Links

Just like this ministry, all of the ministries listed below are not affiliated with any particular denomination or group. However, they too generally fall into the “conservative evangelical tradition.” To the objection that all parties in these ministries know and correspond with each other (making my recommendation of them not entirely free of bias), I would answer that all of us are independent from external authority and hold quite firmly to the belief that the Bible correctly understood and interpreted is the sole measure of truth in this life. Some of us can and do disagree with each other on various points, but all of the ministries I recommend below are substantively teaching the Word of God, completely free from the doctrinal shackles imposed by denominationalism and high church tradition, being instead guided only by what the Bible actually says. Most of us have made personal sacrifice and work to support ourselves (as with Paul’s tent-making) so that we may teach that which we truly believe with clear consciences and offer all of our materials free of charge. (All the ministries below offer the entirety of their teaching materials without cost, as ministries of grace).

I have included email addresses for those ministries that take questions: in my own experience, I have found that there are occasions when asking questions directly to ask for clarification on a point of teaching or elaboration on something that is hard to understand is very, very useful. I highly recommend swallowing the initial discomfort and reaching out if you ever have questions. (You can see BibleDoc’s policy on answering reader questions here).

Thorough, well-established options

Ichthys

Link to ministry: Ichthys

Contact the teacher: questions2@ichthys.com

Steven’s take

This is the ministry I recommend most highly. I grew up spiritually under Ichthys after I came across it back in 2014. Ichthys is a text-based ministry, and if you can handle the length and technical depth, it is absolutely fantastic. The teacher behind the site also answers reader questions in-depth over email.

At risk of stealing my own thunder, I believe that Ichthys is a better choice for many people than my own ministry (if for no other reason than that the author has a lot more background in Greek and Hebrew than myself, and also many, many more years of general ministry experience), and do very much suggest that you give it a chance.

On the other hand, this site, BibleDocs, does offer some things that Ichthys doesn’t:

  • It emphasizes conciseness more than Ichthys, and may therefore be generally better-suited than Ichthys for people who get bogged down in Ichthys’ big studies.
  • It offers basic, introductory teachings for new believers. These materials are targeting a level somewhat below even the simplest writings on Ichthys, with the goal of taking new believers from a point of almost complete ignorance of the Bible to the point where they can handle more advanced teaching like that found on Ichthys.
  • For most content, this site also offers the option to toggle between higher level and lower level versions of the content. The higher level versions read similarly to Ichthys’ technical, academic style, but the lower level versions contain writing that is simpler (in terms of technical complexity and prose difficulty) for folks that don’t wish to wade through dense prose when getting their Bible teaching. People without substantial education, children, and/or non-native speakers of English may find these lower level versions of content to be useful.
Teacher

The teacher behind Ichthys is Dr. Robert Luginbill, a Classics professor at the University of Louisville. You can see his CV here. He has a Ph.D. in Classics from UC Irvine (many of his academic writings have centered on the Greek historian Thucydides), and also an academic seminary degree from Talbot in Hebrew Old Testament.

Dr. Luginbill is extremely well-qualified in matters of Greek and Hebrew.

Materials offered

Ichthys offers an introduction to spiritual growth and essential doctrines in the Peter Series (the shortest series on the site), an in-depth systematic theology in the Bible Basics Series, and a very thorough treatment of eschatology (study of the end times; compare the book of Revelation) in the Coming Tribulation Series, with the Satanic Rebellion Series being a logical predecessor that covers, among other things, the wider context of human existence in God’s plan for creation. Ichthys also has posted email responses on a huge variety of topics. On the more procedural side, Ichthys has a very useful Subject Index (containing links to where Dr. Luginbill covers specific subjects) and a Translation Index (containing links to original translations on Ichthys).

It is notable that Ichthys does not focus so much on verse-by-verse studies. The Peter Series does go through the text of Peter’s epistles (albeit slowly), and the Coming Tribulation Series does completely go through Revelation (along with other passages from Daniel and so on), but the site is really organized more topically.

Bible Academy

Link to ministry: Bible Academy YouTube Channel

Contact the teacher: https://bibleacademyonline.com/omo/contact/

Steven’s take

This is the ministry I recommend second most highly. It is primarily a YouTube ministry (in the same sort of style as Khan Academy), although there is a website too.

