Bible Reference Books and How to Use Them

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Editors Note: This article is an extended series written to aid one in the study of the Bible. "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptavble, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. But the Word of the Lord endureth for ever" (1Pet 1:23,24a).

Strong's Exhaustive Concordance
In our Confession of Faith, in the first article, "Of the Word of God", we state that we believe the word of God is " inerrant in the original writings". But this presents a problem; the original writings are long, long gone! Further, these writings were written in Hebrew, Chaldee, or Greek! How can a diligent Bible student understand the inerrant original writings of the Word of God if they are long gone and the only language in which he fluently communicates is modern English?
Fortunately, God has marvelously preserved the plenary and verbal inspiration of the Word of God throughout the various translations that have been produced down to our 21st century. We believe that a person can come to a saving knowledge of God by reading the Bible in English or any other language, even though it is a translation of the original language!
An ardent Bible student, however, will also search to find the meaning of the original writings of the Scriptures. Strong's Exhaustive Concordance is an excellent reference source that you can use to discover the original meanings of the words in our King James Bible.
The value of Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance is two-fold. The first section of this massive work is the concordance itself. The second section contains a lexicon of both the Hebrew Bible and the Greek New Testament.

The main concordance contains every word in the Bible and every passage in which it appears. If you are familiar enough with a verse to remember some of the important words in the verse, you can look up those words and most likely you will find your verse. Strong's Exhaustive Concordance is offered in many Bible software programs and usually contains a "search" feature where you can type in words or phrases and the computer will search for the desired passage.
Here is an example of what you would find if you would look up spent in the the concordance part of a typical Strong's Exhaustive Concordance. (The concordance appearance may vary depending on the publisher.)

Here are a few hints to help you use a concordance to successfully find a verse or phrase in the scriptures:
1. Choose the most striking or significant word that you can recall. Suppose you want to find the verse where Paul says, "Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit ". You would probably look up endeavoring or unity rather than keep or Spirit since the first two words are used much less than the latter two, keeping your search much more efficient.
2. Use any other contextual characteristics that you can recall to narrow your search. Is the passage you are seeking found in the New Testament or the Old Testament? Did Jesus say it or did Ezekiel say it? In the example above, we already know that Paul said it, so we can narrow our search to the epistles of the New Testament.

The Hebrew and Greek dictionaries are usually found in the back of the book. The identification numbers for the Hebrew dictionary are unitalicized while the Greek dictionary uses italicized numbers. If you have Strong’s on a Bible software program, you can click on the word in question and it will show the Hebrew or Greek definition. Here is a sample of the Greek word in the New Testament that is translated gentle, moderation, or patient in English in the King James Version.

The lexicon is helpful in clarifying the meaning of words in these particular instances
1. When we encounter an unfamiliar word. Jeremiah refers to "sottish children". If you look up this word in the concordance, you will find that sottish is used only once in the Scriptures in Jeremiah 4:22. The number beside it is 5530. This is the definition you will find in the Hebrew dictionary: to be silly. It is also translated fool and foolish.
2. When one English word is used to translate multiple original language words. The discourse in John 21 where Jesus asks Simon Peter, "lovest thou me more than these?" becomes astoundingly more meaningful when the ardent Bible student embarks on a word study as he reads this passage.
The words that should be examined are love and lovest. The first two times Jesus asks Peter, "Lovest thou me?", the Strong's number for lovest is 25 in the Greek dictionary: agapao to love (in a social or moral sense). This word is used to describe the love of God to man; it is also the love that God requires of us toward Himself.
When Peter answers, "Thou knowest that I love thee", the word love that he uses is number 5368: phileo to be a friend to (fond of [an individual or an object]), i.e. have affection for (denoting personal attachment, as a matter of sentiment or feeling.) This word is used to describe the love of human friends.
But interestingly enough, the third time Jesus asks, "Lovest thou me?", He uses the same word, phileo, that Peter always used to answer!
In other words, Jesus asked, "Peter, do you agapeo love me more than these?" ("Peter, do love me in the same moral sense that God loves you, more than these?") And Peter answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I phileo love you."("Yes, Lord, You know that I am very fond of you as a friend.") Then Jesus asked a second time, "Peter, do you agapeo love me?" . ("Peter, do love me in the same moral sense that God loves you?")And again Peter answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I phileo love you."("Yes, Lord, You know that I am very fond of you as a friend.")
Finally Jesus asked, "Peter, do you phileo love me? ("Peter, are you fond of me as a friend?") Then Peter is grieved. I used to believe that Peter was grieved because of the the mere repetitiveness of the question, Lovest thou me?". I now am inclined to believe that Peter was grieved because it began to dawn on him that Jesus was requiring more than a friend to friend love, but a much broader unconditional love!
3. When multiple English words are used to translate one original language word. In Genesis 25:27 Jacob is described as "a plain man dwelling in tents". In what way was Jacob plain? Did he dress plain or did he live on a plain? Strong's number 8535 is defined as follows: complete; usually (morally) pious; specifically gentle, dear. This word is also translated perfect, undefiled, and upright. This is the same word that is translated perfect to describe Job. Jacob was perfect like Job? Believe or not Jacob is described in this light before he bribed Esau for the birthright! We can conclude that while Jacob made mistakes, the desire of his heart was like that of Job's.
4. When what appears to be a perfectly logical English sentence, means something totally different in the original language. In Romans 12:11 we find the words "Not slothful in business". This phrase, at first glance, appears to be perfectly logical; we are to work hard and be good stewards of our vocational concerns! Again, a word study reveals a much different train of thought. The word slothful, Strong's number 3636, is defined as okneros tardy, i.e. indolent; (fig.) irksome. It is also translated grievous. Business is Strong's number 4710 and is defined as spoude "speed", i.e. (by implication) dispatch, eagerness, earnestness. Besides business, this word is also translated diligence, haste, care, forwardness, earnest care, and carefulness. Literally put, "not slothful in business" means "not tardy or indolent in eagerness and earnestness". This phrase in the context of the rest of Romans 12:11 is speaking of the spontaneous enthusiasm that a Christian should have to serve the Lord!
This question could be asked: Since none of us knows the original languages, how can we be sure that the definitions found in Strong's are accurate? This is a valid concern. I think we should be quick to compare Strong's to other sources. One source I would recommend is Vine's Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words written by W. E. Vine. This book can be used in tandem with Strong’s to further explain many Greek and Hebrew definitions. In fact, my favorite publication of Strong’s Concordance is Thomas Nelson Publishers' The New Strong's Expanded Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. This Strong's concordance incorporates many helpful definitions from Vine's right into the lexicon definitions.

"Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (2Tim 2:15). The Thompson Chain-Reference Bible

Do you consider yourself a Bible student? Do you study the Bible? Hopefully you pay good attention when the preachers and teachers in your congregation share with you what they have studied and learned from the Word. But do you study to learn Scriptural truths for yourself?
Every devoted Christian should spend time studying the scriptures in an effort to search the Word for himself! In Acts 17 we find that it says of the Berean Christians that "these were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so."
We should follow this example. But the Scriptures are so exhaustive! How shall one study? Where does one begin?
The Thompson Chain-Reference Bible is a simple, practical study tool that is useful to anyone who desires organized Bible study. This Bible employs the method of topical study. It gives a Bible student the ability to study thousands of Bible topics very efficiently.
In the preface of the Thompson Chain-Reference Bible, the publishers show that this comprehensive Bible contributes to both an analytical method of study and a synthetic method of study. The analytical system divides the whole Scripture into parts for the purpose of study. The synthetic method assembles and harmonizes scattered but related information into one theme of study.

Understanding the Chain-reference System
As you open a Thompson Chain Reference Bible and look at the Scriptural text, you will quickly notice that the outside margins of each page prominently contain many topics headed by a "pilot number". These numbered topics are found beside the verses to which they pertain.
At the back of this Bible you will find a General Index which lists in alphabetical order all the topics and corresponding "pilot numbers". After the General index you will find the Text Cyclopedia which lists all the topics in numerical order using the "pilot number". Under each topic you will find lists of often 6 to 12 verses that make up the "chain" that deals with that topic. Many times the verses are listed in entirety; other times just the references are given. They are listed in correct positional order with Old Testament verses preceding New Testament verses. These chains may be divided into five groups: 1) Topical chains, 2) Historical chains, 3) Biographical chains, 4) Chains covering Practical and Modern subjects; and 5) Chains covering Ancient Sciences and Crafts.
Using the Chain-reference System How does one use this Study Bible effectively? Let us look at a number of scenarios.
1. Suppose you were studying a Sunday School lesson from Romans 8. You needed to answer a question regarding the carnal mind. In the margin of verse 7 pilot number "2351 Carnal Mind Eph. 4:17" is listed. (Ephesians 4:17 denotes the next "forward reference" in this chain.) If you turn back to the Text Cyclopedia and look up 2351, you will find this chain of verses:

• And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient. Romans 1:28
• Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. Romans 8:7
• This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind. Ephesians 4:17
• And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled. Colossians 1:21 (Only the reference for this verse is actually listed in my Bible.)
• Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind. Colossians 2:18
• Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled. (Titus 1:15)

This chain of six verses helps you to grasp very quickly many concepts about a carnal mind.
• People have carnal minds because of the choices they make.
• A carnal mind is incompatible with God and God's Law.
• Vanity of mind belongs to the heathen walk of the unconverted Gentile.
• A wicked mind and wicked works are related.
• A carnal mind is puffed up and thus intrudes ignorantly into erroneous doctrine.
• Purity is not found in a defiled mind and conscience.

