Some Reliable Tools for Serious Bible Study
Tony and Charmaine Chvala-Smith
Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha, NRSV – the ‘gold standard,’ used in colleges and seminaries
HarperCollins Study Bible, NRSV – brilliantly done: clear, affordable, up-to-date
The Discipleship Study Bible, NRSV – superb scholarship made very accessible: top choice for congregations
New Interpreter’s Study Bible, NRSV – clear, solid, sound, easy to use, good for preaching
Oxford Access Bible, NRSV –a somewhat simplified version of the Oxford Annotated
Spiritual Formation Bible (NRSV or NIV) – good source of spiritual formation exercises and questions
Anchor Bible Dictionary – scholarly, but accessible (multi-volume)
Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible (2000) – a superb one-volume work
Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible – the old standard scholarly reference dictionary (5 volumes)
New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible – in 5 volumes, the new standard reference tool, available on CD
Oxford Bible Companion – an excellent reference tool: clear, solid, and easy to use
R. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament – a solid, balanced textbook, very accessible
C. Fant, et al., An Introduction to the Bible, revised –best 1-volume introduction to the whole Bible available
S.L. Harris, The New Testament: a Student’s Introduction – a standard and informative undergraduate text
J.J. Collins, A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible – clear, scholarly, and readable
One Volume Commentaries
Harper’s Bible Commentary – basic and affordable
HarperCollins Bible Commentary – very useful
International Bible Commentary – reflects many cultural perspectives
Global Bible Commentary – an excellent way to get commentary from many cultural perspectives
Oxford Bible Commentary – superbly done, though a bit more technical
Eerdman’s Commentary on the Bible – the 2000 edition is one of the best 1-volume commentaries
The People’s New Testament Commentary –detailed, readable, and very helpful for preaching/teaching
New Interpreter’s Bible One Volume Commentary –outstanding, readable, and up-to-date (2010)
Multi-volume Commentary Series
Abingdon New Testament Commentaries – solid volumes by good scholars
Interpreter’s Bible (Old and New Series) – both series are mainstays for preachers and teachers
Interpreter’s Concise Commentary – out of print jewel, small paperback volumes in a case (used bookstores or alibris.com)
Interpretation Series (Westminster/John Knox) – for pastors and teachers
Sacra Pagina (Liturgical/Michael Glazier Press) – excellent commentaries by world-class scholars
Useful Study Series (or volumes)
Barclay’s Daily Study Bible – still a gem after many decades of use
The For Everyone series (Westminster/John Knox) – simple, relevant guides by scholar Tom Wright; a kind of 21st century Barclay’s Study Bible; mildly evangelical
John Hayes and Keith Schoville, Books of the Bible (Abingdon) – an easy, clear, sound survey of the whole Bible with study questions and a very user friendly format.
Interpretation Bible Studies (Westminster/John Knox) – companions to the Interpretation Commentaries, very sound scholarship, good theology
The Pastor’s Bible Study (Abingdon) – excellent companion volumes to the New Interpreter’s Study Bible
The Push It! Series (United Church Press) – thought-provoking, young adult oriented Bible studies
20/30 Series Bible Studies (Abingdon) – nicely designed, young adult oriented, good theology
3V Series (Abingdon) – excellent series for Senior High
Interpretation – many helpful articles, short sermons, and book reviews in each volume
Journal of Biblical Literature – the classic/standard journal of recent Biblical scholarship, advanced and technical.
Word and World – each issue focuses on a single topic; includes solid Biblical exegesis useful for preaching (a Lutheran journal)
D. J. Harrington, Interpreting the New Testament – excellent, straightforward guide to exegetical method
J. Hayes and C. Holladay, Biblical Exegesis (3rd ed.) – single best guide to the craft of biblical interpretation
L. Johnson, Living Jesus – blends the scholarly with Christian spiritual formation
M. R. Mulholland, Shaped by the Word –a potent antidote to over-intellectualized Bible study
Bernhard W. Anderson, The Unfolding Drama of the Bible, 4th edition (Augsburg Fortress, 2006). A clear and beautiful overview of the theological meaning of the whole Bible by one of the premier 20th century American Old Testament scholars.
Bruce M. Metzger, Breaking the Code (Abingdon) – finest small study of the Book of Revelation available, simple, inexpensive, comes with leader’s guide, and represents excellent scholarship.
Mark Allan Powell, The Fortress Introduction to the Gospels (Fortress) – a valuable, solid volume on the background and message of the four Gospels.
Marion Soards, The Apostle Paul (Paulist) – a standard, excellent intro to the Pauline letters.
Bible Study for Spiritual Formation:
The church exists to proclaim Jesus Christ and promote communities of joy, hope, love, and peace. With this as our mission, the church must work at creating environments that honor the worth of all persons, are safe, and help individuals encounter the peace of Jesus Christ. This is especially true when we gather in small groups to study the Scriptures.
Below are a) rules that provide a safe place to explore God’s work in our lives and in our midst, b) suggestions on how to create questions that facilitate individual and group spiritual reflection and growth, and c) a sample Bible Study that offers an example to this approach.
