Some of you have taken up my challenge to use the New Year to begin serious reading of the Bible. Because many of you have never read the whole Bible through, I have urged you to give it a try, with just over three chapters a day resulting in all of it being read in a year.
I urged you to jump into Genesis 1 on January 1, and keep at it all year. That challenge – along with practical suggestions of how to implement it – is found here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2017/12/31/read-bible-worthwhile-new-years-resolution/
In that piece I mentioned that the journey can get a bit bumpy at times, and help is needed to make your way through, especially with some of the more difficult parts of the Old Testament. I said we need to make use of study tools such as Bible dictionaries, Bible atlases, and Bible commentaries. Here I want to expand on that, as well as provide a brief overview of what you will encounter in the OT.
Bible study tools
There are plenty of good biblical reference works to choose from. They can range from the very popular and introductory level books to much more academic and scholarly volumes. Given that I want to make this accessible for the new believer or the non-scholarly Christian, I will here just run with the easier to follow and more popular books available. Let me just mention some key categories, and an example or two from each:
One standard and quite helpful work is The New Bible Dictionary (Eerdmans, 1962, but now in various newer editions). Another one is the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Holman Reference, latest version 2015).
Many good ones exist. Perhaps go with the Holman Bible Atlas (Holman Reference, 2014) or The New Moody Atlas of the Bible by Barry J. Beitzel (Moody, rev. ed., 2009).
A number of popular and easy to follow works exist that give an overview of the entire Bible. Two volumes that have become classics include What the Bible Is All About by Henrietta Mears (this has been out for decades and comes in many editions) and David Pawson, Unlocking the Bible (Collins, 1999, 2007). Plenty of more scholarly and academic treatments exist, but for a basic grasp of the whole Bible, these volumes can be quite useful.
There are quite a few good ones that can be found here, such as various older standards, but some newer and useful volumes include the Holman Study Bible, the NIV Zondervan Study Bible, and the ESV Study Bible.
Some good helpful volumes include Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe, When Critics Ask (Baker, 1992); Walter Kaiser, et. al., Hard Sayings of the Bible (IVP, 1996); and Ron Rhodes, Commonly Misunderstood Bible Verses: Clear Explanations for the Difficult Passages (Harvest House, 2008).
In addition, see the 76 articles I have in my series on difficult Bible passages: https://billmuehlenberg.com/category/theology/difficult-bible-passages/
A Survey of the Old Testament by Andrew E. Hill and John H. Walton (Zondervan, newest ed., 2009) is helpful, as is William Lasor, David Hubbard and Frederic Bush, Old Testament Survey, 2nd ed. (Eerdmans, 1996).
Older volumes include Robert Gundry, A Survey of the New Testament (Zondervan, 1970). A newer one is Andreas Kostenberger, Scott Kellum and Charles Quarles, The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament. Nashville: B&H, 2009.
Basic Bible understanding
Still a classic is the popular level volume by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart, How To Read the Bible For All its Worth (Zondervan; 4 ed., 2014). For those seeking much more, in 2011 I put together a bibliography of some 60 books on biblical hermeneutics: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2011/01/19/recommended-reading-on-hermeneutics/
One can get a single volume commentary on the entire Bible, or one can get so much more, such as a multi-volume commentary on just one book of the Bible. It all depends on what you are looking for and how much detail you seek – as well as how much time and money you have! See these three articles for much more information on all this:
Old Testament history overview
Since some of you have now started to delve into the OT, let me offer a brief overview of some of it. The Bible begins with a number of historical or narrative books, taking us from the creation of the world up to the return from exile. In a nutshell these OT historical books run something like this:
Genesis 1-2: creation
Genesis 3: fall
Genesis 4: Cain, Abel
Genesis 5: Adam to Noah
Genesis 6-8: the flood
Genesis 10: table of nations
Genesis 11: Babel
Genesis 12-36: the Patriarchs
Genesis 12:1-20:18: Abraham
Genesis 19: Sodom and Gomorrah
Genesis 21:1-26:35: Isaac
Genesis 27:1-37:1: Jacob
Genesis 37:2-50: Joseph
Exodus 1-18: Israel’s exodus from Egypt
Exodus 19-24: Sinai, the giving of the law
Exodus 25-40: tabernacle for worship
Leviticus: laws for holy living
Numbers: from Sinai to Canaan
Deuteronomy: the second law giving
Joshua, Judges: how the Israelites entered Canaan and settled in
Ruth: the story of Ruth
1 Samuel 1-12: Samuel
1 Samuel 8-31: Saul
1 Samuel 16-31: David
2 Samuel: David
1 Kings 1-12: Solomon
1 Kings 12–2 Kings: divided kingdom
1 Chronicles 1-9: genealogies
1 Chronicles 10-29: David
2 Chronicles 1-9: Solomon
2 Chronicles 10-36: divided kingdom (only Judah, the southern kingdom)
Ezra, Nehemiah: return from exile and the rebuilding of the temple
Elsewhere I have tried to give an overview of one rather complex portion of this, the kings of Israel and Judah, and the ministry of the prophets during this period. See here for much more detail: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2017/04/25/getting-grasp-old-testament-kings-prophets/
Happy reading and happy study!