Top 40 Resources (Or So) For an Exegetically-Minded Preacher to Buy (Pt. 1): Hebrew and Greek Tools

By: Bruce Riley Ashford & Grant Taylor

A while back, BtT posted a brief list of “Top 25 Books (Or So) For a Young Theologian to Buy (And Read).” At the request of some of our readers, we are following up on that post by providing a list of helpful resources for exegetically- and theologically-minded preachers. We will post the list over four days, but before we give the first installment of the list, here are a few prefatory comments.

First, we focus this list on exegetical tools (Hebrew and Greek), dictionaries (OT, NT, and whole Bible), commentary series (OT and NT), and big-picture tools (OT, NT, and whole Bible). We’ve left out numerous fine books that fall in other categories (hermeneutics, preaching, etc.).

Second, we include books that are written at different levels of accessibility, and we try to note this by flagging certain books as basic, intermediate, or advanced.

Third, we encourage the young preacher to begin building a library that eventually will provide most of the tools he needs to teach from any text of Scripture. This type of library is one way in which the preacher can be ready to preach “in season and out.”

Fourth, we encourage the young preacher to take this sort of books seriously, and allow them to drive him back into the biblical text, reading it slowly, patiently, and receptively. The best books are those that drive us back into the Scriptures and enable us to read the Scriptures more fruitfully. The worst books are those that seek to replace Scripture, or that somehow encourage us to bypass hard work in the text.

Fifth, we’d like to hear your thoughts about what you would have included that we left out, and maybe what we included that you would have left out. We started out aiming to provide 25 recommendations, but ended up exceeding our own limit.

Below is the first installment of the list—Hebrew and Greek exegetical tools.

Exegetical Tools (Hebrew)

1. Allen P. Ross, Introducing Biblical Hebrew. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001.

Ross’s Hebrew grammar is one of the best tools to begin learning the language. He clearly explains the major and several minor features of biblical Hebrew, and includes his own parsing system for Hebrew verbs. Beginner-Intermediate.

2. Bruce K. Waltke and M. O’Connor, An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax. Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1990. A very helpful reference work for studying Hebrew syntax, which is essential because phrases and sentences (rather than words) give the basic level of meaning. Waltke and O’Connor supplement (not replace) older grammars such as GKC (Gesenius) with clear explanations that helps students move from interpreting easier genres such as narrative to more difficult ones such as prophecy or the Psalms. Intermediate.

3. Willem A. VanGemeran, ed. New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, 5 vols. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997. (NIDOTTE) Word studies alone do not a complete exegesis make, but without them no exegesis is complete. VanGemeren (with contributions by numerous OT experts) provides a very reliable, precise resource helpful for preaching and teaching. If you know the Hebrew root, you can see the word’s usage in its ANE and OT settings and the theological implications for hundreds of key Hebrew words. Intermediate-Advanced.

4. Douglas K. Stuart, Old Testament Exegesis: A Handbook for Students and Pastors. Fourth Edition. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009. In this book Stuart helps preachers and teachers put the essential parts of exegesis together into a whole. How do those word studies relate to syntax and the genre of the book you are studying? Stuart’s work will help you find the way. Intermediate.

5. F. Brown, S.R. Driver, and C. Briggs, The Brown, Driver, and Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1996. (BDB) The standard (reprinted several times) lexicon for study of OT Hebrew and Aramaic words. While the print is frustrating at times, this remains a basic resource for Hebrew and OT study. Basic-Intermediate.

Exegetical Tools (Greek)

1. David Alan Black, Learn to Read New Testament Greek, exp. ed. (Nashville: B&H, 1994). Black’s introductory text teaches Greek in a manner that is as non-technical as possible. He also provides learning exercises that draw the beginning student into the process of learning Greek. Beginner.

2. F.W. Danker, ed. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Revised. Third Edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000. (BDAG) Like BDB for Greek, but better. The third edition includes the history of classical Greek usage, semantic domains (ranges of meaning) with definitions in the NT, and early Christian usage for the same words. In sum, a must-have for serious study of the NT. Advanced.

3. Gordon D. Fee, New Testament Exegesis: A Handbook for Students and Pastors. Third Edition. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002. The New Testament counterpart to Stuart above, Fee helps students learn how to connect word studies with sentence diagramming and sentence diagramming with teaching or preaching. A very helpful “how-to” guide to reading the Greek NT well. Intermediate.

4. Dan Wallace, Greek Grammar beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996. This is the follow-up to William H. Mounce’s The Basics of Biblical Greek (the one to get if you are just beginning). Wallace’s Beyond the Basics goes well beyond them by providing major categories of interpretation for all the major components of NT Greek. Advanced.

