Do you have a Bible you hold and open and read and write notes in? Not a Bible app, but a real printed Bible? You ought to and here's a post giving some recommendations for choosing and using your Bible, as well as some recommendations for a few books you should have on hand as helps in your Bible reading.
As you read, always keep in mind that 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. Man alone (both men and women) bears the Image of God, although by virtue of the federal headship of Adam he is wracked by sin. Here joyfully we meet Jesus our beloved Savior. 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 lead a godly life in Christ Jesus.
Read this book as close to once a year as you can. And never ever excluding the Old Testament. 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 His 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
Format and 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. 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.
To help you research your next Bible's paper opacity, typeface, printing, and binding as carefully as your next smartphone, here's a web site that's outstanding in those matters. And if you read it, you'll quickly learn there are just a few Bible publishers that stand high above others in the readability and longevity of their physical product.
To cut to the chase, if I were still under thirty-five and had good eyesight, in a heartbeat I'd buy the NASB Pitt Minion Reference published by Cambridge University Press. It's expensive, but will last 'till your grandchildren are married and is everything you want in Bible. If I preferred the archaic language of the King James Version, I'd buy the new KJV Clarion Reference.
Those older than thirty-five are facing the decline in their eyesight that hits everyone at forty, so a larger typeface than the one Cambridge uses for their Pitt Minion is usually necessary. So for those needing a larger typeface, I'd buy Cambridge's larger print version of the Pitt Minion, the NASB Wide Margin Reference Edition, Cambridge's Clarion NASB. Here's Bible Design's review of the same Bible in KJV.
And as a matter of fact, I did just buy one—a Clarion NASB, that is.
After many years of using the New International Version, back around 1997 I switched to the New American Standard Bible Updated (1995) Edition. There are other Bible versions I'd recommend, including the King James, New King James, English and Revised Standard Versions, but it's generally agreed that the NASB Updated Edition is the Bible that does the least violence to the original Hebrew and Greek.
Ultimately I want a Bible for myself and my children and congregation 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 woodeness of expression.
If you attend ClearNote Church of Bloomington, you know already that the NASB Updated Edition is the translation we use in our preaching and teaching.
As you read devotionally, it may be helpful at times to confer with other translations or paraphrases. But keep in mind that such modern versions (the Living Bible, New Living Translation, New International Version, Message, etc.) provide commentary on the text--not the straight text itself.
This may sound scary, and it should. It's one thing to have a preacher preach, and later in the day to be able to go to the plain text of Scripture (found in your NASB95 or New King James) and like a Berean, search the Scriptures to see if what your preacher said is true. That's the right way to do things and never stop doing it, dear ones.
Dangers faced by Bible translators...
It's quite another thing for your preacher to preach and, when you try to search the Scriptures, you find that the translators are preaching to you also, and there's nowhere for you to examine them by the plain Word and Words of God. In other words, much that Bible societies and Bible marketing businesses and their scholars sell today as Bible "translations" aren't translations at all, but long-winded and very subtle sermons carried on across the entire text of Scripture—but without the reader knowing it because she thinks "this is a Holy Bible I'm reading for my personal devotions."
Not quite. When a preacher preaches, there is a sense that what he says is the word of God to you. God is pleased through the foolishness of preaching to save the perishing and to sanctify His Church. In this sense, the shepherd preaches to the flock and the flock rightly receives it as the word of God to them.
But preaching is not the Word of God in the same way the Bible is. When we say the Bible is the Word of God written, we're saying every word of it is inspired by the Holy Spirit and is absolutely trustworthy. It is without error and this we would never say about our pastor—nor ought we. Again, the proper response to preaching is to receive it humbly as the word of God to us through our shepherd; and also to search the Scriptures to see if what our pastor said is true.
So, if we go home to search our Bible and find that the Bible we've bought is another man's sermon, how will we test the first man's sermon? Which is to say we don't want to test a preacher by a preacher, do we? We want to test the preacher by God's Truth inspired by God's Holy Spirit recorded in God's Holy Word.