2. Imagine that you are reading from Ezekiel 26 where God pronounces judgment on Tyrus. Where is Tyrus? Is it a country, a city, or an ethnic group? In the margin beside the verse that refers to Tyrus you will find the alternate spelling Tyre listed with two "pilot numbers", 3716 and 4445. Under 3716 in the Text Cyclopedia you will find an explanative definition "a city of Phoenicia". You will also find eight references, five in the Old Testament and three in the New Testament that refer to this city of Tyre.
When you look up the second number 4445, you will find that it is in the Archaeological Supplement. An informative three-paragraph article details the fact that Tyre was a seaport city on an island three-quarters of a mile from the mainland and that it had high walls making it nearly invincible. It goes on to describe the prosperous trade and commerce that was carried on between Tyre and the rest of the Mediterranean world. The last paragraph explains the downfall of Tyre first at the hands of Alexander the Great and then her eventual fall from prominence to "a place for the spreading of nets" as Ezekiel prophesied.
3. Another method you can utilize with this Bible, is to research a subject by starting with the General Index. Suppose you are trying to encourage someone who is facing a temptation to give in and give up! You would like to share some helpful Scriptures with him. If you look up temptation in the General Index, you will find a number of subtopics under it. Two subtopics that would be particularly helpful in this situation are Encouragement to Those Enduring, #3586 and Resisted, Examples of, #3589.
If you look up these "pilot numbers" in the Text Cyclopedia, you will find many fitting verses of encouragement like I Corinthians 10:13 There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it, and 2 Peter 2:9 The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished.
You will also find encouraging examples of those who resisted temptations like Abraham, Elisha, Job, the Rechabites, Daniel, Christ and Peter.

Other Features
Besides the chain system, many other useful helps are found in the back of this Bible. You will find quite a number of illustrative charts. I have listed some that I find especially interesting.

• The Historical Bridge Between the Old and New Testaments Page 1584
• The Origin and Growth of the English Bible Page 1585
• The Messianic Stars Page 1589
• Journey Maps and "Life Trees" Pages 1661 – 1706 (These are illustrative maps that show the travels and important happenings in the lives of prominent Bible characters.)
• Places for Religious Worship Page 1715 - 1716
• Interior Arrangement of the Temple at Jerusalem Page1717
• Model of Herod's Temple Page 1718

You will also find many valuable outlines. Every book of both the Old and New Testament has been analyzed and outlined. The authorship, historical occasion of the writing, the main theme, and other points of interest are included. There are also biographical outline studies of many prominent characters of the Bible.
A special section for Christian workers is presented with many ready-at-hand topics with a ‘pilot number" so that you can find Bible references "on the spur of the moment" in your witnessing work. There is even a Memory Verses chart with a suggested memory verse from each book of the Bible!

Are there any drawbacks to using a Thompson Chain-Reference Bible? Indeed there are some. You could find yourself using this work as a crutch. You could find yourself subconsciously viewing the study helps in this Bible as the final authority on any given subject! While I have promoted this Bible as a fine Bible-study aid, it is not the only aid that you should use. It is always wise to cross-check any information you find in this Bible with other sources.
Also sometimes there is a disadvantage of being "spoon-fed" the topical matter of each verse. While this work is comprehensive, it is not exhaustive. The author, for lack of space or simply variation of perceived emphasis, may have missed a topic that could or even should be listed. You may find yourself getting into "topical ruts"; you narrow your evaluation of a verse to the topics given and nothing more.
I suggest that you use a good center-reference type Bible in conjunction with this chain-reference Bible. It seems that many center-reference Bibles do a bit better job of cross-referencing contextual and historical relationships than do topical chains.
"Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine … Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all" (1Ti 4:13,15).

The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary

Once in a while, someone asks, “Do we really need other Bible reference books to understand the Scriptures? Why not just read and study our Bibles and allow the Lord to show us the things that are hard to understand?” The answer to these questions is implied in the account of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8 where he was asked, “Understandest thou what thou
“How can I, except some man should guide me?” he answered.
While every Christian should study the Bible for himself, he will undoubtedly come to passages where, to fully comprehend the message, he will need the guidance and understanding of others. Herein lies the value of a Bible reference book like The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary.

Layout of This Dictionary
This comprehensive volume is more like a Bible encyclopedia than a Bible dictionary. The preface at the beginning of the book clearly states that an effort was made to include articles on only those subjects which have a direct bearing upon the Bible. The articles are arranged in alphabetical order by subject. After each boldface entry word, you will find a set of parentheses enclosing the English pronunciation of any name or word that may be unfamiliar. Geographical and biographical names are often defined. Sometimes the Hebrew or Greek transliterations are given, followed by the meaning of the Hebrew or Greek term. The longer articles are outlined in bold type so that the reader can readily find information he is seeking. To avoid duplication a system of cross references is used to group like subjects in the same article. At the end of each article, you will sometimes find the initials of the contributor or reviser. The bibliographies also found at the end of some articles are arranged by date with the earliest listed first.
Many illustrations, charts, and tables are sprinkled throughout this book. In the back of the book you will find a good set of maps preceded by an index.

