Books to help you understand the Bible, part 1

October 2, 2008


We want to know God, how He wants us to live, and how to live the life He wants us to live. Understanding the Bible is essential, because it is our inerrant, sufficient guide. And to understand the Bible, a little help can go a long way… (Acts 8:26-39)


Realistically, most of us don’t have time to work through Harold Hoehner’s 960 page commentary on the 6 chapters of Ephesians (as excellent, and surprisingly readable, as it is)! I think the most helpful resources for most of us (and, even if you would like more resources, the best place to start) are good, “meaty” Study Bibles and/or one or two volume commentaries on the whole Bible that operate on the conviction that the Bible is God’s inspired, inerrant Word. I would suggest getting more than one of these so that you can compare notes… As insightful as pastors and scholars can be, none of them are perfect. Being able to weigh up differing arguments can be very helpful as we seek to make decisions ourselves, before God, based on the Biblical text itself.     



Study Bibles:

Some praise this Study Bible for presenting several views in its notes. Others criticize it for stopping short of making a decision. As one reviewer on noted, the different views given are “on a convervative to moderate continuum – not liberal”. I personally believe it can be helpful to know various views (as I mentioned above). I have found this Study Bible to be a good resource.  

John MacArthur has preached through almost all of the New Testament in depth, and he had the help of The Master’s Seminary faculty in researching the Old Testament before he worked through their research and reworked it into the final notes. This is a very good resource, available in both NKJV and NASB translations.  

Though not yet released, I anticipate this being the best Study Bible available! A look at its contributors, features, and endorsements, makes it hard to think otherwise. A note on the ESV translation: The ESV has not been around very long. Nonetheless, it’s attempt to marry readability (like the NIV) with more literal translation (like the NASB) has been widely praised by many leading pastors, authors, and scholars who now consider it their translation of choice (see here).


Other good Study Bibles include the Ryrie Study Bible (available in numerous translations) and The Reformation Study Bible (ESV).   



One or Two Volume Commentaries on the whole Bible: 

This commentary is widely praised as the best one volume commentary available. It probably is! I have found mine to be a huge help. The commentary on some of the Bible books is done by authors who had previously written very extensive, very well received commentaries on the same book (such as Wenham on Genesis, and O’Brien on Colossians). I can’t say this is the case in the comments on every verse related to these issues, but since this commentary is published by IVP, it is likely to be amillenial (IE: there is no literal, 1000 year reign of Christ on Earth) in interpretation, as well as egalitarian (IE: flattening out distinctions between men and women’s roles). Our church teaches differently in these two areas.  

I’ve been told again and again by pastors and Bible professors that the original 12 volume set should be the first full set of commentaries to buy for one’s library (more on that in a later post). Stand-out book commentaries in the set include Exodus by Kaiser, Psalms by Van Gemeren, and Matthew by Carson. I have the 12 volume set on CD-ROM, but I decided to get this abridged edition too. I would very much recommend either version.   

This 2 volume commentary is very widely praised within premillenial circles (IE: Christians who believe Jesus will reign on earth for a literal 1000 years, etc). It is written entirely by Dallas Seminary faculty, and is thus quite consistant in its conclusions throughout. The commentary on some books is written by scholars in that particular field (eg. Ross on Genesis and Psalms, Merrill on Numbers, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Chronicles, Hoehner on Ephesians, and Walvoord on Revelation). The quality is not as good on some other books where the commentary is written by men who specialize in other areas… Consistant with the theology of Dallas Seminary, you can expect the view that saving faith involves accepting Jesus as Savior without having to embrace Him as Lord (especially noticeable in Zane Hodges’ commentary on Hebrews and 1,2,3 John). 

This is not all that different to The MacArthur Study Bible (see comments above) – the major difference being that is has more maps and charts. It is probably not worth purchasing if you already have the Study Bible. If you don’t have the Study Bible however, this resource offers a little more helpful material and might be the better buy (note that this book does not include the Biblical text, whereas the Study Bible does). This is a very good resource.


There are other good resources, for sure, but these are the ones I can recommend with the most confidence.


If I had to pick a “Top 3”, I think it would be: The ESV Study Bible, The New Bible Commentary, and a version of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary.


~ Donovan



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