At one point or another, your average American Christian becomes fascinated with owning a “Study Bible.” Interesting name for it, in light of the fact that a regular, plain old, run-of-the-mill Bible can be studied. In other words, you do not have to own a study Bible to study the Bible! But if you are wanting help understanding what you are reading, a study Bible might be a good purchase for you. In the next five days I am going to lay out some basic thoughts about study Bibles. Today I will summarize the basics.
So what exactly is a study Bible? The typical study Bible is one that comes with a preface to each Bible book that includes vital background information for that particular book. This usually includes information such as who is the human writer of the book, the approximate date the book was written, information about the recipients of the book (or letter), a summary of the book, key themes covered in the book, an outline of the book, and any other data deemed relevant to prepare the reader to have a good head start in approaching the text. Most study Bibles also include brief notes of commentary on many of the verses. These comments are usually located at the bottom of each page (footnotes). Most study Bibles also feature marginal cross-references, articles, lists, graphs, a concordance and more maps than a normal Bible.
Because a study Bible includes so much more than a regular Bible, it is usually considerably larger than normal. The new ESV Study Bible is an excellent example of how big a study Bible can become. My ESV Study Bible weighs in at over 4 pounds!
Another question that some people might have is why are there so many study Bibles? The answer is quite simple: there are a lot of different opinions about interpretation of God’s Word. Another reason is that each study Bible can only cover so much ground and so there is much room for much diversity. One study Bible might have an emphasis on how archaeological studies confirm the historical places and events of the Bible (see the Archaeological Study Bible). Another study Bible might focus on arguments to defend the Bible against skeptics (see the Apologetics Study Bible). Other Study Bibles are work of one respected Bible teacher (the MacArthur Study Bible) while others are the collaborative fruit of a large group of scholars (the Reformation Study Bible and the aforementioned ESV Study Bible).
Tomorrow I will comment on my choice of the study Bibles in the photograph above and comment on why study Bibles are so helpful.