Book Recommendations: The Book of Books...

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Note: At times I'm asked for book recommendations. Here's the first in a list I hope to add to, as time permits. First, the Book of Books and specific recommendations for which version of Scripture you should use, and what small number of Bible study helps and reference works you should have at home, with links to click where you can buy them at a good price.

 

Book Number One: The Bible, "New American Standard Bible Updated (1995) Edition"

The Bible is the only book without error:

 

But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. (2Peter 1:20,21)

 

No other book is so worthy of our delight and constant meditation:

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (2Timothy 3:16,17)

In Scripture we come to know the character, the perfections, of the Only True God--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; here we have revealed to us the origin and nature of man, unique among all creation in his bearing the image of God, but sinful from the moment of conception by virtue of the federal headship of Adam; here, joyfully, we meet Jesus; here we read of His love for lost and sinful man; here we are brought to His Cross and promised eternal life if we believe on Him; here we find everything we need to know to lead a godly life in Christ Jesus.

Read this book as close to once a year as you can, never excluding the Old Testament. And as you read...

And as you read, don't hesitate to mark up your Bible, keeping a record of the lessons the Holy Spirit teaches you. Pray that the Holy Spirit will work in you through these words He has given to us in this Book, producing the fruit that He has promised it will always, without fail, produce:

 

"For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways," declares the LORD. "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, And do not return there without watering the earth And making it bear and sprout, And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it" (Isaiah 55:8-11).

 

What Bible Format or Size?
Buy a Bible that's small enough to be convenient to carry but large enough to be convenient to read; a failure in either direction is lethal, as I've learned on more than one occasion. Or, another tack to take is to buy one Bible for travel and another for home devotions. The advantage of this may be two-fold. First, you can go for really light for your travel Bible while using a more readable (and writable) Bible at home. The problem with this, though, is that you have to keep track of two Bibles, and the notes and inspirations you write in your Bible's margins are not all in one place. Each to his own.

Which Bible Version?
After many years of using the New International Version, about six years ago I switched to the New American Standard Bible Updated (1995) Edition. There are other Bible versions I'd recommend (including the English Standard Version and the New King James Version), but it's generally agreed that the NASB Updated Edition is as close as you can get to the original Hebrew and Greek text. And ultimately, I want a Bible for myself and my children that brings them as close as possible to the original inspired text while still being a translation into their own common language. The NASB Updated Edition satisfies this need though at times the reader pays for the NASB's accuracy by a certain stiffness in readability.

If you attend our church, Church of the Good Shepherd, you know already that the NASB Updated Edition is the translation we use in our preaching and teaching. As you read devotionally, don't hesitate to confer with other translations or paraphrases but keep in mind that such modern versions are more commentaries on the text than Scripture itself. In other words, they serve as a sort of substitute pastor preaching to you in your devotional closet and opening up the meaning of the text to you as you read.

What about Neutered Bibles Such as Today's New International Version?
Certainly do not use any of the recent Bible products that intentionally remove the patriarchal language that God inspired throughout Scripture. Bibles such as the New International Version Inclusive Edition, the New International Readers Version, Today's New International Version, and the New Living Translation are the main Bible products that are de-patriarchalized but pushed in evangelical churches and bookstores. Have nothing to do with these non-Bibles. For more on this, read the pieces available here and here.

What about the Message?
I'm against it--it's bubble gum Scripture. Like the Swedish rock band, Abba, it will sell, and some of its tunes are quite catchy/kitschy, but the Word of God is not supposed to be packaged as one man's ruminations and perambulations on the text. We're supposed to get the text itself from the men who wrote it--not premasticated by Eugene Peterson. Sorry if you love it, but I don't recommend it at all.

What About Study Bibles?
Don't read a study Bible during your devotional time. Having the study notes on the same page as the inspired text may well cause the study notes to assume an inspired status in our minds, which is bad. Make yourself switch books to get comments on the text, thus disciplining yourself to realize each time you turn to the notes that they are not inspired. However, if you're set on having a study Bible I'd recommend the New Geneva Study Bible.

