What if you could sit down and study the Bible with a great scholar or theologian sitting next to you –explaining every detail?
Somebody like J.I. Packer or Harry Ironside? Or even Martin Luther or Thomas Aquinas?
That’s the idea behind a study Bible. And it’s never been easier to choose the best study Bible than it is right now.
So let’s take a look at what’s ahead:
Table of Contents
What is a Study Bible?
What’s the Best Study Bible App?
What’s the Purpose of a Study Bible?
Study Bible Features
Why Get a Study Bible?
How to Choose a Study Bible
The Epic List –Almost Every Study Bible Imaginable
The Short List – Tried and True – and Great!
What is a Good Study Bible for Beginners?
What’s the Best Study Bible for College Students and Beyond?
The Best Study Bible for Women
What is a Study Bible?
The Holy Bible is the most important book ever written. If you’ve really studied it, you know that even the biggest superlatives fall short in describing it. It’s the true word of the Living God!
But it takes study and effort to understand a book as insightful as the Bible. If scholars spent so much time to unlock its secrets, how will regular believers -like you and I- ever understand it?
That’s where a Study Bible comes in.
So what is a study Bible -and what makes it so important?
A study Bible is a special edition of the Bible with added study resources. A typical study Bible includes scriptural cross-references, a concordance, maps, historical references and short articles that profile the Bible characters that help increase the reader’s understanding. It’s like having a Bible scholar sit with you while you’re reading it –telling you many important additional details.
Sometimes it’s not so easy for us to understand the context of the Bible. We live in different times and places than the Bible characters, and our culture is much different.
We speak a different language than the original languages of people of Biblical times, and we have different traditions.
When we speak, we use different idioms than people used in those days. I wrote this post The Handwriting on the Wall to explain an idiom we use in everyday language that comes straight from the Bible.
Even though we read Bible translations in English, (see my post on the Most Accurate English Translations of the Bible) there’s more to the story we don’t always understand.
Most of us don’t have an accurate perception of the culture, times and places of the Mediterranean 2000-4000 years ago.
This is where a good study Bible can make such a huge difference.
So how do you choose a study Bible –especially when there are so many good ones?
The way to choose a study Bible is to match the Bible with your own personality, desires, plans and goals for learning. And make sure it’s a study Bible that will hold your interest for the long run. With all the great study Bibles available today, it’s more exciting than ever to get one –or more than one!
There are many good study Bibles, and you can benefit from more than one.
Most study Bibles have full-color maps, cross-references and short articles that comment on the true stories of the Bible. Together, these “Bible helps” give the reader a deeper understanding of the times, places and people of the Bible.
These references and other Bible tools give us the bigger picture of what’s going on in terms that make more sense to us.
A good study Bible helps us connect the dots and gain much deeper knowledge. It has comments based on the work of distinguished scholars, linguists, archaeologists and other professionals.
For instance, when God told Jonah to go to Nineveh, how far did he have to go? What direction was it?
Then when Jonah booked a ship to Tarshish, which direction was it? And how far did he plan to go?
Why did Jonah do these things? It might be crystal clear to some folks, but others might find the story murky and difficult to follow unless they know other details.
When God called Abram (Abraham was originally known as Abram) from Ur of the Chaldees to go to the Promised Land, how far was that? Where is Ur of the Chaldees anyway?
Good study Bibles can answer questions like this. They give us a deeper picture of the great faith of Abraham and the great rebellion of Jonah –even though Jonah was a prophet chosen by God.
These answers give us the context to apply Bible lessons to our own lives.
This article is mostly about traditional Study Bibles. But these days, there’s a lot of interest in Study Bible Apps and online Study Bibles, so let’s discuss them, too!
What’s the Best Study Bible App?
Let’s get right down to it. The “hands down” best Study Bible App you can get on your smart phone for free is the Blue Letter Bible.
It’s got access to at least 3 major Commentaries –including David Guzik’s –a personal favorite of mine. It includes an Interlinear, you can take notes, and you can use many of the features off line.
If you use the online version instead of your smartphone, you can read posts by Bible Scholar Don Stewart on many fascinating subjects!
Getting back to the smartphone App, you can read the Bible in many different English translations, plus other languages, such as Spanish, French, Russian, German, Chinese and Korean.
