By Donald P. Ames
In Ecclestiastes 12:12, Solomon wrote, “Of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weari- ness of the flesh.” He did not mean that one should choose therefore to be lazy and excuse himself, but rather that he needed to select his goals and study aids carefully. I sup- pose every preacher asked would have certain books and aids he would recommend, and maybe few would pick the same ones all the way through. Yet we do recognize they can, in their proper role, be a great asset in helping us learn what others have also spent much work on to accumulate. In looking at such, though, let us always remember that they are the works of men, and therefore are not infallible. They are aids to help us in our search for truth, and should not replace the study of God’s word itself!
First and foremost, one of the best aids to good Bible study you can have is a good Bible! If you can find a good Bible with a concordance, maps, cross references, and per- haps notes in it, this alone can be a tremendous help. You must beware, of course, in selecting a good Bible in that many of those with notes therein on the market today are tainted with premillennialism and the notes are designed to teach this false doctrine. But, having secured a good Bible, next learn to make notes in it. Some people are afraid to write anything in it because it is “God’s book.” But if you are going to study and make it useful, you are going to have to be willing to highlight and make notes on difficult passages, as well as cross-references of your own to other key passages. As you begin to master the things found in a good Bible, you will have much of what you are looking for to get started. It is not an easy search, but the key to beginning.
The second thing I would recommend is to learn to make notes from sermons, bulletins, and tracts that you can refer back to. These are usually free within your local congregation. Maybe even the preacher will provide you with a copy of his outline on special lessons (some churches put such lessons also on cassette for members to listen to). Good study aids do not have to cost you an arm and a leg if you but utilize the opportunities in front of you. Set up a file of topics, and file these notes under those topics so you can refer back to them later on. Now you have a start.
However some are interested in getting a library of their own started, and are seeking recommendations on good books. May I suggest before you start spending a fortune on books, look around. Sometimes the preacher, elders, or other teachers may have them in their library already. If so, pause and take a look at them — they may or may not be what you are looking for, and this can help you make that determination. Some have sought Thayers Greek Lexicon in the belief a little knowledge of the Greek would help — not realizing they would have to first of all know the Greek before they could even use such a book. I would not recommend it to the average Christian seeking to get a few good books for his library. If you really want a book that can tell you a little about the Greek, I would recommend Vine’s Expository Dictionary of N.T. Words, which tells you the different Greek words and their meanings from various English words you look up. But too often we think the Greek is the answer to everything, when in reality a good understanding of the English is what we need.
As a basic starting place, there are certain books I feel ought to be in a Christian’s library that can be a big help to them. A good concordance (I like Young’s) can assist you in looking up many passages you might want to find and can’t. Also a good Bible Dictionary can fill in the back- ground to many ideas, customs, and meanings. Davis is a good one, so is the Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary. Another excellent help, still very useful, is the Pocket Bible Encyclopedia by C.R. Nichol. Here are many references, and well arranged, without heavy investing. Next, I would recommend a good Bible atlas. There are several on the market, but one that can really make it all come to life is History and Geography of the Bible — A Study Manual by Bob and Sandra Waldron. The Senior High Truth In Life series (Yr. 2, Bk. 4) can also be an excellent selection to provide basic information for many.
Commentaries should be approached with caution. Many get all excited about getting a “quality” set, little realizing how much they cost and how infrequently they may be used. The Truth Commentaries are an excellent set I would recommend, but to the average person just beginning to put a library together, they may seem “out of the question.” If you want a good basic set, therefore, I would recommend the Zerr Commentaries, recognizing you will probable decide to add individual ones on special books as you advance in learning and study. The Bible Study Textbooks by GOT can be a very good, inexpensive, simple starting point that can fill that answer for many as a starter — especially on books you do not need greater depth on or study too frequently. To that, I would add Answers For Our Hope by Marshall Patton and the books of R.L. Whiteside (Reflections, Doctrinal Discourses, Kingdom Of Promise And Prophecy). Whiteside’s books are especially useful to the beginner in that they not only deal with many topics of interest, but contain a Bible index in the back of every passage referred to in the book, hence serving as a sort of commentary as well. They ought to be in every library!
Roy E. Cogdill’s books The New Testament Church and Walking By Faith are two excellent books to be included. To that I would also recommend the Cogdill-Woods Debate on the problems of institutionalism. Many times debates on special topics can be excellent choices if you have the patience to read and digest the arguments and wish to see and examine both sides of the reasoning. Some do not care for this method of study though (regretfully), prefer- ring to study it from a thought-out one-sided presentation instead. Individual topics would thus have to be weighed. A few I recommend are: The Holy Spirit: His Person And Work (Tuten), The Gospel Plan Of Salvation (Brents), and Biblical Criticism (McGarvey). Also I would recommend Donnie Rader’s Divorce And Remarriage (and not because he got together this special!)
No library is complete without something about our “roots” as well. I highly recommend Search For The Ancient Order (West), Vol. 1 and 2. To some, they have almost climbed out of reach in cost, but stop and consider what you spend on other books and magazines or newspapers. They are still an excellent source of the restoration movement here in America. To these could be added The Life And Times Of David Lipscomb and J.D. Tant, Texas Preacher along with W.W. Otey. To these I would recommend They Being Dead Yet Speak (Florida College Lectures 1981) and Their Works Do Follow Them (Florida College Lectures 1982). When the biography of Roy Cogdill is published, I would definitely recommend it be added to these as a study of church history. For those who do not wish to spend what Search For The Ancient Order costs, the Senior High Truth In Life series (Yr. 2, Bk. 2) is an excellent study. Also Yr. 3, Bk. 3 (Evidences) and Bk. 4 (Marriage and the Home) are good studies.
Depending on your area and problems, others might recommend other books and subjects. But, to this, if you could add a subscription to Truth Magazine, you will probably cover many of those same studies and topics. No doubt after this hits print, I may think of others I wish I might have included, but these are foremost in my thinking for a good beginning library. Remember: they are just the works of men (not infallible), and they are aids (not to replace the study of the word of God itself). Consult with your preacher, elders, and others before spending big sums and see what they might recommend on special topics. Choose carefully, prayerfully, and cautiously; then “study to show thyself approved unto God” (2 Tim. 2:15).