Monday, October 23, 2006

Biblical Reference Texts

I am currently teaching a course on Scripture, and put the following post together for that class, but it may be of general interest to those who are students of Scripture. I should point out that in the course of teaching that class I have spent a good bit of time talking about the short comings of Protestant scholarship, but also of the areas in which it can be useful, and of the need for Orthodox Christians to understand it. For more on that you can see my article on Sola Scriptura.

Here are the various Categories of Biblical Reference Texts:

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

For 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 is using is Rahlfs "Septuaginta, id est Vets Testamentum Graece iuxta LXX interpretes."
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.

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 the readings. 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, and when it is complete, it will hopefull be a great resource.

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 site 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 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, 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 Pictoral 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.

Eusebius' Ecclessiastical History

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 Consevative 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 focuse 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.

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.

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.


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. 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 you can currently purchase for $199.00. You can also read these texts online, but I would still recommend buying the set.

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 avaible, 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 purchase from Christian Book Distributers.