There’s a parallel view for comparing two different translations. You can take notes and do searches.
There’s also a Daily Reading available and at the touch of a button you can go straight to the Blue Letter Bible website.
The Blue Letter Bible is a great backup for when you’re traveling or you’re out somewhere without your regular Bible handy.
You can download it onto your smartphone from the App Store and Google Play.
But when you get down to brass tacks, most folks prefer their “real” Bible. So let’s take a closer look.
What is the Purpose of a Study Bible?
A study Bible helps the reader understand the Bible more deeply and more completely. This supports the growing faith of the believer, and challenges the unbelief of a skeptic.
A student of the Bible will grow faster and understand more than he would without the resources of a study Bible.
The student will gain greater understanding from a Bible study or a pastor’s sermon than he otherwise would, because many answers to common questions will be found right there in the study Bible.
So now there’s less need to go searching for answers.
Have you ever had questions about a certain Bible character, place or story? A study Bible usually has the answer.
A study Bible can also open up your mind to questions you would never have thought to ask.
Bible scholars have poured years of their lives into studying every detail of the Bible. They have dug deep for answers far beyond the questions many of us would even think to ask.
Bible scholars have also spent centuries answering the questions of skeptics. This has confirmed the sure foundation of the Christian faith many times over.
A study Bible strengthens the believer’s faith in this sure foundation.
Now the believer can go out into the world and be more confident and more effective than ever before at fulfilling the Great Commission to preach the Gospel to all Nations.
Study Bible Features
What should you look for in a good study Bible? Many study Bibles have similar features, but they are all unique in other ways.
If you are trying to decide which study Bible to get for your personal studies or for a gift, there are so many good ones that it’s not easy to decide.
Many different study Bibles have been designed with different approaches to Bible study.
Here are a few common features of study Bibles:
Concordance – a list of important key words and the locations in the Bible where they can be found.
A study Bible usually has a small Concordance, but if you want a complete Concordance, the best way is to get Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible on Amazon.
It includes a Hebrew/English Interlinear and a Greek/English Interlinear for understanding how the English text follows the original Greek. At this price, everybody can have one!
References– cross-references to related scriptures are found in multiple places on every page of a study Bible.
Book Introductions– You can find a short summary at the beginning of each book of the Bible, with information about the author, date and main theme of the book.
Maps– place maps give the reader a lot more context to help with their understanding
Timelines and Charts– give the reader a deeper context of the times and places
Commentary– commentary written by leading scholars opens up the reader to deeper knowledge and greater understanding
Character Studies– An in-depth look at what we know about each Bible character
Why Get a Study Bible?
“The [Bereans] were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, since they received the word with eagerness and examined the scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Consequently, many of them believed, including a number of the prominent Greek women as well as men.” Acts 17:11-12 ESV
Has the time come for you to get your own study Bible?
Maybe it’s because God has now given you the grace and character to become like the Bereans, who studied the scriptures daily to see if these things are so.
Or maybe you want to build your faith in order to become a more effective witness of the new life God has given you through Jesus Christ.
Or it’s possible you want to become more effective as an apologist (defender of the faith) to counter the arguments of skeptics and cynics alike and to show them the way to drink the Living Water of scripture.
So let’s take a closer look at the study Bibles available today:
Should You Get a Study Bible?
Any believer who really wants to know more and to become a more effective believer should consider buying a study Bible.
Do you want to grow a stronger and deeper faith? Get a study Bible!
Are there reasons to not get a study Bible?
I think it is good for a mature believer who has already read a study Bible for years to go back at some point and read a plain old Bible with no study notes to get a fresh perspective.
A careful and prayerful reading of the scriptures by a mature reader can bring new understanding as they consider the truths found in the Bible in a new light.
Beyond that, I just can’t imagine not having a study Bible.
A good study Bible helps you accelerate your growth as a believer.
If you are curious about something your pastor said, or that you heard in a Bible Study, or in some other teaching, you can look up the subject in your study Bible and be like the Bereans were.
If you are preparing for ministry, or preparing to go to seminary, a study Bible is one of the first things you should get. It will help you lay the foundation for bigger things to come.
