Posted by: reformedmusings | October 30, 2008

Great Study Bibles

There are a number of study Bibles out there, so I thought that I’d offer some brief thoughts on my favorites. While I value the notes and articles in these, I need to emphasize that the notes and articles are not inspired by God, only the Bible text itself is inspired. That sounds funny on the surface, but I see and hear folks from time to time quote notes in their study Bibles almost as if they are inspired. While we do not question the inspired text of Scripture, we are free to disagree with the human-created notes at the bottom of the page. No study Bible is perfect just as no human being is perfect, Christ’s human nature excepted.

I will list these in rough order of my recommendation priority:

1. Reformation Study Bible – I have this primo reference in both the New King James Version (then called the New Geneva Study Bible) and the English Standard Version. We use the latter translation in our church, and it is fast becoming the standard in Reformed evangelical congregations. The excellent study notes honor God’s absolute sovereignty and holiness, and represent contributions by the likes of R.C. Sproul, Sr., Keith Mathison, Bruce Waltke, Moises Silva, James Montgomery Boice, Edmund Clowney, Roger Nicole, Wayne Grudem, and J.I. Packer. J.I. Packer wrote the outstanding 96 theological articles, which he later put together in his book Concise Theology. If I could only own one study Bible (perish the thought), or even one Bible, this would be it. It carries my highest recommendation.

2. 1599 Geneva Bible – To be clear up front, I use this Bible on a regular basis. It doesn’t just sit on my shelf. This is the Bible of the Reformation which Pilgrim families brought over to America from Europe. It was the first English Bible divided into numbered chapters and verses, which aid in study and referencing. There’s an excellent summary of its history in the introduction to this version. Tolle Lege Press brought this classic back into print, which greatly enriches our study of the Word. The notes were written and edited by some of the great Reformers, and they mince no words in their exposition of the Scriptural text. Originally published with the New Testament in 1560, the notes underwent revision and expanion up until 1599, when they reached their peak. Tolle Lege Press modernized some of the spelling, but otherwise the text is the original. A must-have and must-use.

3. Annotations Upon all the Books of the Old and New Testament (6 Volumes, 1657) – Not technically a study Bible (hence the listing as 2a), but originally intended as notes for one before they outgrew that purpose, this is only available now as a facsimile. A number of the Westminster Assembly Divines wrote the notes, so they give some theological insight into the thoughts behind the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms. I’ve never seen a better set of verse-by-verse notes on Scripture than these. I use them extensively in my Scripture study and in my writing. I’ve had my copy for well over a decade and am still blessed everytime I open the cover.

4. ESV Study Bible – Just released this month, its unstated goal was to replace the NIV Study Bible for Reformed and evangelical congregations that wished a more literal translation of the Bible. In this, it succeeded very well. A large volume, it contains 200 charts, 200 maps, 40 illustrations, and 50 articles. It’s almost a one-volume Bible encyclopedia. Probably not something that you’d carry around under your arm, but works great in my office. The historical and cultural background it offers, as well as alternate, orthodox understandings of important verses or sections, provide an excellent framework for understanding the Scriptures.

5. Thompson Chain Reference Bible – This was my first study Bible. Dr. Frank C.Thompson’s chain reference system dates to 1890 and links verses throughout Scripture topically and sequentially by 4129 topic numbers (7000+ total topics including subtopics). The chain numbers are in the margins with the topic titles, so you can easily follow a topic throughout Scripture. This allows Scripture to speak for itself, which is the reason it was my first study Bible. There are also extensive historical, cross-reference, and archeological notes, maps, character studies, as well as analytical outlines of the books of the Bible at the back of the study Bible. While the topic choices and linking aren’t inspired, they are very helpful for studying the Scripture within its internal context.

6. The Self-interpreting Bible (1914 ed.) – A classic by the excellent John Brown of Haddington. This huge reference (4 volumes in facsimile format) stands as more of an encyclopedia than a study Bible. The text notes are devotional in character, similar to Matthew Henry’s style. The articles cover everything from types of Christ in the Old Testament types and shadows, Middle East geography and history, Bible names, Bible dictionary and concordance, Roman deities, timelines, charts, to a complete chronological index of Scriptural history. Even the large ESV Study Bible doesn’t come close to this level of material. Originally published in 1778 and faithfully updated by others up until 1914, this wonderful reference has blessed generations of believers.

That’s my short list. I own other study Bibles, but rarely use them. These are my primaries. Four have blessed generations, some going back to the Reformation itself. They date to a time when doing cutting-edge theology wasn’t a quest to push the envelope of heresy.


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