When you come, bring with you the cloak I left in Troas with Carpas and the scrolls, especially the parchments.
2 Timothy 4:13
What types of resources does one need to study the Bible?
If you went to the home of anybody that is great at something, typically you would find that they have collected many tools and resources to help them with their craft. Great fishermen will have an assortment of fishing rods, types of bait, the appropriate clothes, and possibly even a boat. Great musicians will have instruments, cords, notes, electronic equipment, etc. Great businessmen will have books on leadership, marketing, and maybe even statistics. Similarly, people who are going to go deep in their study and understanding of the Bible will also have a collection of helpful resources.
In fact, many believe that in 2 Timothy 4:13, the tools of the greatest apostle are mentioned. When Paul asked for parchments, he was probably asking for the Hebrew Scriptures, which were often written on bark or animal skins. The scrolls were probably parts of the New Testament and resources used to study Scripture. There were many Jewish writings on the Old Testament which Paul, as a Pharisee, would have had at his disposal. Most likely, these were resources that he was asking for. Charles Spurgeon used this passage to rebuke pastors who preached but neglected study. He said this of Paul:
He is inspired, and yet he wants books! He has been preaching at least for thirty years, and yet he wants books! He had seen the Lord, and yet he wants books! He had had a wider experience than most men, and yet he wants books! He had written the major part of the New Testament, and yet he wants books![i]
Even while Paul was in prison, he wanted to study God’s Word, which is a challenge in itself. To study God’s Word deeply, Christians should also consider developing their libraries.
Needing Resources Outside of the Bible
Now some would automatically reject this and say, “All we need is our Bibles for study!” but for at least two reasons, outside resources will greatly enhance our study: (1) The first reason is that the Bible is an ancient manuscript. We need to know the historical background and culture, which we are far from, to properly understand the text. Resources outside the Bible will help with that. (2) And secondly, God has chosen to mature his church through gifted people teaching the Word. In Ephesians 4:11-12, Paul said this:
It was he who gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ,
Often people focus on God’s equipping the church through the oral instruction given by these teachers in Sunday service or Bible study; however, God also builds the church through the writings of these gifted teachers. In fact, God chose to build the church up not only through the oral teachings of the apostles but specifically through their writings—many of which are now saved as Scripture.
Likewise, God, by his grace, has equipped many great teachers to write about Scripture to aid the church in understanding his Word. These resources are not inspired like the Bible, and therefore, we should never replace our Bibles with them. But, properly used, they can greatly supplement and help us understand our Bibles better.
Like Paul, we must use our “scrolls” to help us understand the Bible—the historical background, the ancient culture, the nuances of the original languages, how a specific text corresponds with the rest of Scripture, etc.
Types of Tools
What types of tools should Christians use to help them understand Scripture better? It should be noted that many of these resources can be found on the Internet for free. However, one will have to spend some money to really expand their library.
1. Multiple Bible Translations
As mentioned, when Paul asked for the parchments, he was probably referring to the Old Testament, of which he probably had multiple versions. Often when Paul or other NT writers quoted the Old Testament, they quoted the Septuagint—the OT Greek translation. Other times, they used the Hebrew translation. Similarly, using multiple translations will aid our understanding of Scripture as well.
Multiple translations are helpful because one translation alone many times won’t fully capture the meaning of the original word in the Hebrew or Greek. For instance, in English there is one word for “love,” but in the Greek, there are at least four—showing various types of love. Sometimes by using different translations and comparing them, it will help us have a fuller understanding of a word or verse. The English Standard Version, the New American Standard, the New King James, the NIV, the NET, etc., are all rich translations, which benefit readers in some way or another. It has often been asked, “What is the best Bible translation?” The simple answer is, “Whatever one you will read!” They all have strengths and weaknesses.
The below online resources provide multiple Bible translations for study:
http://www.e-sword.net/ (on E-sword you will have to download various versions)
2. A Study Bible
Why is a study Bible so important? A study Bible minimizes one’s need for multiple resources. In the beginning of each Bible book, they will have introductory material: author, original audience, historical background, the purpose of the book, etc. Surveying the introductory material of a Bible book before reading the book is like surveying the forest before looking at each tree—it will often enrich one’s Bible reading.