Should we then use commentaries, Bible dictionaries, and other helps in our searching of the Scriptures? Without question, yes. Reference works are great aids to any study as long as we're careful to buy ones that are truthful, and not deceptive. Which brings us back to the point...
The difference between modern paraphrases like the Message, New International Version 2011, New International Version, New Living Translation, and so forth is that they call themselves "translations" when hidden in their text are extended sermons by preachers. But actually, for the most part they aren't preachers, but Bible scholars who want to be preachers and use their Bible translating as a vehicle to bear their sermon. These Bible scholars hide their sermons in the text of Scripture and it's exceedingly hard for those reading the English text of Scripture to know when they're reading some scholar's inaccurate sermon and when they're reading some scholar's accurate translation. Which is to say, rather than faithfully reproducing in English the actual Hebrew and Greek words inspired by the Holy Spirit, many Bible scholars today use their Bible products as vehicles to sell their own sermons about what is good and bad in this world, and what people should do to affirm the good and correct the bad.
Now of course, that is precisely the sort of thing God has always called his prophets to do. We are to preach the Gospel and that has always included exposing evil and proclaiming the righteousness of Jesus Christ. But what are we to think when scholars and their Bible business partners judge that opposing evil and promoting good requires the gagging of God's words in this and that verse and phrase and chapter and book of the Bible? What are we to think when scholars tell us they can do a better job communicating God's Word if they amend or delete God's Words? What are we to think when the Word of God written becomes the vehicle by which the political ideologies of our decadent culture get a foot inside the Church and remake Her in the image of the demonic Spirit of our Age?
How to translate "Jews"...
Here's an example.
Since the slaughter of many Christians and mentally handicapped and Jews by the Third Reich, the Western world has done everything possible to root out any hint of anti-Semitism in our community life. This is good. We don't want our government to kill Jews because they are Jews and it's obvious that the cultivation of hatred of Jews in our community life could lead to our government oppressing or murdering Jews. So post Nazi Germany, we all have been zealous to examine ourselves and others for hatred of Jews, and to oppose it anywhere we find it.
Trouble is, a large part of the Western world has been baptized into the Church and loves the Word of God where we find God's Holy Spirit telling us that, when our Lord Jesus Christ was murdered on the Cross, it was at the demand of the Jews. Thus we read in Matthew 27:25: "And all the people said, 'His blood shall be on us and on our children!'"
And if we go over to the Gospel of John, we read over and over again that it was "the Jews" (Greek 'ioudaioi') who persecuted and opposed and cried out for the blood of the Only Begotten Son of God.
What to do? On the one hand we must rid ourselves of the anti-Semitism that corrupted the Third Reich, leading them to butcher millions of descendants of Abraham and Sarah. On the other hand, the Holy Spirit inspired the Gospel writers to record for us that it was the People of God who killed the Son of God. And this is helpful to know—which is sort of stupid to say about any word or phrase of Scripture since Scripture itself declares Itself useful when It declares: "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).
How is it useful, how is it profitable, how does it makes us adequate and equipped for every good work to know that it was the People of God, "the Jews," who massed and hounded our Lord to the Cross?
Well, who are the People of God today?
You and I are. We have inherited the promises of the Messiah given in Isaiah 53 and upon us the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, has descended by faith to our salvation and incorporation, not in the synagogues of Satan, but the "household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth" (1Timothy 3:15).
What about the host of neutered Bibles now being marketed by seminary professors and Bible publishers—for instance the New International Version 2011 and the New Living Translation?
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, New International Version 2011, and the New Living Translation are the main Bible products that are de-patriarchalized and 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, 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.
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.
Words of Jesus in red...
When you read the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), remember that all 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 teacing 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.
A couple excellent 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 roughly the cost of one month of 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 which, although not the best on the Sacraments and very weak on the doctrine of the Church, is easy to understand and quite helpful.
There are any number of other commentaries that are good, but I'll mention six sets that I've come to love.
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. In a morning men's Bible study and prayer time, we used the Commentary on Proberbs by Charles Bridges, and Bridges was 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.
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 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), and Spurgeon'sTreasury of David ($30).
(Most of this post was originally published back in 2005.)