Friday, February 14, 2014

What 'Study Bible' Should I Buy?

Dear Pastor Matt, 

I am looking for a good Study Bible for a younger reader, what edition should I buy? 



Hey Judy! Thanks for writing! This is a common question that I am asked from time to time, so this would be a good opportunity to discuss it in some detail.

Going to a Christian bookstore can be daunting, as there are so many Bible editions to choose from. In fact, there are now more "special edition" Bibles than ever before in the history of the world.

Too many, I might suggest.

One can choose from Men's Bibles, Women's Bibles, Student's Bibles, Soldier's Bibles, Businessman's Bibles, Athlete's Bibles, Patriot's Bibles, Underwater Basket Weaver's Bibles, ad nauseum. (Okay, I made that last one up). There is even a "Green Edition" Bible for those who love environmental conservation! (Not kidding this time). But is this really necessary?  I think not.

In general, I would avoid most of the above versions as they tend to cater towards marketing strategy rather than faithful Biblical explanation. It seems to me that the publishers are angling at a niche market rather than faithful Biblical precision.

A good "study" Bible should have some or most of the following features: cross-references, concept charts, maps, and chronological helps, in addition to an index (or concordance) and some basic introductory explanations of each book's literary background (author, date, and situation). Many go even further and give quite detailed exegetical details on the bottom of the page to help explain the original meaning of the text to the reader.

Other "study" Bibles focus more on "life application" and tend to spill more ink on making the Scriptures practical and relevant for today's readers rather than explanatory (or expository). To me these are a little bit more lightweight and I feel the Spirit does a pretty good job applying the text to convict me on His own! For this reason, I prefer the more technical aspects of the former type above.

Let's begin with the best at the top of the line.

The ESV Study Bible (pictured above) is simply the best one made. Honestly, it has no peers. It contains the notes and contributions of some of the world's best scholars, pastors, and theologians on the planet. Nothing like it has ever been attempted or accomplished before or since. Never before has more excellent explanatory notes, charts, and articles been spliced together between the same two covers. The maps are full-color and highly detailed. Book introductions are excellent. The ESV Study Bible even comes with several dozen theological articles in the back, with very well done treatises on basic Christian doctrine, ethics, and apologetics.

The drawback is it's size. It weighs in at nearly 69 oz. I often joke that I had to rent a new mini-van in order to get it to church. For some readers, too, the sheer amount of additional content (what I like best) will actually be its greatest weakness. It does verge, I will admit, on overkill. I use this version weekly--along with many other helpful tools of my study--for sermon preparation.

A second option is its smaller daughter, the ESV Study Bible Personal Size. (Pictured right). The interior layout is exactly the same with two very significant differences. (1) The size and dimensions of the overall Bible is smaller and therefore it weighs less, at about 43 ounces. (2) It does not come with the extra articles in the back, making it somewhat thinner. Still a beast though. Readers will be just as delighted in the running commentary along the bottom of the page as with the larger edition above. This is what I use for my personal and family devotions at home.

Another version entirely is the Gospel Transformation Bible. (Not pictured). This too is done with excellent scholarly teamwork. One major difference here is that it tends more towards application than exposition. For this reason, it might be a better option for those who do not need (or want) the technical depth of the two versions I just mentioned.

I would recommend this edition to high school students, college students, new believers, or just "regular folks" looking to get a bit meatier with their devotions, but who won't be writing doctoral dissertations any time soon!

Ever want to create your own study Bible? The ESV Journaling Bible is excellent for this. It comes with huge margins on both pages with lines for you to take notes on sermons, or jot down your thoughts. Jonathan Edwards would have loved this because he once tried to create this by splicing together blank paper between the pages of his Bible. I use this for making references to all of those great insights I discover in other reading that I do. Sometimes I think, "Man I really need to remember that when I come to Romans eight!" So even if I'm not preaching from that passage any time soon, I jot that note in the margins. Later, I may return to it after weeks, months, or years. 

Finally, let me suggest the exact opposite of a study Bible. I got turned on to this alternative late last year and it has become a favorite of mine.

The ESV Single Column Legacy Bible has nothing but the text of Scripture. No notes. No cross-references. Nothing. No maps. No charts. Why would anyone want this?

For me the answer is simple, when I am preaching and teaching, I don't want my vision obstructed by all the extra data filling up the page. I just want the text with large, white, spacious margins for my own sermon notes and outlines. This Bible is one of the most visually stunning I have seen for the very reason that it DOESN'T have all the glitz and glamor of today's study Bibles. Nothing like a clean page with just the Word of God on it. Beautiful.

Hope that helps! If you have a specific Study Bible that you recommend, share it in your comments below!

-Pastor Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville Florida.

1 comment:

  1. The Reformation study Bible
    Gen. editor R.C. Sproul