In a previous post, I explained how a good study Bible can be a valuable tool for anyone that wants to dive deeper into Scripture. I also suggested three key questions for helping make an informed decision on which study Bible to choose.
Specifically, I suggested you first consider your purpose and intention for your study Bible. Are you looking for something that’s devotional and geared more towards practical application? Or are you looking for something that’s more academic and informed by rigorous scholarship? Perhaps you’re looking for more of a niche study Bible whose notes and study aids specialize in a certain topic like archeology, spiritual formation, or addiction recovery. There are study Bibles that specialize in all of these things.
Second, it’s important to consider what version you want. There are many to choose from and they represent different philosophies of Bible translation, whether more word-for-word (formal equivalence) or thought-for-thought (dynamic equivalence).
Finally, it’s vital to consider your personal convictions and theological perspective, along with whether or not you want your study Bible to align with your convictions and theological perspective, or if you’re open to others.
Once you’ve considered these questions, you’re ready to make a choice. But there are so many options available that may fit your criteria! It can be overwhelming trying to decide.
In this post, I’ll offer some recommendations of study Bibles that I’ve used over the years and have found informative, helpful, and spiritually formative.
Some Recommendations: An Annotated List
I currently have 19 different study Bibles and have had more over the years. They represent a variety of theological perspectives, English versions, and niche specializations. But unless you’re a Bible nerd or budding scholar, you’re probably not going to buy, let alone actually consistently use, 19 different study Bibles.
So how do you get the biggest bang for your buck and choose a fairly comprehensive, solid, one-size-fits-all study Bible that’s informed by rigorous biblical and theological scholarship?
Here’s an annotated list of the standard study Bibles I’ve used over the years and keep returning to. I highly recommend any of these because of the breadth and depth of their study aids, as well as their more ecumenical “mere Christianity” bent as opposed to being exclusively aligned with a specific Christian tradition or theological system.
The NIV Study Bible
In many ways, the NIV Study Bible, first published in 1984 or 1985, with several subsequent revisions, most recently in 2011, was a game-changer and set a new standard for study Bibles. Containing informative book introductions and other articles, extensive notes, colored maps, charts, and an excellent cross-reference system, the NIV Study Bible is a tremendous resource.
I’ve had several different NIV Study Bibles over the years. Even though my own inclinations and convictions have moved from the more conservative evangelical perspective represented in the NIV Study Bible’s study aids, I still use it and highly recommend it. If you were going to purchase just one study Bible and no other, you could definitely do worse than the NIV Study Bible.
The New Interpreter’s Study Bible (NRSV) with the Apocrypha
This has become my standard go-to, daily study Bible. It’s extensive notes, cross-references, articles, and excurses throughout the text, including several helpful and informative articles in the back, offer a slightly more academic flavor representative of current biblical and theological scholarship and related disciplines like ethics, while still retaining a reverent and confessional commitment rooted in the historic Christian faith.
The “Introduction” article summarizes the aim and intention of this study Bible: “The New Interpreter’s Study Bible (NISB) is designed for use of the clergy and teachers in congregations, college and seminary classrooms, and other students and readers of Scripture. Its chief objective is to make biblical and theological scholarship readily available for those engaged in preaching and teaching in the ecumenical church: Anglican, Free Church, Orthodox, Protestant, and Roman Catholic.”
If I had to whittle my study Bibles down and could only keep ONE, this would be the one I kept.
Aside from the typical study aids included in most study Bibles, the NISB also has a glossary. So without going to a different book (or books), you can look up and learn about things like “deuterocanonical”, “expiation”, “eucharist”, and Hellenism/Hellenization, among others.
Another helpful feature is the five different tables, with brief explanations, at the front show the different Old Testament canons of Scripture from Jewish, Protestant, Roman Catholic, (Eastern) Orthodox, and the Anglican Apocrypha. Since many Christians are simply uninformed about these different Scriptural canons, this is a great resource. It also underscores the ecumenical intention of this study Bible.
The CEB Study Bible with Apocrypha
The CEB Study Bible features the relatively recent and very good Common English Bible translation (2011) and a wealth of excellent notes, articles, charts, and other study helps. In fact, this study Bible rivals the New Interpreter’s Study Bible as my choice if I had to whittle down my study Bibles to only ONE.
The articles in the back are especially illuminating and insightful for Christians looking to intellectually engage their faith while also being spiritually formed.
The Harper Collins Study Bible, Including Apocryphal and Deuterocanonical Books, Student Edition (NRSV)
This is a must-have resource if you’re looking for a study Bible informed and shaped by critical biblical scholarship. Professor John Barton’s brief introductory article “Strategies for Reading Scripture”, in which he compares and contrasts what he calls canonical and critical approaches is especially insightful.
I resonate with his conclusion that the two different approaches, while at first blush may seem diametrically opposed to one another, actually contain considerable common ground. He asserts, rightly in my view, that “at a practical level people who practice these two approaches can in fact talk to each other.” Epistemic humility and the willingness to learn from one another is key.
This strikes me as a welcome corrective to our increasingly polarized and divisive Christian subculture where demonizing those with whom you disagree has sadly become normal.
The New Oxford Annotated Bible (NRSV) with the Apocrypha
This is the study Bible par excellence of academic and ecumenical study Bibles. If you’re looking for a study Bible informed by the most recent advances in academic research and critical biblical scholarship, but that doesn’t privilege any particular Christian tradition or perspective, this is the one for you.
