What is a study Bible? It is a Bible printed with commentary. The goal is for the commentary to be brief enough, so the study Bible is still manageable in size to carry (although some study Bibles get to be pretty hefty). The format of commentary printed on the same page as the Bible text is designed to be helpful to the reader. It is there to provide quick answers. The creation of study Bibles has exploded in recent years. I count 22 study Bibles in my personal library, most of which are electronic. On a bookseller’s site I counted about 35 different study Bibles, and I suspect the real number is larger.
Study bibles have commentary for different purposes. Some provide basic commentary on the text. Others focus on helping the reader apply the text to daily life. Study bibles have been written to provide the reader with archaeological information, cultural background information, and even doctrinal background. Study bibles may treat themes like stewardship and justice.
Remember on this page layout you have the inspired text of scripture and uninspired comments. The text of scripture should test the comments. As a teacher, it is frustrating to ask a question about the text and receive the answer, “My study bible says.” Focus on scripture and use the helps of the study bible wisely. The helps of a study Bible (or any commentary) may provide the following.
- It provides context for a book: date, authorship, original audience, and overview of the book.
- It provides historical and cultural background information.
- It provides information on the context of the passage by reminding the reader of context within the book, the particular author, or the Bible in general.
- It may treat a difficult passage by explaining how different authors have understood this passage and giving the evidence for you to think through the issue on your own.
- It provides helpful information on the original language or aspects of grammar in the original language that impacts the interpretation of the passage.
- It provides helpful genre information, e.g., the nature of Hebrew poetry, characteristics of proverbs, characteristics of parables, etc.
- It may help you see literary patterns or structure in the passage or book.
- It may provide useful maps and charts.
Used wisely, the study Bible can be a useful part of the Bible student’s toolkit.