When I Reach for a Book from my Reference Shelf…

When I reach for a book from my reference shelf, which books do I reach for most often?  Apart from biblical commentaries, here is a list of the 20 books I am most likely to pull off my shelf (in no particular order):

  1. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd Edition, also known to Greek students as BDAG. This is the gold standard for Greek dictionaries of the New Testament.  But if you don’t know enough Greek to look up a word in Greek, you won’t be able to use this lexicon.
  2. New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis, 2nd Edition. For word (and concept) studies, this is as good as it gets.  The updated edition was edited by my former doctoral professor, Moisés Silva, a recognized expert in biblical linguistics.  Note that this resource spans five volumes and, although organized by Greek words, includes easy access for English-only readers.
  3. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Straightforward dictionary entries for hundreds of theological issues.
  4. Dictionary of Biblical Imagery. I really love this dictionary, even though most people don’t seem to realize it exists.  It includes hundreds of articles on so many of the most important biblical metaphors (and other types of biblical imagery).
  5. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, by Craig Keener. This is a great one-volume resource on important historical and cultural backgrounds to the New Testament.  Actually, I prefer the larger Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary Set (edited by my Dean, Clinton E. Arnold), but Keener’s volume costs about 100 dollars less.
  6. Systematic Theology, by Wayne Grudem. There are other systematic theologies I also really like, but Grudem’s still seems to be the volume I pull off the shelf more than any other when I need a systematic theology.
  7. The SBL Handbook of Style, 2nd Edition. I usually pull this book off the shelf when I’m trying to figure out how to write abbreviations for ancient texts or modern journals.  I couldn’t cope with footnotes without it.
  8. Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, edited by D. A. Carson and G. K. Beale. What a great idea to produce a single-volume commentary on the quotations (and some allusions) to the Old Testament found in the New Testament!  I refer to it regularly.
  9. New Testament Theology, by Donald Guthrie. There have been many other good New Testament theologies written in the nearly 40 years since Guthrie published this one, but this is still my favorite.
  10. The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, edited by Michael W. Holmes. As many of you know, I’m really into these earliest Christian authors after the apostles, having recently written a fun and easy-to-read introduction to these writings myself.  But to read the original texts themselves (which you should if you’re interested), Holmes’s edition is the best.
  11. Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books, by Michael J. Kruger. For years I couldn’t find any author whom I could comfortably recommend on the question of how the New Testament canon came together.  (In fact, I wrote a short article on the topic before Kruger’s book came out, just so I would have something to share with the many people who keep asking my opinion about it.)  Now I send people who are really serious about the topic to Kruger’s excellent book.
  12. The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church: and its Background in Early Judaism, by Roger T. Beckwith. I think the questions surrounding the Old Testament canon is a bit easier as a topic than that of the canon of the New Testament.  But this is the best book I know on the topic.
  13. Encountering the World of Islam. This book contains multiple essays on various aspects of Islam and the Muslim World from a Christian perspective.
  14. Josephus: The Essential Writings, translated and edited by Paul Maier. Josephus is a Jewish historian who wrote toward the end of the first century A.D., and gives a (reasonably valuable) history of the Jewish people and a (super valuable) summary of the Jewish Wars that were fought one generation after Jesus.  The edition I’ve linked is not his complete works, but a quality and readable translation.
  15. Eusebius: The Church History, translated and edited by Paul Maier. Eusebius was the first true historian of Christianity, writing in the 4th century. You have to remember that Eusebius’s biases frequently interfere with his historical judgments, but we would know far less about the early history of Christianity without Eusebius.
  16. Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. I like other dictionaries in the IVP Bible Dictionary Series, but the Paul volume is the one I have used the most.  I’m not sure that I would have made it through my doctoral comprehensive exams without the overall summaries I digested from this dictionary (new at the time of those exams).
  17. The Enduring Authority of the Christian Scriptures, edited by D. A. Carson. This is an outstanding volume of articles on the veracity and interpretation of the Bible.  See my review of this book.
  18. The Historical Reliability of the New Testament, by Craig L. Blomberg. This is a longish book on the historical reliability of the New Testament.  See my relatively recent review of this book.
  19. An Introduction to the New Testament, by D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo. A New Testament “introduction” deals with the main issues that surround the composition of Old Testament books, including historical backgrounds, literary analysis, and theological emphases.  This is my favorite New Testament introduction.
  20. An Introduction to the Old Testament, by Tremper Longman and Raymond B. Dillard. This is my favorite Old Testament introduction.

Which reference books do you find yourself pulling off the shelf more than others?

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