A-Listers: The Best Bible Resources in the World!

by Roger Barrier

Dear Roger,

Great site!!!! Will you be adding links to Bible Commentaries and Concordances for assistance in preparation to teach in Sunday School or Adult Bible Fellowships?

I happen to know that you have taught the Bible effectively for many years. Your teaching ministry and Bible counseling have blessed the lives of thousands. I am blessed to see you still faithfully passing on the truths of the Bible to your students. I am also blessed to hear that you are continually updating your resources with the best materials available.

I need to get some recommendations from you. What would you have in your library?

A Pastor


Dear Pastor,

Of course, our main task as Bible students is to discover what the Biblical writers had in mind when they wrote what they wrote. I have often heard: “You can interpret the Bible many different ways!” I say, “Not so! There is only one correct interpretation for every passage!” Our job as Bible students is to find it!

Proper Biblical hermeneutics (interpretation) requires that we follow some basic rules. To begin with this means that all persons, places, objects and events must be accurately identified and defined before attempting to interpret a Biblical passage.

I remember a lady who said: “I can’t believe Bible is true because it is impossible to carry Noah’s Ark around in wilderness for forty years.” Of course, she had the wrong ark. They carried the Ark of the Covenant—a wooden, gold covered box—around for 40 years,

We must carefully identify people and places. For example, there are ten different Simons in the New Testament, four men named John and three men named James. In Acts twelve James has his head cut off. Several chapters later Peter says, “Go tell James I’m out of prison.” How can this be? There were two different men named “James”. The Herod who tried Jesus Christ and the Herod who murdered the babies are two different Herods.

We must know the correct meanings of words. For example, Hebrews 13:5 in the King James Version of the Bible is translated: “Let your conversation be without covetousness.” This seems simple enough to interpret: “Don’t talk about money.” But, words change over time. In 1611 when the King James Version was written, “conversation”, meant, “lifestyle”, or “behavior. The verse has nothing to do with talking. An accurate translation would be: “Let your lifestyle be without greed or materialism.” The KJV translates 1 Peter 3:1 as “Let the husband be won by the conversation of the wife. If she is not careful, she will try to talk her husband into the Kingdom. This is the very opposite of what Peter recommended. Husbands are more likely to be led to Christ by wives who are compassionate, loving and chaste rather than by wives’ constant talking.

The best way to get a handle on these things is to access some good Bible tools—dictionaries, translations, commentaries, and concordances. If we want to fix a car, we need good tools. If we want to build a house, we need good tools. If we want to interpret the Bible, we need Bible tools.

Many of these resources are available online or as e-books. Here are the best resources I have found online. However, many pastors and teachers love to own hard copies of reference books.

If others have taken the time to identify all of the people, places, events, etc., then we certainly should utilize their work. We don’t go out and dig our own oil or manufacture our own electricity. Why should we go out and write our own Bible Dictionaries.

While Paul was in a Roman prison awaiting death, he wrote to his friend, Timothy. “It’s cold; bring my coat before winter, and bring my books, and especially the parchments.” The parchments were the Scriptures and the books were his study helps.

Bible concordances are designed to help us find verses which contain particular words. Often we can remember a word in the Bible, but can’t remember which verse it is in. Concordances help us find them. Concordances also allow us to find all the verses which contain a particular word or phrase.

Some relevant concordances are:

“Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance”
“Young’s Analytical Bible concordance”

Bible dictionaries and encyclopedias illuminate the background material for words, people, places and events. For example, if you want to know more about the life of David, a Bible dictionary or encyclopedia provides page after page of relevant details.

Some good Bible dictionaries, encyclopedias and handbooks are:

“Zondervan’s Pictorial Bible Encyclopedia” (five great volumes at basement bargain prices)
“Wycliffe Bible encyclopedia (two volumes)”
“Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary”
“Halley’s Bible Handbook”
“What the Bible is all About” by Henrietta Mears

To understand the words correctly use updated translations of the Bible. A little old lady once said that if the King James Bible was good enough for Paul, then it was good enough for her. You know good and well that Paul didn’t write the King James Bible. He wrote in Greek. He never even heard of English. It is good to have modern translations, not because the Bible changes, but because language changes.

Bibles come in two basic varieties: translations and paraphrases. Translations attempt to put the original Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic words and phrases into the English language as closely and accurately as possible. The struggle here is to translate the many words and phrases that have little or no English equivalent. A struggle also occurs as the translators try to reflect idioms and grammatical constructions that simply do not come across well in English.

Biblical paraphrases are not translations. Paraphrases attempt to put the words of the original writers into conversational renderings that reflect the essence of what the Biblical writers intended to convey.

