The Paroikos Bible Blog exists as a resource to those interested in Biblical studies and Koine Greek. It is hoped that this blog will simultaneously provide food-for-thought to the reader while pointing him or her in the direction of valuable resources, both in print and on the internet, that will further help his or her studies in the Word.

Feb 9, 2021

How to Stock your Biblical Studies Toolbox (guest post by David Stark)

David Stark is a professor at Faulkner University and a fellow graduate from Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, NC. Indeed, we began the doctoral program together, and a number of us early on, myself included, considered David the cream of the crop of new PhD students! His career has lived up to expectations, as he has published his dissertation with the prestigious T&T Clark, along with articles in multiple journals, including Bulletin for Biblical Research. He also has an entire blog devoted to making the study of Scripture much easier (see the link to "Work Better in Biblical Studies," to the right). I am honored to have him publish a guest post on the Paroikos Bible Blog.

[update 3/5/21--here's a link to Dr. Stark's discussion of two more "tools": backup systems and password managers. Click here. Also, here is a link to sign up for Dr. Stark's helpful "toolbox" updates]

Plumbers, electricians, and carpenters all have specific tools they use for their trades. As they hone their skill in those trades, a good part of that development means improving their skill at using the tools of their trade.

If you had a plumber who ended up being able to use his or her tools only as well as a weekend “do-it-yourselfer,” you’d probably find someone else next time. (I’ve seen this recently. It wasn’t pretty.)

A Problem with Biblical Studies

The same dynamic plays out in academic biblical studies. But academic biblical studies has a huge disadvantage to “blue collar work” like plumbing.

That’s because biblical studies is a kind of “knowledge work.” As such it shares a deficiency with other kinds of “knowledge work” in precisely an area that “blue collar work” recognizes as important—how good you are with the tools of your trade.

Biblical studies pays attention to some of these tools, things like biblical languages, historical criticism, or effective writing. But it often wholly overlooks more fundamental tools and skills that make it possible to develop expertise in these areas.

If you’re turning a wrench on a pipe and your mind wanders, your subconscious will probably keep your hand turning. But if Facebook beckons for your attention while you’re studying Greek vocabulary or writing a journal article, your attention’s going to go down the drain.—And once it’s gone, even the best plumber can’t help you get it back out of there.

Why You Need a Toolbox

This illustration shows up two reasons you, as a knowledge worker in biblical studies, need some specific tools:

1)    Tools allow you to do things you otherwise can’t. That might be joining pipes or cutting wire. Or it might be tracking dozens of secondary sources for a major research project so that you can recall what’s in each.

2)    Tools allow you to not do things you otherwise would. Sure, you can try to pound a screw with a hammer. But the work is a lot easier to use a screwdriver. It’s still easier if you predrill the hole. Similarly, you could try to manage all of your obligations in your head and not drop any of the plates you’re supposed to be spinning. But it’s a lot easier if you put all of that somewhere that will surface the information you need when you need it and let you forget about the rest to focus on something else.

And just like plumbers, electricians, and carpenters, a good part of honing your craft in biblical studies depends on developing skill with the tools of your trade.

How to Stock Your Toolbox

Exactly what are these tools for biblical studies? The specifics will vary from one person to another. They also have various forms (e.g., paper versus electronic). Or they might take the form of a process (e.g., going to a specific location).

Precisely which variety of a specific tool you have is less important than having and getting the most out of what works for you—just like having a drill is vastly more important to making a hole than whether the drill says “Ryobi” or “Kobalt” on the side.

In that light, I’d suggest there are 8 basic types tools you need in your toolbox as a knowledge worker in biblical studies.

1. Attention Management

In biblical studies, if you don’t have control over your attention, nothing else gets done. Everyone’s attention is prone to wander, and you need a tool to help you put your attention where it needs to be.

2. List Management

There’s a lot of “stuff” that comes at you. That might be a paper to write, a language to learn, groceries to get, or meetings to prepare for. Long term, trying to keep all of that in your head will cause more stress and lead to poorer outcomes than if you have a tool to put the stuff into to help you keep track of it all.

3. Calendar

You schedule meetings with others. But you can take that up a notch by scheduling meetings with yourself when you’ll put your attention on and plug away at a specific project. Keeping a calendar can also help you with long-term planning as well as seeing things like how accepting that meeting means you won’t make it to your kids’ soccer practice.

4. Biblical Studies Resources

You need biblical texts, monographs, commentaries, journal articles, etc. Tools in this area that are maybe the most obvious.

5. Bibliography Management

What was that book you read that had that argument about that phrase you’ve now started pouring over? Research is great. Re-searching …repeatedly … again and again?—Not so much.

6. Notes

You might have notes from a meeting. You might have notes on reading a journal article. Unless you want to continually reread the article or ask another attendee about some point of the meeting you can’t quite remember, you need a tool to keep notes for yourself.

7. Word Processing

You need some way of putting your work into words. You can do it orally in theory. But most often in biblical studies, putting your work into words requires writing that produces an electronic file.

8. Communication

And once you have your work written up, how are you going to get it to others? Again, you could read the paper to them. But you also really need to be able to communicate the written text of your work, as well as to interact with others over any number of other questions, academic and otherwise.


From the tools I’ve described above, you’ll notice not everything is strictly “academic.” Being at your kids’ soccer practice isn’t going to be a graded assignment in your course syllabus. And it’s not going to show up on tenure review.

But being a biblical scholar is a particular way of being human. As such, honing your craft in biblical studies means improving how you handle your whole life. And that’s not to mention that you’ll be more productive in better ways if you’re not also preoccupied with the costs of under investing in key relationships or other aspects of your life.

Embracing all of that well into a single whole is a process, not a state. But there are tools that can help like those that I’ve mentioned above.

What works best for you may be different from what works best for me or, indeed, from what will work best for you in a year or two’s time.

Still, it can be helpful to not have to start picking out tools from scratch. So, if you want to have a look inside my toolbox, just let me know.

I’ll be more than happy to send you a free downloadable of the main things it contains, as well as a further bonus category that isn’t a core tool but definitely proves helpful.