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: https://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.