What a beautiful day today is! I’m sitting at my dining room table typing on my laptop while looking out over our side yard, viewing dwarf fruit trees in full foliage and tall rose bushes in prolific bloom — scarlet, yellow, and peach colored pedals. Billowy clouds herald God’s majesty.
Nature presents numberless volumes of divine literature: “The heavens are telling of the glory of God and the expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech and night to night reveals knowledge “(Psalm 19:1-2 NASB). Telling, declaring, speaking, revealing. “God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). From my window I’m reading a happy book. You have such books all around you in your nature’s libraries. Nature’s Divine Library.
In my previous post I presented suggestions for another library, your home library. I presented a dozen books as suggestions for your Biblical Literacy shelf, and then I described the first six. Today I’ll address the latter six books. Biblical Literacy (knowledge of Scripture’s narratives and declaratives; note post dated March 29, 2017) is the first of six points I’m offering as guidelines for navigating our reading experiences as Christ-followers — or pedestrian theologians — or salty, savory sailors on the Reading Sea. As Emily Dickinson declares, “There is no Frigate like a Book.”
Let’s look over the second six frigates, a small but powerful fleet. Ship Ahoy! (I hope you don’t mind my metaphors!)
For a quick review, I’ll post the full list again.
The Starter’s Fleet for a Biblical Literacy Bookshelf
- The Open Study Bible available in NASB, NKJV, and KJV
- The One Year Bible available in NIV, NLT, KJV, and NKJV
- The Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible available in ESV, NASB, KJV, and NKJV
- The Word of Promise Audio Bible (presented in NKJV)
- 30 Days to Understanding the Bible by Max Anders
- Living by the Book by Howard Hendricks and William Hendricks
- Rose Book of Bible Charts, Maps, and Timelines (or a Bible atlas)
- Young’s Analytical Concordance or The New Strong’s Expanded Exhaustive Concordance
- Vine’s Expository Dictionary or Zodhiates’ The Complete Word Studies (OT and NT editions)
- Grasping God’s Word by J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays
- Believer’s Bible Commentary by William MacDonald
- The Moody Handbook of Theology by Paul Enns
The first four are Bibles followed by two to teach you how to read and handle the Bible. Number seven, the Rose Book of Bible Charts, Maps, and Timelines, will help the Bible to come to life as you see the texts in their historical, time-place settings. Oh, this is such a fun tool! Curl up on your couch with this book and your Bible, and just start thumbing through the book. Study whatever picture, chart, or timeline that grabs your interest. You can be like a child, enjoying a big, colorful, greatly illustrated spiral book.
You are copyright free to photo copy pages for personal and classroom use. Because it is spiral bound, the book folds back nicely for copy machine printing. The down side is that pages can be torn from the spiral binding. The glossy pages are heavy enough, so if you are careful, it’s still sturdy enough for you and your family to enjoy.
#7. Check it out:
Many Bibles have concordances, which are alphabetized lists of Bible words, usually followed by a synonym or two and then a short list of key references using the word. Young’s Analytical Concordance and Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance are thorough concordances, providing the Hebrew or Greek terms, and including all biblical references to a given word, based upon the KJV (which works pretty well when reading from other translations). However, there is a Strong’s version for the NASB called The Strongest. (Yes, really!) These concordances are great when you want to explore how a particular word is used in various places in Scripture or how one English word may be a translation of several, original language words and their references. They’re also helpful just to locate references.
Much research can be done online too, but we’re not writing about these sources at this point. For that, check out Biblehub.com, Biblegateway.com, Logos Bible software, and there are others. Many reference books (and Bibles) are available online and with some experimentation, many are easy and efficient to use, saving you both time and money.
#8. Check out Young’s:
Check out Strong’s:
Vine’s Expository Dictionary is easy to use. You look up a key word from your Bible reading. For example, you look up son. What is the difference between being a son of God and a child of God? Why is Jesus called the Son of God and the Son of Man? Vine’s spends four pages on son, giving you Greek words and meanings, many references, and concise explanations. I won’t take time to describe Zodhiates’ dictionaries. They are more cumbersome to use and they generally go into more detail. Begin with Vine’s and then grow into Zodhiates’ books, if you would like, and yes, there are other good Bible dictionaries.
#9. Check out Vine’s:
Grasping God’s Word by Duvall and Hays, often used as a classroom textbook, is not dry, difficult, or intimidating but is truly engaging! It’s clarity impresses me. This book builds a solid foundation in biblical interpretation (technically called biblical hermeneutics). Hermeneutics, the science and art of interpretation, sounds hard, but it mainly requires attentiveness followed by logical thinking. There is no rush. You will cultivate these qualities and skills as you grow in your love for God and His revelation!