5. Maximilian Zerwick, A Grammatical Analysis of the Greek New Testament. Subsidia Biblica. 5th Edition. Translated by M. Grovesnor. Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 2010; and Maximilian Zerwick, Biblical Greek: Illustrated by Examples. Adapted from Fourth Latin Edition. Rome: Scripta Pontificii Instituti Biblici, 1963. A couple of oldies but goodies. Zerwick’s Grammatical Analysis provides a parsing and lexical analysis to every book of the NT. It is also keyed to his grammar, Biblical Greek, which wonderfully illustrates the major components of NT Greek, like Wallace but with fewer sub-categories and far fewer pages. Intermediate-Advanced.

6. Andreas J. Köstenberger and Raymond Bouchoc, The Book Study Concordance of the Greek New Testament. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2003. Organized by biblical book rather than by Greek word, this is an invaluable tool for exegetical and expositional preaching and teaching as it allows one to see the emphases and distinctions of biblical authors through the quantity and contextual use of their vocabulary. Intermediate.

God Calls Us To Become What He Declares We Already Are

Last week I taught a Doctor of Ministry workshop to 24 of our Southern Baptist ministers and pastors on the topic of the doctrine of sanctification. They asked great questions and the discussion-time reminded me once again of what a blessing (and how much fun) it is to teach. Sanctification, as a doctrine, is one of the clearest areas where theology impacts a believer’s life and ministry. All God’s people hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matt 5:6).

When it comes to holiness, Christians have held to a variety of competing positions that can be lumped together under two headings: the perfectionist view and the progressive view. Both of these views attempt to address these two questions: (1) how quickly (or gradually) is a Christian sanctified and (2) how thoroughly is he made holy? In other words, should a believer seek or expect a sudden experience which dramatically transforms him spiritually or is experiential sanctification a gradual process which occurs over the entire course of a believer’s lifetime? Is it possible for a Christian to cease sinning, and if not, why not? Generally, those who take a perfectionist approach argue that sanctification is able to occur in a great event or moment (similar to the moment of conversion) and that a spiritual ideal is possible in this life. The progressive approach (the view to which I hold) understands sanctification to be a gradual, lifelong process in which perfection is not reached until one stands before Christ after death (or His return).

Throughout the week we examined a number of perfectionist approaches—Roman Catholicism, Wesleyan holiness, and Keswick teachings as representative views. We saw that the traits of perfectionists views are: (1) the belief that a Christian can attain the spiritual ideal in this lifetime (maybe even sinless perfection); (2) the belief that a Christian experiences sanctification instantaneously (generally this experience is labeled the baptism of the Holy Spirit); and (3) the belief that a Christian can discern the moment of sanctification (generally by speaking in tongues).

I provided the class with a threefold response to the perfectionists views: (1) the word translated “perfect,” telios, can (and often does) mean “mature” or “complete” and does not carry with it the connotation of sinless perfection; (2) none of the passages cited by proponents of the sinless perfection position teach that the sin nature is eliminated in the Christian; and (3) the Bible recognizes that the struggle with sin is an ongoing reality for Christians and promises that provision is made for forgiveness and victory (1 Cor 10:13; 1 John 1:8–10).

Finally, we surveyed the progressive view of sanctification. The Bible presents sanctification in a twofold way: (1) as an objective, positional reality; and (2) as a subjective, ongoing experience. At conversion, God positionally sets the believer apart as holy, and the Christian experiences the liberating power of his sanctification when by faith he lives by this truth. We can experience the relative perfection of a progressing maturity while striving for the ideal perfection modeled for us by our Lord (Phil 3:12–16).

Sanctification is the focal point in the life of the believer of the “now—not yet” reality of salvation. Often the Bible presents the initial and the continual senses of sanctification as atension. For example, Paul greets the Corinthian believers thusly, “To those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints” (1 Cor 1:2). The apostle viewed them as saints (positionally) who need to be sanctified (experientially).

The “now—not yet” of sanctification means that believers live within the realms of two realities which interact as two opposing inclinations—the flesh and the Spirit (Rom 8:4–17; Gal 5:13–25). So the Bible makes clear that our spiritual advancement comes about in a context of effort (1 Cor 9:24; 1 Tim 4:10; Heb 12:1), struggle (Rom 7:15–23; Gal 5:17), warfare (Eph 6:10–18; 1 Tim 6:12), suffering (Rom 5:3; Heb 10:32–34), and divine chastening (Ps 119:71; Heb 12:5–11). As Dan Holcomb of NOBTS says, “God calls us to become what He declares we already are.”

