January 16, 2021

The Book I’ve Been Waiting For: Ryken’s Bible Handbook

I’ve been teaching the Bible to high school students for 13 years, and hope to do so for many more. In that time, I’ve been looking for a particular resource, and I’ve never found it…until now. Ryken’s Bible Handbook has impressed me more than any Biblical introduction I’ve ever seen. I am enthusiastic about recommending the book, and no one gave me a free copy along the way (though I’ll gladly take one.)

That resource has been a good introduction to the Bible that met my standards. With so many introductory Bible materials on the market, it would seem I’d have no trouble finding something usable. I’m not overly strict in my standards for Introductions to the Bible, but I’ve been extremely disappointed in what I’ve found.

The school purchased the Holman Bible Handbook for me several years ago. The Holman Bible Handbook is a good looking book, but the content is too heavy, too long, very poorly organized, and not indexed. Pages and pages of two-column text are interspersed with pictures, but the quality of the articles is uneven, and there is a real lack of quality editing. An introduction needs to be interesting, even and well organized. The Holman fails in that regard.

Handbooks like the Eerdman’s Handbook of the Bible have also had a chance to impress me, but didn’t. Many of these products are from fundamentalist sources that bring with them no appreciation for literary genre, difficulties in the text or the Bible’s overall presentation of Christ. Sources on the level of the resources in the Thompson Chain Reference Bible are common, but not helpful in an introductory Bible survey class for high school juniors and seniors.

I’ve tried some of the “Dummies” type books such as “Bruce and Stan’s” book on the Bible. Again, very little content, and not enough material to use as a reference or a classroom text. I had just about given up on finding a text with my requirements:

  • Solid and interesting content, in sufficient amounts
  • Appreciation of literature and literary genre
  • Thematic surveys of books
  • Visually interesting without being cute or quirky
  • Acknowledgement of interpretative difficulties and specific help with the same
  • Non-fundamentalist approach to the purpose of scripture
  • Serious and academic, but introductory
  • Well-outlined
  • Detailed content and indexes

I found the book. It’s Ryken’s Bible Handbook, published by Tyndale and produced by literary scholar Leland Ryken, pastor Phillip Ryken and religion professor James Wilhoit.

It is simply superb. With the exception of the indexes, it meets all my criteria. I have never seen such an excellently presented, well organized and helpful collection of information in the appropriate form for academic study, as well as church and personal use.

The first chapter is available here on pdf, and you will be able to see why I am so impressed.

I want to recommend this book to all my IM readers, and especially to those of you introducing students to the Bible. This is a book that would work in almost any Bible intro from high school through seminary study. It is perfect for the bright young person with lots of questions. It doesn’t waste your time, it is theologically serious and it treats the text as literature to be appreciate, enjoyed and interpreted.


  1. WTS Bookstore has it for $12.95 (less than Amazon). And you keep this starving seminarian in a job!

  2. Just to ask, but what do you mean “treats it like literature”? I mean I would think that the bible should be treated as the inerrant Word of God, so I am unsure as to what is meant by that.

  3. cogito_inter_alia says

    I am sure you are familiar with this, but the Oxford Companion to the Bible is astounding! Granted, it may be a bit academic and partial to liberality, but the articles are excellent with a strong bent toward the Bible as literature.

    I’d say the OCB meets all your criteria except for “visually interesting” (no pictures), lacks an index, and it is pricey.

  4. Hi Michael, this looks cool. I took a quick look at the frist chapter pdf and
    was impressed. I would also recommend Leland Ryken’s book on Bible translation,
    “The Word of God in English: Criteria for Excellence in Bible Translation.”

    I am going to have to look into the Bible Handbook as a tool to use with our youth

  5. Cogito- OCB is great…but not for high school students, many of whom are academically weak. Ryken’s is really the best I’ve ever seen for the secondary school-early college-intelligent layperson group

    Windaria- Theology is not what I am teaching. I am teaching Intro to the Bible. Therefore, I am dealing with the text as text, and only dealing with Christian assumptions as I choose- which I do choose to do at times. The discussion of inerrancy, however, is not part of understanding the various literary genres: drama, poetry, epistle, narrative, parable, etc.

    The discussion of inerrancy is another thing altogether:


  6. Wow, I really enjoyed reading through the first chapter. The language flows very well, and I apprecieated the concise statements. I may just have to order one…


  7. Michael – Thank you for mentioning this book. The amount of material available is overwhelming and I consider recommendations from trusted sources as invaluable.

  8. Very cool. I’m teaching a ‘how to study the Bible’ class at my church, and this is one resource I need to tell them about. Thanks Michael.

  9. I’m puzzled by Tyndale House taking on Ryken’s handbook, considering his views on functional equivalent translations.

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