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Major Theological Reference Works

May 2, 2017

The Apostle Paul commanded all disciples of Christ to “study to show yourself approved” (2 Timothy 2:15). That of course means careful and concentrated study of the Bible. And any Christian who wants to get a serious grasp of the Word of God and what it teaches needs to avail himself of some good study tools as well.

These would include things like Bible dictionaries, Bible atlases, Bible commentaries, and so on. Plenty of these exist, and they can be a terrific aid as we seek to learn more about our faith, about what we believe, and about historic Christian teachings and theology, etc.

Many scholars have devoted their lives to helping expound upon and make clear what is in the Bible, including its historical, cultural, linguistic, hermeneutical and theological content. Their writings appear in countless books and journal articles, often beyond the purview and reach of most believers.

But one great advantage of a solid theological reference work is you get many of these theologians, biblical scholars, exegetes, and interpreters in one handy volume. Instead of purchasing scores of books or perusing hundreds of articles, you can find all that you need in just one or two books.

Admittedly, they are often very large, heavy, lengthy, and – alas – expensive volumes, but still they are a bargain when compared to the alternative. So any serious student of Scripture should have at least some of these key reference works in his personal library.

They are invaluable reference and study tools which will greatly benefit any believer who is eager to gain a greater understanding of his faith. And remember that it is not just pastors or teachers who should be regular students of Scripture and theology. All Christians should to some extent be involved in this as a lifelong pursuit.

Needless to say, a Christian with lots of head knowledge alone will not make for a faithful Christ-follower, but neither will one who eschews study and learning, and plays down the mind. We are, after all, as Jesus commanded us, to love God with our minds as well as our hearts.

Some of these reference works I have reviewed elsewhere in much more detail. See here for example: billmuehlenberg.com/2016/08/30/jesus-new-testament-scholarship-second-editions/

Here then are some of the better, mainly conservative and evangelical theological reference works which you should be aware of. Happy reading and studying:

Theological Reference Works

Alexander, T. D.A. Carson, Brian Rosner and Graeme Goldsworthy, eds., New Dictionary of Biblical Theology. InterVarsity Press, 2001.
Arnold, Bill and H.G.M. Williamson, eds., Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books. InterVarsity Press, 2005.
Atkinson, David, et. al., eds., New Dictionary of Christian Ethics and Pastoral Theology. InterVarsity Press, 1995.
Baker, David W. and T. Desmond Alexander, eds., Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch. InterVarsity Press, 2002.
Boda, Mark and J. Gordon McConville, eds., Dictionary of the Old Testament Prophets. InterVarsity Press, 2012.
Brown, Colin, ed., The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, 4 vols. Zondervan, 1975-1985.
Brown, Jeannine and Nicholas Perrin, eds., Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, 2nd ed. InterVarsity Press, 2013.
Campbell-Jack, W., Gavin McGrath and C. Stephen Evans, eds., New Dictionary of Christian Apologetics. Inter-Varsity Press, 2006.
Copan, Paul, et. al., eds., Dictionary of Christianity and Science: The Definitive Reference for the Intersection of Christian Faith and Contemporary Science. Zondervan, 2017.
Douglas, J.D., ed., The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church. Zondervan, 1974.
Dyrness, William and Veli-Marti Karkkainen, eds., Global Dictionary of Theology. InterVarsity Press, 2008.
Elwell, Walter, ed., Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Baker, 1996.
Elwell, Walter, ed., Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Baker, 1984.
Evans, Craig and Stanley Porter, eds., Dictionary of New Testament Background. InterVarsity Press, 2000.
Green, Joel, Scot McKnight and I. Howard Marshall, eds., Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. InterVarsity Press, 1992.
Green Joel, et. al. eds., Dictionary of Scripture and Ethics. Baker, 2011.
Hart, Trevor, ed., The Dictionary of Historical Theology. Eerdmans, 2000.
Hawthorne, Gerald, Ralph Martin and Daniel Reid, eds., Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. InterVarsity Press, 1993.
Larsen, Timothy, ed., Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals. InterVarsity Press, 2003.
Longman, Tremper and Peter Enns, eds., Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry and Writings. InterVarsity Press, 2008.
Martin, Ralph and Peter Davids, eds., Dictionary of Later New Testament and Its Developments. InterVarsity Press, 1997.
Moreau, A. Scott, ed., Evangelical Dictionary of World Missions. Baker, 2000.
Ryken, Leland, James Wilhoit and Tremper Longman, eds., Dictionary of Biblical Imagery. InterVarsity Press, 1998.
Van Gemeran, Willem, New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, 5 vols. Zondervan, 2001.
Vanhoozer, Kevin, et. al., eds., Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible. Baker, 2005.
Wright, David, Sinclair Ferguson and J.I. Packer, eds., New Dictionary of Theology. InterVarsity Press, 1988.

