Bob’s Reference Short List

Posted by Bob Mattes

Since we seem to be on a roll with new book recommendations, I thought that I’d throw some balance in here with some older books. So there!

Seriously, here are some references of which I am very fond. Most reach back a bit to a time when the distractions were fewer (no HDTV football-how did they survive?) When I first trusted the Lord, I flocked to “modern” stuff and the NIV. As I matured, I broadened my scope to include works closer to or during the Reformation period and more literal translations.

For seminary graduates, you have bookshelves full of references that you may or may not use regularly. I’m in the same boat, much to my wife’s occasional consternation. However, there are some that I use on a regular basis that you usually don’t see in seminary classes. On the other side, none require a seminary degree to use effectively. So, here goes:

1599 Geneva Study Bible – The Bible translation and notes done by the early Reformers in Geneva. The notes are awesome. This is a modern reprint of the exact original text corrected only for modern spellings. The leather version comes with a CD with the Bible in PDF format. Every Reformed Christian should have one of these. I use mine regularly for devotions and in worship.

Reformation Study Bible – The modern successor to the 1599 Geneva Study Bible. It also has great text notes plus theological notes originally written by J.I. Packer and later published as J.I. Packer’s Concise Theology. Originally called the New Geneva Study Bible in NKJV, now in the ESV. I like the NKJV edition better, but have both translations.

The Westminster Annotations and Commentary on the Whole Bible (6 Volumes, 1657) – Facsimile edition, but very readable even though the type is small. Verse-by-verse comments by some of the Westminster Divines and others provide great theological insights into the Divine’s exegesis. Contains some of the best, no-nonsense verse notes I’ve ever seen. I use this all the time.

New Self-Interpreting Bible Library (4 vols., 1914 ed.) – Facsimile edition. Original notes written by John Brown of Haddington, 1st ed. published in 1778. Excellent reference by a master Bible scholar. Besides the Bible notes, it holds an outstanding compendium of Bible information in the first volume. It’s way more than a study Bible. So good that it was updated and published until the early 20th Century.

An Exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith – Outstanding commentary on the Confession by Robert Shaw, originally published in 1845. Very practical and pastoral commentary from a gifted Scottish pastor and theologian. I have an electronic version on my PDA as well.

Reformed Confessions Harmonized – Outstanding reference edited by Joel Beeke and Sinclair Ferguson. Harmonizes the Three Forms of Unity, 2nd Helvetic Confession, and the Westminster Standards. Vividly displays the beauty and agreement of these great Reformed standards. In addition, it has a large bibliography of orthodox Reformed doctrinal works by topic in the back. Very handy.

Calvin’s Institutes (Beveridge Translation) –  By popular demand, I’ve added this to the list. Everyone should already have at least one of these. If not, get thee to a bookstore or click the link! Everyone should have been issued a copy along with instructions for the secret handshake at your first induction into the Reformed union (just kidding!)

Historical Theology (2 vols.) – Based on the lecture notes of William Cunningham (Professor of Church History, New College, Edinburgh, from 1843-1861?), this traces the history of Christian theology from the beginning up to his day. A masterful work with great attention to detail. I don’t think that I’d want to take one of his exams.

The Reformers and the Theology of the Reformation – Another great reference by William Cunningham, this one also based on his lectures. Here he details the major players in the Reformation and the development/recovery of the major Biblical doctrines that we hold so dear. Another great antidote to those who would rewrite that history today.

The Systematic Theology of John Brown of Haddington – Originally published in 1782 under an even longer title. What makes John Brown’s systematic so intriguing is that as a solid, orthodox, confessional, and influential Reformed pastor and professor, he writes from the point of view of the covenants, something on which New Perspective on Paul adherents and Federal Visionists seem to think they have a lock these day. John Brown provided a great antidote over 100 years ago.

