Recommendations from Pastor Dan
Versions of the Bible—I’ve found the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) and the New International Version (NIV) to be solid translations that are very readable to modern ears. There’s also a tNIV (with more inclusive language) and an NIrV (for elementary-age children or beginning readers). I prefer the NRSV’s translation (and it is what we use in worship). The difference between the NRSV and NIV translations is fairly minor, but the difference in study notes between the two versions is dramatic—with the NRSV study Bibles having vastly superior scholarship in their notes.
Have Two Study Bibles—I recommend all adults to have at least two study Bibles, one focused on helping the reader to approach the Bible devotionally, the other providing notes that explain difficult passages, describe historical and cultural background, and give citations for other parts of the Bible that are referred to in a text.
- A good devotional Bible. These Bibles are focused on helping the reader to approach scripture for spiritual sustenance and guidance.
- A study Bible with good notes. These Bibles teach the reader about historical, cultural, and other aspects needed to best understand individual passages. They also have many notes for understanding the connections between other passages in the same book or with other books of the Bible. All study Bibles do a lot of interpretation. The ones below are based on scholarship and theology that I trust.
Much of our use of the Bible is for devotional purposes. We read it seeking to let the Spirit guide us and form us as disciples. We want to know how it speaks into our lives. For this kind of reading, I recommend the following two Bibles:
- The Serendipity Study Bible for Groups. A great NIV study Bible from a different angle. Rather than give explanations to help better understand texts, it has questions in the margins of each page. Intended for use with small groups but also helpful for devotional reading, it moves from opening questions to progressively deeper ones on each text. It is great for understanding how passages of scripture speak in to our lives. It has great study plans for planning your approach to reading scripture. These plans and the questions in the margins make it a unique aid for new and experienced readers of the Bible alike.
- The Life with God Bible. Publisher’s Weekly notes that this study Bible mixes “the life-application practicality of a devotional Bible with the expertise and commentary of a study Bible and the user-friendly graphics of an illustrated Bible…An opening essay encourages readers to see the entire Bible as ‘the unfolding story of God's plan for how we can have an intimate love relationship with our Creator,’ while 15 other essays speak to various aspects and stages of that relationship, from exile and travail to Christ's coming and the future hope of eternity. The editors also include spiritual exercises, profiles of key biblical figures and discussions of how those individuals practiced spiritual disciplines like prayer and worship.”
Study Bibles with Good Notes
The first three are best for readers who are relatively new to Bible study for several reasons: 1) They don’t assume familiarity with academic approaches to studying the Bible or the language that comes with them, 2) They make it easy for the reader to get some basic context and read devotionally while not introducing ideas about biblical interpretation that may not be helpful for guiding the reader through early stages of learning to read and apply scripture to their lives, 3) They typically have fewer notes and thereby focus the reader’s attention back on the scripture.
- The Discipleship Study Bible—The most accessible NRSV study Bible with full notes on each chapter. This is my top recommendation for most people who have not yet read the majority of the Bible. Its editors are solid academicians, but they write at a level that is easy to understand. The notes also limit how much the reader is exposed to the biblical scholarship that may confuse newer readers.
- The Access Bible—An NRSV study Bible marketed as “a resource for beginning Bible students.” I agree with that, though my cursory comparison of it with the Discipleship Study Bible leads me to believe that it is a bit more targeted to the beginning reader who also wants a little more to chew on academically. However, the newest version only comes in paperback.
- The Student Bible (NRSV)—Apparently it’s been out for quite a few years, but I just discovered that it comes in an NRSV edition. By the name alone, it may appeal more to teens and twenty-somethings. It has helpful plans for reading, and good but short introductions to each book. Its notes on each chapter are very limited, though.
Study Bibles to Really Sink Your Teeth Into
These three Bibles don’t hold back much when it comes to drawing from current scholarship. Their academic approach could be distracting for the devotional reader. However, for the reader who has become familiar enough with scripture to begin noticing the differences between the four gospels, the sometimes jarring shifts in perspective or writing style in some books, and the “inconsistencies” within the texts, having one of these study Bibles becomes a “must.” All three have excellent scholarship and commentary.
- New Interpreter’s Study Bible—Draws from the excellent New Interpreter’s Bible commentary series to put great study notes into an NRSV Bible. This Bible has the longest sections of notes of any study Bible I’ve seen. Thus, if you want the most commentary you can buy in a Bible, this is probably the one for you.
- HarperCollins Study Bible—Perhaps the most accessible of these more academic NRSV study Bibles for those who are new to Bible study.
- New Oxford Study Bible (4th Edition)—A New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) study Bible with very good academic study notes. The New Oxford has been the standard for Presbyterian seminary students and professors for many years, I believe. I received my first copy (then an RSV) as a gift from my parents on my 20th birthday. I’m on my third copy now.
Bible Study Tools - www.BibleStudyTools.com
An online searchable Bible providing most translations. The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible is just called the New Revised Standard in this site). Other top choices would be the New International Version and Today’s New International Version (this one is the NIV w/more gender inclusive language, I believe).