Selecting a Study Bible, Plus Reviews of the Versions My Husband and I Use

Originally published Thursday, 26 January 2012.

I’ve found that one of the key elements when it comes to reading through and understanding the Bible has been to have a good study Bible that is filled with helpful footnotes, explanations and cross-references. Even though study Bibles are usually a lot more clunky than an already hefty Bible, for at-home reading, I have found that it’s been to my advantage to have a solid source at hand.

I have been using the same study Bible for almost a decade and wanted to share a little more information about the one I use, in case you are in the market for buying a new one. I also had my husband share some about the study Bible he uses, in case that might be a better fit for you.

Because the truth is that what study Bible works for me, may not work for you. The translation that I love to use may not be right for you, right now. And that’s okay. The important thing is trying to find out which version helps you understand the Bible better, spend more time reading it, growing in your walk. We can get hung up on other details and nuances, but we must not forget that actually reading the Bible, whichever kind you choose, is the most important thing!

So, without further ado, here are the two study Bibles that get the most use in our house, with our personal opinions and reviews included:

Life Application Study Bible (New Living Translation): This is the study Bible I currently use in my daily Bible reading. I bought it when I was a new Christian, and I think it’s well-suited for newbies and more mature Christians alike.

You’ll find that it takes any given reading and provides practical insights that help you apply the concepts in that reading to your everyday life. I think this is what makes it a strong choice for new Christians, because it asks questions to help you think about how you live out God’s Word on a daily basis.

But for older Christians, it also includes a lot of historical explanation, commentary, maps and charts that help you get a firmer understanding of what’s going on in the passage or how it’s linked to other passages.

There are times when I do have a question that they don’t address, but I think it provides a hearty starting point for digging deeper into Scriptures no matter where you are in your walk.

As far as the NLT translation, I really like it as I feel that it presents the writings in a way that I can easily understand and uses down-to-earth language that makes tripping over the words or meaning, which more literal translations might be prone to, less likely. (Although if I do, usually the footnotes provide clarity or, if all else fails, I’ll look up alternative translations of the passage using the YouVerse app on my iPod.)

Harper Collins’ Study Bible (New Revised Standard Version): This is the study Bible my husband uses the most. Here’s what he has to say about it:

“If you are looking for a good Study Bible, I recommend this one. For starters, most seminaries and universities recommend the NRSV translation of the Bible for studying the scriptures. From Yale University to Fuller Seminary, the NRSV is a trusted present-day English translation of God’s word.

Now, not all of us are biblical scholars, and so to help enrich our study of scripture, we need help in understanding the history, culture, language, so forth of the Bible. As it relates to this Study Bible, I find the sections before each book of the Bible, which provide background info, to be helpful in understanding a little bit of historical context. Not only that, but I also find that maps and charts, conveniently located at the back of the book, to be useful. And finally, the concordance, in the way back of the book, is an important component to any Bible.”

Additional Tips for Choosing a Study Bible
When I told my husband—the man who always has his nose in a book and is investigating all sorts of Biblical questions I never would have even thought to ask—I wanted to share these recommendations, he wanted to lend an important caveat to anyone looking to purchase a study Bible:

“Now, let’s be honest. Sometimes it is too easy to trust what someone else says about Scripture. In our own study of the Bible we can easily default to what the commentary below the passage we are reading says, believing that the ‘expert’ who wrote the commentary knows it all. So I caution you when adding a study bible to your library: Don’t come to rely upon everything the commentator writes, trusting in his or her meaning of the text.”

My husband also recommends that “in your own study, remember that "Context is king." Meaning it is useful to read large portions of scripture at a time, because it can help one to understand more of what is going on in the text.”

(That is one of the many reasons I found my chronological reading plan especially useful as it helped me read large chunks at a time and really understand the overarching themes and patterns that are difficult to discern when reading a handful of verses at a time.)

Are there other study Bibles you like to use or recommend? Please share your thoughts in the comments so readers can get more recommendations for other versions to consider!

Carmen writes the blog, Life Blessons, which provides an intimate look into her life as a twentysomething woman as she details her experiences learning how to live out her faith, enjoy the simple things in life and be the woman God created to her to be. Along the way, she shares the blessings and lessons that are a part of this journey, the things she likes to call her "blessons."

Feel free to read more at her blog, Life Blessons.

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