How to Choose a Study Bible
We can now see that there are many, many study Bibles. With so many to choose from, how can anybody make an informed choice?
And if you’ve noticed all the high ratings on Amazon, there really isn’t a bad one in the bunch.
A big reason they all get such high ratings is because once you begin learning so much about God’s word through your own study Bible, you appreciate it all the more – and what’s not to love about that?
Each author –and each publisher of Study Bibles takes the word of God very seriously and delivers a beautiful Study Bible to the Bible student.
But as if it isn’t difficult to choose already, here’s the epic list of great study Bibles available today:
Epic List of Study Bibles
There are many great Study Bibles available today. It’s impossible to go into depth about every one, so here’s the Epic List –with links to Amazon for each one. If you want to check them out, you’ll find it very easy.
When you click on these links, they will open up in a new window. Then read on for the different versions of Study Bibles that have withstood the test of time and made it to the short list!
CSB Everyday Study Bible – a smaller size, go-anywhere CSB Study Bible.
The Living Insights Study Bible –by Chuck Swindoll
The Complete Jewish Study Bible – Easily see how the Old Testament points to Jesus and quickly get a handle on all major Jewish customs
Reformation Study Bible –edited by R.C. Sproul
ESV Archaeology Study Bible –hundreds of maps and photos of archaeology finds that support knowledge of the Bible.
Next I will get into what I call the short list, because these are the core -the tried and true Study Bibles. Each one has been around long enough to withstand the test of time.
What is a Good Study Bible for Beginners?
There are study Bibles suited for many different people. Is there a study Bible best suited for younger believers of junior high or high school age who want to grow a deeper faith?
Or for folks who want short, quick answers? And for newer believers who aren’t quite sure where to start?
Here is a list of some study Bibles for beginners.
Don’t get the wrong idea. These are serious study Bibles suitable for any believer.
Most study Bibles for beginners have enough content to carry you through to a very deep level of understanding.
I selected these study Bibles as suitable for beginners because they are easy-to-read, colorful and informative.
They present God’s word in an engaging way that is very relevant for the current times. And some are value-priced.
They are all popular and they all have great ratings on Amazon. But even more important, most of them have won awards for the quality of the work that went into them.
They are very friendly to the beginner, yet they are also very appropriate for a serious Bible student.
Speaking of beginners, I just published this new post “Must-Have Children’s Bibles for Every Age and Learning Style” that you will definitely want to read for any of the younger Bible students in your life.
Life Application Study Bible
The Life Application Study Bible, published by Tyndale is currently the World’s biggest seller with over 20 million in print. It’s hard to go to a church or Bible study anywhere and not see one!
It has a very attractive layout and is very thoughtfully designed to make it easy to learn more about the who, what, where, when, why and how of every Bible story.
Here’s an unboxing video:
The LASB editorial team makes regular updates to the Biblical helps every few years to keep the notes relevant to our times.
It was originally published in 1988 by Tyndale, and they just came out with the 3rd edition that’s available on Amazon.
Now the layout is all in color and it’s even friendlier and easier-to-use than ever.
It’s available in two translations: The NIV and NLT.
The One Year Chronological Bible
The One Year Chronological Bible by Tyndale is an award-winning, colorfully-illustrated Bible that is arranged with events in chronological order.
It has many maps, illustrations, timelines, archaeological notes, photos and other Bible helps.
The illustrations and explanations are great for a beginner, but there is plenty of material here for the experienced Bible student who wants to learn more.
The photos and illustrations are first-class and it’s a joy to read. This version on Amazon is the New Living Translation (NLT). It’s a very easy-to-read translation.
The One Year Chronological Bible is also available in the King James Version.
Since it’s a One-Year Bible, it’s great for the student who wants to study the entire Bible over the course of one year. One way it can be used is in a church Sunday school class. Here’s an example of a church using it for systematic instruction over many years.
Why would you want to get a Chronological Study Bible?
This kind of Bible places the order of events in chronological order. Believe it or not, the order of books in the Bible is not necessarily chronological order.
Most scholars say the book of Job is the oldest book of the Bible, but in Christian Bibles, Job shows up as the 18th book.
This can cause confusion for a Bible student. That’s why so many people get this Bible! Then since it’s a One Year Bible, you can make a plan to get through it in one year and learn so much!
