For the past few weeks, I’ve been writing about study Bibles and offering some recommendations. A good study Bible is a helpful, even essential, resource for anyone desiring to dive deeper into Scripture and grow in their knowledge and understanding.
However, since the Bible publishing industry has about a bazillion choices it can be overwhelming trying to decide which study Bible is the best for you and why some study Bibles may be more helpful and informative than others. That’s where this series of articles comes in.
As a dedicated student and teacher of Scripture over many years, I currently have 19 different study Bibles and have had others. That certainly doesn’t make me an expert, but it hopefully means I can offer some helpful guidance.
In an initial post, I suggested three key questions to consider before choosing a study Bible. 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.
In a follow-up post, I offered an annotated list of some recommended study Bibles worth considering, along with a few honorable mentions. These were all study Bibles that I’ve used over the years and found helpful, informative, and spiritually formative. They’re all informed by serious biblical and theological scholarship, which is an essential criterion for me in choosing any study Bible. And they’re my recommendations for getting the best bang for your buck as a solid, all-purpose, general-use study Bible.
In this post, I’m going to suggest some niche study Bibles worth considering.
Some Niche Study Bibles Worth Considering: An Annotated List
While many study Bibles are designed for all-purpose use, there are others that have a unique and specialized focus on a certain topic. Some study Bibles are a little too narrowly niche-marketed in my view to be of much substantive help to the serious student and inquirer of Scripture. Here I have in mind the “Men’s” and “Women’s” study Bibles of various sorts that strike me more as marketing ploys than serious biblical tools.
Nevertheless, there are some excellent niche study Bibles, informed by serious and rigorous scholarship, that offer specialized focus and are worth considering if they pique your interest.
Here are some that I’ve used and highly recommend.
The Renovare Spiritual Formation Bible (NRSV with Deuterocanonical Books)
This is the best choice, in my view, if you’re looking for a study Bible that’s informed by the best current scholarship, yet is also specifically geared towards practical daily living and growing in your faith. As the Foreward states, “The Renovare Spiritual Formation Bible is a multifaceted resource for approaching the Bible through the lens of Christian formation.”
My favorite unique feature of this study Bible is the “with-God life” articles that invite readers on a journey of discovering how God is with us in the world and how we’re with God. This “Immanuel Principle” provides an overarching and unifying theme throughout Scripture. The “with-God life” articles help us see how God was with the biblical characters and at work in their lives and invites us to consider how God is with us and at work in our lives and in the world today.
Additionally, character profiles peppered throughout the text highlight the challenges and journey that different biblical characters experienced in their own spiritual (trans)formation.
The biblical heroes were messed up, just like you and me. They struggled, they sinned, they made mistakes. Sometimes they were confused about their life and what God was up to. Yet they also repeatedly discovered grace and forgiveness and grew in their faith as God refused to give up on them and just kept working with them. God never gives up on us either.
Finally, a Spiritual Disciplines Index provides definitions of several different spiritual practices and lists relevant biblical passages. This was an invaluable tool when I preached a sermon series on spiritual disciplines a few years ago.
The NIV First-Century Study Bible
If you’re curious about ancient perspectives on Scripture, this could be a good resource. The NIV First-Century Study Bible is specifically geared towards exploring Scripture in its Jewish and early Christian contexts. It helps bridge the gap between our world and theirs.
As the “A Note From the General Editor” article says, the NIV First-Century Study Bible “is an attempt to highlight a few of the ancient voices of interpretation.” Many of its study aids help give readers a glimpse of how ancient rabbis and church fathers wrestled with Scripture.
My favorite unique features of this study Bible include Greek and Hebrew word studies throughout the text as well as short textual essays and “Day in the Life” articles that dive a bit deeper into the historical and cultural context. A Glossary provides further informative insights on key terms, figures, and concepts.
Finally, I love this statement from the general editor: “In the spirit of conversation and interpretation, the notes and articles in this Bible from time to time raise questions without providing definitive answers. This is done in the spirit of rabbinic teaching, of which Jesus was a part. In fact, Jesus ended the parable of the Good Samaritan with a question (“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” Lk 10:36). Jesus never explicitly answers the question, allowing his followers to respond. My hope is that readers will take the questions seriously and do their own digging for answers.”
I couldn’t agree more with this sentiment. Learning to live in the tensions is an important mark of Christian maturity. Wrestling with questions and debating the answers is actually considered part of reverence for God and even worship for our Jewish brothers and sisters. I think we could learn a lot from them.