A. Rules that Create a Safe Setting for Sharing:
The following rules are designed to help group members listen to each other’s perspectives in a caring manner. The leader and all members of the group are encouraged to keep each other accountable to these guidelines in a kindly way. The sharing of personal experiences and perspectives may include strong emotions. Let these expressions stand – don’t dismiss or try to fix them. Remember, the goal of scripture study is to let a text challenge us to grow in our discipleship to Christ, and this is seldom a comfortable experience. Let yourself and those around you be stretched by the text. Trying to convert each other to one “right” view will destroy trust, shut down people’s willingness to share openly, and may deafen you to what God is saying through another.
- All answers are acceptable. Each person is sharing a part of themselves as they respond to the question, so accept their answer as a gift. There is no need to debate or dismiss anyone’s answer.
- Demonstrate respect for each other and each other’s responses.
- Respond to the question – not to others' answers.
- Uphold confidentiality. Things shared within the group are shared in trust. Be trustworthy with the things you learn about each other.
- One person talks at a time.
- Offer and accept perspectives without attempting to convince or convert. The questions should be designed to be answered with statements like: "My reaction", "I feel", "For me.”
- Share the time – it is easy for outgoing or very verbal persons to monopolize the session. Remember that the quiet people are just as intelligent and devoted to the gospel as the talkative ones. Find ways that invite participation from all members of the class, like passing the question – written on a piece of paper – all the way around the circle so that each one is invited to share.
- Be mindful of your choice of language - choose words that are not offensive or divisive.
The briefer list that follows can be read or displayed each time the group meets, allowing newcomers to be on equal footing with long-time group members. It can remind all members of their responsibility to create a safe place where everyone can share freely.
The Short List of Rules
A. All answers are acceptable (no need to debate)
B. Respond to the question (not to others’ answers)
C. One person talks at a time
D. Share the time
B. Choosing the Questions:
The kind of questions that are asked will largely determine the kind of answers participants will feel comfortable giving. If the study is intended to help people grow in their discipleship to Christ or their relationship with God then it is essential to ask questions that invite participants to reflect on those aspects of their lives.
The questions should be designed to be answered with statements like: "My experience has been,” “I think,” “For me,” and require group members to reflect on their own discipleship. They should relate directly to the scripture text that is being read and should help the group interpret the passage for their own time and circumstances. They should not have implied right or wrong answers, or encourage participants to judge others whose beliefs might be different than theirs. If people begin to share opinions, experiences, or jokes, not directly related to the question or the text, have the question read again to help keep everyone on track.
Find ways to invite all members of the group to share. Writing the question out and passing it around the circle is a non-coercive way to invite participate, and an easy way for people to ‘pass’ if they don’t want to share at that point.
Below is an example of a Bible study session that uses questions related to a specific scripture text to help class members look at and grow in Christian discipleship.
C. A Bible Study:
"Changing Direction" Acts 9:1- 22
Read aloud Act 9:1-22 [One person can do this or take turns as a group.]
[What questions or observations arise for the group? Is there information the leader can provide that helps the group get a sense of the historical or cultural context of this passage? Warning: Informational input should be very brief – no more than one-fifth of the group’s study time.]
Re-read Acts 9:1-2.
“This author, both in Luke and Acts, describes those who follow Jesus as belonging to ‘the Way.’ This suggests more than assent to a particular set of thoughts or beliefs, and describes the Christian life as a willingness to walk a particular path with Christ. This is a unique Way that is very different from the ways of our cultures and world.”
Question 1. What sometimes makes me uncomfortable about the thought that I have chosen to "belong to the Way of Jesus?"
Re-read Acts 9:3-9.
“Saul was a righteous person, fervent in his religious life, seeking to do God's will. His persecution of Christ's followers was an expression of his concern for preserving what God had established with God's chosen people. He confidently stepped out to do what he believed God wanted him to do, only to be stopped in his tracks - by God!”
Question 2. When has God surprised me and changed my view, when I thought I was already doing what God wanted?
Question 3. When have I been unable to see the way ahead and have had to depend on others to guide me? Who has been my guide(s)?
Re-read Acts 9:10-19.
“Ananias was faced with a real problem. Yes, he'd heard God and knew that it really was God speaking to him, but he also knew what he knew. He knew that Saul was someone who could really mess up his life and the life of the small group of Christ's followers there in Damascus. But God said, "Go, he is an instrument I have chosen….."”
Question 4. When have I been unwilling to trust what God is doing in someone else's life?
Question 5. When has someone believed in what God was doing in my life, even though there weren't many positive signs? (Alternate: “When has someone helped me see that God is doing something in my life even though I didn't have the eyes to see it myself?”)
Re-read Acts 9:16.
“Ananias may have wondered whether Saul could make the change of direction that God had planned for him. A major realignment of Saul’s life is about to happen. But Ananias is assured by God that Saul had already been shown and accepted what he must suffer for the sake of Christ's name.”
Question 6. How common is it for me to suffer for God's/Christ's name? What kind of suffering is it?
Re-read Acts 9:17-19.
“Ananias did as God had directed and amazing things began to happen.”
Question 7. Who is God calling me to visit, so that I can help them regain vision of God's purpose and love for them?
Re-read Acts 9: 21-22.
“All the Jews, those who believed Christ was the Messiah and those who didn’t, thought Paul was the most unlikely person to be proclaiming the message of Jesus.”
Question 8. What "unlikely” person do I know who proclaims Jesus in an authoritative way?