The Complete Word Study Bible and Dictionary Pack – Edited by Spiros Zodhiates for AMG, this is a super and “concise” original language reference set for both pastors and laymen alike. Each word in the text is morphologically tagged. Definitions are tied with examples of uses by verse, providing somewhat of a concordance capability as well. It also puts particular usages into real context. I have this in Logos (see below) on my computer and in my PDA with Olive Tree’s Bible Software. I never leave home without it.

Logos Bible Software 3 – With over 10 years of poking around Bible study software, I can say without reservation that Logos dominates the field in capability. It’s exegetical and passage analysis tools blow the competition away. I’ve lost track of the number of references I have in this setup (easily several hundred), but they take 1.9GB of space on my hard disk. This greatly helped stabilize the growth rate of shelf requirements here. I personally started with the Original Language Edition, which contains a host of language resources, text variants and fragments, lexicons, and analysis tools. The integration of the electronic resources, e.g., crosslinking within the Westminster Standards and them to A.A. Hodge’s Commentary on the WCF. Space doesn’t permit listing all the power packed into this software system. This overall system doesn’t come cheap, but has paid off by dramatically reducing the time for research and preparation for teaching.

Olive Tree Bible Reader – Carry a robust Bible study library in your pocket, especially for those like me who never cared much for laptops. The multiple-windowed reader is actually free as are many common references and texts (over 100). Bible translations in many languages, including Greek and Hebrew, lexicons, cross-references, commentaries, books, pictures, and videos are all available for the reader. The Greek and Hebrew fonts look great. I would never leave home without this. Available for Palm, Windows Mobile, Smartphone, Blackberry, Symbian, Java cell phones, and iPod.

Well, that’s my short list of recommendations for basic references. You will see me cite many of these in posts either exegeting passages or discussing historical developments. I hope that the list helps someone.

Posted by Bob Mattes


  1. Fred Greco said,

    November 24, 2007 at 1:21 am


    Cunningham is pure gold. I’ll also just assume in your haste you forgot Calvin’s Institutes. :)

  2. November 24, 2007 at 1:24 am

    Hi Fred,

    No, I just figured everybody already had that. I was trying to add some extra spices to the main meal. :-)

    But, just for you, I’ll add it in.

  3. November 24, 2007 at 1:34 am

    There ya go, Fred, I added it in! Thank you for the suggestion.

    I’m a huge fan of Cunningham. I’m kinda surprised that his name doesn’t come up more in Reformed discussions.

  4. Fred Greco said,

    November 24, 2007 at 11:20 am


    The great Scotsmen from the latter era (19th c.) – Cunningham, Bannerman and Buchanan are very much not in vogue now in academic and FV circles. Cunningham especially is disliked for his “Southern Presbyterian” conclusions.

  5. November 24, 2007 at 2:30 pm


    Thanks, I didn’t know that. Funny how a distinguished scholar from the very northern part of the British Isles (Scots probably don’t like that geographic name) can have “Southern Presbyterian” conclusions.

  6. greenbaggins said,

    November 24, 2007 at 3:00 pm

    Bob, I know you like Logos, but Bibleworks 7 is pure gold. It has much better search capabilities, and far more original language sources. It takes up a massive 5 GB. And you can get HALOT and BDAG as add-ons.

  7. November 24, 2007 at 3:11 pm


    Software can be a lot like cars–tastes vary, so the best thing for someone is what they’ll use and enjoy. They have all changed a lot over the years. It’s good for folks to hear about alternatives.

  8. Robert K. said,

    November 24, 2007 at 4:08 pm

    Don’t forget Petrus Dathenus’ Pearl of Christian Comfort. It is old (1580s), and it explicates a difficult subject in Reformed Theology: Law and Gospel. And it does it concisely and perspicuously. A rare achievement in the history of doctrinal works since the Reformation…

    I know it’s probably not the kind of work that would fit your list, but it deserves to be mentioned as many times as possible…

  9. Matt Beatty said,

    November 24, 2007 at 10:04 pm

    The connection between 19th century Scotland (Cunningham/Bannerman/etc) and the Southern Presbys isn’t a hard one to make: Scottish “Common Sense” Realism. Insofar as one finds SCSR inadequate, one might find the southern fellas (and their Scottish counterparts) lacking. I remember reading Bannerman in seminary (at Gordon-Conwell no less!) and wondering, “Where’s the exegesis?” I won’t speak for the FV folks (they wouldn’t want me, I’m afraid…), but if Bannerman and his 19th century comrades (contra Calvin? Divines? Murray?) is the best “our” tradition has to offer, its time to jettison the tradition.

