There are several handbooks on the market these days, but this is one that has endured. The book began in 1924 as a 16-page leaflet that Henry Halley would hand out to friends & students. It quickly turned into a 32-page booklet that he would continue to expand. At first the book was called Halley’s Pocket Bible Handbook, but it soon outgrew the pocket! Since then, it has gone through numerous expansions to where it is now over 850 pages. The book has gone through numerous editions (at least twenty-five), multiple copyright renewals, translations into at least 13 foreign languages, and has sold over 5 million copies—a testament to its popularity and enduring value.
My first introduction to this book was from Don Baugh, one of my high school Bible class teachers. He would bring it to class and often use it to expand on the material covered in class. I can still remember him saying “I don’t know exactly who he is or how to precisely pronounce his last name, but his material is often, not always, right on.”
Henry Halley was taught by a man who is perhaps more well-known than his teacher, Alexander Campbell, and that is J. W. McGarvey. Halley graduated from McGarvey’s College of the Bible in 1895 with Associate and Bachelor degrees. He taught at the school for a year, then the following year he taught for the Women's Missionary College in Hazel Green, KY. In 1897 Halley became the Pastor for the Disciples of Christ in Michigan. His study in the College of the Bible prepared him to assemble such a valuable handbook. Due to an illness, Halley had to suspend his pulpit work so he spent hours in memorization of the Bible. One report is that he could quote the Bible for as long as 25 hours without stopping! He applied effort to the study of Bible History, Bible Geography and other key Bible subjects. It is reported that he would often weave these points in his sermons so that he was in great demand as a speaker.
The book is organized to provide insights into each book of the Bible. It is supplemented with maps, charts, illustrations and pictures to better understand the subject matter. Often there are photographs of artifacts and biblical places with explanations that are of interest. There are also articles relating to how we got the Bible and how to read it more effectively. Halley also includes articles that are worthy of thought including reflections on the importance of worship, reading the Bible, and preaching the gospel. There is also an interesting overview of church history with key characters during each period of history. While space is provided to discuss the Reformation Movement, sadly there is no mention of the far greater movement—The Restoration Movement. This is most unfortunate since Halley would have been very familiar with the plea of returning back to the Bible.
Certainly one will not agree with every point in the book; however, three factors need to be kept in mind. First, Henry Halley was not a member of churches of Christ and was influenced by the digressive element. Second, there have been archaeological discoveries since the days of Henry Halley that are not incorporated in the book. Third, the book is no longer under Halley’s oversight since selling the rights to Zondervan Publishing so future editions may include/exclude information Halley would not support. When giving this book as a gift, one would do well to bring these points to the recipient’s attention. In fact, the copy my parents gave me includes the words “Read Carefully”. With these points in mind, it remains a very useful reference work. So much so, that in 1961 Henry Halley received the Gutenberg Award from the Chicago Bible Society in acknowledgment for this reference tool.
Henry Hampton Halley died in 1965 and is buried in Lexington Cemetery, which also is the final resting place for other notable restoration preachers such as J. W. McGarvey, John T. Johnson, Raccoon John Smith and others.