Wisdom Overflowing

Scripture Study Resources for Catholics

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About Carol Kloss
BIBLE STUDY TOOLS
If the Bible were a very long version of our local newspaper, most of us wouldn't need any study tools at all.
We'd understand our Bible News in its original language. We'd know the location of most of the places we read about in the stories. We'd be familiar with many of the people mentioned, especially if they were public figures, like athletes or movie stars. We wouldn't need a dictionary to understand what an interstate is, or a city council or a supermarket or a daycare center or Social Security or an election or a senior prom. If we wanted to reread a recent article, we'd find it easily in the online archive of our Bible News, even if we couldn't remember the publication date.
We use Bible study tools for quick help with all the things we don't know about the Bible's many and varied places, people, historical events, social and cultural institutions, theological terms, interconnectionsand all those verses we remember but can't quite find.
The combined work of thousands of biblical scholars over many decades gives today's average Catholic study tools St. Augustine would have loved. Let's learn to use them!
Every basic Catholic introduction to the Bible discusses most of the Bible study tools presented below in more detail (which is another reason to begin your Bible study with an introduction!)

Footnotes and Cross-references
I've overheard students proudly say they "never read the footnotes." I've had some students ask, "Do I have to read the footnotes?"
"Read the small print" is good advice for Bible study. If you use no other tools, be sure to read your Bible's footnotes and cross-references (even if you have to buy a magnifying glass.) You'll get:
  • Explanations of terms and theology.
  • Historical and cultural background.
  • Connections with other parts of the Bible.
  • And much else helps you understand what the text means.
The first thing I do when I have a question about what a verse means is look at the footnotes. When I read a verse and an image or phrase sounds familiar, I check the cross-references to see if I know the image or phrase from some other book of the Bible. If so, I think about how the use there can help me better understand the verse here.
Not every edition of the Bible includes substantial footnotes or cross-references. Basic editions of some translations, such as the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), may just explain manuscript variations or translator's decisions. The New Jerusalem Bible (NJB) translation is published in editions with full footnotes and with abbreviated footnotes. Before you buy a Bible, whether for personal use or for parish programs, make sure it includes footnotes and cross-references.
Then, take time to learn how to use your Bible's particular notation system for footnotes and cross-references. Each system is different and each is cryptic in its own way. The best way to learn the system is to use it!

Concordances and Online Searches
Concordances
Most study Bibles include a concordance. Each concordance is keyed to a particular translation of the Bible. You wouldn't use Strong's Concordance, for example, for the Revised Standard Version (RSV) translation. Strong's is keyed to the King James Version (KJV) translation.
For a particular translation, a concordance lists major names, places, terms, and words and tells you where they appear in the texts. The concordance entry for people's names also briefly describes that person, as a dictionary would.
Use a concordance to:
  • Find all the places the Bible mentions an important person, place, or idea.
  • Read brief information about people in the Bible.
  • Locate quotations using key words.

If you use a study Bible, you'll always have a concordance available.

Online Searches
A faster way to locate biblical words and phrases is to search a Bible translation online:
  • Search the New American Bible (NAB) translation online at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops web site.
    • Enter a word or phrase in the search box at the top left of the page.
    • To see results from the online Bible text only, uncheck "Catechism, Movie Reviews, Publications, U.S. Bishops Web Site" on the search results page.
  • Search the New Jerusalem Bible (NJB) translation online at Catholic Online.
  • Search the Revised Standard Version (RSV) translation (with Apocrypha) online at the University of Michigan Digital Library.
    • You can view the RSV Catholic edition text at the EWTN Global Catholic Network site, but you can't search it for words and phrases.
  • Search the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) online at Bible Study Tools.
    • NOTE: This online NRSV is not a Catholic edition.


Bible Dictionaries

A good Bible dictionary may be the most useful tool a Catholic committed to Bible study could own. In many ways, it's more like a one-volume encyclopedia focused on the Bible. You can:

  • Quickly find information about the Bible's people and places, whether you're reading new texts or need to refresh your memory. What's the difference between the Pharisees and the Sadducees? What do we know about ancient Antioch?
  • Learn about the objects of the Bible's world. You'll understand the beginnning of Exodus much better if you read the Bible dictionary's entry on "brick." You'll understand many texts of the Bible better if you read the entry on "water."
  • Learn about the Bible's social, cultural, economic, and religious worlds. What was a "family" in biblical times? What was "marriage?" How did most people make their livings? How did Jews in the time of Jesus worship?
  • Get overviews of each biblical book and of important theological ideas in the Bible. How do the meanings of holiness, faith, love, and grace develop across the Bible? What did sacrifice mean to people in the time of Jesus?

