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Cover 41


January 2012

Dare to Disciple


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Free Will Baptist

Intersect 41: How to Pick a Study Bible


intersect, where the bible meets life


Search Mode: Tips for Choosing and Using a Study Bible


“What kind of study Bible do you recommend?”

I get that question often. As with other products on the market, the sheer number of choices boggles the mind. I stood at the Bible display in my local Christian bookstore recently and in a quick glance counted 45—yes, 45—study and specialty Bibles. I thought about buying the Woman, Thou Art Loosed Bible, but was afraid my wife might get the wrong idea! Seriously, we need to make an informed selection because this is the Word of God. While helps included in study Bibles are not infallible, they should reflect believing scholarship that build up, not tear down our faith.

With that in mind, let me offer a few tips for choosing a reliable study Bible.

  1. Know what a study Bible is. There are many kinds of specialty Bibles, such as reference Bibles, devotional Bibles, children’s Bibles, and on. Study Bibles, though, are unique in that they include a wide array of resources to help you better understand the biblical text and its context: maps, charts, graphs, other visuals, but especially study notes that serve as something of an on-site commentary on the Scripture text. Some sets of notes are more extensive and helpful than others.

  2. Know what a study Bible is not. The notes and helps are no substitute for studying the Bible itself. “Search the Scriptures,” Jesus said, not “Search Scofield” or “Search Thompson.” Remember, it’s the text of Scripture that’s inspired, not the study notes.

  3. Make informed choices about study Bibles. Do your homework. Check out contributors who wrote the notes. Often they are listed near the front of that particular edition, or the publisher will list them on the company website. Try to discover their theological slant.
    The Harper Collins Study Bible is not conservative, for example. Scofield and Ryrie are dispensational. The New Spirit-Filled Study Bible is charismatic. As you might expect, The Reformation Study Bible is Calvinistic, while the English Standard Version (ESV) and Holman Christian study Bibles are moderately reformed and offer alternative interpretations of important passages. Some study Bibles are extremely specialized: the Apologetics Study Bible and the NIV Archaeological Study Bible, for example.

  4. Select a few key disputed passages and check out what a particular study Bible’s notes say about those texts. Hebrews 6:4-6 is a good place to start.

  5. Remember that various study Bibles include different translations. You want to choose an edition which has the translation you prefer. While this is not the place to get into a discussion of translations, remember that versions such as the KJV, NASB, and ESV are more literal (word-for-word or formally equivalent), while others such as the NIV and NLT are less so (dynamically equivalent).

  6. Use study notes judiciously. Ask questions. Think as you read. Get a second opinion if you need to do so. If the NIV Study Bible’s note isn’t satisfying, check out the comment in the ESV Study Bible. Buy more than one kind and crosscheck them to supplement or confirm what you’re learning.

  7. Learn about delivery formats that suit your preferences: software, smart phone apps, etc.

  8. Much better than relying on study Bible notes would be enrolling in Bible classes—on site, if there’s a solid Christian college nearby; online; or by downloading independently produced lectures. Study so you can make informed choices about what you’re reading.

  9. Don’t neglect other essential resources for Bible study: concordances, Bible dictionaries and encyclopedias, atlases, and thorough commentaries.

  10. Remember the other qualities of a helpful reference Bible, such as informative introductions to each book of the Bible, a detailed concordance, and a cross-reference index.

  11. Even the best study Bible is no substitute for personal Bible study, preaching and teaching in a local church, and Sunday School.

  12. Always make application of what you read. Study notes can’t do that for you. Don’t just ask what the text means; ask what it means for you in your setting right now.

  13. Be sure to check the typeface—its style and size—for readability. Choose one that fits your eye well as you read. Large print editions are available for many study Bibles.

  14. Before you buy, investigate your choices. Most of these Bibles are relatively expensive, depending on the particular style of the edition you choose. As best you can, determine what your money will be spent on ahead of time. Many publishers’ websites have sample pages so you can see the page layout, color graphics, and other features of a particular Bible.

A reputable, thorough, reliable study Bible is your friend, not your enemy. Believing scholars who contribute resources to these Bibles are sharing insights learned over many years of intensive study. God gifts His church with people of wisdom and knowledge, and we are better for the insights they share with us.

Note: I am grateful to my wise friend Ralph White of Logos Bookstore for his insights as a Bible student and bookseller as I prepared this column.


Intersect (Where the Bible Meets Life) is a regular column of ONE Magazine featuring Dr. Garnett Reid, a member of the Bible faculty at Free Will Baptist Bible College. Email Garnett



©2007 ONE Magazine, National Association of Free Will Baptists