Books to Help You Read The Bible

Books to Help You Read The Bible March 29, 2007
We have been speaking about preaching and the importance of Christians understanding the message of the Bible. We are drawing near to the end of this extended series. I felt, however, that I should not leave the series without sharing a few resources with you that are still fairly new and will definitely help you to study the Bible yourself.

The last year or so has been a great year for Christian publishing, with some fantastic books being published. The following list is some of the best of these newly-published books that will serve as good tools to help you explore the Bible.

My only regret is that, as far as I know, only one of the following books is available as an electronic version that will work with

Logos Bible Software. These days I prefer to have books that I can search on the PC, but I know that is not everyone’s desire. It is also nice to have a row of good reference books on the shelf to turn to for years to come.

ESV Reverse Interlinear

First up is a revolution in publishing. I’m talking about the ESV reverse Interlinear edition of the Bible — which is also the only book with a Logos-compatible edition. The concept is a simple, yet revolutionary, idea. Instead of jumbling the English words as a traditional Interlinear does, why not reorder the Greek words so that it is easy to read the English translation? The words are numbered so that in the unlikely event that you know enough Greek to understand the rare times that word order actually can change the meaning, you can reorder them in your own mind. For most of us, though, having the Greek re-ordered really doesn’t make any difference.

If you have this book you will probably be as impressed with it as I am. It comes from a collaboration between my two favorite Christian companies — Crossway and Logos Bible Software. You guys both rock — please do more together!

The ESV version of the Bible is taking the theological circles I move in by storm, and for good reason. Owning this will help you see why. Even as a non-expert, you can begin to understand how almost every word in the ESV New Testament corresponds in some direct way to a Greek word in the original.

You do not even have to be able to read Greek letters as there are three lines — one the ESV, the other re-ordered Greek words to correspond to their English counterparts, and the final one a transliteration

Even my 8-year old son, Henry, understands the concept and has been caught having taken this Bible into his bed to read. He is learning how some of the Greek words are translated. He is beginning to value the original words, asking me once, “Why is kai left out of the English sometimes, Dad?”

This version will give the advocates of non-literal translations a headache as it will allow even non-Greek experts to understand something of the way in which our English versions come to us. Once we begin to value the original words we will want our translation to be as close as possible to the word-for-word meaning of those words.

They say knowing a little Greek is a dangerous thing (and, no, I don’t mean the guy who runs that kebob shop round the corner!) but surely it is less dangerous than knowing none at all?

Apart from my wide-margin journaling ESV with its growing collection of notes and underlinings, this is my favorite paper Bible.

The Logos edition of the Interlinear (only available with the library compilations) allows me to search the Bible for an individual Greek word and get a list of verses in English as a result, among all kinds of other tricks. If you just want to sit down with a paper Bible and study on your own, this is an invaluable buy.

Mark Dever — Promises Made and Promises Kept, The Message of the Bible

It is one thing to read the Bible, it is another thing to understand it. The next two books I want to recommend are both by Mark Dever. Many people want to buy a guide to the Bible, and it is good to do so — I will, in fact, be recommending a couple further on in this review. Dever has gone a step further, and in the course of these two books helps us understand the unifying message of this book.

I like this series because it is based on a series of sermons — one per book of the Bible, and overviews of each Testament and the Bible as a whole. Because of this route in preaching, the books make the Bible live today in a way that a more purely academic guide cannot. If you can only buy one “introduction” to the Bible, this should be it.

I cannot commend these books highly enough, but I thought I would include a few testimonials about them which speak for themselves:

Many Bible readers are familiar with individual trees, while failing to see the forest. They are in great danger of misinterpreting the parts of the Bible they read because they do not see the entire structure of a Gospel like John or an Epistle like Ephesians. Mark Dever fills a gaping need with his sermons on each of the individual books.” (Thomas R. Schreiner)

“These expositions are theologically rich, biblically faithful, and loaded with superb introductions, illustrations, and applications.” (Ligon Duncan)

“Whether you are a Christian seeking a better understanding of the Bible, or a pastor seeking to preach ‘the whole counsel of God,’ this unique and invaluable resource provides a wealth of insight that will serve you for years.” (C. J. Mahaney)

“Is biblical exposition a lost art? Not if this book is any indication. This book is a gem and it belongs on every Christian’s bookshelf.” (R. Albert Mohler, Jr.)

Moo and Carson’s Introduction to the New Testament

Moo and Carson are surely two of the most widely respected evangelical scholars of today. This new introduction to the New Testament certainly lives up to the expectations we would have of such men of God. It deserves its place on my shelf, and will be dipped into for years to come.

Full of information and references to the published literature, yet simple to read, this is a textbook that I am sure will serve the seminary student, as well as the beginning student of the Bible. Due to its recent publishing date, it is more up-to-date with scholarship than many similar resources from the past.