Some helpful modern translations are:

The New American Standard Bible (NASB) is the most accurate English rendition of the Greek text. Since English has only three principle parts for verbs while Greek has six, the NASV uses consistent helper words to enable the reader to decipher which Greek verb renderings are being used.

The New International Version (NIV) is perhaps the most widely used English version in the protestant world. It is rather close to the Greek text while taking some liberties in an effort to give the sense of what the writers were conveying instead of their exact wording. Balancing literal text with meaning is a difficult task for the translators.

The King James Version (KJV) was the accepted English translation from 1611 a.d. to the early 1950s. It is often hard for those who have used it for decades to give it up. For those who like the KJV, the Revised Standard Version (RSV) updates the wording to delightful reading while still retaining the flavor to the KJV words. The “New King James Version” (NKJV) is also an update; however I think I like the wording of the RSV) much better!

The New English Bible (NEB) is an updated, more readable translation produced by British scholars. The NEB may also be purchased with the Apocrypha which is also a collection of the books written in the 400 years from the end of the Old Testament (Malachi) to the coming of Christ. The Roman Catholics accept the Apocrypha as divine scripture while most all Protestants—and even reiligious Jews—do not.

Some helpful Paraphrases are:

Philip’s Bible was one of the earliest paraphrases—written in the early 1950s. It has stood the test of time quite well.

The Living Bible was a tremendous success when it was published in the 1960s. Many Christians found that the Living Bible more easily allowed them to get at the meaning of the Scriptures without needing some one to unlock its secrets for them.

The Message Bible is the newest paraphrase on the market. Since words have changed over the last half century, it was time for a new paraphrase to put the Biblical language into more contemporary wording. The Message is an extremely hard hitting, yet powerfully enjoyable way, to get the sense of what the Biblical writers were communicating.

Remember that paraphrases make great devotional reading. They are not good for serious Bible Study. Paraphrases are no guarantee that the author fully understands the text at all! I have occasionally finished my interpretative Bible study and then read a paraphrase of the corresponding passage and concluded that the author has missed the sense of the passage by a mile—or more. Consider translations as Holy Scripture. Consider that the paraphrases are helpful, but not necessarily accurate renderings of the divine Word of God—and treat them accordingly.

By the way, Amplified Bible is in a class by itself. I use it all the time. It is a translation which attempts to enhance the understanding of Biblical words and phrases passages by putting in parentheses other multiple shades of meanings for a particular Greek word or phrase. It “amplifies” the multiple meanings of various words.

The Latin Vulgate was used for years as the primary Roman Catholic Version of the Bible. It is now increasingly being replaced by the Douay Version. I love to read the Douay Version. I love the way the translation flows. In fact, during my senior year in high school the Douay Version was the first Bible I ever read cover to cover.

Interlinear Bibles are helpful tools for non-Greek readers. Just below the original Greek text is the English translation. When used in conjunction with the word numbering system in Young’s Analytical or Strong’s Exhaustive Concordances anyone can mine the riches of the Greek words used in the Bible.

Now, let’s consider another set of necessary Bible Study tools. We call this category “commentaries.” By giving insight, history, background and meaning, commentaries help to open up the real meanings of the Bible.

We must sort out the context and the background before interpreting any passage. If we fail to make proper observations then our Biblical interpretations will be inaccurate. Bible commentaries make these things possible.

Occasionally I hear some one say, “You can prove anything by the Bible!” That is true if words and phrases are taken out of their context. For example, Psalm 14:1 says, “There is no God!” But, the entire verse says, “The fool says in his heart there is no God.” The partial interpretation is totally out of context and woefully lacking in accuracy and truth.

By the way, Bible passages are often the best commentaries on other passages. Use cross references to let the Bible interpret itself. For example, the best commentaries on Mark are Matthew, Luke and John. The best commentary on Hebrews is Leviticus. Ephesians is the best commentary on Colossians. After feeding the 5,000 Matthew tells us that Jesus made His disciples get into a boat and leave! Why? Matthew doesn’t tell us. But, John 6 does. They were trying to make Him king. However, that moment was certainly not the time nor the place for such behavior!

Reference Bibles like The Thompson Chain Reference Study Bible are great resources for finding which verses throw light on other verses.

Commentaries come in various shapes and sizes—and often have different purposes. There are three basic types.

“Critical Commentaries” have few devotional thoughts or helpful applications. Their purpose is to give us a critical look at the text and some of the cultural context and background to the passages. They usually delve deeply into problem texts and intense textual criticiam. Unless we are doing more scholarly work, there is little need for the average Bible student to spend much time here.

Some Critical Commentaries are:

The Keil and Deilitzch Old Testament Commentary are so critical that only people fully conversant in Hebrew will find much help here.

