A Guide to Biblical Reference Texts
By Fr. John Whiteford
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
1. Original Texts (Greek, Hebrew), and Interlinear texts.
the Septuagint, you could simply by 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
5. Bible Dictionaries and Encyclopedias.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Archeology and the Religion of Israel, by William Albright.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
New Testament Exegesis: A Handbook for Students and Pastors, by Gordon Fee.
14. Contemporary Literature.
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).
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 Gospels; St. 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
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.
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