Hello everyone and welcome to today’s miscellaneous musings. In this edition will continue the topic from last time concerning basic Bible helps to aid in the study of God’s Word. In part one I briefly reviewed the benefits of owning a Biblical concordance, dictionary, and encyclopedia set. If you have not yet read that blog, please cease reading this one now and get that done before continuing any farther along in this one so we’ll both be in the same place and in tune with one another. Now assuming we’re all caught up, I will continue on in the aforementioned subject, and move along to the next fundamental Biblical accessory on our list, that being a good Bible Atlas. As most of you who posses a Bible of your own can attest to, even the paltriest of dime store Bibles normally come equipped in the back with a basic set of maps of the Holy Land, mainly dealing with areas that are featured prominently within the Old and New Testaments. Also located inside some Bibles will be maps of select New Testament places such as Galilee or Jerusalem, or a map with multiple dotted lines on it indicating the many journeys of The Apostle Paul. These maps are all well and good of course, yet, as with all of the previously mentioned tools found in the back of these Bibles, if you really have a desire to gain a fuller of understanding of the subject matter, in this case the Biblical lands, it is necessary to seek out a more specialized piece of equipment, which, for our purposes, would be a good and thorough Bible Atlas.
This is not hard to do at all, and a good basic Atlas can normally be procured for fewer than ten dollars in most Christian bookstores or websites. They are normally thin paperback books, with full color maps of all the major locales featured prominently in the Scriptures.
These books are helpful to own because they posses the ability to make the Bible come to life in a way few other natural recourses can do, short of an actual expensive trip to one of the Biblical lands themselves, which while ideal, is not a realistic option for most people. I have two atlases myself, the first one is called simply ‘The Bible Atlas & Companion’ the other is called ‘Biblica: The Bible Atlas’. The first one is one of those cheap paperbacks I talked about, but it serves its purpose quite well. Along with the maps it also has a few brief articles to give you a clearer perspective on what you’re looking at. The second one however, is a bit pricier and a whole heck of a lot heavier. Weighing in at a whopping ten pounds, this monstrosity of a book is filled not only with maps but also full color photos, and extensive articles and essays on the Holy Land, and reads like a novel from cover to cover, which is an audacious task.
The benefits of this book are its depth, obviously, for one thing, and its sheer size, which brings the images inside to life in such a way that nothing else short of being there could do. The drawbacks though, again, somewhat obviously, are its aforementioned size and bulkiness, as well as the price tag. It’s far too cumbersome to sit in one’s lap and read comfortably, and as beautiful a book as it is, one almost feels a need to keep it locked inside a glass case and keep it seated on a padded purple pillow, instead of pouring over it page by page, and thus lessening its exterior worth to gain its interior value. So with that said, if you really want to dive into the serious study of the Holy Land and other Biblically significant locales, this is definitely about as top of the line as it gets, however, if you just want to brush up your knowledge a bit, beyond the capabilities of what most basic Bible maps can provide, any number of less cost intensive atlases can more than fill the bill in that respect.
Next on our list of Bible study supplements is a genre of books known as Bible Commentaries. It would not be possible in this article to list even half of the available commentaries out there, nor is that the goal here.My goal is simply to briefly and basically describe the purpose and function of a Bible commentary, in general, (although they come with various different agendas and focuses) and to highlight a couple of the ones that have served me well over the years. I’ve heard it said numerous times by teachers that I respect, and I fully agree with the statement, that the best commentary on the Bible is the Bible itself.
You want to guard against one verse theology and the primary way to do this is to check the Scripture against itself in order to test any fresh wind of doctrine that comes your way. There are also several passages in the Bible that illuminate other passages greater than any non-inspired author could hope to, such as the way the book of Romans brings to light the story of Abraham’s justification by faith, or the book of Hebrew’s description of our priesthood which is after the order of Melkizedeck instead of that of Aaron. There’s also Stephen’s sweeping summary of the Old Testament found in Acts chapter seven, or Jesus’ illumination of that bizarre tale of the serpent on a brass pole from the book of Numbers in John chapter three. If I were to go into detail on any of these, it would take up the majority of space on this blog, and we most likely would have to add a part three to this series to even begin to come close to finishing it. However, suffice to say, with prayer and serious studies, no external commentary is “needed” by any means, however, as a wise man once said, it is sometimes beneficial to stand on the shoulders of giants so to speak, and glean insights from the lifelong studies of other faithful and at times brilliant men of God throughout the centuries That all being said, the main goal of any Biblically sound commentary is simply to provide you with a fuller understanding of the Bible, by putting the words of learned men beside or underneath the Biblical text itself.This of course comes with its inherent flaws, as the reverse of that last statement is by far the more preferential situation. As it is God’s Word itself that brings us to a fuller understanding of ourselves and the world around us, and not vice versa. .
