On Study Bibles

I was asked recently by a friend what I thought of his purchasing the ESV Study Bible. If he thought that I had perused and had an informed opinion on this particular study bible, he was wrong. If, though, he imagined that I had an opinion, well, on that score he was not far off. I reproduce my (slightly edited) answer here and in a subsequent post because I think there are some important matters the very existence of study bibles raises.

Several responses come to mind.

1) Since I don’t use a study bible, I’m not a good one to review this one for you. I’ve never held a copy in my hand, never flipped through the pages, never looked directly at any of the notes. So, I have no personal knowledge of it. That said, I can’t imagine where I would quibble with it. I’m sure the comments are sound and trustworthy. I suspect that in the study bible world, you could do much worse.

2) That said, I’m not a big fan of study bibles in general. You may write this off as one of Randy’s many idiosyncrasies, a word which has a lot in common with ‘idiot’ and ‘crazy’, but I think I have some good reasons for my tepid attitude.

a. Study bibles are heavy. Probably not the best reason, but it does play into my thoughts on the matter. People don’t normally spend the money for a study bible and then more money for one to cart around – they cart around the large study bible. There is I suppose the cardio-vascular benefits to consider here, but aside from that, it is something to take into consideration. (Wouldn’t it be great to be able to leave the notes at home and use them only when you needed them? More on that later.)

b. More important reasons for questioning study bibles are these:

i. When studying a text of Scripture, what is the best way to approach a difficult section? The best way is to stare at it, ask questions about it, ponder it, wrestle with it, and think through a few ways of unraveling the puzzle. That is hard, but it is the best way to really chew on scripture and allow scripture to get into our heads and hearts. It’s after wrestling with a text’s possible meanings ourselves, that there is value in consulting what others have said about the text. The major and most weighty problem I have with study bibles is that they encourage laziness in confronting the text. They allow us to too swiftly find an answer, and not just any answer, but, if we are not careful, an answer we consider to be THE answer because RC Sproul (or Charles Ryrie, or whomever) said it. 

ii. A subtle but consequent result is that the lines between the text of scripture (fully authoritative) and a given interpretation of that text (not necessarily authoritative) begin to blur because the two occur on the same printed page between covers that are stamped ‘Holy Bible’. This is subtle, I know, but I think it is an issue. Months, years later, we may find ourselves searching for something we read in the Bible, when, in reality, it’s not in the Bible at all – it was in a footnote or a side bar in a study bible we once owned.

These concerns, to me, are weighty and worth your consideration. But I’m not going to condemn anyone for disagreeing with me. And like I said, I think if one is going to get a study bible, this is probably a good choice.

To be continued…

One thought on “On Study Bibles

  1. child4

    I’ve heard this before. And now I have a slightly used NKJV study Bible….; you (or anyone who wants it) may have it. We saw that there is an ESV study Bible but decided against it for these very reasons.

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