Anthony W. Brooks
There are many helps that the Christians can use to understand the scriptures in a better light. There are commentaries, lectionaries, lexicons, interlinears, concordances, dictionaries, and many many many other resources. But the most widely used and purchased is the Study Bible. Of course, they come in various sizes, translations, theological preferences, etc… So, it’s no surprise that my favorite study bible isn’t my wife’s favorite, or my sister’s favorite, or my pastor’s favorite.
I only carry around two different study bibles. The reason for this is the size of many of these tomes is incredible. When we put size in the equation it can change the dynamic of the game. Whether or not you want to invest in a particular study bible depend on whether you want to carry your study bible with you or mind leaving on your desk at home.
My recommendations are already posted on the Resource page. But I figured I would go ahead and make a post over this subject.
At the end of each review I’ll rate on a scale of A, B, C, D, F on four things in the order I list them:
Translation Variety– How many translations is a particular study bible available in? Not everyone likes the NASB, ESV, NKJV, KJV, NIV etc… So diversity helps spread the bibles reach.
Study Note Quality– How detailed and frequent are the study notes? This is key, since study bibles are known for their notes. Detail and volume can either make or break a study bible.
Durability and portability– How durable is the bible? And how portable is it? Being well made is a must in a study bible. This is your go-to resource for quick questions. One needs it to be portable and durable.
Theological Preference– How theologically diverse is this study bible? The caveat here is that we are only reviewing reformed leaning study bibles. But on issues like Infant Baptism, Eschatology, and ecclesiology it’s nice to have diversity for differing viewpoints in the Reformed camp.
I’ll start off by mentioning the three bibles that changed the American Evangelical Church and influenced the Young, Restless, and Reformed movement most thoroughly:
- The MacArthur Study Bible- This is a medium sized Bible that has many things going for it. This is one of the study bibles that I am actually willing to carry around because it is the top of the portable scale. Here are some features that Grace to You advertises for this study bible: Nearly 25,000 explanatory notes from John MacArthur, More than 140 two-color maps, charts, timelines, and illustrations, Introductions to each Bible book, Index to key biblical doctrines, Over 80,000 cross-references, Extensive concordance, A section of full-color maps, Bible reading plans, Concise articles on “How We Got the Bible” and “Introduction to the Bible”, Dimensions: 9.5”x7”, Text size: 8.7 point, Note size: 7.6 point. So it is safe to say that this bible is loaded with helpful resources. But, all of the study notes are from John MacArthur’s personal opinion. This makes this study bible very biased on a few key theological points: credobaptism, dispensational premillennialism, sacramentology, and ecclesiology. But the diversity of the translation and the durability and portability have good scores. Final scores: A, A, B, D.
- The ESV Study Bible- This is considered a large study bible. Made by Crossway, this is a very well-built bible in their genuine leather, trutone, and premium bindings. Opening this bible for the first time amazed me. THOUSANDS of study notes taking up every page. Aside from that here are a few features that Crossway adds to their website: Concordance, Extensive articles, 240 full-color maps and illustrations, Includes thumb indexes, Smyth-sewn binding. So, this bible is just as loaded as the last. The notes are also diverse on eschatology, ecclesiology, and the credo/Paedobaptism issue. But this study bible is only available in the ESV bible translation. That fact is okay with me (I love the ESV), but for my friends in the Confessional Bibliology groups it isn’t preferred. I won’t give it an F for that (due to the readability of the translation), but it will get a below average score. Final Scores: D, A, C, A.
- Reformation Study Bible 2015- This study bible is massive. I couldn’t carry this volume if I wanted to. Focusing on the entirety of Reformed orthodoxy, the theological bias is limited to the 3 streams of Reformed confessionalism: 3 Forms of Unity, Westminster Standards, and 1689 London Confession. It is available in two translations: ESV and NKJV. This makes it available to those who prefer the majority text and critical text. But not every majority text advocate prefers the NKJV and not every critical text advocate prefers the ESV. Durability is low as well. The build of this bible is problematic. I have seen the results of a hardcover, faux leather, and genuine leather Reformation Study Bible being used to death, not pretty. The common life expectancy of one of these bibles is 2 years before the cover comes off. But the quality of the study helps are unparalleled. Not only does it have a full verse by verse commentary, but multiple other helpful resources in the back. Creeds, Confessions, Catechisms, and an overview of Church History are among the helps. Final Scores: C, A, F, B.
Next we’ll cover a couple of extra study bibles that might also be of interest to you.
- The Reformation Heritage KJV Study Bible- This is a medium sized and portable volume. The materials vary from goatskin to leather-touch but all well-built. The commentary is a very nice and thoroughly Reformed commentary, but has strong biases toward amillennial eschatology and Presbyterian church government. Also, a very biased view is taken toward covenant theology as opposed to Reformed Baptist covenant distinctives. But, there are some cool features offered: Creeds, Confessions, and Catechisms in the back of the bible. Thoughts for personal and family worship is added at the end of each chapter, and many others. As the name suggests this bible is only offered in the KJV making it obsolete to many who cannot understand the High modern English of the 17th Century. Final Scores: F, A, A, D.
- Reformation Study Bible (Condensed Edition)- This is a small and especially portable bible. The materials vary from hard cover to genuine leather. But, like its larger predecessor, the quality of build is problematic. Unlike Crossway’s leathertouch materials (which are Smyth-sewn), the leather-like covers only come in glued in bindings. The font is small so if you are hard of seeing, probably not for you. The study notes are a condensed version of the larger version. Over-all they are good, but not as extensive and leaves many questions unanswered. Theologically, the notes lean toward the more narrow Presbyterian covenant theology like its larger counterpart. Also, this bible is only available in the ESV, leaving its diversity of translation lacking. Final Scores: D, C, D, D.
The ability to look at these study bibles objectively is a good help for those of us who desire to have an overall good look at these resources. So it looks like the MacArthur Study Bible edged out all others in the objective score.
Of course, the scoring was subjective to my theological preferences, preference of bindings, and what I consider to be good commentary. But, when I judge these bibles I tried not to compare them, but judge them in overall usefulness. If you like the ESV, prefer Covenant theology, and don’t mind a large volume the ESV Reformation Study Bible might be for you. But if you only read the KJV the Reformation Heritage KJV Study Bible might be a good fit. If you just want an evangelical study bible the ESV Study Bible or MacArthur Study Bible might be good fits. There are plenty of good choices to go around here.
Soli Deo Gloria!