Things You Should Know About This Dictionary
1. Because of its author, this book conveys a strong Protestant interpretation-analysis rather than an Anabaptist point of view. You will not find articles on Nonresistance or Non- conformity. You will not find a neat list of the seven ordinances of the Mennonite Church! Articles like marriage, divorce, anointing, covering the head in prayer, and the kiss are weak because it fails to promote Biblical Anabaptist distinctive practices.
2. The Bible verses quoted in this book are from the New American Standard Version unless otherwise stated. Readings from the King James Version and New International Version are also cited.
3. The articles pertaining to eschatology are presented from the premillennial perspective.
4. The author explicitly states in the preface that “Biblical doctrines are presented – yet not as held by any one group, but as subscribed to by various segments of the church as a whole”. This means that it is imperative that you read the complete article, all the way to the end! While the writers often give various historical viewpoints on doctrinal subjects (some sound and some otherwise), they usually give what I consider to be a fairly Scriptural interpretation at the end of the article.
5. Various article titles in this dictionary sound strange in our vernacular. Try the articles on Anthropopathism, Essence (The Divine), or Ablution. Look them up. You will occasionally find that the concept of the article is as strange as the title; other times you may find a strange title, but a recognizable concept!

Types of Articles in This Dictionary
Consider the five basic types of articles in this work. I have also endeavored to include some samples of the fascinating information one can find in this dictionary that enhances the poignancy of many Bible passages.

Nearly all of the persons of the Bible are found in this work. If you look up Daniel, you will find that there were actually three people in the Bible by this name. The most common, of course, is the prophet who ministered in Babylon. More than two columns are dedicated to detailing his life, visions, and character. The second Daniel was a son of David by Abigail the Carmelite (I Chronicles 3:1). This same person is called Chileab in I Samuel 3:3. The third Daniel was a priest of the family of Ithamar who returned from the Exile with Ezra (Ezra 8:2, Neh 10:6).
The confusing list of the kings of Israel and Judah, in which multiple kings had the same names, such as Abijah, Jeroboam, and Jehoram can be quickly comprehended by looking up each name in this Bible dictionary. Within the chart under History, Old Testament you can even find a list of the kings of Israel and Judah listed side by side.

Geographical / Historical
Mountains, valleys, seas, rivers, brooks, regions, cities, and towns – there are informative articles on many, many places you read about in the Bible record. These articles not only seek to establish where but also what happened there! Archeological information is often given if available, particularly for towns and cities.
If you look up Galilee, Sea of, you will find (among many other details) that this lake is about 700 feet below sea level, is surrounded by high hills, and is characterized by abrupt temperature changes. These three factors together probably contributed to the sudden and violent storms that the disciples experienced in Mark 4:37 and John 6:18 as they sailed across the lake.
Samaria, City of is an interesting article that gives many historical details other than what is recorded in the Scriptures. As we know from the Bible account, Samaria, capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, was the home of the Kings of Israel such as Omnri and Ahab. The Syrians besieged the city twice without success. Later, Samaria and the Northern Kingdom were destroyed by the Assyrians. According to history, it was then apparently rebuilt and destroyed a number of times. Alexander the Great conquered it at one point; Ptolemy Lagos dismantled it once, and John Hyrcanus, the Maccabee, besieged it for a year before taking it.
The archaeological excavations of Samaria are especially fascinating: remains from the palace of Ahab have been found. Also large numbers of cisterns were discovered that apparently compensated for the lack of natural water supply. These, coupled with the excavations of the remains of stout walls, possibly explain the ability of the city to withstand long sieges. Numerous ivories have been recovered, bringing to mind Ahab’s ivory house (I Kings 22:39) and the denouncements of the prophet Amos against “houses of ivory” (Amos 3:15) and “beds of ivory” (Amos 6:4).

