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Study Bibles

Studying Bibles Biblical:

In Acts 8:30: (Philip asked) "Do you understand what you are reading? And he (the Ethiopian) said, 'How can I, unless someone guides me?'" (ESV). This passage from the book of Acts shows that even Bible characters asked for help to understand what they were reading. It is a biblically defendable position to seek help in understanding the 66 documents which form our Bible.

Scholars devote entire lifetimes to writing commentaries, translations, dictionaries, and other tools for their students and colleagues. Shouldn't we, too, carefully "Study to show yourself approved to God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Tim. 2:15 KJV(ER)?

Difference between Reference&Study Bible:

So, what is a study Bible? And, what is the difference between a reference Bible and a study Bible? A reference bible contains the plain Scripture text accompanied by cross-references in the margins and some short footnotes at the bottom of pages. The pure translation without personal comments comprises the reference bible.

A study bible is the text of Scripture accompanied by commentary, notes, maps, charts, outlines, and other useful tools added by a committee of experts or by an individual. Taking as much as of each page in the Bible, these notes shed light on history, culture, archaeology, science, languages, and provide other biblical insights. Notes are not inspired, however, and these added tools tend to make the Bible more bulky. But, they are useful for personal study, and make for interesting conversation in Bible study groups.


In this article we will explore which Study Bibles are best for the serious student.

Targum - An Ancient Paraphrase

Does Scripture provide references to copiers, translators, or teachers of the Bible?

Surprisingly, yes. In Nehemiah 8:8 we read that Ezra the Scribe read the law to the people while the Levites explained it plainly to them.

"They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading" (Neh. 8:8 ESV).

This reference is fascinating. It appears to be one of the earliest citations of a verbal paraphrase called a "targum." After the Babylonian captivity, Jews had learned to speak Aramaic. For them to understand Scripture again, it was necessary to translate their beloved Word into Aramaic. "Targum" simply means a translation.

The Jews practiced reciting their holy Hebrew Writ from a scroll. The recitation of the Targums, however, was recited orally. That way they were certain NOT to confuse oral paraphrases with the holy Hebrew writings. (Lightfoot 2003, 143). See Deut. 17:18, 19 Joshua 8:34 2 Kings 23:2 2 Chron. 34:14-18 2 Chron. 17:9 19:8 for other references.

Yeshua Quoted from a Translation

Here is an interesting tidbit: Yeshua, Himself, used a Bible translation. Are you aware of that?

Jesus, His disciples, and the early church quoted from the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew bible made more than a century before. That should make all of us feel a little better about our need to use translations since we can't read Hebrew, Greek, or Aramaic.


Off the subject for a bit…Do you like mind-twisters? Think about this: Jesus quoted Himself from a translated copy of His original Word! (I know…I know…What)?

Here's an explanation. Jesus claims to be the voice of the burning bush that spoke to Moses, the I AM (John 8:58). He also claims to be the Word (John 1:1). So, when He quoted from the Septuagint translation of the Bible, He was quoting a translation of His own words from the original Hebrew Bible.

See, I told you it is a mind-twister.

Those Excluded

Before citing our list of favorite study bibles, we excluded some for the following reasons: We left out study bibles which teach replacement theology (that the church has replaced Israel in God's plan). We have left out dynamic versions (those which emphasize thought-for-thought rather than word-for-word translation). We have excluded most King James study bibles because they are difficult for many readers to understand (although many are excellent). We omitted those with 8-point font or smaller (most of our readers are baby-boomers with vision problems). We have excluded charismatic study bibles which tend toward Kingdom Now views that also supplant Israel with the Church. Last, we exclude versions which promote gender-neutral terms not intended in the original biblical autographs.

Our Favorites

We have several preferences for useful study Bibles. For Byzantine translations (see Which Translations?), we like:

1. Scofield Study Bible III, NKJV Oxford University Press(2002): This edition has 9-point print, is not bulky, and the notes are useful to dispensationalists. Helpful tip: purchase genuine leather editions. OUP bonded-leather tends to flake and peel.

2. MacArthur Study Bible (NKJV Nelson): I consider MacArthur to be the Scofield of the 21st century. When we have serious questions about doctrine or theology, John MacArthur Ph.D., is the one we consistently consult. He embraces the best of Reformed Theology (views on election, plenary-inspiration, and so forth). Yet, he maintains the clear view that "there is a difference between the church and Israel - period!" In that sense he is a "leaky dispensationalist" with a good sense-of-humor! (Tape GC 70-15, "Bible Questions and Answers" 1-800 -55-GRACE). (P.S. I think his study bible is an 8-point font, but the catalogs say otherwise).

3. Zondervan KJV Study Bible (2002, large-print): Presents several views, and has interesting historical, archaeological, and cultural items of interest. The large-print version is especially helpful to me. (Life Application Study Bibles (Tyndale/Zondervan) are similar, and are useful as well. We especially like their children's versions).

For Alexandrian translations, we like:

1. Ryrie Study Bible (NASB Moody): This has nice 10-point type and presents a scholarly, dispensationalist viewpoint.

2. Scofield Study Bible III, ESV (English Standard Version, Oxford University Press, 2006): The ESV provides a good alternative to the NASB. Its translation team utilized the best of King James magesty and grandeur, and developed a superb cross reference system. Its consistency of concordant wording makes it valuable to theologians who study Types, Models, and prophetic passages.

3. New Inductive Study Bible (NASB Harvest): This is an excellent workbook or textbook. It is for those who wish to compile their own notes alongside the text. It presents some margin notes and charts. However, its value lies in its wide margins for note-taking, and its historical overview and questions at the beginning of each book, and answers or charts to fill-in at the end of each book. It also contains useful articles in the back. The font-size is comfortable.

We pray this article helps you to further your studies in the most important pursuit of life, to know God. In learning about and knowing God, you CAN take it with you! What is more important than that?

"Forever, O Lord, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens" (Ps. 119:89, ESV).


Works Cited:

Lightfoot, Neil R. 2003. How We Got the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker.

Thomas, Robert L. 2000. How to Choose a Bible Version. Ross-shire, Great Britain: Christian Focus.

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