For the Love of Bibles: Study Bibles, pt. 3 (things to remember)

The Reformation Study Bible (ESV)
The Reformation Study Bible (ESV)

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.


3 thoughts on “For the Love of Bibles: Study Bibles, pt. 3 (things to remember)”

  1. Dear Pastor Brett

    I read your post here on the ESV Reformation Study Bible and I thank you. It provoked me to reflect upon how I read my own copy of this edition.

    I agree with you that some people could rely too much on the study notes. Also we must guard against relying too much on scholarly commentary vs. relying on the Spirit to lead us to truth.

    However in my humble opinion, God has always used learned men to teach the scriptures to lay people. What would we do without a Strong’s Concordance or a Matthew Henry’s Commentary, etc etc.

    I think Study Bibles do for us what many of us do not have the time to do – look up Geographical, Theological, or Cultural references behind certain challenging scriptures.

    It think the danger of a misguided few getting the wrong inspiration from certain modern Study Bibles is nothing compared to the frightful Biblical Ignorance amongst today’s youth.

    Better to be up to our armpits in Study Bibles than to spiritually starve in Godless, Reprobate world without access to the Scriptures.

    But then again I could be very wrong on this. A friend of mine is a KJV only type and he says all we need is a King James Bible with NO kind of references or notes at ALL.

    Peace and God Bless Brother.

    Mike M.

  2. Hi Pastor Brett

    I chanced upon your blog website some time ago, while looking for an image showing the layout and text of the Reformation Study Bible version of the ESV. I saw through Google Images that you have an image showing a double-page spread, which seems to show the sort of version with study notes that I am looking for. It’s from your blog dated August 19, 2009.

    It concerns me that, no-where on the web, on any of the official ESV publishers or Ligonier Ministries sites (it would appear to me) is there a sample of the text and layout of this version. As my previous occupation was as a graphic designer and typographer I am naturally as concerned about these things, as about the readability of the text and accuracy of the translation.

    I’m a relatively recent convert to the ESV, and I wonder whether you have any comments about the layout and typeface used for this version? If the photograph depicts your own Bible, it would appear to be a leather bound version, and I wonder what you think of the patterned gilt-edging of the volume shown?

    Any comments would be gratefully received, as I am have recently embarked on a course of leadership training and basic theology (at the age of 65 it’s a challenge, not to mention a surprise!) and, having been gifted some money, I wish to obtain a good quality Bible that will be suitable for my future needs.

    With very best regards, and every blessing to you and yours this Christmas.

    Bruce Porteous
    Norwich, UK

    1. Bruce,

      Thanks for commenting. Congratulations on your pursuit of leadership and theology. I know of no other subjects that can have a greater eternal impact when brought together with a zeal for souls.

      You have touched upon a very important issue when it comes to the marketing of Bibles. I have always found it strange that Bible publishers and distributors do not do a better job of showing you what the INSIDE of a Bible looks like. Sometimes they will post a picture of the outside cover, but rarely do they show what the inside looks like. And yet, that is the most important part! As much as I love a nicely bound Bible with a beautiful leather wrapping, I’m getting the Bible to read! Sorry for the rant, but I feel your pain. 🙂

      That all said, I have noticed that in the last few years, some publishers are doing a better job of giving you a sample of what the inside looks like. If you go to Crossway’s website, most of the Bibles have a sample PDF that you can download. Here’s an example:

      Scroll down and you will see a hyperlink under “Related Media” that says: “Download a pdf sample of the interior”

      The problem is that Crossway doesn’t publish the Bible you are interested in, therefore you can’t get sample of the interior at that website. And as you mention, the publisher, Ligonier, doesn’t offer such a sample either. The good news is that I know a place that does…Westminster Bookstore. Here is their link:

      And here is the link to their sample from Genesis:

      Here is the link to their sample from Isaiah:

      And finally, here is the link to their sample from Revelation:

      As for their gilt edging, I found it to be fairly normal. I personally like the art-gilt edges (red under gold) frequently applied on your side of the pond by Cambridge Press in England and R. L. Allan in Scotland.

      You mention you have been gifted some money and want a quality Bible. Depending on how much you have you may want to consider getting two Bibles: a good study Bible (like the Reformation Study Bible, the ESV Study Bible, or the MacArthur Study Bible) as well as a good reference Bible (like a wide-margin Cambridge or a R. L. Allan). Cambridge and Allan make the finest Bibles in the world. They are rather expensive, but in my opinion, when it comes to quality Bibles, you get what you pay for. When it comes to study Bibles, both the ESV Study Bible and the MacArthur Study Bible come in premium bound leather additions. At this point, the Reformation Study Bible does not.

      Again, Bruce, thanks for stopping by my blog and commenting, and I hope my response is helpful to you. Let me know what you end up getting and how you like it.

      Merry Christmas to you and yours as well!

      – Pastor Brett

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