Note that four large articles are prominent in this section – Animal Kingdom, Diseases, Mineral Kingdom, and Vegetable Kingdom. In no other place is the system of cross-references more prominent than in these large scientific articles.
For instance, if you look up the word hind in the “H” section, it says “The female of Hart. See Animal Kingdom: Deer. You can then learn more about the hind in the Animal Kingdom article where, in fact, all of the animals of the Bible are listed in one convenient list.
One article in the Animal Kingdom list that is amusing is the entry baboons. You are referred to the entry of peacock! While baboon is not used in the KJV, some versions say that Solomon’s ship from abroad brought baboons instead of peacocks! How can you confuse baboons with peacocks! The article explains that the original word from which both of these animal names is translated, is a bit obscure and there is confusion as to what was really meant.
In Revelation 20:19 – 20 John endeavors to paint a word picture of the 12 foundations of the Holy City. He describes each foundation as resembling a different stone. If you look up each of these stones, you will be referred to the Mineral Kingdom. Here, as you research each type of stone, John’s word picture will literally begin to glow with colors! It seems that John found it difficult to put into words the gorgeous hues of greens, violets, yellows, blues, and reds that he saw, so he compared it to precious stones with which he was familiar but that we probably are not!
Why, in Numbers 11:5, did the children of Israel pine after cucumbers and melons so desperately when they were wandering in the wilderness? A quick investigation of these two vegetables in articles found under Vegetable Kingdom yields an interesting answer. Not only were these vegetables valued for their luscious succulent taste, but were valued for their ability to quench the thirst of a desert traveler!

This section of articles “plows deep” and therefore requires much contemplation and concentration. A lot of theologians, both ancient and modern are quoted. The names of various teachings and theories that are given are often unfamiliar. For example, in the article entitled Incarnation, a number of heresies are named like Ebionism, Gnosticism, Sabellianism, Arianism, and Apollinarianism and modern counter-parts like Socinianism, Unitarianism, and Rationalism. After a while your head is “swimming” in isms! But, if you read diligently, you will find these isms are explained in layman’s terms that are easily understood. At one point in this article Merrill F. Unger, the writer, gives this quote as he reflects on the confusion of some theologians. “The faith of the common people is determined by the Word of God, by the worship of the sanctuary, and by the teachings of the Spirit. They remain in a great measure ignorant of, or indifferent to, the speculations of the theologians.” I am encouraged that the intent of the writer was to interpret the Scriptures accurately in spite of human speculation!
The article on the Resurrection of Christ does a very good job of debunking two false teachings; 1.) Christ did not experience an actual bodily resurrection, but that his spirit was raised from hell to heaven and 2.) Christ, after His death, appeared to His disciples in a purely subjective way, also known as the “vision hypothesis”. The writer then very emphatically states that “The resurrection of our Lord is set before us in the NT as the miraculous restoration of His physical life, the reunion of His spirit with His body, and yet in such a way that the material limitations, in which He had previously confined His life, were set aside.” Later on in the article he very eloquently establishes that “the denial of this great fact has always come from the enemies of Christianity!” He then lists a number of reasons why the Resurrection of Christ cannot be denied.
Sanctification, Entire is an example of an article where a number of view-points are presented. The writer begins the article by asking this question – “Is it the privilege of believers to be wholly sanctified in this life?” He then gives the Roman Catholic View, the Calvinistic View, and the Methodist View. I do not have space to elaborate on each view. At the end of the article he adds “a few suggestions for guidance” in a section entitled “Summary of New Testament Statement”. Here three aspects of the doctrine of sanctification are presented and explained: 1) positional sanctification, 2) experiential sanctification, and 3) ultimate sanctification. In my opinion, if you comprehend these three aspects of the doctrine of sanctification, you will have a fairly sound scriptural view.

This is a catch-all category containing various subjects that do not belong in the other categories. An example of a large article that falls in this category is Dress, in which the materials, color, garment forms and names, and usages of dress in the Bible era is described.
Another large article is one entitled Festivals. Here you will find a thorough explanation of the feasts that the Children of Israel were commanded to observe like the Feast of Trumpets, Year of Jubilee, Passover, etc… Many aspects of each feast such as the origin, import, observance, and even the typology are treated.
An article on every book of the Bible is presented, often including an outline of the book, as well as information regarding the purpose, background, and date the book was written.
This is a list of some of my favorite informational articles.
• Metrology (weights, measures, coinage)
• Calendar (describes the various ancient calendars – Chaldean, Egyptian, Jewish, Roman, Gregorian, and Ecclesiastical)
• Temple (compares Solomon’s, Zerubbabel’s, Ezekiel’s, and Herod’s)
• Translations, English Bible (identifies and comments on nearly forty different English translations)
• Tabernacle (besides the information in the article, this entry contains some colored pictures of what the tabernacle and furniture may have looked like)
“And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.” (2Tim 2:2)

