Not all study Bibles are worthy of their designation as a study Bible. In fact, most of the Bibles in any standard bookstore or on any standard website are more accurately described as marketing Bibles than study Bibles. Without sounding overly conspiratorial, here is the truth: publishers want to make money and thus they will do whatever they can to get you to purchase their product. This means even if the Bible they are trying to get you to buy is not very helpful, they still want to sell it to you in hopes that they will make money. Here are some warnings, questions, and suggestions when it comes to finding a study Bible that will actually help you study the Bible.
The number one reason people will create a “study bible” out of material that is mediocre, reused from a previous publication or only about a few verses of the Bible is because publishers charge more for a bible than they do for a book or devotional. If you can slap the word “Bible” across it and include the text of scripture in addition to whatever else is added in there then you can charge more for it. We assume that we are getting something worthy of being placed beside the very words of God when we buy a special Bible, let alone a “study” Bible. Here are a few questions to ask yourself when looking for a Bible that actually helps you study:
Is this the best place for this information?
The Bibles that have a famous preacher/teacher’s name plastered on the front are just marketing schemes. It is fine to be encouraged by the teachings of Max Lucado or Beth Moore or someone else, but why buy a Bible with their name on it? All their teachings are already elsewhere and most of it is available online. For example, Joyce Meyer has the Battlefield of the Mind Study Bible. Why buy this “study” Bible? If you are interested, buy the actual book. I have no idea whether the content of Meyer’s book is good or not, but why put the information from that book in the format of a Bible?
To me, this marketing scheme is wrong. It is wrong on several levels. First, it is often clearly a cash grab by the Christian celebrity who has already made money off of their best-selling book and now wants to keep the cash rolling in. Don’t fall for it! Buy the book it is actually based on if it intrigues you! Second, why put this information in a Bible? What is the implication of putting the information from their best-selling book into notes and extras in a “study” Bible? It seems to me that they are hijacking the authority of God’s word. Wouldn’t anyone’s words seem more legitimate once put alongside “Bible”? To put it as bluntly as possible: will this “study” Bible actually help me study God’s word? Or will it help me prop up the ego of the celebrity whose name is plastered all over it? The answer is usually the latter.
What kind of information is provided?
Is this Bible going to provide information useful enough to help me understand a large part of God’s word? Most of the “study” Bibles out there do NOT help you study the vast majority of scripture. For example, by its name alone, do you really think a Spiritual Warfare Study Bible is going to help you understand the vast majority of God’s word? Probably not! There are actually only a hand full of passages that relate directly to spiritual warfare. Again, why put this in the format of a “Bible”? Why not just publish a book about it?
Skim through a Study Bible before you buy it. How long are the introductions to each book of the Bible? How much of the page do the study notes take up? Go to a difficult book of the Bible (for example one of the minor prophets or Leviticus) and see if it has many (or any) notes on that book. If there are few or no notes for some of the more difficult passages of scripture will you really be benefited by purchasing this study Bible?
Beware of the gendered Bibles. I don’t see the necessity of having a “men’s study Bible” or a “women’s study Bible” or any variety of boys and girls editions. Why put this information in a “bible”? Why not put this information in a book or a devotional? Usually, again, because the publisher can and will charge more for it.
Is the person writing the notes qualified to write them?
This may sound pretentious, but the Bible was written in languages that many of us do not speak. We need help understanding large parts of it. Can anyone pick up a Bible and get the majority of the “basics”? Sure! But were you really looking for a study Bible so you could review the “basics”? I would assume you would want a study Bible that helps you move beyond the basics to a deeper grasp of God’s word and diverse parts of our scriptures. Also, it is impossible for any person to be an expert in every part of scripture. Wouldn’t you rather have one person who has spent decades dedicated to studying John to write the study notes for John? And the same thing for Genesis or any other part of scripture.
This brings us to an important warning about study bibles: beware of the study Bibles with notes written only by one person. There is something to be said for those legacy teachers in our lives who are tremendous preachers and teachers, but they should not be the only ones writing the notes for every book of the Bible. Why not have great notes and information for every part of scripture rather than a few good one-linners from a sermon series they preached at some point and a whole bunch of mediocre information that you could have come up with without any help?
Also beware of those marketed Bibles that do have multiple contributors, but those contributors are not qualified. Many of the contributors to “study” Bibles are no more qualified to be writing notes about scripture than you and I are. This is not to say there could not be some valuable information in there somewhere or an encouraging thought, but it is to say that we should not call that a study Bible, but a devotional Bible. In fact, lest I am misunderstood, most of the content that is published as “study” Bibles is good uplifting content, but it would be better published not as a “study” Bible, but as a book or devotional.
At the end of the day, a Study Bible is a reference tool that you want to have available to help you go deep into the study of God’s word. Do NOT fall prey and waste money on another marketing scheme. Save up your money for a good quality study Bible and use it for years to come. With this in mind I have here a list of what I think are the best study Bibles available.
The Best Study Bibles Available
The New Oxford Annotated Study Bible (5th edition) – purchase here.
The HarperCollins Study Bible (revised edition) – purchase here. This is the Bible that I use regularly.
The New Interpreter’s Study Bible – purchase here.
The Catholic Study Bible – purchase here. Free online version here.
NIV Study Bible, Fully Revised Edition – purchase here.
The CEB Study Bible – purchase here.
The Cambridge Annotated Study Apocrypha – purchase here.
The Jewish Study Bible (2nd edition) – purchase here.
The Jewish Annotated Apocrypha – purchase here.
The Jewish Annotated New Testament – purchase here.