What About the Words of Jesus in Red?
When you read the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), remember that all of Scripture is inspired (breathed out) by God, not simply the words printed in red that Jesus spoke. If any of them were listening to me, I would encourage printers to stop printing the words of Jesus in red since I believe it tends to make the reader think that these words are more holy, more directly from God, than the other words printed in black. Remember, the teaching of Jesus and historic Christian belief is that every word of the Bible is God-breathed, not simply those words spoken by Jesus. So cultivate ignorance of the color red in the Gospels.

What About Other Bible Study Aids?
For basic questions of Bible facts--names, places, animals, outlines, dates, etc.--by far the best aid to keep close at hand is the New Bible Dictionary. Some works are concise but spotty in quality; others are top-notch but depressing in their massive content and multiple volumes. Only occasionally is a single volume a model of both simplicity and accuracy, and such a volume is the New Bible Dictionary. Add to this that you can pick it up for less than $30 and you have no excuse for lacking a good Bible dictionary--it's the cost of one month's broadband internet access.

Moving from questions of fact to doctrinal matters that might occur to you as you read Scripture, I'd recommend in this order: a full set of Calvin's commentaries, available for around $150; the Battles edition of Calvin's two-volume Institutes of the Christian Religion (among other things this Battles edition contains a superb index); Francis Turretin's three volume Institutes of Elenctic Theology (elenctic refers to Turretin's method of teaching doctrine by argument, the refutation of errors)"; and Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology, not best on the Sacraments and very weak on the doctrine of the Church, but quite good in most other areas and very simple to understand.

There are any number of other commentaries that are good, but I'll mention six sets that are particularly helpful.

First, there is a series of commentaries published by Banner of Truth called the Geneva Commentaries which I have found most helpful in my preparation for preaching over the years. Currently, I am using one of those commentaries in my preparation for our Tuesday morning men's Bible study and prayer time, Commentary on Proverbs by Charles Bridges, and I know Bridges has been a great help to all of us. Each of the Geneva Series of commentaries is selected for excellence in connection with the particular book of the Bible under consideration, so the series is covered by many different authors. To this date, I have not been disappointed by any of these commentaries. Here's Banner of Truth's home web page.

Second, the nineteenth century Anglican pastor, J. C. Ryle, always hits the mark in his Expository Thoughts on the Gospels. True, there is sparse attention given to technical matters, but few are his equal in getting to the heart of the text and applying its truths to our lives. Banner of Truth has these works in print and you can read more about them here.

Third, the sermons of Martyn Lloyd-Jones on particular books of the Bible are in print and, although again, Lloyd-Jones tends not to give a lot of attention to the finer points of grammar and other technical matters, few are his equal in getting at, and applying the heart of the text. For a complete listing of Lloyd-Jones' works, including volumes dealing with books of the Bible, see the following web page.

Fourth, for more technical aspects of the text I recommend William Hendriksen's New Testament Commentaries. Hendriksen is neither the latest nor the most creative in his scholarship; rather he excels in taking a conservative approach which, for my money, is a commendable discipline in the study of God's Word.

Fifth, buy and read Matthew Henry's unabridged Commentary on the Bible. If you are to preach or teach somewhere and have fifteen minutes to prepare, open Henry and preach or teach just one tiny part of his points on your selected text and you will be following (wisely) in the footsteps of many thousand other pastors and Bible teachers whose flocks are the better for it. You can find Henry almost anywhere, including online.

Sixth, Spurgeon's multi-volume work on the Psalms titled the Treasury of David is the only thing you're ever likely to need for studying the Psalms.

Finally, if I were to spend around $250 for a basic library to help with the study of Scripture, I would narrow the above recommendations down to the following:

New Bible Dictionary (around $30)
Francis Turretin's Institutes of Elenctic Theology or Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion ($50-$75) Calvin's commentaries on the Bible (around $125) Matthew Henry's unabridged Commentary on the Bible ($25-$50) Spurgeon's Treasury of David ($30)

Note on the Purchase of Books:
Unless you have a good source for inexpensive used books, may I recommend Cumberland Valley Bible Bookstore for your purchase of these books? Cumberland's people are prompt and helpful and their prices are usually as low as you'll find. Keep in mind, though, that they are strict baptists, and therefore they hamstring their selection of some works of great merit written by paedobaptists (infant baptizers). Naturally then, they give prominence to those men who reject the Biblical doctrine of infant baptism such as Spurgeon, Piper, and MacArthur.