“Don’t let commentaries rob you of the joy of discovery!”
This little bit of advice from my New Testament professor has really stuck with me, and shaped the way I study the Bible. Rather than simply reaching for one of hundreds of great commentaries out there, I now look for another way. It’s not that my professor was against commentaries and forbade us from using them. Far from it. He simply recognized that studying the Bible should be a thrilling adventure full of twists, turns, detours, and discovery. For the student of Scripture, jumping to a commentary was akin to skipping to the final chapter of a novel: you get the gist of what happened, but you miss out in the process. Instead, the commentary should be a conversation partner that helps balance your own discoveries with someone more experienced than you.
This didn’t mean you could simply open a Bible, read a passage once, and expect to understand it completely. There are occasional obscurities and difficulties that need assistance to resolve before we can reach that place of discovery. To aid us in our discovery, he recommended a whole host of tools to put in our box: lexicons, grammars, apparatuses, and my favorite of the bunch—dictionaries.
Logos offers a whole host of dictionaries. Some of my favorites include The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, the Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, and The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. But perhaps my favorite are the IVP Dictionaries. We currently carry Dictionary of New Testament Background, Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Developments, and the IVP Dictionary of the Old Testament Bundle (2 Vols.), which includes the Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch and the Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books.
Featuring top-notch scholarship, reader accessibility, and the connectivity of Logos, these dictionaries open us up to a greater awareness of the ancient world from which our Bible texts emerged.
For example, you might want to have a better handle on the ancient practice of slavery since this plays such a huge part in the Exodus story and you have a hunch it might not be the same as more recent practices of slavery. Looking at the entry for “Slave, Slavery” (pp. 778-783) in the Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch you learn
- The actual practice of slavery in the ancient near east
- Its historical place in the first five books of the Bible, and
- The history of slavery within Israel itself.
Finally, the article provides you with quick links to related topics within the dictionary and provides you with a handy bibliography if you’re wishing to pursue this avenue of study even further.
The pages of Scripture (especially the Old Testament) are inhabited by a sometimes strange and foreign world. As we grow in our familiarity with this world, the Bible comes alive in a way that we never knew possible. And this is, of course, a great joy.