The Expositors Bible Commentary (12 volumes) by Barker, Kohlenberger and Gaebelein gives alternative insights into the Bible that will be found in few other places. This is a great set that many find helpful.

The Tyndale Old and New Testament Commentaries are short abridgments of critical material which I believe can be useful to many levels of Bible students.

The New International Commentary is one of the most highly regarded sources of current scholarship. It is an exacting study of the Greek; it offers careful exegesis as well as helpful footnotes, grammatical, historical and textual details.

The Bible Knowledge Commentary by Radmacher, Allen and House is power packed and succinct.

“Laymen’s commentaries” is my label for commentaries which contain some “low level” critical material while also addressing some contemporary applications.

Some Laymen’s commentaries are:

The Bible Exposition Commentary by Warren Wiersbe is a two-volume set which reads like letters from a good friend. It emphasizes personal application as well as Biblical content. Also, Wiersbe’s “Be” series covering each book in the New Testament is head and shoulders above most all other commentaries in getting into the heart of a passage—while providing some practical application as well.

The John MacArthur New Testament Commentaries (27 volumes) is one of the most clear-cut expositions of Biblical truth with a foundation for helpful application. Macarthur utilizes exceptional skill in a down to earth style which includes short introductions and non-technical passage by passage explanations with cross references and sidebars.

The Bible Exposition Commentary by Walvoord and Zuck is the work of two conservative writers both known for their solid understanding and honest appraisal of the Scriptures.

The Teacher’s Commentary by Lawrence Richards is designed especially for teachers. It covers the entire Bible in accessible units. It also provides historical background information, definitions of key terms, maps and leaders’ guides.

Finally Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the whole Bible (six volumes and very inexpensive—also included in many Bible software packages) is several centuries old. However, every good Bible student would do well to have a copy in their working library. Its rich expositions and useful applications have stood the test of time.

“Devotional commentaries” consist mostly of relevant applications and stories. They are most helpful in adding “windows” to let light into preaching and teaching.

Some current Devotional Commentaries include:

Barclay’s Daily Study Bible is a wildly popular collection of penetrating insights into the Scriptures by the effective use of Biblical, cultural and textual stories and illustrations. This set is in the process of being updated for today’s generations.

“The Life Application Bible” is exactly what the title says. This easy to use commentary gives, background, history, practical application for every verse in the New Testament. It follows up sections of critical Bible commentary with pages of helpful stories and applications.

Many other Bible tools are available for the asking. For example, Holman Bible Atlas: A Complete Guide to the Expansive Geography of Biblical History is as enjoyable to peruse as it is useful to sort out the sites and places mentioned in the Bible.

Most pastors and Bible students will be working with a limited budget. As a result, let me recommend what I consider the best investments to get a working set of Bible tools in your hands.

Concordance: Either Young’s Analytical or Strong’s Exhaustive Bible Concordances
Bible Dictionary: “Zondervan’s Pictorial Bible Encyclopedia”
Layman’s Commentary: “The Bible Exposition Commentary” by Warren Wiersbe
Devotional Commentary: “Barclay’s New Daily Study Bible”
Bible Handbook: “What the Bible Is All About” by Henrietta Mears

New Bible software is coming on line daily. The ones I currently recommend as most helpful are:

Bible Works 7.0 allows users to cross reference many different Bible versions including Greek and Hebrew. It also contains a variety of commentaries and other resources. It is available on line at www.bibleworks .com.

Bible.org hosts not only the NET Bible but also countless articles on Biblical studies as well as theological and current topics.

Christian Classics Ethereal Library is an online collection of historical writings in the public domain. Access is free, and the collection is quite extensive. It can be accessed at www.ccel.org.

Logos Software is a combination of Bible commentaries, dictionaries, encyclopedias and other Bible resources. It is available for a variety of educational and interest levels, from the “Christian Home Library” to the “Scholar’s Library.” It is available at www.logos.com.

Other Bible software programs worth investigating are Bible Gateway, Biblesoft PC Study Bible 5.0, and QuickVerse 2008.

Christian Book Distributors (CBD) is a valued resource for religious books and software. Most materials are discounted 35% to 50%. Ordering from CBD is a great way to stretch your Bible resource dollars. Contact them by phone at 1-800-247-4784 or on the internet at “Christianbook.com”. Just looking through their monthly catalog will whet your appetite to learn more about the Holy Scriptures.

In closing, let me add several thoughts.

The true test of Bible students is not how much they learn but how much they live. Mark Twain said, “It is not what I don’t understand about the Bible that bothers me—but what I do understand! In

After encountering Jesus on the road to Emmaus on Easter evening, Mr. and Mrs. Cleopas said, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32).

The proof that we learn from Bible is not a big head but a burning heart.

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