Manners and Customs of Bible Lands
Did you ever marvel at the effective power of the Scriptures that you have the privilege of reading everyday? The Bible was written in a particular time, to particular people, about particular issues that faced them. Yet no other book has had the ability to transcend every era of time and influence every culture of human existence with an answer to every spiritual problem that mankind has ever faced!
Manners and Customs of Bible Lands enlightens the Bible student to the manners and customs of the particular people to whom the Scriptures were originally written. Our Western culture differs significantly from the Middle Eastern culture of Bible times. But when you begin to understand this culture, you suddenly discover a whole new vein of interpretation to be mined!
Many publishers have produced books on this subject, but two of my favorite ones are published by Moody Press. The first one, Manners and Customs of Bible Lands written by Fred H. Wight, was published in 1953. Wight examines many manners and customs of the Orient, particularly those practiced by the Bedouin Arabs that lived in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He found that since these people practiced habits of life inherited from countless generations, they had become conservators of the manners and customs of Bible times. He then correlates the customs of these people to similar Bible customs to help the reader better understand Bible culture.
Although this book contains no colored pictures, it does contain a few black and white drawings. The Bible passages quoted in this work are from the KJV. At the back of the book, in addition to the index and the bibliography, you will find a long list of every Bible reference referred to throughout the book. This interestingly readable volume is now out of print.
A newer book, The New Manners and Customs of Bible Times written by Ralph Gower, incorporates certain materials of Fred Wight's book but is reorganized, expanded, illustrated with colored drawings and photos, and brought up to date. This book quotes from the NIV and may need some editing particularly when used by school students or adolescents (i.e. pictures of ancient sculptures, article on marriage rituals, etc ) but is very readable and interesting. It too contains a list of Scripture references and an index at the back of the book.

Using These Books in Bible Study
Although these books are chock full of many, many remarkable details regarding the manners and customs of the Bible era, we will limit ourselves to four examples of how a Bible student can utilize the information of these books to better understand the Scriptures.

To Understand People of the Bible
What kind of person was the woman Jael in Judges 4? While the Lord used her to help deliver Israel from Sisera, she is often noted for her treachery in killing Sisera after she had invited him into her tent. An understanding of the layout of the typical tent of Jael's time, as well as customs regarding hospitality of that day, hints of another point of view.
The tent of Bible times was comprised of a long piece of goats' haircloth erected on a series of poles and pegged to the ground on each end with tent-nails. Vertical hangings served as dividers to make "apartment rooms" in the tent. The porch-like entrance of the tent served as the men's quarters, but was also used to receive and entertain guests. The inner curtained rooms served as the women's quarters. The only male permitted within the inner curtained rooms was the husband/father. The entry of a male stranger into these women's quarters of the tent was punishable by death!
While it was culturally considered despicable to harm a guest after he had been cordially received, it appears that Sisera breached customary protocol by allowing himself to be hid in "her tent" instead of staying in the men's porch area. His mistake cost him his life when Jael drove one of the tent-nails through his temples!

To Understand Incidences of the Bible
In Genesis 37:3 Joseph received a coat of many colors from his father Jacob. We usually picture Joseph wearing a brilliantly colored robe! However, this coat of many colors refers to a long, long-sleeved undergarment called a tunic ("many colors" implies that the tunic reached to the palms and soles). This very essential garment was like a sack with a Vshaped opening cut for the head and slits cut at the corners for the two arms. Men's tunics were usually short (knee length) and colored; women's tunics were ankle length and blue. Aristocracy wore long tunics with long sleeves. Long sleeves were a nuisance and got in the way when work was to be done. When Joseph received a longsleeved tunic form his father, this signified that he was a ruler in the family rather than a laborer.

To Understand Teachings of the Bible
In Matthew 11:28 30 Jesus invites those who are "heavy laden" to "take My yoke upon you" for "My yoke is easy and My burden is light". To what tool was Jesus referring when He spoke of a yoke? Was He inviting the weary to be "yoked" with Him as an Israelite farmer would yoke two oxen together? Probably not. The "heavy-laden" most likely referred to human porters who carried huge loads on their backs. Many Eastern cities had a market place inside one of the city gates. Sometimes camels and carts were not permitted or did not fit thru the gateways into the market. The porters, who were usually servants taken from the poorest of men, would then carry the produce and goods on their backs. The yoke to which Jesus referred was the piece of wood fitted over a person's shoulder so the loads could be hung on it. This allowed the almost impossible loads to be carried much easier. Jesus, when using this illustration, did not say He would take our heavy burdens away, but that He would supply a means whereby we may successfully carry them! Paul may have been thinking of the lowly porter when he admonished the Galatians and us to "bear ye one another's burdens."

To Understand Practices of the Bible
In Luke 9:62 Jesus said, "No man having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of heaven." Was Jesus concerned that the spiritual plowman would make crooked furrows if he looked back? Or was Jesus concerned that the plowman was not only looking back, but was also using one hand instead of two to guide his implement? The plows of Bible times were fashioned from two wooden beams joined together to form a T. The horizontal stroke of the T was fashioned so that the handle to guide the plow was on the one end, and the sharpened point for plowing on the other. The sharpened point contained the iron or copper plowshare. The vertical section of the T fastened to the yoke that was across the necks of the oxen.
The ground was generally very hard. In fact, the farmer needed to wait for the "early rains" to soften the ground so his plow could break through the surface. Then the plowman pressed down hard on his plow with one hand and prodded his oxen with the goad he held in his other hand. He needed to concentrate so that his implement did not strike a rock or boulder and break his light plow. He could not "look back"! He needed to focus all his energies on the task at hand! Jesus helps us to understand that a worthy kingdom plowman must also "press down hard" and concentrate without being distracted in "the field" God has called him to "plow".