The MacArthur Study Bible
John MacArthur is a distinguished and influential Bible teacher with decades of ministry behind him. Many people have gained a lot of wisdom and insight by reading his books.
The MacArthur study Bible has been in print since 1997 (Thomas Nelson Bibles) and has sold over 2 million copies.
It is available in the New King James Version (NKJV), the New American Standard Bible (NASB), English Standard Version (ESV) and New International Version (NIV).
Due to its amazing success, it has also become available in the Spanish, German, French, Italian and Portuguese languages.
MacArthur put a lot of personal effort into this work, writing over half of the 20,000 study notes himself in longhand!
It’s no surprise then that he’s earned such a reputation as a thorough scholar who shows a great love for God’s word.
The 2nd Edition came out in 2019. You can get a great look at a sample of the book of Ephesians Scripture Journal version direct from Thomas Nelson, and you can buy it here from Amazon.
The only caveat here is that MacArthur is a cessationist. This means he believes that the gifts of the spirit are a thing of the past.
If you believe God still gives spiritual gifts to his people, you could find yourself at odds with John MacArthur.
But you could still find his study Bible a good read because he is so good at teaching other things.
If you are a believer that the gifts of the Spirit are still active today, you could still benefit greatly from the MacArthur Study Bible.
ESV Student Study Bible
This Bible is value-priced in hardcover for easy gift-giving to a younger Bible student. It’s a full ESV Bible with fewer notes than the full version and you can check it out right here on Amazon.
“Fewer notes” still means a generous 12,000 notes, plus 120 Bible character profiles, over 80, maps and charts and other features that make it a great value!
It’s a perfect first-time Bible (unless your little one already has a Children’s Bible). It comes with a hard cover, so it’s not built for decades of constant use. It’s great for a teen or pre-teen on your gift list.
It’s got the same great format and readability of the full ESV Study Bible you’ll see below. And it’s great reading for believers of any age!
What’s the Best Study Bible for College Students -and Beyond?
The Apologetics Study Bible
During our current times, we are witnessing a phenomenal increase in mankind’s knowledge.
New facts in the realms of science, archaeology, linguistics and history are illuminating our knowledge of facts from the Bible.
But it hasn’t been easy to find these facts all in one place until now. The Apologetics Study Bible has a collection of knowledge from many different disciplines showing the Bible’s wisdom and foreknowledge.
Did you know the Bible was alone among all ancient books in saying that the universe was created? This is true of not only the “holy books” of antiquity, but all books of antiquity.
Did you know that skeptics and cynics doubted many claims the Bible made, only to see the Bible’s claims proven in the wake of archaeological discoveries?
And scientific discoveries?
And historical discoveries?
The age we live in is a very skeptical one, and many people have come to faith in the God of the Bible after learning these facts.
“Apologetics” means defense of the faith. The Apologetics Study Bible was written for the believer who wants to dig deeper into these truths about the accuracy and supremacy of God’s word.
The Bible has faced criticism from many quarters and it always comes out on top.
Maybe this is why the Bible is called “an anvil that has worn out many hammers.”
These days, skeptics and cynics have become bolder than ever. So it’s important to fuel your own faith with the truth of God’s Word explained in a way that helps you become bold in your faith.
You can get “The CSB Apologetics Study Bible for Students by Sean McDowell on Amazon and become a more effective witness. This is a great resource for young adults!
Sean McDowell has studied apologetics since childhood having grown up as the son of Josh McDowell who is so famous for writing the classic “More Than a Carpenter” that you can also get on Amazon.
So if you want to learn how to defend and advance the faith, Sean is a great guy to learn from.
This lost and dying generation needs to hear the truth and yet finds itself skeptical of the truth until it’s explained to them by an effective apologist.
And that apologist can be you!
The Bible is an Anvil That Has Worn Out Many Hammers.
The Scofield Reference Bible
Cyrus “CI” Scofield was one of the first scholars to make a modern study Bible with notes (Amazon link). Prior to Scofield, you could get a Bible with cross-reference verses, but not real notes.
Scholars long realized there were dispensations (remember Jesus declaring “a New Covenant in my blood”) in the Bible, but Scofield took the concept to a completely new level.
