Part 5.

Helpful Books for Bible Study

So far, we have rigidly adhered to our theme: "How to Study the Bible," and have endeavored to put ourselves in the place of the young believer who is just starting out upon this great life occupation. We must again remind our readers that this is no course of study out of which they are going to graduate. It is, however, a school in which the routine, so far from being irksome, becomes an increasing delight; and we rejoice at the fact that here at least it is no disgrace to be always scholars; indeed, in one sense, we should be always ready to take our place with the beginners, and to enjoy the lessons just as much as they do.

We have, therefore, almost avoided the mention of any books except the Bible itself, in the hope that our readers will be encouraged to take up that precious Book with the confidence that from its pages directly they may learn more than they could from any number of commentaries, educational encyclopedias, and all the paraphernalia of theological study.

Now when this is settled in the mind, and the reader or student has become an original investigator, to a certain extent dependent upon no other help than the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the prayerful, intelligent reading and study of the Bible, he is in a position to appreciate all the more keenly and to profit more fully from the many excellent helps to be found in books. For such, therefore, we have no misgivings in turning now to books other than the Bible, always remembering that at the last we must receive the truth for ourselves from God, no matter what instrumentalities He may use in making that truth plain to us.

Creeds, for instance, are excellent and often admirable statements of Christian doctrine. The mistake in using them, however, is in making them authoritative statements of truth instead of historically giving us the faith of those who compiled them. Looked at in this way, they are helpful and valuable; but a creed, as has been pointed out by a profound Bible student, must be made up firsthand; each of us in that way must make a creed for himself. So it is also with all human literature. It is a servant, a handmaid, not a master. It can point out things to us and give us clues, but of no book, however wise and rich it may be in instruction, can it be said: "Thus saith the Lord."

We must be pardoned for dwelling a little upon this at the threshold of our subject, but there is a need. Many true Christians read their Bibles largely in a perfunctory way, and turn with a measure of relief to some expository book and gather practically their instruction from it. Now let us face the matter. The word of God is more important than the best word of man about that Word, and the Bible itself states things infinitely more wisely and clearly than the wisest books of men; only, the Bible being a revelation of the whole mind of God which He has seen fit to make known to us, has a vastness, fulness, comprehensiveness which the combined intellects of all time can never exhaust; so that we may gladly profit by the suggestions and helps of others. We may say, in general, that those books are most helpful which are most stimulating. That book which satisfies us with itself, and does not stir a longing to turn to the word of God has something wrong about it. The best books ever written are in that way but signboards to point to where all knowledge dwells.

1. Books that Have to Do with the Text

1. The Bible Itself. As we are taking up the subject of books, we will refer our readers to what we said about the copy of the Bible it is best to have. We are living in a day of Bible production; publishing houses vie with each other in producing the most excellent and attractive editions of the Scriptures. They can be had in all sizes and for all purposes. As already recommended, we would suggest that one have a larger Bible for the table at home, with good, clear type, and a margin sufficiently wide to make such notes as it will be desirable to preserve. If one is making his notes freely, as was suggested, marking everything that strikes him, such a copy had best be moderately cheap, so that when it is marked up, it could be laid away. Where this is done and the student can afford it, it might be well to buy a wide-margined Bible of good paper, in which the more permanent markings could be entered, with such notes as he desires to preserve for constant reference. A Bible of this kind need not have any "Helps" in the back, which increases the bulk. Perhaps the note-book will take the place of the casual daily markings, and we need have but one table Bible for careful and permanent entries. Thus, subjects could be traced throughout and divisions noted, and whatever else is of permanent value would be preserved. In addition to this table copy, it is well to have a book as small as can be conveniently read, to carry about with us in the satchel or pocket.

There ought to be numberless opportunities for the use of our pocket Bible, and probably a great deal of our consecutive reading and memorizing will be done with it. Bibles for permanent use for the table, and the pocket Bible, had best be of good quality, and here at least the best is the cheapest. If one is going to spend as much as three dollars for a book, he had better strain a point, if need be, and spend five to nine but if he cannot afford to do this, he will probably get almost as much satisfaction out of one for two. The middle-priced books are often rather disappointing, but any book, no matter how expensive and how well-bound, must be properly treated or we can easily "break its back" by opening it in the centre and straining it back at once. We should follow the directions which often go with such books, and open carefully, passing our finger along the joint where the leaves are stitched together, beginning with the first few leaves and alternating with the last, until we have thus pressed out the leaves at intervals of six or so, throughout the entire book. In this way, the book will gradually open and the glue at the back not be broken.

The writer may be pardoned for not advising the purchase of two books of the "facsimile series" as they are called, where the larger editions correspond exactly to the smaller in their paging, so that local memory is assisted. We are not going to be limited to two Bibles all our lives, and it seems a pity to be brought into what is almost a bondage in the use of one style of book. As we grow familiar with our Bibles, we will find little difficulty in turning to passages.

We unhesitatingly advise the use of the authorized version alone as our textbook and companion. It is a great pity to take up any revision or version, no matter how excellent, and make it the basis of our work. If for no other reason, the fact that King James' version, while sufficiently accurate, is universally used would decide us in this.