Don’t look to this book to have the same pastoral wisdom as the two books by Mark Dever I have already mentioned. It is not written with that in mind — and as such, if budget is not an issue, having both of these on your shelves is a good idea.

Alec Motyer – Discovering the Old Testament

A small paperback of just 200 pages, this is an accessible and concise introduction to the Old Testament. The book describes its mission as taking the reader on a journey through the Old Testament. Its aim is to show how the Old Testament has the same message as the New. Motyer is well known to us through his commentary on Isaiah. This popular treatment of the message of the Old Testament should be understandable by all.

Unfortunately, it seems to only be available

from IVP books in the UK at the moment.

IVP Introduction to the Bible

This book has the advantage that it is a single volume covering the Bible — and a slim one at that. It does, of course, mean that it is not as in-depth as some of the others. I will forgive it for using the TNIV. I am convinced that it is a useful introduction for the student of the Bible. It has earned a place on my shelf and will be referred to from time-to-time for years to come.

I thought one of the most helpful ways you could compare and contrast these books would be to share short excerpts from each of them on two books in the Bible. I have chosen Genesis and Ephesians.


“Interestingly, the early church presented Noah’s ark as a symbol of Christ. Some of the earliest drawings of Christ are representations of an ark affixed to a cross, indicating that Christ is our ark. He is the vessel of mercy that we, once inside, can safely ride through the floods of God’s judgment. God has always been merciful, and never more so than by giving Himself in Christ. Our only hope is God’s mercy. As Christians, we have no ground for pride. We have sinned against God and are morally bankrupt. We have completely spent our small resources and now cannot provide for our most basic spiritual needs. We are entirely dependent upon God’s mercy and grace for salvation.

This is why the cross of Christ must always be at the center of our worship, whether public or private. I don’t mean a physical cross for us to stare at, but an understanding and a pronouncement of what God has done in the cross of Christ. These first chapters of Genesis present no hope for the human race apart from God’s mercy! We know today with clarity what the characters in Genesis only dimly perceived: how God would specifically accomplish our salvation by giving himself in Christ. So we should praise God as Creator and Redeemer. We should sing of His truth and His mercies. We should praise the Lamb who was slain for us. As we sing in the hymn, God, All Nature Sings Thy Glory — “Our sins have spoiled Thine image; Nature, conscience only serve as unceasing, grim reminders of the wrath which we deserve. Yet Thy grace and saving mercy in Thy Word of truth revealed claim the praise of all who know Thee, in the blood of Jesus sealed.” Isn’t that a marvelous truth about God? The holy one is the merciful one! Yet this leaves us with another question: How can he do that? How can God act with such holiness and mercy?” (Mark Dever — The Message of the Old Testament)

“We must now step back into the shorter opening section of the Pentateuch, the eleven chapters with worldwide themes, with which Genesis opens. As with all Bible history-writing, we are not told everything we might wish to know, but only what we need to know. The narrative fixes our attention on three typical events: the fall (Genesis 3-6), the flood (6-9), and the scattering (11:1-9). They are all stories of loss: how mankind, by sin, lost its home in God’s Garden, brought destruction on his world, and shattered human fellowship. Each loss found us blameworthy and brought us under divine judgment, but each time judgment was inexplicably mingled with mercy.

God is Still on the Throne
The theme of these chapters is not really the world at all, but the sovereignty of God over the world. It is one of their most striking features that when, in Genesis 3, the great rebellion has taken place and mankind, in the individual Adam, has made its bid to be ‘like God’, the Lord God steps into the Garden with his sovereignty unimpaired. The once voluble serpent is now silent, and neither the rebellious human pair nor anything else in all creation can resist the sovereign will which decrees a curse upon a world of sinners (3:14-19). Yet the curse is not the whole story.” (Alec Motyer — Discovering the Old Testament)

“The contribution of Genesis to a biblical understanding of both God and humanity cannot be underestimated for it establishes the basis and agenda for redemptive purposes in the world. Genesis poses other questions, which can only be noted here without discussion. Its historical veracity has often been assessed negatively on the grounds that no known extra-biblical sources confirm the Genesis record of the patriarchs. While this is undeniably so, we are dealing with accounts that relate to around 2000 B.C. and are largely concerned with the lives of a semi-nomadic family that migrated from north Mesopotamia to the land of Canaan. Not surprisingly, archaeological investigations and extant texts are highly unlikely to provide explicit evidence about the biblical patriarchs and their families. Such limitations need to be remembered when assessing views for and against the truthfulness of the Genesis record.