I’m more of a written-study guy myself (and I do believe that text is generally better as a study medium for most people), but for times when you want to do video or audio study, Bible Academy is a great option. Like Ichthys, the volume of material offered is pretty staggering.

I find that I typically listen to Bible Academy studies at 1.75x or 2x speed, and feel like I don’t miss much even at these speeds. Listening at a faster rate saves a lot of time in the long run.

Teacher

The teacher behind Bible Academy is Curtis Omo. Pastor Omo holds a B.A. in Classics, an M.Div. in New Testament Literature and an S.T.M. in Semitics and Old Testament studies with concentrations in Greek and Hebrew.

Pastor Omo is well-qualified in matters of Greek and Hebrew.

Materials offered

Bible Academy offers a few topical series (e.g., Basic Bible), but most of its offerings are verse-by-verse. This is fortunate, as it means that Bible Academy ends up complementing Ichthys (which is primarily topical rather than verse-by-verse) quite well.

Of particular note is that Bible Academy offers “Children’s Series” alongside many of its adult series. While you might think that these would be at too low a level for adults, they are actually a perfectly reasonable starting place, and somewhat ironically, contain more substantive Bible teaching than most adult teaching from conventional sources in our lukewarm era. This split in content levels is where I drew the inspiration to do the same as much as practically possible on BibleDocs (although some sections don’t lend themselves as well to simplification). Since Ichthys doesn’t have much in the way of starting materials (even the Peter Series is not particularly low-level), Bible Academy probably has more material useful for young children and/or very new believers. It is worth pointing out that children and new believers pick up much more than you might think, so I would err on the side of harder materials rather than easier materials, especially if they are expressing interest.

“Next-generation” options

There is a group of younger teachers who, like myself, grew up spiritually under Ichthys and Bible Academy. I am actually on the younger end of this group. At any rate, some of us are now producing our own ministry materials and launching our own ministries.

Unsurprisingly, all of us are colored by the teachings of Ichthys and Bible Academy, although we all are of course our own teachers.

Writings from the desk of Bartek Sylwestrzak

Link to ministry: Bartek’s page on Ichthys

Steven’s take

Bartek is probably the most advanced of our younger generation of teachers, definitely the one with the most experience in Greek and Hebrew. Since he is an ex-Catholic, he has more insight into the problems of Catholicism than us lifelong Protestants.

Bartek is well-qualified in matters of Greek and Hebrew.

Materials offered

Thus far, Bartek has two big studies publicly posted: Spiritual Battle (which deals with combatting sin – a most important topic) and a series dissecting problematic Catholic views of Mary.

Writings from the desk of Odii Ariwodo

Link to ministry: Odii’s page on Ichthys

Steven’s take

Odii has a bit of a different perspective from those of us who grew up in the West, as he is from Nigeria. He was very active on a certain Nigerian forum for a number of years, sticking up for the truth in a rather challenging environment.

While Odii has been studying under Ichthys for quite some time now, he doesn’t have Greek or Hebrew.

Materials offered

Currently, Odii has two foundational series posted (one on basic principles of Christianity, another on Christ and what he did for us), as well as a number of Q&As coming from the aforementioned forum. Many of these Q&A exchanges contain correspondents who are noticeably more hostile than those typically showing up in the Ichthys email postings, so these Q&As may be good examples for any folks wishing to see how to stick up for the truth in more antagonistic circumstances.

As an important introductory note in light of the large number of resources linked below, it is a big mistake to view collecting bibliography as making spiritual progress. To copy Nike’s marketing, the approach to Bible study you should take first and foremost is “JUST DO IT.” Your approach will not be perfect (whose is?). You could always be doing more (who cannot say the same?). There will no doubt be some things that you can’t immediately wrap your head around (who does not have such things?).

But if you spend even 15 minutes a day reading your Bible, every single day, progress will come. The daily consistency is critical, as anyone who has tried to learn a foreign language can tell you. A half hour every day beats 4 hours on Saturday every time.

Now, personal Bible study is no replacement for taking in Bible teaching; with the exception of gifted and prepared teachers who have their own ministries in full swing, everyone needs a Bible teacher to listen to. It’s how God has designed the system (compare Ephesians 4:11-13 – since apostles and prophets are no longer around, and evangelists are focused on unbelievers not believers, teachers are how God communicates His truth to the body of Christ).