A good Bible dictionary's entries are based both on citations from the biblical texts themselves and on modern biblical scholarship. The editors of the dictionary may have a particular theological orientation, which means not all Bible dictionaries are helpful for Catholics.

See recommended Bible dictionaries below.


Bible Atlases

There's no way to avoid maps if you really want to study the Bible. The Israelites' years in the desert and Paul's evangelizing journeys will mean much more to you if you know something about the geography of the biblical world. Besides, geography can be fun!

  • If you have a basic edition of the Bible, a simple atlas will supplement your Bible. (Basic editions typically don't have maps.).
  • If you have a study Bible with maps, you can benefit from the additional detail and information a Bible atlas offers.

Bible atlases are published in varying degrees of detail. Some include simple maps to help you locate places. Some include details of major cities, explanations of the physical geography of the Bible lands, illustrations, and photographs of biblical sites and archaeological finds.

See recommended Bible atlases below.


Parallel Bibles and Gospel Synopsis

Parallel Bibles and a gospel synopsis are special Bible study tools that some advanced beginner and intermediate students may find helpful:

  • Parallel Bibles let you compare several different translations of a single biblical text.
  • A gospel synopsis sets a particular translation of the four gospels side-by-side so you can compare how each gospel presents (or doesn't present) different parts of the story of Jesus.

See examples of these resources below.


RESOURCES: Bible Atlases

Some good Bible atlases, listed by cost (from lower to higher).

St. Joseph Atlas of the Bible

Catholic Book Publishing (2007) Editor: Tim Dowley

A very good basic atlas with informative captions on the maps. Includes an index of place names keyed to the maps.

A good choice for an inexpensive, interesting basic atlas.

Hammond Atlas of the Bible Lands: Revised

Hammond World Atlas (2008)

Another very good basic atlas, with photos and an index of place names keyed to the maps. The time chart of biblical history, list of kings of Judah and Israel, and diagrams of the house of Maccabees and Herod and his descendants add value to this atlas for the Bible reader.

Another good choice for an inexpensive basic atlas, with the added value of the supplemental information.

The Collegeville Atlas of the Bible

Liturgical Press (1999)

Somewhat more expensive, but with more maps than the atlases listed above. Includes a short introductory essay and illustrated timeline, as well as terrific three-dimensional color maps that really give a sense of the topography of the Bible lands. Many color photos and illustrations. Index of place names keyed to the maps.

An excellent atlas for basic and intermediate Bible study. Highly recommended. It will lead you to like geography.

The Carta Bible Atlas

Eisenbrauns (2002) Editors: Y. Aharoni, M. Avi-Yonah

The fourth edition of what used to be called the MacMillan Bible Atlas, this atlas contains over 250 maps related to Bible texts and covers the Bible lands from 3000 B.C. to 200 A.D. It's probably the most comprehensive Bible atlas available, with extensive educational captions that accompany each map. Includes indexes and chronology.

I include this atlas as an example of a comprehensive Bible atlas. You may find it in earlier editions in public libraries.


RESOURCES: Parallel Bibles and Gospel Synopsis

The Catholic Comparative New Testament

Oxford University Press (2005)

An example of a parallel Bible covering one section of the Bible. Offers the New Testament text in eight translations: the Douay-Rheims, Revised Standard Version, New American Bible, New Revised Standard Version, Jerusalem Bible, Good News, New Jerusalem Bible, and Christian Community Bible translations.

Very useful tool for those who preach and teach in parish ministry.

Synopsis of the Four Gospels: Revised Edition

American Bible Society (2010)

Using the Revised Standard Version (RSV) translation, this volume presents the four gospels in four columns on each page.

Another great tool for studying, preaching, and teaching the gospels.

BIBLE STUDY TOOLS


1. The most basic Bible study tools are footnotes and cross-references. Be sure your Bible has them.

2. A concordance helps you locate important people, places and terms, and find verses for which you know key words. Every concordance is keyed to a single translation of the Bible.

3. Several good Bible translations are available for online searching.

4. A Bible dictionary contains many kinds of information and may be the most useful Bible study tool you have.

5. A Bible atlas will supplement a basic edition of the Bible or add to the maps available in a study edition. If you learn about the Bible lands, the Bible's stories will mean much more.

6. Comparative Bibles and a gospel synopsis are specialized tools.


ACTIVITY 1

Look at your Bible. How many of the Bible study tools listed here do you find?


ACTIVITY 2

Go to the online version of your Bible translation, or of any of the Bible translations listed here. Search for "resurrection." What are the results?


KEEP LEARNING

Read John 1:1-18. Read all the cross-references that connect with texts of the Old Testament.

What do you learn that helps you better understand the beginning of John?