combinations as well as single words, in the original languages as well as English.
- A Bible Dictionary or Encyclopaedia.
- An Expository Dictionary.
- One or more Bible Commentaries.
- Maps of the Bible lands.
- The ability to upgrade by adding further translations or reading aids.
Some Bible software packages now include additional features, such as screensavers, interactive games, slide shows and virtual tours of Bible-related countries and buildings. However attractive these may seem, we would urge you to consider them as peripheral to the essential features outlined above, and to judge the package by its usefulness and user-friendliness, rather than its additional features. Do remember that you are buying it to help you read the Bible itself so you may hear the Lord speaking to you through his Word, not merely to acquire interesting information about the Bible.
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Using the Web
The world-wide Web contains a multitude of sites offering resources for help with Bible reading, from schemes of daily reading to complete Bible College courses. A range of these can be accessed from the Gospel Communications Network site, which may be accessed via our Links to Other Websites.
In addition, there are many Christian search engines available, originating in both the UK and USA. We have included a small selection of these in our Links to Other Websites.
At this point, may we offer a word of caution? We would urge you to exercise the utmost discretion when using material from unknown sources, particularly when accessing websites purporting to be of a Christian origin. Much of the biblical and other material offered is very good, but unfortunately there is also some which is not so good! We would recommend you bear in mind Proverbs 2:11 (NIV) when surfing the Web for help with your daily Bible reading. The two groups of Links to Other Websites we have provided are to sites or search engines which we believe have a bona fide Christian content.
Many people who read the Bible everyday do so with the help of published notes, while others prefer to adopt their own pattern of reading. Some of the notes available offer a chronological programme of Bible reading, others use a thematic method, while still others use a mixture.
Should you use such notes? Here are a few points for thought:
- Bible Reading Notes provide a systematic programme of Bible reading, usually by reading through a book (or part of a book) or following a theme for each series.
- They will introduce you to parts of the Bible you might never have chosen to read yourself, thus enabling God to speak more effectively to you.
- They will encourage you to keep reading on days when, if you were left on your own, you might be inclined not to do so.
- Unless you are very disciplined, there can be a tendency to concentrate on the notes rather than the Scriptures.
- Some readers may find that the interpretations and applications made by the writers vary significantly from their own.
- Since most notes are dated, you may find it difficult to catch up if you have to miss a day or two, and therefore you may become discouraged and tempted to give up reading the Bible altogether.
If you do choose to use notes - and they certainly can be helpful if you are just starting to read the Bible regularly - then we would offer the following guidelines:
- Always read and reflect upon the passage of Scripture set for the day before you read the notes. The temptation, especially if your are short of time, is to read the notes in preference to the Scripture passage.
- If you have time, apply the three-stage process of Bible reading to the passage before seeing what the author of the notes has to say. This will enable you to see what the Lord has to say to you through his Word before considering the interpretation and application offered by the notes.
- Remember that what God has said to the person who wrote the notes will not necessarily be the same as he will say to you. The main benefit from reading the notes is to check your own interpretation, and, perhaps, get a fresh slant on the passage under consideration. However, you will be wise if you always test everything that is said in your notes by way of comment or interpretation before accepting it, however erudite the author may be (1 Thessalonians 5:20-22).
Whether or not you use Bible reading notes, the most important thing is to hear what God has to say to you through the portion of his Word you are reading today!
Since 1996, four major UK publishers of Bible reading notes have joined forces under the title Grow with the Bible. To review the facilities they offer we suggest a visit to their website, which may be accessed via our Links to Other Websites.
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Tools with a Mission!
The resources we have described on this page (and others like them) should not be looked upon merely as nice things to have, but as practical tools for a specific job - that of harvesting the rich nourishment of God's Word (see Deuteronomy 8:3 and 1 Peter 2:2-3).
Do remember, though, that even the best of tools is no substitute for the development of personal skills. Rather than rely solely on the work of others, each believer needs to take to heart the apostle Paul's instruction to Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15 (NIV)). As your skill as a worker with the Word grows so too will your Confidence in the Word.
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