Even so, it is the duty of all lay Christians to be fully conversant with scripture so as to be able to verify the spiritual nourishment they receive from teachers (compare the Bereans of Acts 17:11). This is not to say that lay Christians truly get to play umpire as to what Bible teaching is true (that is not the point), but merely that biblical literacy is something to be highly valued and pursued – even while simultaneously taking in solid Bible teaching like that offered by the ministries linked above. Both are critically important in spiritual growth.

The goal then with all of the resources below is more to enhance personal Bible study than to actually teach per se. By getting lots of good general background information here, Christians can turn to a good teaching ministry – one that is providing substantive Bible teaching – for all their other needs. You should keep this “personal Bible study resources ≈ general background information” rule of thumb in mind as this section progresses.

Personal Bible study resource recommendations: what I recommend for 99% of people

It is worth here reiterating again that I highly, highly recommend doing Bible study on the computer, as discussed in more depth here. For this reason, wherever possible, the resources linked below will be digital.

The vast majority of the links below are to free Bible study resources that can be used by all. For most people in most circumstances, as long as an in-depth teaching ministry is being accessed as well, these things alone are perfectly sufficient. (I would recommend actually purchasing a good study Bible, however. See below for a discussion of which study Bible I recommend).

At a high level, the general idea is to use the excellent STEP Bible app for most of the nitty-gritty “mechanics” of Bible study (like cross-references and an exhaustive original language concordance), while accessing verse-tagged reference works on StudyLight (and a couple other websites).

Bible reading app

I recommend the STEP Bible app by Tyndale House. It has most of the main versions I find useful in comparisons (NASB, ESV, NIV, HCSB), only lacking NKJV and NLT. As will be seen below, it also has many useful Bible study features (like version-cross-references and an exhaustive original language concordance) baked-in directly, keeping many things in one single place.

Parallel versions

The STEP Bible app supports scrolling multiple versions in-line with each other for comparing longer passages of text (like sections or paragraphs):

Parallel versions

Textual comparisons

Textual comparisons are somewhat different from parallel versions in that they focus on visually highlighting differences between versions/translations word by word rather than comparing them at a higher level (e.g., by paragraph) as one does with parallel versions. The STEP Bible app also makes textual comparisons easy:

Textual comparisons

Cross-references

Along with parallel versions and textual comparisons, I think that cross-references are critical to prioritize in Bible reading. Interpreting scripture with scripture is an absolutely essential part of growing in knowledge of the truth.

The STEP Bible app supports version cross-references in the left sidebar, connected to parts of the text with letter superscripts, like so:

Cross references

Most versions offered by the STEP Bible app have these version cross-references, although the NIV is a notable exception.

The STEP Bible app also maintains its own collection of cross-references that can be accessed by clicking on a verse number, like so:

Step Bible app cross references

As I understand it, these STEP Bible cross-references are automatically generated by a computer algorithm – for a given verse, the application looks for similar vocabulary in other verses and links to those verses. Since they are automatically generated rather than curated by hand, these cross-references can be a bit more hit-or-miss, but they often serve as a good hybridization between cross-references proper and a full concordance.

The version cross-references alone should prove sufficient in the vast majority of cases, and are what I find myself using perhaps 90% of the time. If you want more than the version cross references and/or STEP Bible cross-references, you can also check out the Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, available for free on StudyLight. While the TSK is sometimes helpful, I find that the version cross-references often get you the examples you want with less to wade through (less only-tangentially-related things), so I usually use them in lieu of the TSK.

Exhaustive original language concordance

(Note: You do not need to know Greek and Hebrew to make use of this feature).

The STEP Bible app supports an exhaustive original language concordance right out of the box (at least for the most common English translations on the app, like ESV and NASB). Once you click on an English word to see the gloss for the Greek or Hebrew word that it was translated from (this is the reverse interlinear mapping at work, even if you don’t see the original languages actually displayed under the English), you can click on the number of occurrences in the right sidebar to see all the verse occurrences of that Greek or Hebrew word in the Bible, basically instantly.

