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Blog / The Complete Topical Guide to the Bible: An Interview with Martin H. Manser

The Complete Topical Guide to the Bible: An Interview with Martin H. Manser

Martin H. ManserStudying the Bible lies at the heart of the Christian faith. One approach is the exploration of the central topics of Scripture—such as the Trinity, humanity, sin, and salvation—that unfold the unity and richness of the Bible.

[Use the Dictionary of Bible Themes on Bible Gateway]

Bible Gateway interviewed Bible reference editor Martin H. Manser (@mhmanser and @word_come_alive), who, along with Alister McGrath, J. I. Packer, and Donald Wiseman, edited The Complete Topical Guide to the Bible (Baker Books, 2017).

[Read the Bible Gateway Blog post, Bible Reference Books: An Interview with Martin Manser]

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Why should this book be used by readers of the Bible?

Martin H. Manser: The Complete Topical Guide to the Bible will enlarge readers’ depth of understanding of the Bible. It’s a reliable encyclopedic guide, making information on the Bible very accessible in a quick and easy format. It lists over 120,000 Bible references.

How does it differ from a concordance?

Martin H. Manser: A concordance is word-based, so if you’re leading a Bible study on, for example, assurance, a word-based tool would not be very helpful: it would be limited to identifying biblical passages in which words such as assure or assurance appear.

A topical approach, however, goes beyond this and explores all the basic elements of the topic. It identifies its basic ideas, its presuppositions, and its consequences, in order that the topic in all its fullness can be unfolded. Thus the material that deals with assurance covers the grounds of assurance (for example, the knowledge of God, the certainty of his word, the work of the Holy Spirit), the nature of assurance (of a relationship with God, of salvation, of eternal life, and a future hope), and the relationship between assurance and the life of faith. Examples of Bible references include:

  • Assurance of God’s unfailing love—Psalm 13:5
  • Assurance of eternal life—John 3:15-16
  • Assurance in the hope of the resurrection—John 6:40
  • The Holy Spirit assures believers by giving inward conviction—Romans 8:16

How did the book come about?

Martin H. Manser: The Complete Topical Guide to the Bible is a spin-off from the NIV Thematic Reference Bible published by Zondervan and Hodder and Stoughton. When that went out of print, I regularly received emails asking about when the material would be available in print as hard copy, so I was delighted when Baker approached me a couple of years ago to reprint this book in paperback.

How many topics and subtopics are covered in the book?

Martin H. Manser: Over 2,000 topics are covered, each one having many subtopics. There are doctrinal and cultural topics, and ones relating to practical Christian living. It’s actually encyclopedic in scope. Here are some of the topics that begin with the letter C: church; circumcision; cistern; citadel; cities of refuge; cities of the plain; citizenship; city; civil authorities; claims … comfort; commander; Commandments, Ten; commands; commemoration; commendation; commitment; communication; Communion, Holy; communion; community; compassion.

Many have subtopics. For example, at “church” we have the following subtopics: church and Holy Spirit; and Jesus Christ; fellowship of; foundations of; leadership of; life of; mission of; nature and foundations of; OT anticipations of; purpose and mission of; unity and fellowship of.

An extensive system of cross-referencing allows the dynamic relationship of the many biblical topics to be understood and explored.

How is all the information in the book organized and structured?

Martin H. Manser: Each topic has a four-digit number. The first digit stands for one of nine main groups of topics. These were devised by Alister McGrath: 1000 God; 2000 Jesus Christ; 3000 Holy Spirit; 4000 Creation; 5000 Humanity; 6000 Sin and salvation; 7000 God’s people; 8000 The life of the believer; 9000 Last things.

Within each of the major groups of topics, topics have been arranged in subcategories. For example, under Jesus Christ 2000 come: 2003 Jesus Christ, qualities of; 2200 Jesus Christ, titles and descriptions of; 2300 Jesus Christ, ministry and work of; 2400 Jesus Christ, gospel of. Then there are further subcategories. There’s also an alphabetical index at the front of the book.

The material under each topic is well structured. First there’s a crisp opening definition of the topic followed by headings with a key Bible reference in bold and then further Bible references. For example, at topic number 3215 Holy Spirit, and peace, we have the opening definition “The Holy Spirit brings a sense of well-being, contentment, and wholeness to believers whatever their outward circumstances. Peace is therefore an indication of the Holy Spirit’s presence.” Then comes the headings “Peace is part of the nature of the Holy Spirit: The Spirit is likened to a dove, the symbol of peace” and Bible references Mt 3:16 with parallels Mk 1:10, Lk 3:22, and Jn 1:32.

How difficult was it to assemble and organize all the information in this more than 600-page book?

Martin H. Manser: It was a mammoth job! I led a team of 100 colleagues (10 colleagues in 10 teams). My work alone took several thousand hours. With so many people working in it, it was essential to have a uniform style to ensure consistency across the board. Material was checked by an outstanding team, with Alister McGrath as general editor and consultant editors J. I. Packer, Donald Wiseman, Gordon McConville, and Stephen H. Travis. It was a great privilege to work with such world-class scholars.

What have you learned about the Bible through this project?

Martin H. Manser: The Bible is so deep! As the 6th-century church father Gregory put it: “Scripture is like a river…shallow enough…for the lamb to go wading, but deep enough…for the elephant to swim.” It’s humbling to be involved in projects that make the riches of the Bible accessible to Bible teachers and students.

What other projects are you working on?

Martin H. Manser: I’ve recently completed a Dictionary of Phrasal Verbs, with definitions and examples of more than 2,500 verbs, such as break down, put out, and set up.

I’m delighted to report that the Burmese Study Bible is due to be published in November 2017. We’re very grateful that funding has come in for the printing and publication of this book.

September 2017 sees the publication of The Christian Basics Bible NLT published by Tyndale for new Christians and those who’ve plateaued in their faith; with over 500 notes and a 133-page section on Basic Truths of the Christian Faith with answers to basic questions about life and faith.

I’m also continuing to work on my paraphrase (extended translation) of the New Testament Word Come Alive (see and my blog at I’m currently now finally reviewing Mark’s Gospel and have completed John’s Gospel, the Letters of John, Ephesians, and Philippians. I’m pleased that some churches and individuals are using these. I’m now translating Romans.

What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway?

Martin H. Manser: I regularly use Bible Gateway to check different Bible translations and thank you for this helpful tool.

Bio: Martin Manser is a professional reference-book editor. Since 1980 he has compiled or edited nearly 200 reference books. He has also compiled and edited many titles that encourage Bible reading.

He is a language trainer and consultant with national companies and organizations, specializing in leading courses on English grammar and clear writing. In addition, he offers a coaching service to individuals and a copy writing and editing service to companies and organizations.

Martin also has a good working knowledge of German, having studied at the University of Regensburg and he visits Germany regularly. He is a tutor at Albert-Ludwigs University Freiburg, Center for Key Qualifications (Zentrum für Schlüsselqualifikationen), Germany.

Martin is also a part-time tutor at the London College of Communication, University of the Arts, London and part-time visiting lecturer at Buckinghamshire New University.

Martin’s wife, Yusandra, complements him in the creative team. Her sculptures have a highly individual and intuitive style.

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Filed under Bible Reference, Books, Interviews