There are several forms and variations of study Bibles. Most basically, a study Bible is a Bible that has notes printed along with the Scripture—it is much like a Bible and commentary in one. Most Bibles have some footnotes or cross-references. A study Bible goes further, offering some degree of depth to the notes and may include charts, maps, timelines, illustrations, and even photos.
Are study Bibles helpful? What is a study Bible?
Study Bibles are not new. The Geneva Bible, published in 1560, included notes from the Calvinist theological perspective. It was this Bible that led King James I to gather scholars to produce his authorized version without notes—the King James Version (KJV).
Another important study Bible is the one C.I. Scofield produced in 1909 with notes for the Bible, published by Oxford University Press. This study Bible had a great influence on Christians in the United States for generations. Scofield's notes supported dispensational and fundamentalist theology.
Study Bibles have proliferated recently. There are study Bible with a focus on archeology, apologetics, and biblical cultures. There are also study Bibles for women, men, certain minority segments in society, the military, couples, and more. There are also study Bibles produced by popular teachers and filled with their notes or "inspirational" thoughts.
Study Bibles can be helpful to unfold context, offer insight, or explain theology. However, introducing a person's thoughts or "take" on Holy Scripture can be dangerous. Notes in a study Bible remain uninspired and should be examined against the veracity of Scripture just as any other material. But sometimes having the notes right in the Bible lends them more credence. Too, it can become easy to rely heavily on the study notes to the exclusion of learning how to study the Bible for oneself. We may find ourselves following the study Bible's notes rather than seeking God through prayer and relying on the Holy Spirit.
In using a study Bible, it is important to remember that the Bible is given by God for all people, not just certain segments of the culture. For example, there is not one Bible for men and one for women. Generally the most reliable study Bibles will be those produced by a team of orthodox scholars. Teams can generally dilute the personal bent of individual theologians.
Whether reading a regular Bible or a study Bible, if you have put your faith in Jesus Christ as Savior, the Holy Spirit is active and with you (Ephesians 1:13–14; John 14:16–17). He can unfold the Word of God for you in ways no person can. Do not be distracted from your relationship with God by the notes and commentary in a study Bible. Instead, use those notes as a tool to help in your understanding of His Word.
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