A study Bible is a book that includes the full text of the Bible plus additional features that help readers better understand and apply the Bible. How should you use a study Bible? Here are some suggestions for what to do and not do.
1. Don’t use poor study Bibles.
In general, it’s better to use an all-purpose study Bible rather than a niche study Bible, such as one that targets cat lovers or sixteen-year-olds who like skateboarding and grunge music. So as a general rule, if the title of the study Bible is something like The Winnie the Pooh / Thomas Kinkade Study Bible, take a pass.
2. Use quality study Bibles.
I just finished about five years of work on a study Bible that recently released: the NIV Zondervan Study Bible. (Don Carson is the general editor.) As I helped to edit this study Bible, I consulted many other study Bibles. In my view, these were the four best study Bibles at the time: ESV Study Bible, NIV Study Bible (which is remaining in print), HCSB Study Bible, and NLT Study Bible. Now I think that the top two study Bibles available are the ESV Study Bible and the NIV Zondervan Study Bible.
3. Don’t use the notes as a crutch or shortcut instead of wrestling with the text itself.
There is no substitute for the primary text. One hour carefully reading and meditating on the Bible itself is worth ten hours of reading study Bible notes.
4. Don’t combine the authority of the God-breathed text with the notes.
God inspired the Bible. He didn’t inspire the commentary on the Bible.