The Jewish Study Bible Second Edition (Featuring the Jewish Publication Society TANAKH Translation)
Speaking of our Jewish brothers and sisters, I don’t know of any other study Bible that so comprehensively covers Jewish perspectives, approaches, and interpretation of Scripture than the Jewish Study Bible. The book introductions and over 25 essays are alone worth having this resource. It’s one of my most treasured study Bibles in my library.
Non-Jews may be thrown off at first because the order of books is the Jewish canon rather than the perhaps more familiar Christian canonical ordering of the Hebrew Scriptures. This is because the Jewish Study Bible is from a committed confessional Jewish perspective and informed by the best and most rigorous Jewish biblical and theological scholarship.
For Christian readers, the Jewish Study Bible reminds us that Judaism and its sacred Scriptures, while inextricably intertwined with Christianity and containing many shared interests and similarities with Christianity, is nevertheless its own distinctive faith with its own interpretive strategies.
Christians may be surprised — and hopefully illuminated — to discover that Jews read and interpret some well-known biblical stories quite differently. Perhaps my favorite example of this is what Christians call the story of “the Fall” in Genesis 3. Let’s just say that’s not how our Jewish brothers and sisters read that story.
Here’s a great blog post from OT scholar Peter Enns — someone that’s been influential in my own developing views about Scripture — on what a Jewish friend taught him about Scripture in grad school.
It’s my firm conviction that Christians would do well to become more acquainted with Jewish approaches to Scripture and its interpretation. Jesus, after all, was a Jew. So were his 12 disciples. So was the Apostle Paul.
The Jewish Study Bible is an invaluable resource for drawing on the wisdom of a tradition that’s been reading and ruminating on these sacred texts for over 25 centuries.
The Jewish Annotated New Testament (NRSV)
The Jewish Annotated New Testament would be an excellent companion volume to the Jewish Study Bible in your library. This resource specializes in bringing to light the 1st-and-2nd-century Judaism that undergirds so many of the customs, concepts, literature, and interpretations of biblical texts that shaped the writing of the New Testament and development of early Christianity.
Additionally, the JANT helps connect readers to later Jewish literature, especially rabbinic interpretation. This helps readers discover and trace themes and ideas that are similar and distinct between Judaism and Christianity. What do people of the two faiths have in common? What are some differences? How can we respect each other and each other’s traditions?
Finally, an important feature of the JANT is that it addresses New Testament texts that have historically and tragically been interpreted by some people in anti-Jewish ways and that have perpetuated negative stereotypes and anti-semitism. Some Christians may be surprised at the ways Scripture has been twisted to support anti-Jewish views.
Perhaps even more pervasive are the ways in which well-intentioned Christian preachers and teachers have drawn anti-Jewish interpretations from the Bible and perpetuated negative Jewish stereotypes by unintentionally misrepresenting early Judaism. Amy-Jill Levine’s essay “Bearing False Witness: Common Errors Made About Early Judaism” is especially poignant and informative.
The annotations and essays in the JANT “cannot undo the harm that such verses have done for two millennia,” note Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler in The Editor’s Preface, “but they may help both Jews and Christians see that certain pernicious interpretations of the New Testament are not based on the actual texts, as they have assumed to be. At the very least, the annotations and essays should provide guidance to Christian teachers and preachers, so that when they proclaim the ‘good news’ (the meaning of the Greek term euangelion or ‘gospel’) of Jesus, they will not stain that good news by anti-Jewish stereotypes.”
The Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible (NRSV, NIV, or NKJV)
All good study Bibles have interpretive notes and aids that help readers better understand the historical and cultural contexts of the biblical world. What makes the Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible unique is that it’s a substantial resource that’s exclusively focused on helping readers gain knowledge, understanding, and insight into the cultural backgrounds of the biblical world.
“This study Bible has been purpose-built to do one thing,” states the introductory article. “To increase your understanding of the cultural nuances behind the text of God’s Word so that your study experience, and your knowledge of the realities behind the ideas in the text, is enriched and expanded.”
The Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible is an invaluable tool for anyone that wants to dive deeper into the ancient contexts of the people and places from which the Bible came. Being an informed reader of Scripture means understanding that our world was not their world. There’s a substantial gap between the two. This resource helps bridge that gap.