Using These Books in Other Activities
While these books are generally used as reference books, the writing style of each makes them highly readable. As a result, you could add them to your books-to-read list and read them from cover to cover. Your time would be well spent!
These books would also be adaptable to use in family worship or school devotions betimes for diversion. School age children find it fascinating to compare customs of Bible times with our own customs; but more importantly, our children would learn valuable insights that enhance their own understanding of the Scriptures.

Using These Books Correctly
When authors shift from simply stating the facts of the Bible, to providing commentary and historical background on the Bible, the possibility of inaccuracy and misinformation increases. While these authors write confidently, do not naively accept everything they say as Gospel truth. One example of this relates to the interpretation of practices like the woman's veiling, the kiss of greeting, the anointing with oil, and the washing of feet. These authors imply that these practices were merely customs observed in that culture. They miss the fact that God commands us to observe these ordinances in every New Testament culture!
"And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the Scriptures?" (Luke 24:32).Using Bible Commentaries Safely
When someone mentions Bible Commentaries, I think of a row of old dusty dry-looking books with yellow pages occupying a whole shelf in my Dad's study! Twenty-five years ago, most Bible commentaries were published in book form. They took up a lot of space on a book shelf and represented quite a monetary investment. Most people, therefore, limited themselves to a few good commentaries that they found useful and then borrowed or bought books as the need arose.
Today, however, while commentaries are still published in book form and you can still fill your bookshelves with your favorite ones, you can now purchase a multiplicity of commentaries at a reasonable price thanks to economical Bible software programs. These commentaries can be stored on a little hard drive and can be accessed with one or two clicks of a mouse!
So many commentaries! But which ones are safe? How can you pick safe ones? When should you use them? When should you not use them?
This article is by no means exhaustive and cannot be; for, in order to be exhaustive one would need to read hundreds of books and absorb the contents of thousands of pages! I am writing from my own small frame of reference. The purpose of this writing is twofold (1) to demonstrate the valuable contribution of Bible commentaries and (2) to heighten the awareness of the dangerous teaching that can be associated with them.

What Is a Bible Commentary?
A Bible commentary is any systematic series of explanations or interpretations of Bible passages. The "Analyzing the Passage" and "Principles and Applications" part of each, Sunday School lesson is an example of Bible commentary.
In this article, I am primarily focusing on commentaries that cover the whole Bible or the New Testament, written or edited by one author or editor. These can come as a one or two volume set, as a set of many books, as a set of study notes in a study Bible, or as computer software in a Bible program. I have chosen not to address single-book works that cover one book of the Bible or one Bible topic, due to the multiplicity of them.

How to Use Bible Commentaries
Remember one thing: Successful Bible interpretation contains a supernatural, spiritual element! Paul said "But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. (1Cor 2:7, 10) The Holy Spirit has the ability to reveal to us the Truth of every verse in the Bible!
What does this mean? This means that if you desire to truly comprehend the Truth of any Bible passage, you must first pray earnestly and sincerely that the Spirit of God would open your eyes and mind. "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him" (Jas 1:5).
This also means that the primary source of accurate Bible interpretation is the Holy Spirit, not commentaries!

How, then, shall we use Bible commentaries?
1. Bible commentaries can be used as a complimentary tool to aid our awareness of the Holy Spirit's revelation. Many times, the information that can be found in a commentary expands and enhances our own interpretive conclusions on any given passage. In other words it "primes" our thought processes!
2. Bible commentaries can be used to discover what interpretive truths other Bible students have gleaned as they have systematically studied a given passage. No one person inherits the ability to fully comprehend Bible truth by himself.
3. Bible commentaries can be used to better understand how background elements may contribute to the meaning of a passage. Many Bible commentators have a better understanding of cultural, literary, and even historical inferences than you and I do. Many times these background inferences help us interpret the import of a passage.
4. Bible commentaries can be used to discover the interpretive precedent of the writers of the church of yesteryear. Commentators often quote from old writings to strengthen their own explanations of Bible passages. While this precedent does not guarantee a safe interpretation, we many times do benefit from this broad perspective.
5. Bible commentaries can be used to benefit from the cross-references to other related passages that many writers incorporate into their work.