There have of course been commentaries on the Bible, for nearly as long as there has been a Bible, dating back to the ancient Hebrew Scriptures of the Old Testament, and the accompanying ‘Talmud’ written by faithful rabbinic scribes and scholars in the many years that followed. Since the closing of the New Testament cannon there has also been a multitude of people who sought to add their two cents worth to the interpretation and explanation of the Scriptures to varying degrees of success. Among the most well known of them being St. Augustine, a brilliant man, who unfortunately also was susceptible to over-allegorizing the Scriptures, especially prophetic passages of Christ’s second coming, which shaped later Roman Catholic views on the subject, as well as many of the later protestant denominations to boot.
It is with this in mind that one has to be very careful which commentary to select during the initial seeking out process here, as while there are many good ones, there are also a ton of them that twist the Scriptures and would give one an unbalanced view of different aspects of fundamental Christian doctrine. There are also many famous protestant commentators from the reformation era and beyond such as Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Matthew Henry. These men all added their own particular insights and expertise into various Biblical passages, and each also no doubt likely over-extended themselves with their own particular presuppositions and prejudices in certain areas, which helped lead to the many divided branches of protestant Christianity that has existed from the very beginning up until the present time. I do not seek to get fully into that area of subject matter though, rather than just to bring to light some of those better known personalities from Christendom’s past. My main goal here is of course, to recommend to you a couple commentaries, that I personally use, and that I think you would find beneficial as well.
In order to not turn this blog into a small novella, I will highlight three particular commentaries I have found to be trustworthy. There are others I happen to like as well, but this is an area where personal preference will play a crucial role, so I’ve tried to select the ones that I feel have the broadest base appeal, while still being sound Biblically. The first one is a massive twelve volume set called ‘The Expositor’s Bible Commentary’. It comes packed with extensive expositional commentary on every verse of the Bible by several noted scholars, and also has included within, a number of extra articles and essays as well. This is an advanced level commentary for sure, and one that is probably beyond the scope of most people’s areas of interest. However, if you want to really dig into the Bible and get equipped with information normally only found in seminaries, this is the set for you. It is of course an expensive set, but it also comes available in a two volume condensed version, which carries over the more practical layman’s parts, while leaving behind the more in depth scholarly stuff found in the full set. Another set of commentaries, that would probably prove to be more useful for the everyday man among is the five volume set by Warren Weirsbe.
His commentary offers good scholarship combined with practical life application, and does so in an engaging and thought provoking manner. While not as pricey as the aforementioned set, it is still a little bit expensive though, so if you’re on a budget here, a single volume commentary might be more in line with what you’re searching for. In that case, I know of no better single volume commentary than William MacDonald’s ‘Believer’s Bible Commentary’. It is a thick book, filled with rich conservative commentary with an emphasis on exegesis and practicality. With all of these commentaries though it is important to remember that, useful as they may be, they in no way can or should be used as a replacement for your own personal diligent and devotional study of God’s word.
The section I’ve saved for last is kind of a separate area of study as from that of the Biblical text, but, it’s an area of interest for me, and it also is something that, if sufficiently mastered, will provide a ton of inspirational figures to look back and draw strength from, as well as also providing many cautionary tales too. I saved this part for last, because I feel that it is really only appropriate to really get into this area of study once you’ve given yourself the appropriate Biblical background to be able to compare and contrast the efforts of the saints and sinners of yesteryear to the standards of God’s Holy Book For early Church history, you can turn to writers such as Eusebius and Josephus who wrote in during the very time that the early Church fathers actually lived. For a more up to date and fuller look at the broad scope of Christian history though, up to the early 15th century anyway, the eight volume set of books written by Phillip Schaff is probably just about the be all end all in terms this area of study. There’s also the massive set of books that deal with the writings of early church Fathers and beyond known as the Nicene and Anti-Nicene Fathers.
This is a near forty volume set of books that will easily fill up an entire shelf, but it can thankfully be found for free on the internet if one is really interested in digging into said material. One more modern history I turn to was written by Brian Moynahan and is simply called ‘The Faith’. Moynahan writes from a secular point of view, and that bias does pop up from time to time so I recommend this massive work with that great caveat fully in mind, but, especially in the areas of more recent Christian history bridging into the 21st century, his work will give one a full knowledge of just about every aspect of the Christian faith you can imagine, as well providing a broad overview of Christian history from its infancy up to the present date.. So, that wraps up part two of this series on Bible supplements. I may do a part three sometime down the line, if I can think of some other materials to recommend, but until then, I will simply say a very sincere word of thanks to all of you for reading, and I will see you again soon. May God bless and guide all of us as we seek only to become more like Him.