The Catholic Study Bible Third Edition (New American Bible Revised Edition)
This is a must-have resource if you’re Roman Catholic, considering becoming Catholic, or simply curious and interested in learning about Catholic approaches to Scripture and Catholic biblical interpretation. The essays “The Bible in Catholic Life” and “Catholic Interpretation of the Bible”, among several others, are alone worth getting this excellent study Bible.
What impresses me most about the Catholic Study Bible is how it blends rigorous scholarship and spiritual formation/practical application in its articles, notes, and other study aids and resources. Even if you’re not interested in learning specifically about the Catholic perspective, you’ll come away from time spent with this study Bible a much more informed reader of Scripture.
The Life Recovery Bible Second Edition (NLT)
If you are someone you love suffers from addiction, or if you are wanting to lead a faith-based recovery group, this is a must-have resource. The Life Recovery Bible incorporates a distinctly Christian and Christian formation approach along with the Twelve Steps to encourage and guide people out of enslavement to addiction of any kind and towards hope, healing, peace and a saner view of reality.
Some of the helpful features include Bible reading plans with short recovery devotionals around The Twelve Steps, Recovery Principles, and the Serenity Prayer. Additionally, this study Bible includes several informative essays such as “A Word About Addictions” and “The Twelve Steps and Scripture”, along with several other lists and brief essays centered on various aspects of “Life Recovery.”
The Life Recovery Bible also features the “Life Recovery Facilitator’s Guide” and a “Step-by-Step Life Recovery Meeting Guide”, along with the essays “Thriving in a Secular Recovery Group” and “Life-Giving Recovery Groups in the Church”, making this an invaluable resource for anyone leading a recovery group.
At a deeply personal level, this study Bible was a vital tool that I used daily in the earliest stages of my own recovery journey from sex addiction. Over time, it helped rekindle the flames of my spirituality that had all but been snuffed out by the insidious lure and pernicious effects of addiction. I still return to the Life Recovery Bible for inspiration and encouragement. I highly recommend it.
Some Honorable Mentions
There are many other great niche study Bibles worth considering. If I provided an annotated list of them all, this post would be wildly unmanageable. However, I did want to give a shout out to a few others I’ve used over the years and found helpful and informative. Here are some honorable mentions.
The NIV Quest Study Bible
If you’re inquisitive, this is a great resource to consider. The unique feature of this study Bible is its notes and articles are in a Q & A format.
The Discovery Study Bible (NIV)
I liked this study Bible so much, I got one for my wife several years ago. The DSB’s unique specialty is its self-directed study guides and 8 different “study courses” that help readers dive deeper into Scripture while also grasping the bigger picture and interconnections of various topics and themes.
The Apologetics Study Bible (now updated as the CSB Apologetics Study Bible)
The word “apologetics” doesn’t mean to apologize, as in, “I’m sorry …” Rather, it comes from a Greek word that means “to give a reasoned defense.” As 1 Peter 3:15 exhorts Christians, “Always be prepared to give an answer [Greek = apologian] to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” The Apologetics Study Bible features notes, essays, and other study aids from leading Christian apologists that will help equip believers to intellectually engage their faith.
God’s Justice: The Flourishing of Creation & the Destruction of Evil Study Bible (NIV)
This study Bible focusses on God’s redemptive mission to put everything right in the world and invites readers to consider their place within that story to love mercy, act justly, and walk humbly with God. As an introductory essay notes, the Bible “is the story of a God who sees disease and wants it healed; who hears the cry of the oppressed and is determined to make things right … The Bible tells the story of God’s amazing kind of justice, with love and mercy, inextricably intertwined.” If you’re passionate about social justice, this study Bible would be a good resource.
NIV Archeological Study Bible OR The ESV Archeology Study Bible
Both of these resources specialize in connecting students of Scripture to the insights of biblical archeology. They feature lots of maps, charts, notes, and essays. These are interesting and informative tools for anyone that wants to know more about the ancient contexts and cultures of the biblical world. You could be an arm-chair Indiana Jones biblical archeologist!
There are LOTS of specialty niche study Bibles out there. Hopefully, this annotated list of some that I’ve used and found helpful over the years provides you with some food for thought.
As I said in the first article of this series, “How To Choose A Study Bible”, choosing a study Bible is a very personal decision. What works for me, your pastor, family member, or best friend may not be what works for you. In fact, if you’ve found other specialty niche study Bibles I haven’t mentioned especially helpful, I’d love it if you left a comment below so we can all learn from each other and draw on each other’s collective wisdom and experience.
In my next article, I’ll cover some basics of Bible translation theory. So be on the look-out for that. And in the meantime, happy studying!