Study Bibles: Some Reflections on Study

Seth Garcia   -  

This month, we are focusing on the spiritual discipline of study. In our Sunday morning classes, we are going to focus on things like translations and theologies, but in our newsletters, we are going to instead be focusing on tools to study with. One of the benefits of the Bible being the most printed, translated, purchased, and read book ever is that there is an abundance of tools with which we can study them; whether those resources are Christian-centered or even academically secular, these tools can help us greatly in understanding the purpose, themes, and context of our Scriptures.

One of the most common tools that we have access to are study Bibles. Study Bibles are simply Bibles that usually have maps, indexes, short introductions to books, and some level of commentary built into the book. I would venture a guess that almost everyone in our congregation has a study Bible, as it seems to be in many ways the “default” version that most booksellers stock of the Bible. Yet finding the right kind of study Bible can be surprisingly difficult. It can sometimes feel like study Bibles’ commentaries intentionally skip over hard to process or hard to interpret passages (after all, there’s only so much space!), or have different theological conclusions than we would draw from a passage.

Finding a good study Bible can sometimes be overwhelming and hard, as study Bibles are trying to balance three things all while not taking away space from the core text of the Scriptures. Study Bibles are seeking to strike a balance between three things primary things: objective scholarship, helpfulness, and spiritual enrichment.  That balance can oftentimes be a hard one to find. My favorite study Bible is Oxford’s Annotated NRSV; however, it has the potential to be overwhelming for those without formal theological training. Other options include Zondervan’s study Bibles, although their commentaries often leave something to be desired.

However, at the end of the day, having a study Bible is better than not having a study Bible. But we should keep in mind that study Bible’s are more of a starting place than an end-all-be-all tool of study. Study Bibles should prod us to think deeper about Scripture and lead us into other tools, but can help us as we begin our journey into studying Scripture more deeply.