About 35 years ago, I was browsing in a Christian bookstore when the owner of the store asked me if I could recommend a book to a young Jewish man who had recently become a Christian. He wanted something to help him grow in his faith. I recommended he start by reading the gospel of John since it was written "that you may believe that Jesus is the Christů" (John 20:31).
The Bible is our textbook, but we can benefit from other books, written by gifted teachers, that can help us in our understanding of the Scriptures. I have given away a few hundred books over the years and have downsized my library considerably. I still have more than 2,000 volumes.
Today, resources and references are in abundant supply, especially for the English-speaking world. In addition to all kinds of books, software and internet sites offer a huge array of information. Logos Bible Software, for example offers the Logos 5 package. You can buy whatever level you need: Starter, Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum, Diamond, Platinum, and Portfolio. Each level includes the previous offering. The Portfolio includes everything they offer-2,585 resources. It sells for $4,232.96 but Logos says it is worth $78,000 in print value.
For those who like to read books, printed or digital, a basic library should include: a Bible dictionary (Unger's, Moody, Zondervan, etc.); A Bible encyclopedia (like the two volume Wycliffe set); an exhaustive concordance like Strong's or the New American Standard; a general commentary on the Old and New Testament such as the NIV Bible Study Commentary (one volume), Matthew Henry's abridged commentary (one volume), Jamieson, Fausett, and Brown's A Commentary: Critical, Experimental, and Practical (three volumes), or The Bible Knowledge Commentary (two volumes); Biblical language books for English readers like The Theological Wordbook of the OT, Nelson's Expository Dictionary of the Old Testament, Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary, Practical Word Studies In The New Testament (which includes five translations), Word Studies in The Greek New Testament by Kenneth Wuest (four volumes), or Word Pictures in the New Testament by A.T. Robertson (six volumes) ; and books on biblical customs, backgrounds, and lands (like the IVP Bible Background two vol. set).
In addition, it can be very helpful to own specific commentaries related to what you are studying or teaching. My formula was to have at least 10 commentaries on a particular book of the Bible from which I was preaching or teaching. While I own several complete sets of commentaries, these books can usually be purchased individually. The New American Commentary by Broadman & Holman is very good, as are John MacArthur's commentaries on the New Testament, The New International Commentaries, Keil and Delitzsch's Commentary on the Old Testament, and William Barclay's Daily Bible Study Series (NT). Barclay was more liberal in his theology, but his word studies and background information is helpful.
There are so many other books a person could accumulate. I could mention so many others but the ones I have stated above I believe are basic in building a good library. Over the years, I collected the 63-volume set of C.H. Spurgeon's sermons from The New Park Street Church and the Metropolitan Tabernacle in addition to 50 other books by him or about him. He became my pastor-teacher of history.
Most of us will have our favorites, but in building a library we need to be sure to include books and reference references by solid and sound Bible-believing teachers and scholars. God gave to the church, according to Ephesians 4:11-12, "apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ." Through the teaching and preaching of great leaders from the past, we can access their insights through their writings and apply what we learn to our time and culture.
With all of our reading of good books, it is still good to remember the warning of Ecclesiastes 12:12, "the writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body." There are many good resources available today. They are tools to aid us in understanding Scripture. The Holy Spirit is our highest teacher and our foundational resource and authority is the Bible itself. As Spurgeon himself said, "Visit many good books, but live in the Bible."
James Rudy Gray is certified as a professional counselor by the National Board for Certified Counselors, and is a member of the American Association of Christian Counselors. He serves as the editor of The Baptist Courier, the official newspaper of the South Carolina Baptist Convention.
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