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Bible people, places, and cultural context

Start with Reference

Whether you're are researching for your Biblical Interpretation course, beginning work on a sermon, or getting ready to present on a city for New Testament class, you'll need to know how to research people, places, and their historical context.  The best way to do this is to begin with reference books that give an overview of a topic.  After reading a few reference entries, you'll have a working knowledge of the topic and can use keywords, names, and dates you found in the entries to search for books and articles dedicated solely to your topic.  Reading reference entries can also help you narrow or clarify your topic.

Reference works ONLINE

Bible Gateway  Resources in the FREE version include:

  • concordance (keyword lookup)
  • parallel Bible
  • topical index
  • Lockyer's All the men of the Bible and All the women of the Bible
  • Zondervan pictorial encyclopedia of the Bible (earlier edition)
  • Dictionary of Bible themes (assurance of salvation and last things, e.g.)
  • Asbury Bible commentary and IVP New Testament commentary series

Bible Gateway Plus is now offering a free trial for 30 days. undefined

Blue Letter Bible includes

  • International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (earlier edition)
  • timelines, maps and images
  • Strong's concordance

Search any verse and a TOOLS button appears next to the result. Two clicks and you're into the lexicon and concordance for any word!

Bible Hub is particularly useful for 

  • Pulpit Bible commentary, Expositor's Bible commentary
  • Bible maps that can be searched by topic, e.g. King David


Reference books by type of book

Handbooks & manuals:  

Organized by book of the Bible

Excellent for quick overviews

Helpful sidebars on relevant topics

Most useful when the topic is found in one book or group of books of the Bible (e.g. giving of law, conquest). 

Example:  Zondervan handbook to the Bible  BS 417 .Z66 2009 REF

Dictionaries & encyclopedias

Organized A-Z

Available at different levels, with single volume editions being simpler and multivolume sets offering fuller, deeper entries

Useful, in that, having found your person, place, or topic, you can then look up all the related terms in that same dictionary

Location: BS 440


A resource that gives a brief overview of the main aspects of a topic or work

Location:  Bible and Old Testament BS 1140

Location:  New Testament BS 2330

Reference books by type of information

About people:

Location: BS 570 - BS 579

About places:

Location: BS 630 & G 2230

Example: The one stop Bible atlas  G 2230 .P25 2010

About culture:


The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament  BS 2341.52 .K44 2014

The IVP Bible background commentary: Old Testament  BS 1151.2 .W35 2000

The Bible almanac BS 635.2 .B48

Dictionary of daily life in biblical and post-biblical antiquity  BS 440 .Y37 2014

The land & people Jesus knew: A visual tour of first-century Palestine  DS 112 .T46 1985 REF

About literary context:


How to read the Bible as literature  BS 535 .R89 1984

How to read the Bible for all its worth  BS 600.3 .F44 2014