Concordance

The best part is that since the concordance is based on the underlying Greek and Hebrew lemmas, you will be matching based on occurrences in the original languages rather than English words. A good example of why this is important can be seen from considering the word “love” in English. In the New Testament, three Greek words are commonly translated as “love” in English translations: στοργή, storge (familial love, as in that between parent and child), φιλία, philia (love between friends), and ἀγάπη, agape (divine unconditional love, as in loving someone you know you will never get anything back from). If we were to use a concordance based on the English word, we’d get hits for all three of the underlying Greek words all mixed together. But as it is, original language concordances (like the one employed by the STEP Bible app) will only match instances of one of the three Greek words for love (which one will depend upon what Greek word was behind the initial English “love” clicked), which is much more useful.

I use this concordance functionality very frequently, right alongside the cross-references mentioned in the last section. The version cross-references are usually a better overall place to start (the concordance doesn’t match on meaning per se, just on underlying word), but the concordance, just like the TSK, can give you more verses to work with.

Finding verse locations

Something that happens all the time (at least to me) is remembering more or less what a passage of scripture says, but not remembering exactly where the passage is located. Oftentimes you want to check your remembrance/paraphrase to make sure you aren’t mangling it, and also want to see the context. So how do you figure out where the passage is located in scripture?

Over time, I’ve realized that the answer to this question is actually simpler than you might think: rather than doing a complicated full-text search in a Bible study app or bothering with an English concordance, I’ve found that the easiest and fastest way to identify the locations of passages is simply to use the search interface of one of the main web Bible portals and see what passage hits come up.

For example, you might remember Jesus saying “I am the vine; you are the branches” but not remember what chapter of the New Testament this statement is in. Plugging this statement into the search interface will instantly spit back John 15, and then you can navigate there in your Bible reading app.

I’ve found the search interface of BibleHub to work very well for this purpose, but there are other options too. In fact, if you would rather, most of the time you can get away with just Googling the paraphrase of a passage to similar effect. I typically like to use BibleHub’s search interface though, since it:

  • Updates its results/matches as you type. This is very useful. As you start entering more search keywords, the results will get narrowed down before your eyes. This is, no exaggeration, the very best way to do things.
  • Only returns Bible passages as hits (unlike general search engines that might include results that are unrelated).
  • Has as its search results links to the verse pages on BibleHub (e.g., here’s the one for Ephesians 2:8), which contain lots of parallel versions to compare.

This section isn’t a link to a resource so much as an encouragement to not try to find/buy something to do this particular task, which BibleHub’s search interface (or even Google) already does better and faster.

Study Bibles and study notes

As a lay Christian, if you can only afford to buy one resource to use as a guide and aid to personal Bible study, it should probably be a study Bible. The study Bible recommended by Dr. Luginbill of Ichthys (which I have also made use of for a number of years now) is the NIV Study Bible, edited by Kenneth Barker. It can be purchased in the Bible software program OliveTree, as linked above.

Sidenote

The above link is to the recent full revision of the NIV Study Bible. Most of my experience is with the older version – the version before the full revision – so I can’t as directly speak to the quality of the new version, which is now the only one available (the publisher pulled the old version from the store after publication of the new version, which is a terrible practice in my opinion, although very common on the part of publishers). The same editor oversaw the revision, and from both my limited exposure to it and the comparisons that I have done between the notes of the new version and notes of the old version, I have found them to be of similar character overall (so, e.g., the new version does not succumb to liberal scholasticism and/or play fast-and-loose with the text to a substantially greater degree).

All of this is a long way of saying that I have not seen anything that makes me think recommending the new version of the NIV Study Bible (as opposed to some other study Bible) is a mistake. It still shares DNA with its well-executed predecessors.

Study notes and the textual notes of study Bibles are more or less the same thing, mutatis mutandis, which is why I group study notes with study Bibles. FreeBibleCommentary.org, offered courtesy of Dr. Bob Utley, offers somewhat-technical study notes on scripture that encourage depth and circumspection in the interpretative process. Using these alongside the NIV Study Bible will give you good supplementary information verse-by-verse, helping you get general background information that can make personal Bible study more effective.

Commentaries

While one can easily spend lots of money on shiny new commentaries, modern commentaries are oftentimes more spiritually harmful than they are helpful, inasmuch as commentators often do not have much respect for the authority of the Bible, and are theologically muddled. (I’m generalizing, but stand by these generalizations as a rule). Stuff from before World War II is typically more theologically conservative and less likely to be completely off-the-rails, but of course, your mileage may vary.

