Choosing a Study Bible
I feel like The Ten Minute Bible Hour should have far more subscribers than it does. The Bible is the greatest book ever, and Matt is one of the few people I’ve seen who a) seems genuinely excited about it and b) really knows what he’s talking about. It’s easily my favorite YouTube channel.
This week he released a video on different Study Bible editions. If you’re thinking about maybe buying a new Bible, it’s definitely worth watching. If you absolutely know what you’re doing, just jump right into the video. If not, see my notes below.
Here are my notes. Your mileage may vary, so if they help you, great! If not, totally disregard them.
Note: Anytime I refer to a “bible”, I’m referring to a product that someone has published for you to buy. When I refer to the “Bible”, I’m referring to the holy word of God as it was written down and preserved for us outside of any particular translation or format.
What is a Study Bible?
This video will be confusing if you don’t know the difference between a bible and a study bible. When you’re buying a Bible, you make three choices.
1. What Translation?
This is the most important. The original writings that make up our Bible were written in three different languages. Those languages (obviously) have to be translated into English so that we can read them. There are a number of great translations, and they all have their strengths and weaknesses. Read some passages and pick the translation that is easiest for you to understand. That will vary from person to person. My wife loves the NIV, but, for studying, I was always an NASB guy before recently shifting over to HCSB and now CSB (the newer version of HCSB).
2. What Format?
Once you’ve picked a translation, you can buy that translation in paperback, hardback, or a wide array of leather and leather-like bindings. The content is 100% exactly the same; it just has a different container. Crossway has a good article on choosing a bible cover material.
3. What Else Do You Want?
If you just want the Bible and nothing else, there are plenty of choices. However you will also find a dizzying array of bibles that package your preferred Bible translation with other information. The key thing to remember — and the number one thing that can be confusing about this video — is that these other things are not the Bible. They are things that people added around the Bible to (hopefully) help you understand it better.
Bibles can have introductions at the beginning of each book to give you an idea of what you’re reading, cross-references (those tiny things down the middle column), notes (those things at the bottom of the page), dictionaries, indexes, and more. The combinations are almost endless.
The notes are the biggest differentiator. There are bible versions designed simply to help you understand the material better, but there are also versions specifically targeted to a particular segment of people or topic: multiple different versions for both men and women, kids, middle school and high school students, college students, life application, recovering addicts, etc. They simply describe and discuss the material in a way more specifically relevant to their audience. The Bible itself doesn’t change — just what they package around it. If you buy an NIV bible, it’s the exact same Bible translation across every different version, regardless of what else is in it.
“A Ridiculous Amount of Money”?
This is the only point I really disagree with him on — but he and I were actually on the same page until a few days ago :)
Near the beginning he makes an offhand comment about dropping “a ridiculous amount of money” on a new study bible. Laying in bed Tuesday night talking my way through the “How to Study the Bible” session I was teaching the next day, I used basically the same phrase to describe study bibles. They are expensive. But then God posed this question: “Expensive compared to what?”
Well, expensive compared to non-study bibles — but, I quickly realized, not at all expensive compared to other things I buy.
Let me show you what I mean. Let’s say you wanted the absolute most top-of-the-line Bible you could buy. This Goatskin Leather ESV Wide Margin Reference Bible looks pretty nice at $310. Maybe that’s too steep for you, though, so you settle for an ESV Cowhide Study Bible for $179.99. Don’t want the premium cover? Get the same version — just with a lesser leather cover — for $79.99.
I think $80 is a pretty good price point for this discussion. You can get a really phenomenal study Bible for $80. That’s definitely high when you can get a full Bible for $2, but let me take you through my thoughts as I lay there Tuesday night.
If you added up the cost of everything I wear to church on a given Sunday, that’s way more than $80.
My car payment used to be $431 — every month.
Know how much I pay to have cable TV — every month?
And how long will this Bible last you? My wife had her last one for 25 years before it fell apart — and it was her daily driver. It was the only Bible she read out of, and it went with her everywhere. Imagine if you only used it to study out of, though, and bought a cheap Bible to take with you back and forth to church and everywhere else. How long would it last you then?
Let’s just use 25 years, though. $80 spread across 25 years is only $3.20 per year — less than 27 cents per month.
Once I thought of it that way, I realized $80 wasn’t ridiculous after all.
What is a “Theological Persuasion”?
In one part he specifically uses the term “theological persuasion”, but that theme runs throughout. There are so many things in the Bible that a) people interpret differently and b) don’t have concrete answers — just how extensive is our free will, how sovereign is God, etc. (Read about Calvinism vs. Arminianism for a more in-depth example of just how different views can be.)
If you hold to a particular viewpoint, you might prefer a study bible that shares your viewpoint. That’s what he references both directly and indirectly throughout.
You’ll “Outgrow” Certain Study Bibles?
Near the end he talks about outgrowing certain study Bibles (the Life Application Study Bible specifically). I agree with that, but it’s not to imply that those versions aren’t as outstanding as others. The Student Bible I had in high school was fantastic, and exactly what I needed. I used a Life Application Study Bible for years after that, and it was exactly what I needed. What you need is what you need. A more advanced study bible isn’t a better study bible. That’s not what he’s saying.
Don’t Buy a Bible from Amazon
This is my last note. I buy everything I possibly can from Amazon because I like not overpaying for things — especially expensive things like this — but this is one case where I absolutely would go to a physical store. As I type this, Amazon shows over 1,000 results for “NIV study Bible” even if I limit it to Prime. Searching for just “study bible”, I get over 100,000 results 😲
Let’s suppose that you could press forward and choose one despite that. What you’ll find is that there is just no way to know what that Bible feels like in your hands — and that’s so critical. Great example: I never would have chosen the large print version of the Zondervan Study Bible, but when I saw it in person the font size was actually perfect and the bible opened up flat, unlike the regular-print version.
This is such an expensive — and important — purchase. Nothing can compare to holding the bible and flipping through it in person. If at all possible, find a store with lots of versions so that you can find the perfect one for you.