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Lesson 11: Bible Study Tools

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When you come, bring with you the cloak I left in Troas with Carpas and the scrolls, especially the parchments.

2 Timothy 4:13

What types of resources does one need to study the Bible?

If you visited the home of someone who is great at something, typically you would find that he or she would have collected many tools and resources related to their hobby or craft. Great fishermen will have an assortment of fishing rods, types of lures, the appropriate clothes, and possibly even a boat. Great musicians will have a collection of instruments, sheet music, perhaps electronic equipment, and the like. Great businessmen will have books on leadership, marketing, and maybe even statistics. Similarly, people who are going to go deep in their study and understanding of the Bible will also need a collection of helpful resources.

In fact, many believe that 2 Timothy 4:13 mentions the tools of the greatest apostle. When Paul asked for “parchments,” he was probably asking for the Hebrew Scriptures, which were often written on bark or animal skins. The “scrolls” were very likely parts of the New Testament and other resources used to study Scripture. There were many Jewish writings on the Old Testament which Paul, as a Pharisee, would have had at his disposal. Presumably, these were the resources that he was requesting. Charles Spurgeon used this passage to rebuke pastors who preached but neglected study. He said this of Paul:

He is inspired, and yet he wants books! He has been preaching at least for thirty years, and yet he wants books! He had seen the Lord, and yet he wants books! He had had a wider experience than most men, and yet he wants books! He had written the major part of the New Testament, and yet he wants books!1

To study God’s Word deeply, Christians should seriously consider developing their libraries.

Needing Resources Outside Of The Bible

Now some would automatically reject this and say, “All we need is our Bibles for study!” However, for at least two reasons, outside resources are needed for deeper study: (1) The first reason is that the Bible is an ancient manuscript. We need to know the historical background and culture, which is often different from ours, to properly understand the text. Resources outside the Bible will help with that. (2) And secondly, God has chosen to mature his church through gifted people teaching the Word. In Ephesians 4:11-12, Paul said this:

It was he who gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ,

Often people rely on God to equip the church only through the oral instruction given by teachers in Sunday service or Bible study. This is certainly part of God’s plan to edify and instruct his people; however, God also builds the church through the writings of gifted teachers. In fact, God chose to build up the church not only through the oral teachings of the apostles but specifically through their writings—many of which are now known as Scripture.

God, by his grace, has equipped many great teachers to write about Scripture to aid the church in understanding his Word. Unlike the Bible, these resources are not inspired, and as such, should never replace Scripture. But, properly used, they can greatly supplement our studies and help us understand the Bible better.

Like Paul, we must use our “scrolls” to help us understand the Bible—the historical background, the ancient culture, the nuances of the original languages, how a specific text corresponds with the rest of Scripture, etc.

Types Of Tools

What types of tools should Christians use to help them understand Scripture better? It should be noted that many of these resources can be found on the Internet for free. However, one will have to spend some money to adequately expand their library.

1. Multiple Bible Translations

As mentioned, when Paul asked for the parchments, he was probably referring to the Old Testament, of which there were multiple versions. Often when Paul or other NT writers quoted the Old Testament, they quoted the Septuagint—the OT Greek translation. Other times, they used the Hebrew translation. Similarly, reading and referencing multiple translations will aid our understanding of Scripture, as well.

Multiple translations are helpful because one translation alone cannot fully capture the meaning of a word in the original Hebrew or Greek. For instance, in English there is one word for ‘love,” but in Greek, there are at least four, each depicting distinct types and characteristics of love. Sometimes by using different translations and comparing them, it helps us have a fuller understanding of a given word or verse.

It has often been asked, “What is the best Bible translation?” The simple answer is, “Whatever one you will read!” There are many versions: The English Standard Version, the New American Standard, the New King James, the NIV, the NET, among others, are all rich translations, which benefit readers in some way or another.

The below online resources provide multiple Bible translations for study:

2. A Study Bible

Why is a study Bible so important? A study Bible minimizes one’s need for multiple resources. The first few pages of each book in a study Bible includes introductory material: author, original audience, historical background, the purpose of the book, etc. Surveying the introductory material of a Bible book before reading the book is like surveying the forest before looking at each tree—it will often enrich one’s Bible reading.