Commentary and biblical reference guidebooks

Bauer, David, An Annotated Guide to Biblical Resources for Ministry. Hendrickson Publishers, 2003.
Carson, D.A., New Testament Commentary Survey, 7th ed. Baker/ InterVarsity Press, 1986, 2013.
Evans, John, A Guide to Biblical Commentaries and Reference Works, 10th ed. Zondervan, 1989, 2016.
Glynn, John, Commentary and Reference Survey, 10th ed. Kregel, 2007.
Longman, Tremper, Old Testament Commentary Survey, 5th ed. Baker/ InterVarsity Press, 1991, 2013.

Note: Some of the works featured above have had newer updates and revisions, sometimes with a new title, so be aware that I may have a few of the older editions listed here.

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8 Responses to Major Theological Reference Works

  • If you’re studying the Bible, I think the following complementary hermeneutical works are required reading:
    1. How To Read the Bible for All Its Worth (Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart)
    2. The Hermeneutical Spiral (Grant Osborne)
    3. Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics (Graeme Goldsworthy)

    And for the advanced student:
    4. Is There a Meaning in this Text? (Kevin Vanhoozer)

  • Thanks Andrew. Yes those are four terrific books on hermeneutics, although not larger theological reference works as such, which is why I did not include them here. But all of them are great, and that is why I included them in my older bibliography on hermeneutics!

    https://billmuehlenberg.com/2011/01/19/recommended-reading-on-hermeneutics/

  • Hi Bill, great that you recommended so many different Bible Dictionaries. Over many years, dictionaries have been the key that opened the gate to a particular line of research or study that I happened to be engaged in. Regards, Kel.

  • I LOVE the Jesus and the Gospels reference work by Green. I’ve been using it for almost all of my essays for theological College ?

  • Thanks Michael. The completely revised 2013 2nd ed., edited by Brown and Perrin is also top notch.

  • Bill

    I apologise if you have covered this already. Feel free to point me to it, or other resource that answers the query.

    If possible, can you recommend some great fundemental books for the layperson, studying for their own interest/faith?

    I would consider myself new to the faith, and with a Grade 12 comprehension level (never did go on to further study).

    I’m interested in studying the Bible, and as such would be grateful if you could recommend the necessary books, both study method, and reference books, that would last me for at least a few years of study (again, if possible).

    I’d like to learn more about God – so that He becomes the necessary “force to be reckoned with” if that makes sense? Not some watered-down version thereof.

    Forming my beliefs about Christianity, for myself firstly.

    I have the following reference books so far:
    System Theology, Wayne Grudem
    Christian Theology, Erickson
    Basic Theology, Ryrie
    Lectures in Systematic Theology, Henry Thiessen
    The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, Merrill Unger

    The following “How To” guides:
    You Can Understand the Bible, Peter Kreeft
    How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth, Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart
    How to Read the Bible Book by Book, __ ” __
    How to Master the English Bible, James Gray
    How to Study the Bible, John MacArthur
    The New Inductive Study Bible, Kay Arthur
    How to Study Your Bible, __ ” __

    I’m perfectly fine if you were to recommend better books than those mentioned above, or in supplement to.

    If this is not your area, due to you being at an academic level, I can well understand. Thought I’d ask on the off chance that you could help.

    Bill, if you feel this doesn’t add anything to this thread, i’m happy for you to move it, that is if you feel it would benefit others, or simply respond directly. Thanks and feel free to edit this bit out :))

    Sincerely
    Deb

  • Thanks Deb. At a bare minimum most Christians who want a very basic grasp of God’s word would want to have at least one good Bible dictionary, one good Bible commentary, and perhaps a good Bible atlas. Maybe a good study Bible would also be quite helpful. See here for one such example: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2011/01/14/a-review-of-the-esv-study-bible/

    From what you have said here and elsewhere, you have far more than that so you are well placed indeed, and you are seeking to learn and grow far more than many other Christians. Well done.

    The two lists you offer have a number of terrific works. If you never bought another study guide or reference tool than those dozen works, and you mastered those 12, you would be in great shape. So good job champ.

  • Woohoo!! If I could take a gracious bow I would. Thanks for that, Bill, that’s a weight-off.

    Ta muchly

    Deb 🙂

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