How to Study the Bible: Study Bibles

biblepage-781x1024I think anyone new to Bible study should own a good study Bible. A “study Bible” is simply a Bible with a whole bunch of study aids added.

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.

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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14 Responses to How to Study the Bible: Study Bibles

  1. Joe B says:

    I love the New oxford Annotated in the NSRV! Have had it for some time. The thing about study bibles is they offer historical perspectives that are very helpful in putting things in context and do a great job of connecting the NT with the OT. But we must remind our selves that these are not the same as the text. Some people get very nervous when one of these study notes suggest that the text may have a different meaning than they have always thought.

  2. You neglected to mention the publishers. I love the Zondervon NIV Study Bible’s comments on the Psalms. I love the NET Bible’s notes on everything else. There are NIV Study Bibles from other publishers that I don’t like as well.

    And which ESV Study Bible do you like? From which publisher?

    Caution, Study Bible have so many notes and superscripts and such that they are sometimes almost impossible to read. I find this especially true of the NET.

  3. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    There’s an ESV Study Bible by that name. That’s the one.
    I too struggle with small print, which is why I buy Bibles locally. I want to feel the pages and eyeball the notes.

  4. Alexander Campbell’s New Testament came with his study notes; and though not “study bibles” in the strictest sense, the journals “Christian Baptist”, “Millennial Harbinger” (Campbell et al), “Christian Messenger” (Barton Stone), “The Evangelist” (Walter Scott), etc. all contained this kind of material, I assume.

  5. Though a commentary, “The Transforming Word”, Mark Hamilton et al contains this kind of material.

  6. Ed Dodds says:

    Just saw The Living Word Commentary Series LibraryThing

  7. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:


    In the post on commentaries, I say that I don’t care for commentaries written for a single denomination — even my own. The Living Word series, originally published by Sweet, as I recall, is by far the most scholarship commentary set produced by the Churches of Christ — but it’s out of print. ACU sold off their old inventory several years ago. I think I picked up several volumes for less than $1.00 each at the close out. To buy them today would require hitting the used book sites.

    It’s biggest shortcoming is that half the pages are taken up with biblical text, leaving the authors precious little space in which to comment in the commentary. On the other hand, the writing and scholarship was generally good for the space limitations and the editorial limits that would come with marketing to the Churches of Christ in the 1960s and 1970s.

    I have several volumes of the series. John T. Willis on Genesis was particularly well received.

  8. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:


    The GA commentaries are still in print and available through GA in print or electronic form. I own the electronic form. My version is quite archaic, insofar as computer software goes, but the text is easily enough pulled up and read. Unfortunately, none of Logos, Accordance, or Bibleworks is compatible with the format GA chose, although I’m not sure GA should be blamed. There is no mobile version. The books show up in WORDsearch format.

    Obviously, I’m not a fan of many of the teachings found in the GA series, esp. Guy Woods’ utter denial of the present work of the Spirit. On the other hand, Lipscomb appears to have been a much more astute student of the scriptures than many assume. He teaches the actual indwelling. But even where the comments are true to the text, they are generally so brief as to be of very limited value. There just isn’t a lot of commentary in the commentary — and in several volumes, most of the commentary is added by the editor, AW Shepherd, on top of the comments of, say, Lipscomb — as indicated by brackets.

  9. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:


    You are likely aware of Burton Coffman’s commentary series on the NT and OT published in the 1970s. Someone has released these to the public domain in electronic form: The hard copies are still in print, at least most of them, and available on Amazon and at GA. GA sells the OT set for $614 in hard copy. Evidently, the NT series is only available in hard copy by the volume, meaning it will be out of print when current stocks are sold. I’m sure the NT is in much higher demand than the OT volumes, and yet no one is reprinting the NT volumes. (Wait for a clearance sale or buy used.) Despite my respect for Coffman’s work, $614 for a public-domain commentary series is way, way over-priced. The same money could be invested in newer, better commentaries at better prices.

    Coffman had the humility to see the wisdom of using other commentaries in his own studies, and he cites frequently to Lenski, NICNT, etc., which is a compliment. He does a much better job of working through the challenges of each text, rather than just announcing his understanding

    I find him generally very sensible, although his views on women are extremely rightwing, even for his day.

  10. rich constant says:

    yeah J you might want to check out his view on Romans 3 21 22 quite interesting as far as the new perspective is concerned, although he has right wing views to be sure when it comes to denominationalism and justification and baptism

  11. rich constant says:

    also because of his views on Romans 3 I bought his Romans commentary.
    I even called him and talk with him I thought we were related in some way .one of my relatives from Oklahoma was named COffman.sometime around 1990

  12. rich constant says:

    I’ve been by his book on romans or commentary because of this view of the subject subjective gender in Romans 3:22 and also in Galatians 2:16 thru 21.
    and about four other places.
    I even called him and talk with him around 1990 very nice man I was still pretty much boxed up in the conservative wing of the Church of Christ with misgivings, that These interpretations of Scripture allowed me to see that I was on the right track for all of my ignorance.
    Boy oh boy 25 years ago.
    Blessings rich

  13. eddodds says:

    Was googling around tonight and saw some of your comments belatedly, Jay. Thanks much.

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