If you go to Amazon.com or Christianbook.com or even to your local bookstore and visit the “Bibles” section you will be overwhelmed. There are hundreds of choices. Which should I buy? Which study bibles can I trust? Here is a primer that may help. (by Pastor Tim)
First, you should start with an English translation that is both faithful to the original text and readable. For many years the standard English translation has been the King James Version (KJV) also known as the Authorized Version (AV). Though it is a faithful word for word translation the language is dated for the modern reader. That makes it hard to understand or even misleading in meaning as definitions of words have changed over the past 400 years.
However since it has been a standard for 400 years. You should own a copy. I recommend the Westminster Reference Bible published by the Trinitarian Bible Society as it has the most expansive cross reference system available and contains definitions of unfamiliar words in the margin.
Why a “word-for-word” translation? Because the Bible is God’s word. We should have much transparency into the original languages as a translation will allow. Many of the popular modern English translations use a thought-for though which inevitably introduces some interpretation into the translated text. But, you the reader will never know when they do that.
Some good word-for-word translations are the English Standard Version (ESV), New American Standard Version (NASB), New King James Version (NKJV), and the Christian Standard Bible (CSV)
More thought-for-thought translations are: New International Version (NIV) and New Living Translation (NLT).
Second, make sure the Bible has some sort of cross reference system. You can tell because there will be a column of finer print scripture references either in the center or on the margins. The text will have superscript letters that will correspond to a set of verses in the reference column.
This simple help will allow you to practice the most basic of Bible interpretation – scripture interprets scripture.
Now, some study bibles you should consider.
Thompson Chain Reference Study Bible
The classic study Bible is the Thompson Chain Reference Study Bible. www.kirkbride.com.
It allows you to seek the Bible’s truth for yourself through a timeless system of topical chain links. It truly helps you to see that scripture does in fact interpret scripture.
Pastor Tim highly recommends this Bible as YOU become the student of scripture, digging into biblical truths, allowing the premise that “scripture interprets scripture” to work for you.
The Thompson is available in several English translations: King James (KJV), New King James (NKJV), New American Standard (NASB), and the English Standard Version (ESV).
Study bibles with notes are numerous. And they all tend to come from a theological persuasion. So the reader should be aware.
The Holman Study Bible
Written from a conservative evangelical viewpoint it has plenty of notes, charts, and is multi- color. It is available in several translations including the KJV, NKJV, and HCSB.
The New King James Version Study Bible
Published by Thomas-Nelson the notes are from a conservative evangelical perspective. It also is full color with many maps, charts, and graphs. It also has side bar articles on key doctrinal and theological words as they are encountered in the pages of scripture. Out of them all this is my favorite with in the “notes” based study bibles. It is balance theologically. It is based on a trustworthy word-for-word translation, and is in full color.
The Reformation Heritage Study Bible
This is written from a conservative reformed perspective. The intent of this bible is to move the reader to deeper devotion not to convert them to Calvinism. The notes are not argumentative but simply points the reader to a historic protestant understanding of the text. It is only available in the KJV. But, one of the beauties of this bible is that it provides definitions of older words right in the notes. You can understand your KJV with this bible. Moreover, it contains devotional questions for personal and group worship for every chapter of the bible. Cross references are included within the notes.
The Jeremiah Study Bible
This is the bible produced by the ministry of David Jeremiah. He is well known for his radio broadcast “Turning Point”. The style found in his pulpit ministry translates over well into the notes of this bible. Scholars from Dallas Seminary helped compile the notes. It is Baptist in orientation. It also is meant to move the student from mere head knowledge to application. It is available in the NKJV and NIV. The only draw back to this study bible is that it does not have a cross reference system.
The ESV Study Bible
This is a big book. It is probably the thickest among all of them. It is packed with material. I opted for the kindle version as it is large. It represents the best of scholarship found in conservative and more reformed circles. It has some of the best charts available. The notes are explanatory in nature, not necessarily devotional. If there is a second study bible you should have, this is the one.
Henry Morris Study Bible.
This is just about as large as the ESV study bible. The late Henry Morris was the curator of the Institute for Creation Research. This bible comes from the perspective of a creationist that was also a bible scholar. The notes on Genesis alone are worth the price of the book. But, it also does a fine job in all areas of the bible. His insight is pastoral and defends the accuracy and veracity of scripture. It is only available in the King James Version.
NLT Illustrated Study Bible
Last on my short list is the NLT illustrated study Bible. It truly is a beautiful bible. It is multi-color with color maps, pictures, charts. The notes are broadly based conservative evangelical. The only drawback is it is only available (as its name indicates) in the NLT. The New Living Translation (NLT) leans more for the thought for thought side of translation technique. Since it is my belief that the very words of the Bible are God’s word, it is always best to start with a more literal translation such as KJV, NKJV, NASB, or ESV. So, this study bible makes for a good supplemental tool to use in conjunction with another study bible you may own.
The Swindoll Study Bible
This study bible was just released in October of 2017. The notes are from the popular Bible teacher Chuck Swindoll of the radio broadcast Insights for Living. The notes are instructional and devotional. It reads as though you were in his study and getting a glimpse of his sermon notes that he delivers to his congregation. It is only available in the NLT.