Instead of relying on (in many cases) nameless commentators or committees (!) of them, it is prudent for individual Christians to find a teaching ministry that is actually teaching the truth in-depth, and supplement their own personal Bible reading with teaching from this ministry that they trust. After all, having academic knowledge of the truth does one little good; what is important is actually believing the truth.

With all this being said, not all commentaries are completely useless. In terms of free resources, you might look at the commentaries of Charles Hodge freely available on StudyLight:

Hodge is certainly scholarly, but I do find him better in systematics, which is what he is of course more well-known in. These commentaries are by no means perfect (so you should take what they say with a large helping of salt); for example, ignore the strong Calvinism herein (following the principle of taking that which is useful, while leaving that which is not).

Topical resources

Topical resources are as they sound: they organize lists of verse references by topic. You can think of them as more systematized collections of verse cross-references. Since they are typically organized in the canonical order of biblical books and chapters, they can be especially useful in checking references sequentially to see how a theme develops over the course of a specific book, for example, or even the whole Old or New Testament.

There is a little bit of authorial discretion as to the organization of topical resources (i.e., which/whether links go with a topic), but they are on the whole fairly free from interpretation (much like cross-references).

The topical resources most people are familiar with (Nave’s, Torrey’s, etc.) act like dictionaries: you have to search for a term to pull it up. So if you are reading Joshua 1:1 and decide that you want to see verses about Joshua, you need to manually search the topical resources for “Joshua.” Is this a big deal? No. Is it inconvenient? A bit.

It turns out that there exist topical resources that serve as more of a “two way street” between topics and verses: the dictionary portion links to verses, and the verses in turn link to the dictionary portion. Thus, if you use them in-line with a Bible, you can immediately jump to a verse list for a topic (e.g., Joshua, as above) when coming upon said topic in your reading. These are more convenient for obvious reasons.

For the “two way street” type (the type that I most strongly recommend making use of), there are a couple good resources:

The STEP Bible app’s in-line topical resource can be accessed by clicking on a verse number, just as with the STEP Bible app’s homegrown cross-references:

Step Bible app related subjects

The Dictionary of Bible Themes is located in the “Topical” section of BibleHub’s interface, which you can get to when on a specific verse by clicking on the appropraite link in the menu, like so:

Biblehub topical section

Most of the time, these resources alone will give you enough to work with. However, if you ever want to compare the verse lists here to those for the same topic in “dictionary-esque” resources, StudyLight has a number of this latter type available for free:

Bible dictionaries and encyclopedias

Bible dictionaries and encyclopedias are invaluable as reference works for when you want to get some background on some topic that comes up in scripture, like a place, cultural practice, archaeological feature, or other things of this sort. Sometimes study Bibles and study notes will be “enough” in terms of background information, but in those cases when they are not, Bible dictionaries and encyclopedias are where you should look for more information.

In a fortunate turn, most of the older free ones (those from the late 19th and early 20th century, which are now in the public domain) end up being useful (perhaps even to a higher degree than many modern options), as the older scholarship is more conservative and supportive of the authority of the Bible.

I recommend most people make use of the Bible dictionaries and encyclopedias freely available on StudyLight:

Total purchase costs

Given the abundance of excellent free online resources available nowadays (that can be combined with substantive Bible teaching from a good teaching ministry to take care of all of one’s spiritual needs), it is my recommendation as a teacher that people really only spend money on a good study Bible, like the NIV Study Bible.

Resource Purchase Link Approximate Cost
NIV Study Bible OliveTree $40

As should be apparent, with overall costs this low, our spiritual growth is something not limited by the financial resources available to us, but by how we use our time and energy. In our present day, anyone who has a desire to do serious personal Bible study has everything they need available to them right at their fingertips – even folks in developing countries who would otherwise have a hard time acquiring an expensive library of physical books.

Believers of our time thus have greater potential to fully learn God’s truth than perhaps any other generation that has ever lived upon this Earth. But it is for us to take hold of the opportunities before us and exploit them to the fullest; these things are not automatic, but require a constant exercising of free will on our part.