Other considerations need to be taken into account when considering the historicity of the early chapters of Genesis. This is especially so regards ch. 1, given modern theories about how the world was created. We need to appreciate that this chapter sets out to answer the question, ‘Why did God do it?’ not ‘How did God do it?’ As many biblical scholars now recognize, the entire chapter is a literary-artistic representation creation, designed to establish the status, in relation to each other, of objects and creatures mentioned within it. Since ch. 1 is not an attempt to describe the ‘how’ of creation, the chapter sheds little light on the mechanism by which God created the world. We need to remember the biblical writers want to
communicate particular truths. As readers we need to attune ourselves to what these ancient authors wished to say, not impose our present-day agenda on their writings. We must not expect the biblical text to answer questions that its authors were not addressing.” (IVP Introduction to the Bible)


“Wow, doesn’t that get your heart? There is Paul in prison, an old man, praying and asking others to pray that God would make him fearless. “Paul,” you might ask, “how much more fearless can you get? You are giving your whole life away, choosing to be in prison because you want to reach people like me, a Gentile, with the gospel.” Paul knew courage was needed to continue, and he knew God’s Spirit had to provide what did not come naturally. So he asked for it. It was plain and obvious that sitting in prison was his duty, given by God. His suffering could not obscure God’s design. Indeed, Paul’s instructions on submission in this letter were hard-won. Languishing in prison, Paul certainly knew what was involved in submission, as much as any slave. Yet he knew he had the freedom to obey. No authority on earth could take that away from him.

Is it an accident that two of the New Testament’s clearest statements on God’s sovereignty come from the pens of two older men in captivity—John exiled on Patmos in the book of Revelation, and Paul in a Roman prison here? When this world exerts its fullest powers to oppose the gospel, it only serves to reveal the powerlessness of rebellion against God.” (Mark Dever — The Message of the New Testament)

“The letter’s emphasis on the church is unmistakable; Ephesians clearly tells us more about the church than do other writings in the Pauline corpus. This has generated a great deal of discussion. For many, this focus on the church is a natural and acceptable development, but for Kisemann (among others) it is a distortion of the real Christian message. In Ephesians, he writes, “the gospel is domesticated.” The world “may be its sphere. But it is so only as the frame into which the picture of the church fits.” He goes on to complain that here “Christology is integrated with the doctrine of the church …. Christ is the mark towards which Christianity is growing, and no longer in the strict sense its judge.” Yet in some ways this is too narrow a perspective. The massive vision of a new humanity, a new household of God, rising together to reconcile warring human beings to each other and to God (chap. 2)-and all of this the product of God’s predestining love (1:3-14) and unqualified grace (2:8-10)-is entirely in line with Pauline emphases on God’s sweeping sovereignty in constituting his people (Rom. 9-11) and giving them the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5). More theologically telling are those studies that recognize distinctive emphases in Ephesians, but relate such emphases to central themes in the Pauline corpus. For example, Lincoln examines what it means to be seated with Christ in the heavenly realms (Eph. 2:6) and concludes that it is a kind of spatial equivalent of inaugurated eschatology. Caragounis and Bockmuehl have examined many traditions that are reflected in the letter. Peter T. O’Brien finds that much of the language of the prayers in Ephesians can be paralleled in the Qumran literature.” (Carson & Moo — An Introduction to the New Testament)

“Paul wrote Ephesians from prison (3:1; 4:1; 6:20). The letter is fairly general in content and may even have been a kind of circular letter intended for several congregations in Western Asia Minor since some early manuscripts do not have ‘Ephesus’ as the specific destination in 1:1. However, certain emphases in the letter do suggest some of Paul’s reasons for writing. The emphasis on the unity of Jewish and Gentile Christians may well be intended to address tensions in the church. Additionally, the fact that the devil and various ‘powers’ are mentioned sixteen times in the letter suggests a concern to encourage believers in their struggle with pernicious spirit-forces. Acts 19 associates demonic activity with Ephesus, and archaeology has uncovered ancient Ephesus as a center for magical practices, the Artemis cult, and a variety of Phrygian mystery religions and astrological beliefs. Paul wrote Ephesians to celebrate God’s mighty work of redemption, which includes the forgiveness of sins and raising up of believers, both Jews and Gentiles, to new life in the power of the Spirit . . . The letter has a basic two-part structure, with chs. 4-6 setting out conduct appropriate to the gospel which Paul expounded in chs. 1-3. The transition comes in 4:1: ‘I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling [to salvation] you have received.’

Ch. 1 opens with an inspiring thanksgiving for the gift of salvation, planned from eternity past and now being realized in the lives of believers. Paul then prays for the spiritual progress of his readers in light of Christ’s supreme power in the universe. Ch. 2 recalls the readers’ hopeless situation of death and condemnation and God’s astounding deliverance. The barriers between Jews and Gentiles have now been demolished and their reconciliation through the cross has been achieved. Those who believe in Jesus are now united in one body on an equal basis. (IVP Introduction to the Bible)

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