Inside This Bible Study Tools Guide
Bible study tools come in all different shapes and sizes, and the best ones can really make a difference in your comprehension of the book.
Here at Faithlife, we know that effective Bible study practices are crucial for anyone looking to broaden their understanding of Christianity and build a stronger relationship with the Lord. That’s why we’ve put this guide together—to help people like you find the tools they need to grow in their faith.
Whether you’re a church leader seeking to effectively guide a group of like-minded individuals deeper into God’s Word or an individual looking to take your understanding to the next level, there’s surely a resource out there perfect for your needs.
Christians today have unprecedented access to the Bible, and yet the availability doesn’t help too much if you don’t read it regularly and in context. Let’s take a look at the tools that can help you learn more about the Bible.
Below, we’ve compiled a list of different kinds of Bible study tools and what they can do for you, along with some suggested resources to get you started.
Bible Study Tools Frequently Asked Questions
What are Bible study tools?
Why are Bible study tools important?
What does the Bible say about Bible study tools?
What is the best way to study the Bible?
Types of Bibles
1. Study Bible
Study Bibles combine multiple study tools (such as a Bible dictionary and commentary) into one relatively compact volume. Study Bibles are often able to deliver powerful insights, but the notes within are usually much more concise and to-the-point than full commentaries. When sold in print, the text of the Bible is placed right alongside or above the notes and articles. Some of our favorites include: • • • Even better, our top recommendation—the Faithlife Study Bible—is free! If you’re not already using it, you can get your free Faithlife Study Bible now, and even add notes from other Study Bibles for a more comprehensive experience. However, there are hundreds of study Bibles to choose from across as many different translations, so you’re sure to find one that suits your needs. Resources like commentaries and study Bibles offer a great alternative to the study notes included in your FSB app. If you’d like to survey multiple opinions while you study, add a commentary set or another study Bible to your FSB, and you can quickly switch between them.
2. Parallel Bible
Studying a parallel Bible is arguably the easiest way to compare and contrast the text in various translations across a single resource. And using multiple Bible translations in your study is one of the most overlooked but beneficial practices you can implement! The choices that translators make are not arbitrary. When two translations “disagree” on the translation of a particular verse or phrase, it’s not necessarily that one is right and the other is wrong (although that is possible). Here’s how Dr. Ward describes it: Having 10 translations is like having 10 teachers who are focused, laser-like, on the Bible text, doing barely anything more than reading it with expression and feeling. . . . Their expressions and their feelings will differ for various reasons, and it is in those contrasts that the value of reading multiple translations lies. Because juggling paper versions of all those translations is cumbersome, you might want to invest in a parallel Bible that includes multiple translations laid out in columns alongside one another. That way, you can learn from many different teachers at once, without having to flip back and forth between resources.
3. Journaling Bible
A step up from your everyday Bible, a journaling Bible gives you a bit more flexibility for highlighting and note-taking. These Bibles have extra-wide margins, and some of them are even lined for note-taking. Others are “interleaved,” which means blank pages for note-taking are bound along with Scripture. Journaling Bibles are great for getting your notes down on paper while studying without having to lug around an additional notebook. Instead, you can jot down any thoughts, questions, or prayers you have right alongside the related passages. Plus, it can be a rewarding experience to have your own notes to look back on each time you reread a section of the Bible. The only thing you’ll need to worry about is running out of space next to your favorite verses and stories!
4. Loose-Leaf Bible
Loose-leaf Bibles are large, three-ring binders containing every page of Scripture laid out with roomy margins and, typically, slightly wider line spacing (typography nerds call this leading). But the biggest advantage isn’t just all this space—it’s the fact that you can remove and photocopy pages without destroying your Bible! Here’s what one pastor has to say about them: When I was preaching regularly, I would photocopy the passage from my NIV Loose-leaf Bible and scratch away without worrying about ruining the original page. I often went through multiple copies of the same passage. Even the simple fact that I could wad up a page and throw it away with a clean conscience was freeing. I was able to let go of inhibitions and truly dig into the text without feeling like my thoughts on a passage would be permanently fixed on my copy of the holy writ! Although these Bibles don’t offer nearly the flexibility of digital Bible study tools, it’s worth considering. And if you don’t want to spring for one from the big publishers, you can take a page out of Jonathan Edwards’ book and print one yourself.