How to Find Safe Bible Commentaries
The Holy Spirit inspired the writers of the Holy Scriptures; mortal, mistake- prone men wrote their thoughts in Bible commentaries. The Scriptures were perfect at their inception. Bible commentaries reflect the sectarian slants, doctrinal weaknesses, denominational biases, and personal agendas of the persons who penned them. In light of this, the contents of these books and writings must be critiqued cautiously!
Settle it in your mind you will not find a perfectly safe Bible commentary! Remember that even the Writings of Menno Simons and the Scriptural commentary found in the Martyrs Mirror have weaknesses because they were written by men.
But settle another thing in your mind you will find many dangerous Bible commentaries out there as well! There shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies (1Pet 2:1) Some of these commentaries have so much false teaching in them that you will not use them at all.
What is a safe commentary? I am just like everyone else. I would rather not divulge an answer either, for fear you will not agree with me! But I would say that since no commentary is entirely safe, we must find commentaries that are generally safe. We will need to learn to perceive weaknesses and errors and "walk" around them.
Is there a way to evaluate the soundness of a Bible commentary? What doctrinal errors are most likely to be found?
I have created a small test to quickly evaluate any commentary or study Bible for Scriptural soundness. The main passages that I have designated will often have an insightful explanation or will point you to another related passage that will help you evaluate the commentary. I have also provided additional passages you may use. I challenge you to apply this test to the commentaries and study Bibles you have on your shelf!

1. John 15 Test Test for Calvinistic Teaching. (See also Heb. 6:6, I Cor. 9:27, I Tim. 2:4)
The key verses in this chapter that should be tested are verses 2, 6, and 16. What does the writer say about branches being taken away and burned? If a writer states or implies that these verses do not refer to a loss of salvation, beware of Calvinism! What does the writer say about verse16 where it says "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you."? If the writer implies that man does not make a choice to be saved, but is elect, again, beware of Calvinism. If the writers speak of abiding in Christ lest we are judged and speak of the choice that we need to make in obtaining salvation, you can usually assume that the commentary is not Calvinistic.

2. Matthew 5:32 Test Test for Divorce and Remarriage Viewpoint. (See also Mat. 19:3 9, I Cor. 7:12-16.)
The phrase in this verse, "saving for the cause of fornication" sparks much varied discussion among commentators. Some will erroneously use this verse to condone the freedom of "the innocent party" to remarry. Others are slow to condone remarriage but suggest that this verse suggests legitimate grounds for divorce. Beware! Jesus is clear in His teaching that "what therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder" (Mark 10:9).

3. Romans 13 Test Test for Separation of Church and State Viewpoint. (See also I Pet. 2:13-17.)
The key verses for this test are verses 1 7. This passage is a favorite of those who would advocate that God intended that Christians should influence government for good by political means. One study Bible blatantly declared, "It is important for Christians to be actively involved in government so that the government's values are consistent with the Word of God". Look out! A statement like this implies that not only is the separation of Church and state viewed wrongly, but the doctrine of nonresistance is probably jeopardized as well.

4. Genesis 1:1 Test Test for Creation Theories
This test has become important in light of the efforts of some theologians who have endeavored to merge the evolutionary theories of science with the Genesis account of creation. Consequently, some commentators will promote the "gap theory" which proposes that there is an undetermined amount of time between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2. Be careful. This may indicate (but not always) that this commentary does not promote a "Hebrews 11" faith.

5. I Corinthians 11 Test Test for Practical New Testament Obedience. (See also John 13:1 17, Acts 1:26)
Verses 1-15 of this passage present Paul's teaching on women veiling their head as a sign of subjection to God's order. I have also included the scriptures on feet washing and the use of the lot for ordination. Very few commentators promote that these Scriptures should be practiced today. I have one commentary that, in an effort to advertise the contents of the book, asks this question in bold print on the inside fly-leaf of the glossy cover "Why did Paul expect Corinthian women to cover their heads?" The writer mistakenly concluded, as many do, that Paul was addressing the clash of the Jewish and Corinthian worship practices and was encouraging the veiling since it was appropriate for that culture in that era. Many commentaries will usually promote the principles for which the veiling, feet washing, and the use of the lot are practiced, but fail to see the value of practicing them. Be alert. Do not let commentaries with this kind of rhetoric undermine your obedience in "all things".

6. Revelation 20 Test Test for Eschatological Viewpoint
Verses 1-7 speak of a thousand year period when Satan will be bound. I am aware that we have more diversions of belief among us on this test than all the previous tests. Which viewpoint you consider to be safe depends on which viewpoint you embrace. Usually one of three viewpoints is presented amillennialism, premillennialism, or postmillennialism.

How many points of error can you find in a commentary or study Bible and still consider it safe? Not many! Actually, if you do three things, you will be well suited to comfortably discern.
(1) Allow the Holy Spirit of God to guide your Bible study.
(2) Adamantly believe, promote, and defend the inerrancy and centrality of the Scriptures.
(3) Permit yourself to be influenced by a brotherhood that promotes sound doctrine. I believe then you will readily perceive what constitutes a proper, safe use of Bible commentaries.
"Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers" (Tit 1:9).
-Peach Bottom, PA