A Guide to Biblical Reference Texts

A Guide to Biblical Reference Texts

Having a good reference library on hand is essential for a serious student of Scripture, and particularly for a clergyman who is going to be preparing sermons on a regular basis. What follows is a list of the various categories of reference material, along with a brief description of how texts in that category are used, and some recommendations on texts that you may want to buy as you build your own library.

1. Original Texts (Greek, Hebrew), and Interlinear texts.

For the Septuagint, you could simply buy a Bible published by the Church of Greece… and this would ensure that it was an edition that reflects the text the Church has generally used. The critical edition, which has textual notes, which I believe is the edition that the Orthodox Study Bible uses is Rahlfs “Septuaginta.”

For those whose Greek is either limited or essentially non-existent, there is Sir Lancelot Brenton’s “The Septuagint with Apocrypha”, which has the Greek and an English Translation in parallel columns.

For the Hebrew Old Testament, the critical edition is the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensia (abbreviated as BHS).

For the New Testament, the critical edition I would recommend is the Greek New Testament According to the Majority Text, edited by Zane C. Hodges & Arthur L. Farstad; or The New Testament in the Original Greek, edited by Maurice A. Robinson & William G. Pierpont.

As for Interlinear texts, for the whole Bible (Hebrew Old Testament, Greek Textus Receptus New Testament), The Interlinear Bible is a great choice. One thing that is very handy is that it is keyed to the Strong’s Concordance numbering system, which is also used in many other reference texts, and this is particularly good for those that know neither Greek nor Hebrew.

You can get the above just in the New Testament by getting The Interlinear Greek-English New Testament.

2. English Translations and Study Bibles.

As for translations, that is covered in more detail in the article on Biblical Translations.

Study Bibles attempt to give the user a little bit of many different types of reference texts, and as such can be handy. They provide introductions to books, commentary, concordances, maps, and other features. Study Bibles of course reflect a particular theological perspective, and so that is the key factor to be kept in mind. The Orthodox Study Bible is the obvious choice for Orthodox Christians, it is not perfect, but it is the best option currently available. 

3. Concordances (English, and also Greek and Hebrew).

Whatever translation you are going to use, you should have a concordance that matches it. The Strong’s is the best choice for those who use the King James Version, and it’s numbering system, as I said, is used in other reference texts. It provides a brief definition of the Hebrew and Greek word of the original text used by the KJV. Each word in English that occurs in the concordance is reference to a number than is linked to the original word that English word translates. Very often the same English word is used to translate more than one word in either Greek or Hebrew, and this numbering system helps you to keep this all straight.

If you know Greek and/or Hebrew, a Greek or Hebrew Concordance helps you to find the various places in which a particular word is used in Scripture. But if you do not know Greek or Hebrew, good word studies will provide you essentially the same information, though generally not in the same degree of detail.

Of course web sites and CD-Rom concordances in some ways are better, because you can not only search for one word, but can search for several key words, and exact phrases. And instead of being limited to one translation, you can search several. However, it is still a good idea to have at least one hard copy concordance on hand. 

4. Greek and Hebrew Lexicons, and Word Studies.

The best New Testament Greek Lexicon is probably The Liddell & Scott Greek-English Lexicon

An Analytical Lexicon is also handy, because you can look up a Greek word in what ever form it is found in a given passage, and it will tell you what form it is, and also what the root word is, and give you a brief definition.

You can also get a Greek Lexicon that covers all the words found in the Septuagint.

The best Hebrew Lexicon is Brown-Drivers-Briggs (which is keyed to Strong’s).

There is also an Analytical Hebrew Lexicon which works just like it’s Greek counterpart.

But these are all geared more to students of Greek and Hebrew. While I would encourage you all to study both languages, if you don’t, you still have some options… and even if you do the following word studies are still extremely useful:

There are two sets that are probably more than most of you will want to invest in, or need, but they are the Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament (15 Volumes), and the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (10 Volumes).

What I would recommend that you actually buy however are:

The Theological Word Book of the Old Testament (which is One Volume, and keyed to Strong’s (which given the difficulty a non-Hebrew student would otherwise have looking up a Hebrew word is an essential feature)), and the “Little Kittel” One Volume Abridged version of the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament.

What these book do is give the origin of a word, and then discuss how it is used in the Bible. In the case of the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT), it discusses the pagan Greek use of a word, it’s use in the Septuagint, it’s use in the New Testament, and often also discuss it’s use in the early Church… so these are extremely useful texts.

5. Bible Dictionaries and Encyclopedias.

The nice thing about Bible Dictionaries and Encyclopedia, is that when you run across something in the Bible that is unfamiliar, for example the Urim and Thumim, you can look up “Urim and Thumim” and read an article that will explain what these are, and reference where in the Bible they are discussed. You can look up a person, like Hezekiah, and read all that is known about him, and again, where in the Bible he is talked about.

There are many one volume Bible Dictionaries that are good. Multi-volume Encyclopedias obviously have much more information.