5. Reader’s Bible
A reader’s Bible is essentially an easy-to-read, simplified version of the Bible. Previously, we’ve mentioned some of the powerful tools that today’s Bibles have begun to incorporate to help the reader go deeper into their studies. Elements such as translation tools, in-text commentaries, cross-references, footnotes, and dictionary snippets can provide the reader with a more comprehensive look at a passage. However, it can also overwhelm the reader and detract from the original text—that is, God’s Word. That’s why a reader’s Bible strips the text down to the most basic elements required for reading. A reader’s Bible may only contain simple page numbers and references. This way, the reader can focus directly on the God-breathed words at hand and draw their own conclusions—with the help of outside sources, if necessary.
6. Digital Bible
If you’re looking for a Bible you can fearlessly mark up, easily switch between translations, and discover valuable insights into each passage, this is by far the most versatile option. Think of it as a journaling study Bible with infinite margins, combined with a loose-leaf Bible of limitless flexibility, and crossed with a parallel Bible with every translation imaginable! All of our favorite digital Bible study tools are contained within a comprehensive platform known as Logos Bible Software. With the free version of Logos, you can take digital notes and add highlights that sync across all your devices and translations. You can adjust the layout of the text—putting passages in outline form, for instance—or toggle verse and chapter numbers on and off. You can hide all your notes or call up everything you’ve ever written about a verse in a single click. And the amount of notes you can take is not limited by page count, margin size, or leading. Further, Logos Basic includes the Text Comparison Tool. Unlike a paper parallel Bible, which includes a fixed number of translations, the Text Comparison Tool lets you choose as many translations as you want from those in your digital library. Plus, Logos automatically shows you the differences between the passages in an intuitive layout, making it easier to effectively compare and contrast.
Are you looking for high-quality Bible software?Get Logos today
Bible Translations & Examples
7. Word-for-Word Translations
Also known as a literal translation or formal equivalent, word-for-word translations tend to be the most historically accurate Bibles available. As the name implies, they attempt to find a one-to-one English word for every Hebrew or Greek word written in the original texts. Example: New American Standard Bible To better understand the differences between Bible translations, we’ll look at a popular Bible verse translated in each fashion. Take a look at John 3:16 as translated into the NASB:
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16, NASB) These translations can sometimes be hard to follow (particularly for new Christians or young readers) because the language can seem clunky or even outdated. For example, the word “begotten” is not an often-used word in the English language today, and many readers might miss the meaning of the phrase. However, you can’t beat a word-for-word translation when it comes to understanding the Bible more deeply.
8. Thought-for-Thought Translations
Thought-for-thought translations may also be referred to as the dynamic equivalent of the original text. That’s because, unlike word-for-word translations, thought-for-thought versions attempt to convey meaning by translating entire phrases into contemporary language, grammar, and styles. Example: New International Version Here’s how the New International Version translates John 3:16:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16, NIV) Thought-for-thought translations are often just as biblically faithful as word-for-word translations. Panels of Bible scholars work together to ensure that the final result of these translations are highly accurate and understandable by modern readers.
Paraphrased Bible versions are also known as free translations. They are the most loosely translated from the Greek or Hebrew languages while attempting to capture the same overall meanings. In fact, some Bible experts argue that paraphrased Bibles are not translations in and of themselves, but rather a supplementary tool to be used alongside a word-for-word or thought-for-thought text. Regardless, these Bibles have the potential to be powerful resources for those wanting to study the Bible in a more accessible, relevant way. Example: The Message Here’s how The Message translates John 3:16:
This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. (John 3:16, The Message) As you can see, this iteration of the verse is most similar to the way someone might speak to a friend today. It can be especially useful for new believers, or those looking to get into Bible study for the first time. After trying out a couple different versions of the Bible, you’re likely to land on a personal favorite. Some are easier to read than others, while certain translations can boast greater historical accuracy. Oftentimes, it does come down to personal preference. While you’ll probably stick closely to your favorite Bible version, reading a passage in different Bible translations is a great way to study the Bible more in depth. For example, reading John 3:16 in the NASB, NIV, and The Message can help show you the meaning of “begotten” or answer other questions you might have. Here’s another great thing about Bible software and mobile apps—it’s super easy to switch between versions to get a more comprehensive picture of the text. In fact, many experts suggest flipping between multiple translations, especially when you’re having a hard time deciphering the meaning of a passage. Even further, Logos allows you to have multiple Bible versions open simultaneously as you scroll through passages in unison. And if you’re still stuck after leveraging several Bible translations, that’s where supplementary tools can come in handy to help you illuminate the Word.
