Reading and Understanding the Bible

Five helpful resources

Photo by: TS


Let’s face it, as much as we may want to read the Bible, it can be an intimidating book! The Bible’s size alone may give us pause, not to mention the ancient nature of its texts and the variety of content within its pages. But there are many wonderful, easily accessible tools available to help us in this worthwhile endeavor. The list below consists of resources I’ve recommended to budding Scripture enthusiasts for years. I often hear back from them about how helpful these resources have been on their Biblical journeys.

1. A Good Catholic Study Bible

Treat yourself to a new Bible! When choosing a Bible, there are several important things to consider. First, choose a translation of the Bible that is reliable. You may wish to stick with the translation we read at Mass — the New American Bible (or the more recent New American Bible Revised Edition). Other recommended translations include the New Revised Standard Version or the Jerusalem Bible.

Second, select a study Bible. A study Bible will provide you with invaluable footnotes that will give you helpful information about almost every verse of the Bible. Study Bibles also have wonderful introductions to every book, giving you essential context as you begin to read each book. My recommendation: Little Rock Catholic Study Bible (LiturgicalPress).

2. A Solid Introductory Book

Although the main text we are interested in is the Bible itself, it helps tremendously to have a book about the Bible to help orient you. A good introductory book will introduce you to an authentically Catholic approach to Scripture (as opposed to a fundamentalist approach). It will also give you a sense of the types of literature you will find in the Bible, explain when various texts were written, and teach you how to find your way around the Bible in general. My recommendation: Joe Paprocki’s The Bible Blueprint (Loyola Press).

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3. Bible Tabs!

These little labels can make a huge difference in your willingness to open a Bible or attend a Bible study. Bible tabs are individual labels for each book of the Bible that you carefully affix to the pages of your new study Bible (instructions are included). Want to lookup a specific psalm or a passage from 2 Timothy? No problem!

The ability to do so no longer relies on your knowledge of where to find every book. Instead each book is literally at your fingertips! Tip: Be sure to purchase Bible tabs that are specifically labelled as Catholic Bible tabs.This will ensure that you have a tab for the seven books included in Catholic Bibles that are not found in Protestant Bibles.

4. A Bible Dictionary

If you read the Bible regularly, you will turn to this fantastic tool again and again. A Bible dictionary is just the resource you need for more background information on general topics. (For example, you can lookup “covenant” or “hell” to find out how the Bible approaches these topics and where in the Bible you will find them). It is also the place to find information on specific names and places. (For example, look up “Mary” to find out everything the Bible says about Mary, where in the Bible to find these passages, and what other Marys are named in Scripture.) Keep a Bible dictionary handy, and you’ll never have to wonder who Jezebel was or what Beelzebul really means! My recommendation: John McKenzie’s Dictionary of the Bible (Simon & Schuster).

5. Sensible Use of the Internet

Although no one would suggest that you turn to the internet indiscriminately for information about the Bible, the internet can be a useful tool for getting to know the content of Scripture. First, keep in mind that you can use any search engine to help you find a particular Bible verse or passage.

For example, you may want to read the story of Jesus walking on water, but you don’t know where to find it in your Bible. A simple search of “Jesus walking on water” will likely turn up “Matthew 14:22–33.” Now, using your handy Bible tabs, you know right where to go in your Bible to read it!

Second, the Bible itself is found on-line and is searchable. I recommend using This website allows you to select a translation (see above for recommendations) and search for either a passage or a keyword. Want to find every verse in the Bible where “bread” is mentioned? Type it into the search box and take a look at all 245 verses! A word of warning: The internet contains a great deal of misinformation about the Bible. Stick with the recommendations here unless you know that a particular website is reliable.

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