Scofield was a premillennialist. Some folks who believe otherwise might shy away from it, but maybe that’s a good reason to get it.
If you’re not so sure about dispensationalism or premillennialism, why not study it and find out for yourself?
I have my own personal copy of Scofield (KJV) and I’m glad I do.
If you’re looking for colorful illustrations and inspirational quotes, this is probably not the study Bible for you.
Scofield came from a time before you would expect to see color print. Except for the maps, of course. They are in color.
The Scofield Bible was first published in 1909.
The Scofield Bible continues to attract many proponents and detractors –like it or not. His approach is very mainstream.
It was the #1 study Bible in America for much of the 20th Century and is available in many other languages besides English.
Maybe that’s why it has now sold over 8 million copies! Nowadays, the Scofield Bible is available in 4 different English translations; the KJV, NKJV, NASB and the NIV.
Cyrus Scofield himself was definitely a sinner for many years before making Jesus his Lord. But his conversion story is very dramatic and compelling.
If you want a fresh look at the Bible, take a look at the highly-rated and classic Scofield Bible on Amazon (opens in new tab) and see what you think.
It’s hard to go wrong with a classic like this!
Thompson Chain Reference
Frank Charles Thompson’s first Chain Reference Bible was sold in 1908. Then he joined with the J. Kirkbride Bible Company in 1913.
Over 4 million Thompson Chain Reference Bibles have been sold since then. Kirkbride remains the publisher even today.
His study Bible came out about the same time as the Scofield Bible.
Thompson originally wanted to create a reference Bible for pastors, but many people in his congregation were interested when they saw it.
Since he saw pastors as his original audience, you can see the thoroughness and completeness of the Chain Reference even now. Yet it’s easy enough for anybody to read.
The Thompson Chain Reference is an intricate and meticulous system of references that ties many verses together in a series of ideas for study.
It’s a beautiful study Bible that has withstood the test of time.
The Chain Reference follows a subject (person, place, thing) throughout the entire Bible. It’s an ingenious system.
You can look up the subject by reference in the back of the Bible and find all the scripture references.
Or you can go to a passage and see the chain reference next to the verse you’re reading. It will show you the next verse in the chain that you can refer to.
The Thompson Chain Reference includes many maps (color), photos, tables, and articles. The sheer volume of Bible helps make the supply of Bible information almost inexhaustible.
I’ve had my own copy for years, and I highly recommend it. In fact, it was my very first study Bible. I’m every bit as happy with it now as I was when I first got it.
It’s available in the following translations: KJV, NKJV, NASB, and ESV.
The volume and thoroughness of the information make this appropriate for serious in-depth studies, so I would view this as appropriate for the serious Bible student.
Here are some of the studies you will find inside the Thompson Chain Reference:
Topical Bible Readings
In a list of some of the best Study Bibles available today, this century-old system that Thompson invented still stands tall.
You’ll never run out of great information using the Thompson Chain Reference!
The ESV Study Bible
The ESV Study Bible is an award-winning Bible that was first published in 2001. Since then, it has developed a very strong following, selling over 1 million copies.
It is the King of Study Bibles for the sheer volume of information. There are over 1 million words of articles. That’s over and above the length of the Bible itself!
One of its signature features is the 100 articles it has on various subjects of interest to any curious student of the Bible.
These articles answer so many questions we want answers to -but don’t know where to look.
And sometimes they answer questions we would never have thought to ask ourselves!
The ESV version is a highly loved and respected word-for-word translation. It is closely related to the NASB, RSV and KJV.
The ESV Study Bible has over 2700 pages. Here is a sampling of the titles of just a few of the many articles:
-God’s Plan for Salvation
-The Reliability of the Manuscripts
-Archaeology and the Bible
– How the New Testament Quotes and Interprets the Old Testament
-The Person of Christ
The ESV Study Bible is by Crossway. Its reviews average a stunning 4.6-out-of-5 stars and you can get it on Amazon.
The Ryrie Study Bible
Charles Ryrie wrote his study notes in the 1970’s. It was a time of upheaval, but Ryrie held true to conservative Bible hermeneutics and is known as a great scholar.
