Nelson’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Bible Facts, Editors & Major Contributors: J. I. Packer, Merrill C. Tenney, William White, Jr. Published by Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN. © Copyright 1995, 1980. Suggested retail about $30.00. (Update: currently out of print at publisher. A few copies are available by calling the Extension School Bookstore at 800-687-2121.)
I consider this reference work one of the most valuable in my library. As we said in our article entitled, “Know the Author’s Setting,” the biblical writers wrote within certain historical, cultural, and linguistic settings. Nelson’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Bible Facts (NIEBF) is a one-volume resource providing many of the background facts which help illuminate and clarify the scripture.
This 746 page book (plus index and maps) was first issued under the title of The Bible Almanac in 1980. NIEBF is the revised and updated version.
NIEBF is different from “Bible handbooks” which take the Bible book by book and briefly outline and provide background. Instead, it approaches the Bible’s background topically. It has 45 chapters on topics such as Bible Chronology, Text and Translations, Pagan Religions, Animals and Insects, Agriculture, Languages and Writing, Geography of Palestine, Worship and Rituals, etc. Such an arrangement allows zeroing in on a specific topic while still getting the broader setting.
While called “Illustrated,” the book is mostly text; most of the photos are less than quarter-page size black and white. Clearly the focus is on the information, not the illustrations. In the Editor’s Preface, J. I. Packer says:
“History is the backbone of the Bible. Prophets’ and apostles’ sermons, with psalmists’ praises, must be slotted into their place in the history, or the organism of Holy Scripture will not work in our minds as it should to bring us knowledge of God. Spine trouble limits what a person’s other limbs can do, and uncertainty about Bible history – by limiting our insight into the rest of Scripture –limits what God’s Word as a whole can do for us. Without some historical study a vast amount of the meaning of Scripture gets lost. Not that a man who has no historical aids to Bible study cannot understand the Word at all; on the contrary, its saving message is spelled out so often and so clearly that only the spiritually blind can miss it. But with historical aids one will understand Scripture much more fully that one could otherwise. This is where Nelson’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Bible Facts will help.”
Let me give some examples of its usefulness from a recent study on the Book of Esther. Here are just a few of the topics illuminated by NIEBF:
- Get the historical background by reading Chapter 9 on “The Persians.”
- Chapter 43 (“Outlines of the Books of the Bible”) provides a sensible outline of the book.
- Learn more about the Feast of Purim from Chapter 27 on “Worship Rituals.
- Susa is talked about in Chapter 45, “Places of the Bible.”
Any book is only as good as the information it contains. NIEBF treats the biblical text as truth and an accurate record of history. Its editors and contributors are recognized as conservative biblical scholars. Add this book to your library. You will be using it often.
Article updated August 13, 2011