In the center of each study Bible page, there are Scripture cross-references for each verse. When you read a verse on divorce (cf. Matt 5:31-32), several similar verses are provided (cf. Matt 18: 3-9, 1 Cor 7:10-14), which will enhance one’s understanding of the particular passage or the topic within the passage you are reading. A study Bible also has small commentary for many of the verses in a chapter. Do you ever look at a verse and say, “What does that mean?” The commentary will often provide both insight and application. Also, a study Bible will have a small concordance where one can look up verses by simply remembering key words in the passage. Here are four recommended study Bibles:

  • The ESV Study Bible
  • John MacArthur’s Study Bible
  • The Life Application Study Bible
  • The NIV Study Bible

3. Commentaries

Comments in a study Bible will be concise; however, commentary volumes will give a more thorough explanation of each verse. These are especially helpful for not only comprehending verses but for preparation to teach them. Often commentaries lead the reader from asking the question “What does this mean?” to “What do we do about it?” This is especially true of commentaries made for personal devotions and for helping pastors prepare to teach. Purchasing one or more commentaries for each Bible book is costly; however, there are free high-quality commentaries online, as well as good single volume commentaries for purchase. Some examples of both are below:

Likewise, there are many good commentary series with single volumes of various Bible books. For example, The Preaching the Word series, The Tyndale Commentaries, The MacArthur New Testament series, and The Bible Teacher’s Guide series. With that said, it should be noted that not all commentaries are created equal. Some are written by liberal scholars with a naturalistic bend—meaning that they don’t believe in miracles, such as the resurrection. Some are academic—focusing on the original languages, which might be hard to understand without language training. Each commentary will reflect the theological persuasion of the author (Reformed, Arminian, Dispensational, Lutheran, etc.). Nonetheless, God has especially gifted commentators from various theological persuasions to write certain books or a series of books. To discern the best commentaries, it is wise to consider reviews, get counsel, and if possible, read portions of the commentary before purchasing.

4. Systematic Theologies

Unlike commentaries, which focus on a single Bible book and verses within it, systematic theologies teach what the whole Bible says about major topics like God the Father, the Holy Spirit, Jesus, salvation, angels, and eschatology (end times). Within those major topics, they cover sub-topics, including the Trinity, God’s sovereignty, election, the security of a believer, and demons. There are many fine systematic theologies available: Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (and the smaller version, Bible Doctrine), Millard Erickson’s Christian Theology (and the smaller version, Introducing Christian Doctrine), and Charles Ryrie’s Basic Theology, among others.

5. A Bible Concordance And Dictionary

A concordance is helpful for locating passages in the Bible. It indexes Bible words in alphabetical order—allowing people to find verses they are looking for by only remembering a key word in a certain passage. Concordances are based on specific Bible translations; therefore, looking up words from the KJV in a NIV concordance might not be very helpful. The indexed words in a concordance are also often connected to the original language equivalent—allowing a person to look up the exact meaning in Hebrew, Greek, or Aramaic. A popular concordance based on the KJV is Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance. Additionally, if a significant portion of a passage is entered online, search engines like Google and Yahoo can function like concordances, when those phrases are searched.

6. Other Tools

There are many other great Bible tools including biblical encyclopedias, which have hundreds of articles about topics in Scripture, Bible atlases, which help with understanding the geography in Bible times, and Bible surveys, which provide an overview of every book in the Bible. If we are going to thoroughly study Scripture, like Paul, we need our “scrolls” and “parchments” (2 Tim 4:13). Do you have yours?


  1. In the reading, what stood out most to you and why?
  2. Are tools outside the Bible necessary to study the Bible? Why or why not?
  3. Which Bible tools are you most familiar with and how have you found them helpful?
  4. Is there a specific tool you are most interested in trying?
  5. What other questions or applications do you have from the reading?

Copyright © 2020 Gregory Brown

Unless otherwise noted, the primary Scriptures used are taken from the NET Bible ® copyright © 1996-2016 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

Holy Bible, New International Version ®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NASB) are taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, and 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Scripture quotations marked (KJV) are from the King James Version of the Bible.

All emphases in Scripture quotations have been added.

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