2. Other Versions. As soon as one is fairly familiar with the text of our authorized version, it is very desirable to get one or more versions. The original Greek or Hebrew can be rendered of course in different ways, and yet the translation be faithful. It is this diversity of translation which proves so helpful as one advances in Bible knowledge. The way a sentence is translated, the different words used, or their arrangement, often prove a very suggestive help. Back of this is the question of the text, particularly of the New Testament which, as is well known, has been more or less improved by the discovery of ancient manuscripts since the time our admirable "Authorized" version was made. As we have already said, none need be disturbed at the thought that the text has been altered in certain places. If we remember that our Bibles were, for many centuries before the discovery of printing, copied by the slow and laborious means of handwriting, we may be sure that many little slips occurred, no matter how careful the copyist might be. It is worthy of note, however, that amongst the hundreds of manuscripts which are in existence, in the most faulty of these, not a single doctrine of divine truth has been affected, if we take the Bible as a whole. The vast majority of these errors are so manifest and of such unimportant character that their correction raises no question.

A number of passages in Scripture, however, have been rendered obscure by this faulty copying. Occasionally, too, the copyist has dropped out a word, phrase, or even a sentence which is found in other manuscripts; and occasionally what was evidently a marginal note or explanation has been incorporated into the text by a succession of copyists who have apparently thought it helpful to the understanding of the passage. Thus, the familiar passage which found its way into our version (1 John 5:7, 8) is an interpolation which was probably introduced by some monk copyist more than a thousand years after Christ, and does not exist in any manuscript that can be considered for a moment as authoritative on such matters. There are very few passages so glaring as this, but quite a few where the text has been more or less affected, and where a judicious and reverent scholarship has, by faithful research, found out the more ancient reading and the exact original wording.

Now, wherever this has been ascertained, of course we should make use of it; and here was one of the great needs for a revision of the text. The Revised Version of 1881, together with the recommendations of the American editors of the same, furnish very many helpful suggestions along these lines. Care, however, should be taken by the student, not to slavishly follow the suggestions of the revisers, for in some cases they are themselves open to further revision, and (with the exception of manuscript corrections mentioned above) are no improvement upon the Authorized Version — rather the reverse.

We mention, therefore, another revision of the New Testament, of somewhat earlier date,which is more conservative and careful in its emendations of the various readings.* This book has a valuable introduction which will put the average reader in possession of the facts needed to appreciate the importance of textual revision; and a list of the principal manuscripts, with their description, is also given. The special feature of this work is that in foot-notes the editor puts the reader in possession of the manuscript authorities which have been the basis of his own alterations in the text, thus enabling one to form his own judgment. This feature of the work renders it particularly valuable, and we unhesitatingly recommend it to the student as a companion in his Bible study, together with the Revised Version.

{*New Translation of the New Testament by J. N. Darby.}

Along with these two, we would recommend the text of the Numerical Bible,* which also gives many suggestions as to passages in question, as well as an excellent translation.

{*It is hoped that an edition of this valuable revision, separate from the Notes, may in time be published.}

Thus far we have dwelt simply upon the text itself. For those who desire to go more fully into this subject, we would refer them to the many excellent books on New Testament textual criticism. Among these might be mentioned. "The Words of the New Testament," by Milligan and Roberts; and, for those who desire a larger work, "New Testament Textual Criticism," by Scrivener.

In what we have said about the text, it must be understood that we refer chiefly to the New Testament. That of the Old Testament remains what it was, the Massoretic text, manuscripts of which are not so ancient even as those of the New Testament, and which have so little variety in them as practically to be a unit. The Septuagint and other versions are too uncertain for us to allow them at present to affect the integrity of the text as we have it.

The Revised Version of the Old Testament is also helpful, and Mr. Darby's particularly so. That part of the Numerical Bible which has been issued is also very helpful in this direction.

Thus far we have dwelt exclusively upon the matter of text and manuscripts. When we come to translation, as has already been intimated, we find especial value in the use of different versions. Every good version in our own or other tongues is just a translation of the original from a slightly different point of view. We would not advise the beginner to get more than the few versions already indicated; but for the advanced student we would say that every genuine new translation which he can get will prove in some way suggestive. Thus, Rotherham's "Critical Translation of the New Testament"; Alford's more popular but scholarly version of the same; and any other genuine and reliable attempt to give the meaning of the original, will prove suggestive. We do not, of course, speak of those wretched and irreverent travesties of translation which result only in bringing dishonor upon the word of God. These, no matter how well intended, may be safely let alone. To express the word of God in the language of the daily newspaper is certainly no gain, but a great loss. If one is familiar with any foreign language, by all means let him have a copy of the Scriptures in that tongue. These will all prove helpful and suggestive in one way or another.

The advanced student might also have one or more versions of the Old Testament by Jews. These will prove suggestive in certain directions, and the manifest effort to avoid the testimony of their Scriptures to the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ is both sad and instructive. Truly, "They know not the voice of the Prophets, which are read every Sabbath day." Leeser's "Sacred Scriptures" is perhaps as good as any of these Jewish versions of the Old Testament.