Originally published in 1973, the New Oxford Annotated Bible is currently in its 5th edition. (I have the 4th edition). It features informative book introductions, extensive notes and cross-references, maps, charts, a glossary, concordance, and perhaps best of all, several essays that introduce readers to important matters and considerations in critical biblical scholarship.
Some of the essays include “The Canons of the Bible”, “Textual Criticism”, Translation of the Bible into English”, “The New Testament Interprets the Jewish Scriptures”, “Jewish Interpretation in the Pre-modern Era”, and “Contemporary Methods in Biblical Study”, among several others.
An opening article, “The Editor’s Preface” captures the essence of the New Oxford Annotated Bible well: “We recognize that no single interpretation or approach is sufficient for informed reading of these ancient texts, and have aimed at inclusivity of interpretive strategies.”
The NOAB study aids represent the consensus of biblical scholarship, while also presenting alternative perspectives when no consensus exists. Readers should expect a more academic perspective that’s broadly inclusive of a variety of approaches to Scripture, rather than, say, the “Reformed” view or the “evangelical” or “Catholic” perspectives.
Some Honorable Mentions Worth Considering
Here are some recommendations of study Bibles that, for me, aren’t quite at the level of if-you-only-choose-one-study-Bible-choose-one-of-these, but are nevertheless excellent study Bibles to consider.
I have each of these in my own library and have found them to be very valuable.
The NLT Study Bible
The NLT Study Bible features the very readable New Living Translation. The NLT was a new translation in 1996 with subsequent revisions in 2004 and 2007 that sought to build on the legacy of The Living Bible.
One of my professors in graduate school was on the translation committee for the NLT and contributed book introductions and notes to the NLT Study Bible. That’s why I ended up getting this resource. Plus, it’s a great tool.
Perhaps the coolest and most unique feature of the NLT Study Bible is the over 200 Greek and Hebrew word studies throughout the biblical text. A “Dictionary and Index For Hebrew And Greek Word Studies” in the back provides even further insights. This means you can do some basic in-depth word studies without knowing the original languages or having to grab another resource.
Another great feature is the epigraphs of scholarly insights in the book introductions to stimulate thinking and also the “Further Reading” section that points curious students of Scripture to other resources for continued study. The recommended books are specifically chosen for their readability and accessibility for a general market audience. While the books are written by scholars, no specialized training is required to understand them and gain valuable insights.
The ESV Study Bible
The ESV Study Bible features the English Standard Version, a new translation first published in 2001 with several subsequent revisions. The basis for the ESV Study Bible is the 2007 ESV text. Over 100 Bible scholars and advisors worked on what is billed as an “essentially literal” translation, one “that seeks as much as possible to capture the precise wording of the original text and personal style of each biblical writer.”
In many ways, the ESV Study Bible is a tour de force of study Bibles. It includes comprehensive book introductions, extensive scholarly and interpretive notes, and informative articles covering a wide variety of topics from biblical history and archeology, original languages and translations, to doctrine, ethics, and the differences between Evangelical Protestant, Liberal Protestant, Eastern Orthodox, and Roman Catholic perspectives on understanding the Bible and doctrine.
Additionally, the ESV Study Bible features over 200 full-color maps, over 200 charts, and an extensive cross-reference system and concordance, among several other fantastic resources.
So why does this incredible study Bible only get an “honorable mention” rather than being included in the “Recommended” list?
The reason is that while the ESV Study Bible is truly a tour de force in study Bibles, all of its book introductions, notes, and articles are from a distinctly conservative evangelical Reformed perspective. Thus, while it’s a tremendous resource informed by serious and rigorous biblical and theological scholarship, the scholarship is representative of a small, albeit significant and influential, slice of Christian traditions and streams.
If that’s your tribe, then I would definitely say this is the ONE study Bible you should absolutely have. There’s no better study Bible representative of the conservative evangelical Reformed tradition and stream of Christian faith.
If that’s not your tribe, the ESV Study Bible is still an excellent resource. Even though my own convictions, perspective, and approach are often odds with certain conservative evangelical Reformed views, I still use this study Bible regularly. The book introductions, study notes, and in-text charts provide valuable insights for anyone seeking an in-depth and informed study of Scripture.
The Life Application Study Bible
While the Life Application Study Bible is more specifically geared towards practical life application, it contains enough other study aids to be considered as a solid general study Bible rather than a more niche study Bible.
Like all good study Bibles, the LASB features informative book introductions, extensive notes, timelines, charts, maps, and other resources. One of my favorite unique features of this study Bible are the character study articles of key biblical figures peppered throughout the text. These character studies are not merely informative. They also provide an invitation for readers to reflect on their own lives.
Unlike many other study Bibles that feature one English translation, the LASB is available in a few different English versions, like the NIV, NLT, and NKJV.
Hopefully, this annotated list of recommendations is helpful. I believe any of these study Bibles would be excellent choices and you’ll be a much more informed reader of Scripture by using them.
But there are also many other great study Bibles that I didn’t include. Remember, choosing a study Bible is a very personal decision. Just because I recommend it, or your pastor, family member, or friend thinks it’s the greatest thing ever, doesn’t mean a particular study Bible will work for you and meet your needs.
So consider some of the key questions, do some prayerful soul-searching and digging, and then go for it. Choose your study Bible and dive in.
In my next post, I’ll offer recommendations for some specialized niche study Bibles worth considering. So stay tuned. And in the meantime, happy studying!