Ryrie’s credentials include his time at the Dallas Theological Seminary (as Professor of Systematic Theology and Dean of Doctoral Studies) and his publisher is Moody Press.
Features of the Ryrie Study Bible include a Doctrinal Outline and Index of Subjects. It has over 10,000 study notes, and has sold over 2.8 million copies since it was published in 1978.
You can get more information about the Ryrie Study Bible on Amazon here.
As with John MacArthur, Ryrie was a cessationist. (He died in 2016) This means he believed the gifts of the Holy Spirit were a thing of the past.
And just as with MacArthur, whether or not you are personally a cessationist, you can benefit greatly from the wisdom and insight of theologian and Bible scholar Charles Ryrie.
Best Study Bible for Women
Women do so much of the spiritual heavy lifting in our families and churches. Many women are prayer warriors, scholars, writers, teachers and more.
If we look at history, we know nations that embraced the Bible and followed it were kinder to women –and gained more from it- than the nations that did not follow the Bible.
But you wouldn’t know that from today’s news.
Women have more rights and more income and more safety in nations that follow the Bible, because the Bible is the blueprint of God’s design for men, women and children.
But how often do we teach messages that specifically fuel the faith of Christian women? -especially to counter the negative effects of our fallen culture?
Woman’s Study Bible by Thomas Nelson
That’s where the “Woman’s Study Bible” by Thomas Nelson Publishers comes in.
It’s a very highly-rated, study Bible available specifically for women, and you can get it on Amazon.
It has contextual study notes running down each page next to the scriptures. There’s also a Concordance, maps, charts and more.
It’s printed in full color. And it’s just beautiful!
But one of the most amazing features is the “ketubah.” Bible scholars know about this from old Jewish writings. It’s the old Jewish marriage contract that the groom would make for his bride.
What’s so amazing about ketubah? It’s easy for believers to see that it’s a reflection of the wedding between Jesus Christ and his church.
It’s a very one-sided document that places the entire burden of the marriage on the groom. And all the benefits accrue to the bride. It’s so beautiful, men should read it too!
The ketubah is a reminder of the great price Jesus Christ paid for his bride the church. And you’ve just got to see it in the beginning of this Bible.
Here are a few more features you will find in the Woman’s Study Bible:
- Each book of this Bible has an introduction telling details about the title, author, date of writing, themes, outline and other contextual details.
- Explanatory study notes on each page
- Inspirational Christian quotes
- Historical Maps
- Reference Guide
- Tables and charts explain many details (ex. Numbers 2 has a map of the encampment of Israel)
It was prepared by an international panel of women, so it was prepared with sensitivity to many different cultures.
Many women with busy schedules want a study Bible that delivers a lot in a short time. Still others approach it from a more relational point of view.
You want study content that is rich and meaningful that you can apply every day. So it’s great to see a number of publishers have recognized this and made study Bibles just for women.
Many of them come with pretty covers, but there’s much more to a women’s study Bible than just a pretty cover!
Would you like to see a video review of the Women’s Study Bible? Here’s a very good one.
Journaling Study Bible
Another excellent study Bible for women is the Tyndale NLT Inspire Bible. It’s a Journaling Bible –perfect for anybody who wants to write notes as they read.
With all the 5-star ratings (nearly 90% are 5-star -with thousands of ratings and an overall rating of 4.8/5) it’s safe to say this Bible has a lot of fans. It’s an award-winning Bible you can view on Amazon and it is a great gift for the Bible student on your list.
This Bible has a lot of illustrations and most of them are made for the reader to color in herself.
There are plenty of great study Bibles available these days, for yourself or as a gift.
There’s never been a better way for the believer to get strong in their faith, and there’s never been a better time to start studying than right now!
The Choice is Yours
The quality of these Bibles and the love and attention that has gone into them is a testament to what the true word of God means to author and reader alike.
Many serious Bible students are getting Study Bibles from their favorite Bible teachers –like Tony Evans, David Jeremiah, Chuck Swindoll, R.C. Sproul and Charles F. Stanley.
And why not?
These talented and experienced Bible teachers have decades of Bible teaching behind them. They’ve proven their integrity and their love for God’s word.
So –with all these choices- how do you decide which one to get?
The only solution is to buy more than one.