Typically, they’ll contain introductions to each Bible book giving some background and purpose for the book. Many contain supplemental notes throughout the text. For example, a good study Bible might have an article on the tabernacle inserted somewhere in the midst of Exodus to show a picture, to explain the purpose of the tabernacle in Judaism, the history of tabernacle practice, and such.
Study Bibles often contain timelines of Bible events, persons, and books, more extensive maps than the typical Bible, and articles on all sorts of Bible topics.
A good paper study Bible might run from $40 to $80 or so — not that much more than a well-bound Bible. An electronic version might cost only $20 — which could be quite a deal.
Some study Bibles are targeted to the ordinary churchgoer. Others are actually used as college textbooks.
Obviously, the student needs to carefully distinguish between the notes and the scriptures. In fact, it’s all too common for a Sunday school class discussion of a text to end with someone reading a note from a study Bible, as though that is the final authority on the question. It’s not. In fact, the notes should be the beginning of the discussion — one more voice invited to the conversation, not the final authority.
Here are my thoughts on choices:
* I don’t like study Bibles with an agenda. “Study Bible for Women” or “Study Bible for Teens” is more about marketing than solid Bible study.
* I don’t like study Bibles edited by just one person. No one knows that much Bible. A committee is better because so few are truly expert in both OT and NT studies.
* I don’t want a devotional book relabeled “study Bible.” This not about picking feel-good aphorisms out of context. It’s about learning the Bible.
* No one has bothered to publish a Church of Christ study Bible, which is probably a good thing. I also wouldn’t buy a Calvinist or Arminian or Baptist study Bible. I’d prefer an editorial slant that lets me make my own decisions, thank you.
In my research and conversations with others, here are the study Bibles that bubble to the top (and I’d love to hear from the readers on this one).
* The ESV Study Bible is very well reviewed. Prices run $29.98 to $76, depending on binding. The Kindle version is only $16.49. It’s $17.99 in iOS. The study Bible comes with an activation code to make additional online resources available, which is unique to the ESV to my knowledge. Here’s an extensive review I found helpful. The scholars behind this one make for a very impressive list.
* New Interpreters Study Bible also has an impressive list of scholars behind it. Hardback is $36.23, but paperback on Amazon is twice that! (Makes no sense.) There is no electronic version. But it’s very well reviewed.
* The New Oxford Annotated Bible is actually used as a seminary text book. Hardback only costs $28. The electronic versions are not well reviewed, but for those wanting a print study Bible, this comes highly recommended.
* NIV Study Bible. It’s priced right: $24.86 to $37.07, depending on binding. The Kindle version ($19.99) gets mixed reviews. The iOS version (also $19.99) has very strong reviews. It’s probably more conservative than some of the other study Bibles, and the readers review it very well.
Here’s a review of several study Bibles, including many of these. It offers links to sample pages and details of what is and isn’t in them.
Frankly, if I were to buy one of these, I’d go with the ESV, but I doubt that I’d regret any choice (other than some of the electronic versions). The ESV publishers have offered more bindings and choices than the others — meaning I can buy a version that will last for many years. And they seem to have invested the most effort in the electronic version.
Hopefully, the readers can add their own advice to the mix.