Supplementary Bible Study Tools
10. Bible Dictionary
As you’re progressing through your study, you’ll inevitably encounter questions that simply can’t be answered by comparing multiple translations or making observations of the text without additional aids. Eventually, you’ll want to tap into some of the insights other Christians have discovered. That’s why a Bible dictionary is essential for your growing Bible study toolkit. A Bible dictionary collects important information from the Bible about people, places, concepts, doctrines, and more, all in one centralized, convenient location. Often, an entry will refer to other relevant biblical passages that can help shed light on the one you’re studying—which is essential for understanding Scripture in context. Bible dictionaries are a lot like English dictionaries, but they are focused on biblical words. Rather than providing modern definitions, they describe what a given word means when used in the Bible. Some more technical Bible dictionaries will include references to the Greek and Hebrew, while others stick to the English. These are some of our top recommendations: • • • Of course, with a digital Bible study tool like Logos Basic, you can quickly discover insights on a passage from every resource in your library, not just from dictionaries. It’s like having a friend who’s memorized every line of every book you own and can point you to relevant passages in dictionaries and also commentaries, lead you to cross-references, and reveal insights from ancient cultures.
11. Bible Encyclopedia
Bible encyclopedias are similar to Bible dictionaries in concept (i.e., both are organized alphabetically by topic), but encyclopedias are far greater in scope. While dictionaries typically have short entries for quick reference, encyclopedias tend to have longer articles covering people, places, events, objects, and more as found in the Bible. Bible encyclopedias often go into much greater historical and cultural detail than dictionaries. These are our top recommendations: • • • Plus, when you get a digital Bible encyclopedia in Logos, you’ll see links to it in your study notes whenever the text you’re reading mentions a topic it addresses. In this way, Logos gets more detailed and powerful as you add additional resources.
So you’ve gone through the observation phase of your Bible study, marking up your Bible with notes and highlights and comparing different translations. You’ve looked up biblical people, places, and events in your Bible dictionaries or used Bible software to discover other relevant passages. You’ve examined cross-references and studied the surrounding context, and now you are entering interpretation mode. If you haven’t already, now’s the time to consult a good commentary. At the very least, you should have a reliable, one-volume commentary on the entire Bible. (There’s one included for free in Logos Basic.) Some popular one-volume commentaries are the New Bible Commentary by D. A. Carson and the Believer’s Bible Commentary by William MacDonald. But because they make up a single book, one-volume commentaries can’t give extensive insights. That’s why if you’re going to spend a while in a single biblical book, we recommend picking up one (or many!) good commentaries on that book. Commentaries can go verse by verse or passage by passage through the Bible or a particular section. This organization system is called “versification” because it follows the book, chapter, and verse structure of the biblical text. Commentaries are meant to be used in parallel with the Bible’s text, offering explanations, insights, textual notes, historical background, and more. Most commentaries also include introductions to the books of the Bible, providing details such as the book’s author, as well as when, where, and why it was written and a helpful outline. And often, the best commentaries include long, practical application points, which make them a wonderful tool for personal devotions. Here are our favorites: • • • When you’re picking out a commentary tool, consider getting one specifically designed for preachers—whether you’re a preacher or not! These volumes are often intensely practical and are sometimes drawn from a preacher’s actual sermons.
In a contemporary classic on Bible interpretation, New Testament scholar Grant Osborne says that “you must transition from text to context in a continuous movement that slowly spirals inward toward the center, to the meaning of a passage—and how it applies to your life.” Put simply, studying a passage in isolation puts you at risk of misinterpretation. To avoid this, you’ll need some way to effectively search the Bible and make connections between passages. One way to do this is with a concordance. In short, a concordance lists every word in the Bible, based on the original languages and every passage where that word appears. This is helpful, for instance, if you’re studying 1 Thessalonians 4:3 and come across the word “sanctification.” By looking up that word in a concordance, you can find everywhere it appears in Scripture. From there, you can identify everywhere Paul used that word and study the context of each time it’s used. This can guide you toward thorough understanding of biblical concepts and deeper knowledge of God’s Word. These are some of our favorite concordance lists: • • • Recently, basic concordances have fallen out of popularity because it’s so much easier to search in a digital Bible. For example, in a concordance, you can’t look up everywhere Peter spoke to Jesus, or where an entire phrase like “love one another” appears, or where the word “holiness” appears near the word “immorality.” Even Google can’t do that kind of searching for you. It’s something you can only do with effective digital Bible study tools—as developments in digital Bible study tools have made complex searches like this more approachable That being said, the more advanced concordances are still useful due to their ability to search by grander topics and themes, rather than simple word searches.
