What is a good study Bible?
I was recently asked to recommend a good study Bible to someone, and so I thought I would just share with everyone in case you would like to know as well (If you just want the recommendations, then stop reading and just skip to the end). But first, you may be wondering what a study Bible is. So let me tell you briefly. It’s a Bible with extra stuff in it to help you understand what the Bible is saying. Most study Bibles have a list of verses dealing with the same topic you are reading about to help you get a fuller picture of what God’s Word says on that topic (this is called cross referencing). Most study Bibles have notes explaining the meaning of passages as well as explanations of key doctines, a concordance (to look up certain words in the Bible), maps, book introductions, tables, charts, etc. The thing that you must keep in mind is that the study notes and explanations are written by men and women just like me and you, that means they can be wrong just like me and you. So the key to a good study Bible is finding one that hasn’t been put together by some wacko with an agenda, but rather by someone who is sincerely trying to help you understand the original meaning of the text.
It is also important to get a version of the Bible that is as close to a word for word translation that you can find, such as the ESV (English Standard Version), NASB (New American Standard), NKJV (New King James Version), HCSB (Holman Christian Standard). Some versions out there have been translated thought by thought rather than word for word such as the NIV (New International Version) and the NLT (New Living Translation). Not that there is anything evil with these versions (for the most part they are fine), but if you are wanting to seriously study the Bible it is better to get a word for word translation so that what you are reading is as close to the original text as possible. For you see, when you read a thought for thought version, someone has already been interpreting the Scriptures for you as they choose how to best communicate the Biblical thought for our day. You avoid this with word for word translations (as much as can be avoided in translating something). There are also paraphrases out there such as The Living Bible and The Message. These may be useful for simply reading the Bible, but are not suitable for study or building doctrine upon.
I would also add that I would seek to get a study Bible that is more doctrine driven than devotional driven. You can always supplement your Bible reading with a good devotional book if that is what you want. Then you can take that devotional and understand the doctrine behind it more deeply with your study Bible.
Finally, remember study Bibles are meant to be aids to help you study, not take the place of you doing the work of looking up verses and studying on your own. And I wouldn’t get too attached to one person’s writings or one particular study Bible or commentary, it is good to use a wide variety of sources so that you can more clearly see if someone is off in left field. Be sure you read with your eyes open. There are orthodox people out there who write good stuff but may not believe exactly how you do on secondary matters (not primary issues like the Trinity, but secondary such as the mode of baptism). Take this as a challenge to either defend or change you views.
So for my recommendations:
The Reformation Study Bible (ESV) – I use it, love it.
The MacArthur Study Bible (NASB) – I use it, love it.
The ESV Study Bible – Newly published, but supposed to be very good.
There you have it. That’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it.