In the middle of each Bible page, there are cross references for each verse. When you read a verse on divorce (cf. Matt 5:31-32), it will give you several similar verses (cf. Matt 18: 3-9, 1 Cor 7:10-14), which will often enhance one’s understanding of that passage or the topic within the passage. A study Bible also has small commentary over many of the verses in a chapter. Do you commonly look at a verse and say, “What does that mean?” The comments will often provide both insight and application. Also, a study Bible will have a small concordance where one can look up verses by simply remembering key words in the passage. Here are four great study Bibles:
The ESV Study Bible
John MacArthur’s Study Bible
The Life Application Study Bible
The NIV Study Bible
Comments in a study Bible will be concise; however, commentaries will give a more thorough explanation of each verse. These are especially helpful for not just trying to understand verses but preparing to teach them. Often commentaries go farther than “What does this mean?” to “What do we do about it?” This is especially true of commentaries made for personal devotions and for helping pastors prepare to teach. Purchasing one or more commentaries for each Bible book is costly; however, there are good free commentaries online, as well as good single volume commentaries for purchase. Some examples of both are below:
Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary (free online)
Enduring Word Commentary by David Guzik (free online)
The Free Bible Commentary by Bob Utley (free online)
Believers Bible Commentary by William MacDonald
The MacArthur Bible Commentary
The Warren Wiersbe OT Commentary and NT Commentary
Likewise, there are many good commentary sets with single volumes of various Bible books. For example, The Preaching the Word series, The Tyndale Commentaries, The MacArthur New Testament series, The Bible Teacher’s Guide series, etc. With that said, it should be noted that not all commentaries are created equal. Some are written by liberal scholars with a naturalistic bend—meaning that they don’t believe in miracles like the resurrection. Some are academic—focusing on the original languages, which might be hard to understand without language training. Each commentary will reflect the theological persuasion of the author (Reformed, Arminian, Dispensational, Lutheran, etc.). With that said, God has especially gifted commentators from various theological persuasions in writing certain books or series of books. To discern the best ones, it is wise to consider reviews, get counsel, and read portions of the commentary, if possible, before purchasing.
4. Systematic Theologies
Unlike commentaries which focus on a single Bible book and verses within, systematic theologies teach us what the whole Bible says about major topics like God the Father, the Holy Spirit, Jesus, salvation, angels, eschatology (end times), etc. Inside those major topics, they will cover sub-topics like the Trinity, God’s sovereignty, election, the security of a believer, demons, etc. There are many great systematic theologies like Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (and the smaller version, Bible Doctrine), Millard Erickson’s Christian Theology (and the smaller version, Introducing Christian Doctrine), and Charles Ryrie’s Basic Theology, among others.
5. A Bible Concordance and Dictionary
A concordance is helpful with locating passages in the Bible. It indexes Bible words by alphabetical order—allowing people to find verses they are looking for by only remembering one key word in a certain passage. Concordances are based on specific Bible translations; therefore, looking up words from the KJV in a NIV concordance might not be very helpful. The indexed words in a concordance are also often connected to the original language equivalent—allowing a person to look up the exact meaning in Hebrew, Greek, or Aramaic. A popular concordance based off the KJV is Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance. With all that said, if a significant portion of a passage is remembered, online search engines like Google and Yahoo can function like concordances, when those phrases are searched.
6. Other Tools
There are many other great Bible tools including biblical encyclopedias, which have hundreds of articles about topics in Scripture, Bible atlases, which help with understanding the geography in Bible times, Bible surveys, which provide an overview of every book in the Bible, etc. If we are going to thoroughly study Scripture, like Paul, we need our scrolls and parchments (2 Tim 4:13). Do you have yours?
What stood out most to you in the reading and why?
Are tools outside the Bible necessary to study the Bible? Why or why not?
Which Bible tools are you most familiar with and how have you found them helpful?
Is there a specific tool you are most interested in trying?
What other questions or applications did you take from the reading?