Harmonies take books of the Bible that overlap one another in content, and they show how the books fit together. In other words, they reorganize biblical content to flow chronologically so that you can find parallel passages more easily. The most common variety is Gospel harmonies, combining the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; however, harmonies also exist for other books, such as Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles. These are some of our top recommendations for Gospel harmonies: • • • Many harmonies only include Scripture references, while others place the actual texts in parallel columns. In fact, a few harmonies actually combine the four Gospels into a single text that flows chronologically. And, as always, effective digital tools can make utilizing a harmony easier than ever.
Lectionaries are Bible reading plans that organize texts and passages into weekly readings. They often span three-year cycles, designated years A, B, and C. The idea is to provide believers around the world with a shared reading schedule. Check out these favorite lectionaries: • • • • While some lectionaries include only the readings themselves, others include reflections on the texts—almost like a miniature commentary!
Devotionals are one of the most common Bible study tools, but they have a wide variety among them. For instance, some focus on a single book or passage of the Bible, while others focus on one or multiple topics. Some devotionals include a year’s worth of reading, while others only last for a month. Some are meant to be read in the morning and others in the evening. Some have entries for both morning and evening. Devotionals are excellent tools for everyone, whether you’re a new Christian or a longtime pastor. For new believers, they can help you form healthy Bible reading and prayer habits. For mature Christians, they can keep you focused on studying God’s Word for your personal growth—and not just for the sermon or lesson you’re preparing. We recommend these powerful devotionals to get you started: • • • A devotional is a great way to begin digging deeper into biblical passages where you might have only been skimming the surface before. Plus, they can be great to read through with a friend or two to keep each other on track and discuss your thoughts!
17. Bible Atlas
With so many locations mentioned in the Bible—some of which don’t even exist anymore—it can become difficult to keep track. Bible atlases are collections of maps that show the world as it was in biblical times and can be extremely useful for seeing how different biblical locations fit together in context. These are some of our favorite Bible atlases: • • • The events in Scripture happened in a particular time to a particular people at a particular place. Bible atlases can help uncover what makes locations significant—an important key to understanding a passage’s meaning. Atlases can be especially helpful for those who are visual learners. Many Bible atlases even show the paths followed by biblical people during their travels, which can assist the reader in better understanding these passages. It’s almost like being able to take a walk in the narrator’s shoes!
18. Bible software
Each of the aforementioned Bible study tools has its own unique benefits. However, sitting down with a 2,000-page Bible reference work can seem a bit dated when you think about the simplicity and prevalence of digital tools like Google and ebooks. That’s why serious Bible study is easier with serious Bible study software. The Faithlife Study Bible is a great place to start, but if you’d like to study in greater detail, Logos Bible Software is for you. Its powerful, intuitive tools and vast libraries are the perfect way to expand your understanding of the Scriptures. Of course, if you’re not a pastor, scholar, or ministry leader, it may feel hard to justify the expense of buying a full Bible software package, which typically includes a library of hundreds of resources. Plus, if you’ve never used Bible software before, you may want to try it out for a while before going full speed. In this case, you might want to check out Logos Basic—a free version of Logos Bible Software that provides tons of Bible study tools, including a collection of Bible study resources, some translations, and extensive note-taking abilities.
Are you looking for high-quality Bible software?Get Logos today
Our Top Picks
19. Lexham Bible Dictionary
With more than 7,000 articles, 4.5 million words, and contributions from over 700 top scholars from around the world, the Lexham Bible Dictionary (LBD) is the most advanced Bible dictionary in existence. The LBD connects you to the best and most recent scholarship from people committed to the authority of the Bible. It’s an invaluable resource to make God’s Word more approachable and more understandable—all for the sake of Christ’s gospel reaching and educating more people. The Lexham Bible Dictionary is an academic resource—but we made it accessible for everyone. Because the dictionary supplements the biblical text, you’ll see the most relevant information at the top of each article. This makes it a great tool for Bible studies, Sunday school classes, small groups, and, of course, your own personal study.
20. Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary
The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (AYBD) is a good starting point for any study on a biblical person, place, theological theme, or cultural concept. The AYBD provides valuable insights into the background of the biblical world, drawing from a range of ancient Near Eastern texts from Judaica, Church history, and other relevant sources. Each article is a comprehensive and extensively cited study. And although it’s academic writing, it’s not overly technical, so the resource is accessible to a layperson with little to no history in Bible studies. The AYBD is an invaluable resource for helping today’s readers understand the biblical authors’ mindset and for making sense of the message God shares through them.
21. Zondervan Exegetical Commentary
Countless commentary series exist, and for good reason—each series is designed to meet a specific set of needs. It’s always important to know what you want in a commentary before purchasing. The Zondervan Exegetical Commentary, for example, focuses on literary and discourse features that provide a fresh translation from the traditional Greek. Each volume provides detailed literary and sentence-flow outlines, comments on how each discrete unit of the text contributes to the overall passage, and concluding sections on the theological application. This series is ideal for pastors and scholars alike as they seek to understand and communicate God’s Word.
