[I place all
blame responsibility for this post on Anne Bogel, since the topic came up in a comment over at Modern Mrs. Darcy.]
I like to read. A show of hands, please, for those who are like-minded.
I like to read reference books. Another show of hands please … waiting for those hands to go up … still waiting … ok, how about with every head bowed and every eye closed … now let’s see those hands go up … hmm, still waiting …
Reverence for Reference Books
The reference books I’ve read have mostly been on language and writing. My first, I think, was Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. Even though I now look at it with a bit of a critical eye, in college it had a permanent place on my bedside table as I re-read it a few times in hope of improving my writing.
Others I’ve made my way through include The Oxford Companion to the English Language (cover-to-cover 1184 pages), The Quotable Lewis – an encyclopedic selection of quotes from the complete published works of C.S. Lewis, and A Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage (almost finished!).
This predilection (does it sound like I swallowed a dictionary or what?) for reading reference books applies to my Scripture reading as well. Some people might say the Bible itself is a type of reference book (a staunch fundamentalist preacher, hearing I wanted to study history, once bellowed to me “The Bible is the best history book there is!”, which is such an oversimplification as to be misguided, I’m afraid).
I’m not talking about the Bible as reference book, though. I’m talking about study Bibles. They combine Scripture text with a sort of Bible commentary/dictionary, and have been my regular mode of personal Bible study for years now.
Studying Study Bibles
The first one I read was the NIV Study Bible. I bought one of the earliest editions and read it through, Genesis to Revelation and all the study notes along the way. I thought it was the greatest thing since Guttenberg used moveable type. Imagine reading a passage and having the commentary right there on the same page. This was wild stuff for me almost 25 years ago.
Then I read the NLT Life Application Study Bible. That was an interesting tool. All the study notes, as you might have guessed, went to how the passage applied in one’s life. I can’t say I followed a lot of their specific application advice, but I can say that the notes opened up new understanding for me on a lot of passages.
I then went back and re-read the NIV Study Bible cover to cover, mostly because I hadn’t found another one to pick up yet.
I took a short break from study Bibles and read the one-year HCSB. I’d never before done one of those one-year plans where you read a bit from several books of the Bible each day. There’s something about reading passages in a different order than you’re used to for being able to see things you’ve missed before.
I’ve used the Reformation Study Bible, too. If you want solid Reformation doctrine from a solid theologian, then this will fit the bill. Did I already lean toward reformation doctrine before reading this? Yes. If you haven’t guessed already, folks, I’m a five point Calvinist. But even those who are not can learn much from the solid teaching in this study Bible.
I’m now in the middle of the Archaeological Study Bible, but a bit by accident. My daughter had been to Israel and wanted this for herself. We bought it but she hadn’t taken it to school with her yet, and then I got to where I needed to start a new study Bible and there it was. I’ve been enjoying the notes and articles and maps and charts. Again, new ways of understanding Scripture are opening up all the time with this one.
God’s word is amazing. Does the Holy Spirit need commentaries to guide us in understanding that word? Of course not. But he is able to use them to open up our understanding of God’s wonderful story, and that’s something worth studying.