There are some important things to know when it comes to using a study Bible. First, there is a word of caution. When reading a study Bible, make sure you remember that the words of the Scripture are the words of God Himself, while the words of commentary included, as helpful as they may be, are not. Keep reminding yourself that the notes and comments and articles are no more inspired by God than a commentary you would pick up in the bookstore. This is one of the reasons why I never do my daily Bible reading in a study Bible. For my morning devotions, I only want me, the Bible text, and my journal.
Second, study Bibles that are written by one man only (examples: Ryrie, MacArthur) are going to naturally be a little more susceptible to observational or interpretive mistakes than study Bibles that have a collaboration of scholars. Generally study Bibles done by a group of scholars have experts in that particular book or section of Scripture handling the commentary and notes for that respective book or section. An example of this is my college buddy, Ray Van Neste, who did the study notes and commentary for the Pastoral Epistles (1 & 2 Timothy and Titus) in the ESV Study Bible. Dr. Van Neste concentrated on these very books when doing his Ph.D. in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Third, a real danger in using a study Bible is to overuse it. What I mean by this is that if you are not careful a study Bible can actually breed laziness. You can become so used to relying on the study notes and tools in the study Bible that you begin to neglect thoughtful interaction with the text itself. As I mentioned previously in my post about the International Inductive Study Bible, truths that you encounter through thoughtful interaction and toil with the Bible itself tends to stay with you longer and make a greater impact in your application to life.
A final reality to consider is that every study Bible has a doctrinal bias. To avoid this is impossible. I recognize that for many of my readers, the following terms might be unfamiliar, so bear with me and click on the links if you want a little more explanation. But with the Ryrie Study Bible, you are getting a dispensational slant to everything in the notes. With the Reformation Study Bible, you are getting a covenental slant to the comments. A novice handling a study Bible for the first time might not realize that there are other viable and alternatives to the explanations offered in the comments. As Proverbs 18.17 says, “The first to state his case seems right until another comes and cross-examines him.” (HCSB). With a study Bible, you are really getting only one perspective; there is no one else coming along to present an alternate or opposing view.
Tomorrow I will offer some tips on purchasing a study Bible.