Biblical illiteracy, particularly in the US, is increasing at a staggering rate. Now more than ever it’s critical that the people of God not only read the Bible more frequently, but study the Bible. There are many ways to study Scripture, and numerous tools one can use—commentaries, original language resources, seminary-level courses, and sophisticated software. But one of the oft-overlooked yet most accessible study companions is the Bible dictionary.
In essence, a Bible dictionary is a tome of definitions of biblical names, places, people, events, and concepts. Some dictionaries take a short-and-sweet approach, while others are more exhaustive. But whatever their format, Bible dictionaries can be one of the most useful, beneficial reference books on your shelf.
Here are 8 reasons this unsung-hero is actually the MVP of your research library.
1. Bible Dictionaries increase your efficiency
Efficiency isn’t just about doing a task in less time; it’s about doing more with the time you have. Studying the Bible with efficiency doesn’t mean taking shortcuts, it’s about making the most of your time.
A Bible dictionary’s straightforward format and distillate nature empowers you to get the answers you need without spending a lot of time hunting and searching. When you’re able to find the answers easier, you have more time to absorb and analyze the information. You’ll also have more time to distill what you learned to share it with those you lead and teach.
2. Bible dictionaries are concise yet surprisingly dense
If brevity is the soul of wit, then the Bible dictionary is the wittiest reference tool on your shelf. Every word in every article is carefully weighed and has been deemed valuable. No need to skim here; the articles are meant to be short and sweet. The editors even strive to strain out the bias—the articles aren’t simply short, they’re dense. Have you heard of haute cuisine?
The first time I encountered haute cuisine, I was deeply confused: tiny portions, elegantly arranged…and positively bursting with flavor! It’s all about richness, density, a symphony of tastes condensed into just a few decadent bites.
In a Bible dictionary article, years and even decades of research are distilled down and served up bite-sized. The experts have done all the work; now they’re giving you everything you need to answer your question, and it’s all right there in front of you. Bon apetit.
3. Bible dictionaries are authoritative and quality-controlled
When you think of Apple, you probably don’t think of cheap, shoddy products. Haters of the Apple watch notwithstanding, Apple has built a reputation of providing cutting-edge, top-of-the-line products through years of success and high standards. You can rely on their products, because Apple would never support an endeavor that was hapless, or worse, hazardous—their reputation is on the line.
The best Bible dictionaries are published by reputable institutions. And these publishers and institutions are willing to stake their reputations on the quality of work inside. So you can rely on that information, knowing the scholarship has been carefully evaluated.
The strict measure of quality control performed on Bible dictionaries means you can consult and leverage the information with confidence, and leave your doubts at the door.
4. Each Bible dictionary article is attributable
When you have a question, it’s natural to ask an expert. But when the answer comes from the Internet, ensuring the source is accurate and reliable takes some savvy sleuthing. And that’s if you can discern the source. The trouble with the Internet is that the veil of 1’s and 0’s sometimes grants almost total anonymity; you can rarely be truly certain of the author’s credibility.
Bible dictionary articles always have credited contributors, whether article by article, or listed in bulk. You can rely on the information with confidence knowing exactly who wrote it. And if you don’t recognize the name, you can trust the judgment of the institution that contracted them. There’s no mystery or doubt with a Bible dictionary; get the answers you need, without wondering whose word you’re trusting.
5. Bible dictionary articles provide an array of perspectives
Beyond the hard lines of heresy, there are shades of interpretation around every topic, and the more well-known, the more varied and numerous the perspectives surrounding it. Studying every theological perspective on say, baptism, could take years of research. With a Bible dictionary you get the bird’s-eye view of a topic in a matter of moments.
Bible dictionaries are about concision and density; when you want to know a topic inside and out, there’s never a substitute for devoted study. But when you want to know the prevailing perspectives of a topic, dictionary articles empower you with answers colored by multiple points of view, and represent years of thorough, well-rounded, and diverse research.
6. Bible dictionaries address niche topics
When it comes to major biblical characters, themes, and events, entire books can and have been written. Noah, sacrifice, Mary, crucifixion—the more prominent the topic, the more vast the wealth of research and information available. What about really specific or even obscure topics?
That’s where resources like monographs really shine—entire books about ancient Egyptian tattooing practices or the purpose of a “lintel” in architecture. But you can’t always devote the time and energy needed to learn every facet of a niche.
Sometimes, you just need a quick answer: a concise, clear summary. That’s the Bible dictionary’s versatility: articles that present breadth and depth on well-known topics, and articles that address concepts that appear only once. And in both cases you’re given exactly what you need.
7. Bible dictionaries provide a bibliography for further study
As any student or scholar will tell you, a bibliography can be more precious than gold. Not only does a bibliography corroborate a text’s validity, but like the proverbial rabbit hole it’s an avenue to follow the research and see how deep it goes. The pursuit of knowledge can be a true delight, and a bibliography is a roadmap to further insight.
Every reputable Bible dictionary will include a bibliography, sometimes accompanying each article, sometimes in a comprehensive list found in the back. Wherever it appears it affirms the information as credible, inviting you to dive into further research and setting you up with a starting point to chase those wild hares.
8. Bible dictionaries empower you to be good steward of insight
If you are a pastor, professor, or parent—or in any leadership position—your word carries weight and those you lead trust that you’ve done your research. You’re automatically seen as an expert, though you may not have time to become an expert on all topics. With Bible dictionaries, you can trust the experts who poured years and sometimes decades of research into the articles, and share the information confidently.
When you empower yourself with knowledge about the Bible that is trustworthy and comprehensive, you’re better equipped to teach and lead others. You serve them best—your children, congregants, students, soldiers, or other pastors—by being a good and faithful steward of the insight you gain.
A Bible dictionary can be one of the most useful, beneficial reference books on your shelf—no matter your profession or occupation, it is a vital resource for any student of the Word. Logos has a large selection of digital Bible dictionaries; browse our selection and discover how using a Bible dictionary can transform your study.