The "Douay" or Roman Catholic version is by no means a poor one, and can be added to the stock of translations, both for whatever of suggestiveness it may offer, as well as to enable us to meet the Romanist with his own version of the Scriptures in our hand. Not to confuse the average student, we recur again to our recommendation, if but one additional version is used, let it be Mr. Darby's, or that of the Numerical Bible; and our last word, best of all for the average reader is the Authorized Version.

3. The Original Text. This place will perhaps do as well as any to say something about the originals. Comparatively few Bible students have a knowledge of the original Hebrew and Greek, and we need not dwell very long upon this part of our subject, as we have more particularly in mind English readers. It may not be amiss, however, to say to college graduates, or those who have a fair knowledge of Greek, that it is a pity to let it slip as most do. Without pretending to independent scholarship, an ordinary knowledge of the Greek Testament is exceedingly profitable. Multitudes of details which would only cumber a translation can easily be gathered by the average student. Take, for instance, the simple matter of synonyms. We have a very profitable field of study open to an ordinary student. The same is true as to the use of prepositions, to say nothing of the shades of meaning involved in mood and tense.

The last verse of Rom. 12 recurs as an illustration of the delicate shade of meaning in the use of prepositions. "Be not overcome of (hupo, literally, by) evil, but overcome evil with (en, literally, in) good." Here "evil" is looked at as a power from outside which threatens and could easily overcome us. On the other hand, "good" is the atmosphere in which we are to live, occupied with it, and in the power of this can meet and overcome evil.

Most are familiar with the delicate distinction made by the evangelist John in the restoration of Peter (John 21), where our Lord uses the stronger, we might say divine, word for "love," agapao, and Peter in response uses the more human phileo. The very use of the words might suggest that self-distrust which had so happily taken the place of Peter's vain confidence; a dis trust, however, which must not be allowed to go too far, or it becomes false humility.

Therefore let the one who has the Greek make use of it, and be very thankful for it. It is a most absorbing and delightful line of work, which yields rich results. On the other hand, we would not recommend the average Bible student whose time is limited to a few minutes each day to attempt to master so intricate a language as the Greek of the New Testament; but for the encouragement of those who have leisure and purpose of heart we say, The fact that you have never acquired the language at school need not deter you from the attempt to get a moderate, working knowledge of the New Testament Greek by devoting a certain specified portion of your time to faithful study. Perhaps as useful works in this direction as any other are, Dr. Green's "Grammar of New Testament," and Harper and Weidner's "Manual of New Testament Greek."

We add a further word of caution for all except those who are actually qualified. Do not attempt to be dogmatic, and do not quote Greek to those who know nothing about it, nor make your little gleanings the staple of instruction to your Sunday-school class or at meetings. It will usually be found that those who have a fair knowledge of the original will be slower to exhibit it than those who have merely a smattering. We need to remember the apostle's injunction, and "put on humility of mind."

What we have said about the New Testament will apply equally to the Old. Hebrew is far simpler, and therefore not so difficult a language as the Greek. Yet it is the divinely-chosen medium of inspiration for the Old Testament. The very language is itself pictorial, or typical, and is therefore appropriate to the times of type and shadow. It is a most beautiful language, which, with a marked simplicity, is also sufficiently flexible to express profound emotions. It would, however, scarcely lend itself to the delicacies and shades of meaning, for instance, of the Gospel of John or the epistles of Paul. The Greek is perhaps the most perfect vehicle in existence for the expression of abstract truth; but in Old Testament days, while the time for this abstract statement had not come, the Hebrew, by its very simplicity and pictorial character, is peculiarly adapted to its own special use.

Hebrew etymologies are particularly interesting, and, as we know, the significance of names has in late years attracted much attention and been useful in opening up hitherto neglected portions of Scripture.

We add a word as to certain characteristics of the language which are suggestive. As is well known, there are but two tenses in the Hebrew, the past and the future. The present is the changing point between these two, itself suggesting a profound truth. There is also what is called the conversion of tenses which affords suggestive lessons. For instance, in Gen. 1:1; we have the simple statement: "In the beginning, God created (bara) the heavens and the earth." This is a simple preterit. It carries us back to the beginning. The next event, however, is not described by a preterit, but a future, rightly translated however by a preterit. The original, by a vav conversive, changes the future into a past. Literally, it would be: "And God will say, Let there be light." The thought seems to be that we take our stand in the beginning with God, and look out upon the work which He is about to do: as though in answer to our question, What will He do next? the answer is given,

And God will say, Let there be light; and God will see the light that it is good." In other words, the language is intensely dramatic. It enacts the whole scene before us, instead of simply narrating it.

Many highly interesting and profitable suggestions will be gathered by one ordinarily familiar with the Hebrew, and we would again earnestly advise those who have time to keep it fresh by a little daily reading. Five minutes each, spent on the Hebrew and Greek daily, would at least prevent our losing what we have gained.

Those who desire to take the time to acquire a fair knowledge of Hebrew, by no means an insurmountable task, can find helpful books. The "Elementary Hebrew Grammar" by Dr. W. H. Green, and the "Hebrew Chrestomathy" by the same author will suffice.