Amazingly down to earth, this book is a great guide for the ordinary Christian, whether a Bible college student, a small group member, or a home study lover of the Word. I hope to use its four point method of reading and interpreting — what the authors call the Interpretive Journey — in future posts. It will help us in understanding Scripture as well as other writings.
Plus, the Interpretive Journey is a process that can help us better interpret and understand others; it can help us in all our relationships! We have practiced hermeneutics since we were born — interpreting the meanings of our mothers, the way she held us, fed us, talked to us. Then we responded to her. And we’ve been interpreting every other person with whom we interact. Including God and His Word!
#10. Check out Grasping God’s Word:
Why do I appreciate the Believer’s Bible Commentary? This commentary is straight forward, easy to follow, often conversational, and not “deep in the weeds”. MacDonald moves straight through every chapter of the Bible and makes comments on key ideas. (One volume commentaries cannot cover every word and phrase and cannot go into great detail.) This volume is one of the legacies of William MacDonald (1917-2007), a Bible college professor and president who was a life-long Bible teacher.
MacDonald writes often with a personal tone which you will enjoy. For example, he introduces Book 4 of the Psalms (Psalms 90-106) with this conversational set-up: “Permit me to use a little sanctified imagination in explaining this Psalm. The scene is in the Wilderness of Sinai. It is years since the spies returned. . . with their evil report. Now the people are still trekking around the wilderness. . . . On this particular day, Moses the man of God has had all he can take. Overwhelmed. . . [Moses] retreats into his tent, prostrates himself on the ground and pours out this prayer to God.” Thus, MacDonald brings us to Moses’ amazing prayer. For the next psalm, Psalm 91, MacDonald tells a captivating story, connecting this ancient Messianic psalm with a five year old lad in Western Hebrides in 1922. What connection could there be? You discover it. Maybe I misrepresent MacDonald with only these two examples. He explains the text. He’s concise. His personal touch does not distract but enhances.
#11. Check out Believer’s Bible Commentary:
The last book on the list, The Moody Handbook of Theology is for those who are interested in a broader and deeper understanding of Christianity both historically and theologically. If you have questions on some of these issues, this is a great place to start.
The volume is divided into five parts:
1. Biblical Theology : Specific view: historical and exegetical; book by book, progressive revelation; Biblical theology is the result of exegesis (taking out what’s in the text) which is the basis for Systematic Theology.
2. Systematic Theology: Global view (plenary= full, complete): organized and categorized biblical information: Bibliology, Theology Proper, Christology, Pneumatology and all the other “ologies”.
3. Historical Theology: Ancient, Medieval, Reformed, Modern.
4. Dogmatic Theology: Calvinistic, Arminian, Covenant, Dispensational, Roman Catholic.
5. Contemporary Theology: Liberal, Fundamental, NeoOrthodox, Liberation, Catholic, Conservative, Evangelical, Feminist, Charismatic, Emergent.
This last book will not be for everyone. However, for any Christian who is trying to make sense of many of the differences in Christianity over the centuries and in our own times, this reference book makes a good beginning. It includes many bibliographies to give you places to go from here — if you so desire!
#12. Check out The Moody Handbook of Theology:
There’s my Biblical Literacy starter shelf – a fleet of a dozen frigates. We start with a few Bibles, add some books to help us understand the Bible, add some good study tool books, and go from there. Read. Study. Ask questions. Experiment with your study habits.
There are many other great books appropriate for this shelf. I hope I’ve stirred you to check out your own collection. Pick up one of your own, borrow or buy one of these, and curl up to read a while, asking the Holy Spirit to be the wind in your sails, guiding you in wisdom and discernment. What a better use of time than on Cable TV or Netflix!
Growing in Biblical Literacy cultivates our growing in Christ — in loving the Lord our God with all our hearts, minds, and strength, and in loving our neighbors more effectively. Books like these, well used, can provide you a foundation quite similar to a year or two spent in Bible college. More importantly, building biblical literacy is the way Christ-followers prepare to live in the world. Learn to observe, interpret, and apply the Scriptures. While you are at it, you’ll be learning to observe and interpret people more wisely: their actions and their words — in articles, books, plays, movies, and any genre or medium.
We are now sailing to our second of six points, Genre Identity, in our list of guidelines for navigating our reading experiences as Christ-followers — or pedestrian theologians — or salty, savory sailors on the Reading Sea. Meet you at this dock soon!
“Thy word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against Thee”; “I have rejoiced in the way of Thy testimonies, as much as in all riches”; “I will mediate on Thy precepts, and regard Thy ways. I shall delight in Thy statutes; I shall not forget Thy word” (Psalm 119: 11, 14-16).