The Illustrated Bible Dictionary, by Thomas Nelson is an example of a good one volume dictionary.

The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible is a good example of an affordable multi-volume set.

6. Biblical Atlases.

There are many Biblical Atlases to choose from. You can see some of the options by clicking here.

You find useful maps in many other reference texts, but when you want detailed maps to help you understand some element of Biblical history, it is handy to have a comprehensive Biblical Atlas.

7. Biblical Histories.

Biblical Histories combine the information we have from the Bible with archeological evidence, and evidence from other ancient texts, and provide a big picture view of the flow of Biblical history. Being familiar with this big picture will help you understand the how any given passage of Scripture fits into the scheme of history.

The best modern Old Testament history is “A History of Israel” by John Bright.

The best modern New Testament history is probably “New Testament History” by F. F. Bruce.

The two classical histories that you should also be familiar with are:

The Works of Josephus (which provides Old Testament History as well as a contemporary account of New Testament Church History), which is available for free online.

Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History, which is also available for free online.

Three other historical books I would recommend by Alfred Edersheim:

The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Edersheim was a very conservative Anglican scholar with a Jewish background and he was both a Biblical scholar and a scholar of Judaism. In this text he provides very interesting insights into the Jewish background of the life of Christ, and contrast the teachings of Christ with those found in the Talmud. This text is the Conservative response to the “Quest for the Historical Jesus” that is most recently manifested in the pseudo-scholarship of the “Jesus Seminar.”

The Temple, Its Ministry and Services. This book is not nearly as useful as the previous text, but it provides good information on the worship of the Old Testament.

Old Testament Bible History.

8. Cultural Studies of Biblical Times.

Because we do not live in the same culture as that in which the Scriptures were written, we have to make an effort to understand that culture. There are some good texts that focus specifically on the customs and culture of the Biblical period, here are two examples: Sketches of Jewish Social Life, by Alfred Edersheim. The New Manners and Customs of Bible Times, by Ralph Gower.

9. Texts on Biblical Archeology.

To some extent, you can get information on the findings of Biblical Archeology from some of the other reference sources, such as Bible Dictionaries and Encyclopedias, Commentaries, etc. However, if you want to dig deeper into the subject specifically, here is a text worth reading:

Archeology and the Religion of Israel, by William Albright. 

10. Introductions.

An Introduction is a text that discusses the scholarly thought on issues related to the text, authorship, audience, and history of the various books of the Bible.

The best Old Testament Introductions are: 

Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, by Brevard Childs. This text accepts to some extent the results of liberal Protestant scholarship, but then approaches the issues through the lens of the authority of the Church’s Canon, and so in some respects comes close to an Orthodox approach at the end of the process. 

A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, by Gleason Archer. This text takes a much more conservative approach to the issues of text, authorship, and history of the Scriptures. As such, it is a good counter-balance to the text by Childs.

Old Testament Survey: The Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament
, by William Sanford Lasor, David Allan Hubbard, and Frederic William Bush. This text is less conservative than Archer, but still relatively conservative, and very thorough.

An Introduction to the Old Testament, by Tremper Longman III & Raymond Dillard. This is also very conservative, and provides a good guide to the Biblical texts, as well as to current scholarship on the subject.

The best New Testament introduction is:

New Testament Introduction, by Donald Guthrie. This is a very conservative Protestant text, that does a bit better of a job than Archer does with the Old Testament.

Brevard Childs also has a New Testament introduction: The New Testament as Canon: An Introduction, however it has been out of print and so has limited availability.

11. Reference Texts on Textual Criticism.

There are many books in print on this subject, but most of them advocate a version of the Westcott-Hort Theory. A good text to get, if you are interested in studying this issue in more depth is:

Unholy Hands on the Bible, By John Burgon. This text is actually a collection of the writings of John Burgon on the subject of New Testament textual Criticism, and he is by far the best scholar on this subject. Some of these texts are available online as well.

An online text is “The Identity of the New Testament Text,” by Wilbur Pickering.

12. Biblical Theology.

Biblical Theology texts focus on the major themes found in the various parts of Scripture, and as such can be useful when you are discussing a particular issue to see how the whole of Scripture addresses that issue. However, since these texts involve theological analysis, you have to keep in mind that you are getting the take of non-Orthodox scholars on these issues. 

For the Old Testament there are two highly regarded, though highly rationalistic texts:

Old Testament Theology, by Gerhad von Rad.

Theology of the Old Testament, Volume I and Volume II by Walther Eichrodt.

A more conservative alternative would be:

An Old Testament Theology: A Canonical and Thematic Approach, by Bruce K. Waltke and Charles Yu.

For the New Testament, the best text is A Theology of the New Testament, by George Eldon Ladd. This is both a highly regarded text, as well as a fairly conservative Evangelical text.