22. Göttingen Septuagint
Göttingen Septuagint is the most detailed and elaborate version of the Greek Bible ever compiled, and it’s a top pick for Greek students looking to dive deeper with their studies. This powerful resource contains more than 70 years’ worth of research beginning in the early 1920s and continually passed down to complete the work. Ultimately, this Bible study tool comprises 24 volumes further divided into 67 resources. This version of the Septuagint provides the best reconstruction of the Greek language and is equipped with extensive apparatuses that can easily be accessed with the Logos Textual Variants Tool.
23. The Cross and Salvation
Bruce Demarest’s volume on soteriology, The Cross and Salvation, was originally published in 1997 and remains one of the top Bible resources to date. Demarest’s work is notable for its exhaustive treatment of the doctrine of salvation. For each major issue, he defines the terms, surveys historical views, examines biblical texts, and applies the doctrine to everyday life.
24. Exegetical Fallacies
Exegetical Fallacies by D. A. Carson is a deeply insightful book used to challenge the reader to consider every assumption they bring into their Bible studies. Because success for many Bible students may mean unlearning some bad habits they didn’t know they had, this unique resource —which tells you what not to do while studying and/or teaching the Bible—is extremely valuable.
25. Dominion and Dynasty
Dominion and Dynasty: A Biblical Theology of the Hebrew Bible by Stephen Dempster is an incredibly insightful summary of the Old Testament that can be used alongside any of your OT studies. This resource, published in 2003, provides readers with an astounding look at the Old Testament in its Hebrew canonical form and is about as close as we can get to the text that Jesus and the early Church would have had access to thousands of years ago!
26. The Hermeneutical Spiral
The Hermeneutical Spiral offers a constructive look at Bible study from an advanced and academic perspective without requiring prior knowledge of Greek and Hebrew. Written by Grant R. Osborne in 2006, this book communicates what the author describes as “hermeneutics as a spiral of text to context”—meaning, when effectively learning, teaching, and preaching the Bible, it’s important to understand better the relationship between the surface-level text and the underlying context.
27. Stuttgart Scholarly Editions
The Stuttgart Scholarly Editions effectively puts a wealth of text-critical resources at the reader’s fingertips. This collection of resources rounds out any student’s library with standard Greek critical texts, like Nestle-Aland 28, and Hebrew critical texts, like Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia and Biblia Hebraica Quinta. If you’re new to this area of study, then the Stuttgart Scholarly Editions also include textual commentaries, such as Bruce Metzger’s, to help you explore textual differences between various Bible study tools.
28. Lexham Geographic Commentaries
Locations named in the Bible are often significant—yet easy to miss. The Lexham Geographic Commentaries deliver fresh insight by drawing attention to geographical settings in the Bible. In these commentaries, you can easily discover what made Nazareth so important, the geographical implications of the Pentecost, and the culture and locations along Paul’s missionary journeys, just to name a few. This powerful resource places you in the sandals of the ancient writers of Scripture and explains the significance of the geographic details in the biblical text for your life today. It’s a must-read for anyone looking to understand the Bible’s ancient texts in a new and relevant way.
29. Textual Variants
Textual Variants is a powerful tool included in the Logos Bible software package that provides the user with commentaries, manuscripts, and both modern and ancient editions with just a few clicks. Even further, at Faithlife, we offer the Textual Variants Collection with more than 476 resources that work alongside the Logos Textual Variants software feature to provide users with a comprehensive view of the Bible.
We know that each person is at a different place in their walk with the Lord. That’s why we have an abundance of Bible study tools curated specifically with you in mind. Here are our suggestions for powerful Bible study software depending on your needs:
- For people new to Bible study: Get Logos Basic for free. With easy-to-use Bible reading plans, a base of Bible study resources, and a user-friendly mobile app, you can start doing in-depth Bible study in no time.
- For small group or Bible study leaders: Give Logos Fundamentals a try. It's got a variety of Bible study tools you can use right out of the gate—and it gives you a chance to see how Logos can help you dig deep in Scripture and prepare better lessons.
- For pastors or church leaders: Logos Silver is the lowest package we recommend to pastors, because it includes a wealth of tools for biblical studies and theology. However, if you're not ready to make the leap, you can get a taste of how Logos can maximize your time in Scripture, so you can get to the meat in God's Word quickly.
Whichever plan you choose, make sure that you keep reading, keep researching, and keep studying the Bible. Good luck!