I would like to address a question that was asked of me some time ago by someone in my congregation. Question: Is there a good study Bible out on the market you would recommend?
I believe it is easier to answer questions like: what's a good Bible study topic to look into, or is there a particular book in the Bible to start with, or what verses should I commit to memory as a new Christian… than it is to answer what is a good study Bible. This question is difficult to answer because there are no less than 33 different study Bibles out on the market today! And, the truth is I am sure I may have overlooked some in my investigation.
Before I can answer the question, “What is a good study Bible?” and give you my recommendations, I need to set the groundwork as to the reality that surrounds all study Bibles. There are some things to keep in mind when searching for that one perfect fit that you think will meet all your Bible knowledge needs in one volume.
So what’s a good study Bible? Great question! Let me see if I can answer it by providing some serious reality checks to keep in my before making that big purchase. Incidentally, if you are wondering if I have any credentials concerning this topic I want to say very few! My one claim to fame in speaking about study Bibles is the fact that I am money poor but study Bible rich! Over the past 39 years I have collected over 50 Bibles and have had at least 25 study Bibles for my personal use. At the moment, I have 16 study Bibles at the ready. Most of what I have learned about study Bibles has come from spending hundreds of hours pouring over them in personal Bible study, searching the web for reviews, and asking other pastors what they think on the issue.
Here is what I have come up with. I use study Bibles for three reasons.
One, at times I look for a quick understanding of a verse, chapter or book that is under my investigation. I have plenty of Bible commentaries I can go to, but, like most preachers, their explanations can be a little too long and deep. Sometimes I just want simple. It is never used to replace a deeper study of the Scripture, but only as a quick fix when I feel the need.
Two, I use study Bibles because many of them have maps, charts, graphs, and timelines built into them that are very helpful to getting an overview of what I am studying. It is easy to get wrapped up in a word study and forget the big picture. Sometimes I need to get up on the mountaintop of biblical information in order to gain a better perspective of the biblical valley below. Perspective is everything.
Three, I like giving study Bibles away to people who need one. The truth is just about every church I have served in has given me a book fund. With it I have bought more Bibles than I want to admit and, when I find one that I feel could fit the needs of someone in the congregation who needs one, I make sure they get it if they want it. I’m not tooting my own shofar here because I know plenty of pastors who do the same thing. Besides when they get one of my used study Bibles it is usually highlighted, underlined, and commented on in many different sections that have been under study. But, like the proverbial tire, there are still plenty of miles left on them.
So let me ask you some questions:
What are you looking for in a study Bible?
What are your specific interests as it relates to the Bible?
Do you have a particular theme of interest?
What is your theological bent?
Do you come from a Reform or Dispensational background?
Do you have a particular eschatological or ecclesiological view?
WHAT YOU NEED TO REALIZE --
I want you to keep some very important things in mind when you start looking for that Bible of all Bibles. This is the reality check that I have been trying to get at from the start.
First, you need to realize that there is no perfect study Bible. It may be over simplifying the issue, but God’s Word is perfect but the study notes you find in your Bible are written by men and women who are giving their opinions and convictions. That doesn’t necessarily mean they are completely correct or accurate. I have found myself in sharp disagreement with many a general editor of study Bibles as to their view on a portion of Scripture under study. Just this past week, I was reading an essay in one of my newest study Bibles and found that it was an oversimplification concerning the plan of salvation. By the time I finished doing my cross-referencing and language study as it related to the essay, I was convinced the article was poorly written (but that is my opinion and conviction). What you need to keep in mind is that there is only one inspired (God-breathed) writing and that is the Word of God… The Bible. All other writings must be placed under the microscope of the Scriptures. I don’t take their word for it but I do want their insights, opinions and convictions, because I am always looking for clarity.
Second, you need to realize that not all Study Bibles are equal. By this I mean, what you find in one study Bible concerning a particular verse will not necessarily be commented on the same way in all other study Bibles. And it should be noted that many times when you do go looking for a comment on that special verse that is troubling you, you may not find any comment at all. It has been my experience, over the years, that many study Bibles steer clear of saying anything concerning a troubling or hard to understand passage. As a matter of fact, some even go as far to say, “This is a very difficult passage to interpret.” And then leave it at that. It is at that point I would suggest going out and buying a complete Bible commentary set. There are many on the market and perhaps someday I will give you my insights on those, too. And, yes, I have quit a few of them also. Some study Bibles give in-depth explanations to every verse in the Bible; others are somewhat scant in their treatment of any passage, and yet others seem to see a reoccurring theme in every Bible book, letter, passage and verse.
Last, you need to realize a good study Bible should navigate you into the clearest understanding of what the Word of God means. Before you can answer the question; “What does this verse mean to me?” you need to ask the question, “What does this verse mean?” In all our study of the Scriptures we want to receive the clearest understanding of every word, verse, chapter and book as it relates to the overall context of the Bible. Every verse in the Bible has meaning and it is up to us to find out what exactly it is. A good study Bible will not do it all, but it should point you in the right direction for the clarity you need. This is why many of the newer study Bibles out on the market today have built in word studies that can add lots of light to difficult passages. I am a big fan of Hebrew and Greek word studies and when I find a study Bible that has this as one of its primary features I usually pick one up.
Well, I hope this has not been too exhausting as to the length of my new blog and I do hope it was helpful. Please let me know what you think. Next time I will give you my top five study Bible choices for your consideration.
This is Pastor Whalen wishing you joy in Jesus Christ!