13. Books on Exegesis.

As for Orthodox Texts on this subject, all that I have been able to find are included in the reading lists for this course. Here are some Protestant texts that will help you better understand how they approach the subject: 

For a good conservative Evangelical introduction, I would recommend: 

How to Read the Bible For All It’s Worth
, by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart.

For a more advanced treatment, I would recommend:

Old Testament Exegesis: A Handbook for Students and Pastors, by Douglas Stuart.

And

New Testament Exegesis: A Handbook for Students and Pastors, by Gordon Fee.

14. Contemporary Literature.

What we are talking about here are texts outside of Scripture that were writing during or close to the times of the Biblical texts. Examples of these would include the Pseudepigraphal books of the Old Testament, the Dead Sea Scrolls (apart from the Biblical texts found among them), the writing sof Josephus, the New Testament Apochrypha, the writings of the Apostolic Fathers (such as the Didache, the Epistles of St. Ignatius, or St. Clement’s Epistle to the Corinthians, etc.), as well as pagan writings of the period.

15. Commentaries (Patristic, More recent Orthodox, and Non-Orthodox).

There are of course Church fathers who wrote entire books of commentary or homilies which explain various books of the Bible. More of this is becoming available all the time; however, any Patristic text can be used to find commentary on Scripture… particularly if it has a Scripture index (and so that is something to look for when you have more than one option for a particular Patristic text). I very often find useful commentary in the writings of St. John Cassian this way. In short, you need to build a Patristic library. To start off, you can beat the economy of buying the Ante-Nicene Fathers, and Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, which very affordably priced. You can also read these texts online, but I would still recommend buying the set.

There are also many commentaries available now by individual fathers, such as Blessed Theodoret’s commentaries on the Psalms (Volume 1 and Volume 2); Blessed Theophylact’s commentary on the GospelsSt. Gregory the Great’s homilies on Ezekiel; etc. If you are unsure of what might be available, you can try googling “Patristric commentary on …” and the name of the book of the Bible you are looking for a commentary on.

There are two new sets of commentaries that are being published that attempt to organize patristic commentary on various passage, in order to make it easier to find what the father say on a given text. I have found them both to be well done, but you need to keep in mind that they do not present all of what the Fathers have to say on a given text, and the editors are mostly non-Orthodox. Also, they include some writers that we consider heretics in these texts, such as Origen, Novatian, Severus, and Theodore of Mopsuestia… so be on the look out for that. You want to use these as guides to the fuller Patristic texts in which they are found, rather than as a substitute:

The Ancient Christian Commentary Series.

The Church’s Bible

As for more recent Orthodox Biblical commentaries, you have to be selective. There are good examples, such as the commentary of Archbishop Averky on the Apocalypse; but there are also some one has to be careful because some modern Orthodox texts on Scripture essentially consist of warmed over Protestant scholarship (usually of the more liberal variety), and are not as good as the better Protestant texts that are available. In short, you need to seek those Orthodox writers that embrace the Fathers and the Tradition of the Church, not those who are simply parroting the Protestants.

As for Protestant Commentaries, there are many good options, and many bad ones. The best commentary series that is available, in my opinion, is the Word Biblical Commentary. There are shorter, and thus less expensive options, such as the Expositor’s Bible Commentary… though many other examples of good conservative Protestant scholarship could be cited.

Most of the above texts can usually be most cheaply purchased from Christian Book Distributers.

For more on Biblical Reference material that is available electronically, see: Computer Based Bible Study.

About the author

Father John Whiteford is Archpriest and pastor at St. Jonah Orthodox Church, in Spring, Texas. He was born in Riverside, California in 1966, and lived in Grand Terrace, California. Father John and his family moved to Murray, Kentucky in 1976, and then to Houston, Texas in 1978. He was raised in the Church of the Nazarene, but began studying Orthodoxy while working on his B.A. in Theology at Southern Nazarene University in Bethany, Oklahoma. Fr. John decided to convert not long after graduating from there in 1990. He was baptized at St. Benedict Orthodox Church in Oklahoma City on November 10th, 1990.

Fr. John wrote an article entitled Sola Scriptura: In the Vanity of Their Minds, which laid out many of the theological reasons for his conversion. This article was published in the Christian Activist in 1995, and then was published in a revised and somewhat expanded form by Conciliar Press in 1996, under the title Sola Scriptura: An Orthodox Analysis of the Cornerstone of Reformation Theology.

Fr. John was a representative of the ROCOR Diocese of Chicago and Mid-America at the signing of the Act of Canonical Communion between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, in Moscow, on May 17, 2007. He is currently the general editor of the St. Innocent Liturgical Calendar. He is also the dean of the southern deanery (Texas and Louisiana) of the Diocese of Chicago and Mid-America ROCOR.

All comments are moderated and must be civil, concise, and constructive to the conversation. Comments that are critical of an article may be approved, but comments containing ad hominem criticism of the author will not be published. Also, comments containing web links or block quotations are unlikely to be approved. Keep in mind that articles represent the opinions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Patristic Faith or its editor or publisher.
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