Choosing A Study Bible

I recently joined the team at Northside Church in Jackson, TN as their lead Pastor. I’m so excited about this new season of ministry for many reasons, one of which is how excited the church is about growing in their knowledge, understanding, and application of Scripture. As a result, I’ve been asked about what Bible I use in my own study, what kind of Bible I’ll preach from, and which Study Bibles I recommend. I think the question of Study Bibles is a good one to explore for anyone interested in the Bible (in addition to the awesome folks at Northside), so I decided to share this post.

Study Bibles are popular and can be a great resource, but it’s very important to understand the perspective the notes will represent, the level of study notes presented (more academic or more application/devotional), and to be clear on the limitations of study notes.

Study Bibles from one person, like John MacAurthur, Charles Ryrie, or David Jeremiah, will have notes that interpret Scripture from their particular perspective. Similarly, Study Bibles like the ESV Study Bible, the Full Life Study Bible, or the CSB Study Bible will provide interpretation specifically from a Calvinist, Charismatic, and Southern Baptist perspective, respectively. This is important to consider because the individuals writing notes for, or overseeing the notes written for a Study Bible may hold some theological views that are at odds with important practices and beliefs at in the church you may attend. For example, one popular Study Bible is from a pastor who strongly rejects women in ministry leadership, being ordained as pastors, teaching men, or even working outside the home. Second, he rejects the existence of miraculous gifts today. Third, he rejects pedobaptism and only believes in baptism by immersion. This might be a familiar and accepted approach to many Baptistic groups, but would be contrary and problematic for Charismatics, Presbyterians, Methodists, Anglicans, Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Wesleyans … well, you get the idea … kind of everybody who isn’t Baptistic (baptism by immersion and only after conversion) and Complimentarian (women are limited in leadership/teaching roles).

The best Study Bibles, in my opinion, are those put together by a team of scholars who are solid in their commitment to Christ and the authority of scripture, and who also represent the diversity within the Evangelical Christian Community. Study notes from these folks will often present several perspectives on issues where faithful Christians reach differing interpretations.

Finally, it’s important to know if you want a more Academic-leaning or a more Application-leaning approach in mind. Here’s a list of Study Bibles I both use myself and recommend:

  • Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible (Academic) NIV – My favorite
  • Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible (Academic) NASB
  • NIV Study Bible (Equal parts Academic/Application) – The Gold Standard
  • NIV Storyline Study Bible (Balanced)
  • NIV Life Application Study Bible (Application)
  • NIV Quest Study Bible (Application)

Honorable Mentions:

These are Study Bibles specific to a topic or discipline.

  • Apologetics Study Bible – Great resources on grasping WHY we believe
  • Beyond Suffering Study Bible – Focus on those who suffer and those who care for them
  • Life Recovery Study Bible – Focus on Addiction and Recovery
  • New Believer’s Bible

As far as translations, I like the NASB for sermon study, but use the NIV and NLT for personal devotion and preaching.

The biggest, most important thing to remember is that the study notes and articles are NOT infallible! They’re written by gifted people who love Jesus. While their writing may be inspiring, they are not the inspired human agents who penned the Bible itself. Study Bibles are tools, aids, and helps. Use the tools but depend on the Spirit.

How about you? What do you use and why do you like it?

4 thoughts on “Choosing A Study Bible

  1. Ahhh – First: Welcome to Northside!
    I was going to just comment that my favorite Study Bible is my Mom’s (moved to heaven) because of the notes in it, and then I am SO lucky to see that it is the GOLD standard – the NIV Study Bible. I’ve promised it to my only grandson some day.

  2. Hello Kevin and welcome to Northside Church! I, for one, am so happy to have you and your family join us in ministry! I look forward to your leadership and Christian fellowship. As for Bible study, I enjoy a balanced-type study…academic and life-application. After the “year of Covid”, I am looking forward to reviving the Acts 29 Bible study, a small group of women who love God and love learning from His word.

    In His love,
    Gail White

  3. NIV Topical Study Bible, Red Letter Edition and I also use ESV Study Bible. Really appreciated your article, great insight and thoughts to ponder. Looking forward to many more articles, sermons, and teaching!

  4. Thank you for your overview of study Bibles, Kevin. It is helpful. I’m thankful that you and Serena have a new church home. I miss you both. Donna

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