  10. CB said,

    November 26, 2007 at 7:07 pm

    A couple of other suggestions: The Books of Homilies-Reformational anglican sermons, published by the Prayerbook Society, USA Luther’s Bondage of the will, ichthus edition, with Erasmus’ Diatribe. The Concordia Self-Study Bible.
    Sadly, this is NIV, but perhaps an ESV edition is coming. Of course, Ursinus’ Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, another great resource. CB

  11. Jeff Cagle said,

    November 27, 2007 at 8:44 pm

    Thoughts on Beveridge’s translation of the Institutes over against Ford Battles’?

  12. Robert K. said,

    November 27, 2007 at 10:26 pm

    This is from no less an eminence than Richard Muller, regarding the Beveridge/Battles translations of Calvin’s Institutes:

    “I have also availed myself of the standard translations—the often cited McNeill-Battles translation of Calvin’s Institutes and the multivolume translation of the commentaries, tracts, treatises, and letters, undertaken in the nineteenth century by the Calvin Translation Society. I find the more recent translation of Calvin’s commentaries on the New Testament less than satisfactory, and I have not used it in the present volume. I have also consulted the older translations of the Institutes, namely those of Norton, Allen, and Beveridge, in view of both the accuracy of those translations and
    the relationship in which they stand to the older or “precritical” text tradition of Calvin’s original. Both in its apparatus and in its editorial approach to the text, the McNeill-Battles translation suffers from the mentality of the text-critic who hides the original ambience of the text even as he attempts to reveal all of its secrets to the modern reader.”

    From Muller’s book The Unaccommodated Calvin, Preface, pg. IX.

  13. Robert K. said,

    November 27, 2007 at 10:31 pm

    Ironic that someone will talk of a ‘pre-critical’ text being superiour in the case of Calvin’s Institutes but will no doubt use modern Critical Text versions of the Word of God itself…

    If Muller is a Traditional Text guy I’ll stand corrected…

  14. November 27, 2007 at 10:36 pm


    I agree with Robert K.’s post #12. Based on my reading on the topic, I believe that Beveridge’s translation more nearly preserves Calvin’s original text without trying to “clean it up.”

  15. Robert K. said,

    November 27, 2007 at 10:39 pm

    There is, by the way, a new hardback, one-volume, Beveridge edition of Calvin’s Institutes being released in Jan. ’08. 16 dollars, or so. Newly type-set, I believe, from Hendrickson Publishers.

  16. November 27, 2007 at 10:45 pm

    Thanks for the heads-up, Robert.

  17. November 28, 2007 at 4:15 pm

    […] Muller’s reply is well worth pondering. __________________ Rev. Lane Keister Teaching Elder, PCA, North Dakota (working out of bounds in a CRC and an RCA church) […]

  18. November 29, 2007 at 1:30 am

    […] Posted by greenbaggins Muller’s reply is well worth pondering. I was feeling a bad case of Calvin-envy with my old Beveridge until […]

  19. January 2, 2008 at 7:51 am

    […] sanctification in cooperation with the Spirit. It is in that light in which verse 10 appears. The Westminster Annotations comment on verse 10 says: brethren] By regeneration and adoption, and union with Christ by faith, […]

  20. December 21, 2013 at 8:10 pm

    […] sanctification in cooperation with the Spirit. It is in that light in which verse 10 appears. The Westminster Annotations comment on verse 10 […]

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