So how is sanctification manifested within the believer? The Christian life is one of battle (Eph 6:10–18) and growth (2 Pet 3:18). Think of a ball bouncing down a stairway: though it goes up and down, its general direction is down. The Christian’s pilgrimage is similar, but in the opposite direction: our progress may go up and down, but the overall direction is up.

Thank you, class, for giving me the opportunity to study with you the ongoing work of salvation that God is doing in our lives!

This post is cross-posted at www.theologyforthechurch.com.

Pastorally Speaking: Micah Fries on “Disciplined Tragedy”

[Editor’s Note: This blogpost continues the “Pastorally Speaking” series. Micah Fries is Pastor at Frederick Boulevard and he writes about the important but neglected aspect of pastoral ministry: church discipline.]

Church discipline is among the most painful, and ignored, topics in the evangelical church today. Unfortunately this has led to creeping, massive sin problems that have increasingly found a comfortable home in the church – the church which by most other indices is bible believing and gospel preaching. Thankfully the issue appears to be making a bit of a comeback in some circles, specifically Southern Baptist ones, in recent years. Thanks, in no small part, to the resolution approved at the 2008 SBC annual meeting , ‘On Regenerate Church Membership and Church Membership Restoration’ this issue has gained prominence and validity in the eyes of many SBC churches. Southern Baptists who are committed to the practical application of God’s word owe an enormous debt of gratitude to men like Dr. Tom Ascol and Dr. Malcolm Yarnell for their tireless work in this effort. Work that has again reminded us of the importance of believing and practicing all scripture. Work that does not allow us to simply disregard passages like Matthew 18:7-20, 1 Corinthians 5:1-13, and so many more. All of this has served to stir hearts in respect to this issue and nowhere is it more prominent than in the conversations of pastors, denominational leaders and seminary students. Buzzing in hallways and sanctuaries from one pastor to another, this issue continues to build steam and for that I am grateful. Students and pastors are increasingly excited about fulfilling their biblical mandate in this regard, and for that I am also thankful. However, having served as a pastor at two churches that are trying to practice this biblical exercise, I am concerned with the bravado that seems to accompany its application.

Allow me to say this clearly. I hate the practice of church discipline. I take no joy in its practice, and would love to see it go away for good. There is no more heartbreaking exercise in the fulfillment of my pastoral duties than that of confronting the existence of persistent, and unrepentant sin, particularly in people whom I have grown to love. It is emotionally draining for a number of reasons, none more tragic than the issue of the one who claims to be a believer and yet gives consistent allegiance to the power of sin by failing to confess and repent. It is the ultimate gospel contradiction; claiming to be part of the spotless bride of Jesus while prostituting oneself with Satan. Confronting it, however, is not something to take joy and/or pride in (Galatians 6:1-2), which is something that I see all too often in those who like to frequently discuss it. Confrontation over sin is rarely ever anything but painful and humiliating. It almost always leads to strained relationships and severed trust, and that is true whether the one engaged in sin repents or not.

Church discipline is never an issue which we can approach flippantly, or with excitement. It reflects the tragic and fallen nature of humanity, specifically those who have claimed the blood of Jesus. It is necessary because of the persistent and abiding nature of sin and it always leads to a black mark on the bridal gown of Christ’s church. While we plead and hope for repentance and restoration, in my experience that is not often the end result. And yet all of that, and my own discomfort with it, must not keep us from its practice.

Some might wonder if all of these factors would lead me to be less committed to the practice of biblical church discipline. I will be honest, in light of the tragedy and pain associated with it, I would love to give up on it. However, I cannot. I love Jesus and his church far too much to forfeit the vitally important, and biblical I might add, commitment to the purity of Christ’s bride (Ephesians 5:25-27). At the same time, I would not be truthful if I did not say that my heart is increasingly burdened as we practice it at Frederick Boulevard. So, no, we are not giving up on it at our church. We are as committed to it as we have ever been, probably more so. We are, however, committed to practicing it through the tears in our eyes and grief in our hearts. I hope the same will be true for you.

I am thankful when I hear the increased commitment to church discipline because it reflects a people who embrace the biblical mandate, who respect the covenantal relationship of the church and her members and who care more about the spiritual condition of the ones they are called to serve than they do their own comfort or even superficial, spiritually dry church growth. However, I equally despise the casual manner in which I often hear people discuss church discipline. The cavalier attitude among many is tragic and reflects either a lack of experience or a calloused heart, both of which give away a needed heart correction and growth in maturity.

In closing, let me plead with you to go ahead and embrace your commitment to church discipline. However, please leave the bravado and excitement behind. Let us endeavor together to be a people that pursues the purity of Christ’s bride, but let us do so with humble, heavy hearts as we hurt with hurting people, and lovingly correct the sinful ones. I cannot imagine that Jesus would expect any less.