Are you wondering what Study Bible to use? These tips will help you choose a good Study Bible that will help you dig into God's Word with confidence. | IntentionalByGrace.com
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How to Choose a Good Study Bible

Are you wondering what Study Bible to use? These tips will help you choose a good Study Bible that will help you dig into God’s Word with confidence.

Once you start studying God’s word for yourself, having a good Study Bible can come in handy.

Through the years, I’ve used various Study Bibles, but I’ve learned that all Study Bibles aren’t created equal. There are a lot of really good ones out there, but then there are some that claim to be Study Bibles but are really just Inspirational Bibles.

Are you wondering what Study Bible to use? These tips will help you choose a good Study Bible that will help you dig into God's Word with confidence. | IntentionalByGrace.com

How Do I Choose a Good Study Bible?

When deciding what kind of Bible to use for studying, I’ve found a few simple questions can usually help siphon the bad from the good pretty quickly.

1. Is it a translation or a paraphrase?

All Bibles in the English language are considered translations. The original text was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic.

When choosing a Study Bible, you want to consider if the translation you are choosing is a literal translation, thought for thought translation, or paraphrase.

The following are how various translations break down. There are more translations available, but this will give you an idea of some of the most popular translations available.

Literal Translations:

  • King James Version (KJV)
  • New King James Version (NKJV)
  • English Standard Version (ESV)
  • New American Standard Bible (NASB)

Thought for Thought Translations:

  • New International Version (NIV)
  • New Living Translation (NLT)

Paraphrases:

  • The Message (MSG)
How to Choose a Good Study Bible

When choosing a Study Bible, I recommend going with a literal translation. Thought for thought translations are good for general reading, but when it comes to serious study, a literal translation will make for better study.

Related: What’s the Difference Between Bible Reading and Bible Study?

Paraphrases of the scriptures shouldn’t be considered the Word of God. I look at them as more of a “commentary” of the Bible, and not to be mistaken for a literal interpretation of the scripture.

Paraphrases should be used with extreme caution.

2. What study tools does it have available?

When choosing a good Study Bible, you want the Bible to have some key features that will make your study time more fruitful.

Features of a Good Study Bible include:

  • Concordance
  • References
  • Introductions
  • Maps
  • Timelines/Charts
  • Commentary (optional, but recommended)

Of course, there could be other tools available to you within the Study Bible, but this will get you looking at the Study Bible a little more critically.

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3. Does it seek to help me understand the original meaning of the text?

When choosing a Study Bible, it’s important to understand if the commentary within the study notes will help you interpret the original meaning of the text or if it is a regurgitation of another person’s study or interpretation.

The truth is that a good Study Bible doesn’t need to have additional commentary of the text. It is helpful when you get snagged up, or you’re just getting started reading and studying the Bible for yourself. But sometimes having the commentary of the text available so easily tempts you to jump right to someone else’s interpretation of the scripture instead of allowing the Holy Spirit to help you divide the scriptures for yourself.

A good Study Bible will give you the tools you need to come to your own conclusions. It won’t tell you how the text should be applied in your life. Application is for the Holy Spirit to work in you.

A good Study Bible will help you understand the original meaning of the text so that you can rightly interpret for your own life.

These three simple questions will help you determine if the Study Bible you’re considering will enhance your understanding of God’s Word. 

How to choose a good study Bible, and other Bible Study tips to help you read God's Word. | IntentionalByGrace.com

My Favorite Study Bibles

There are a lot of really great Study Bibles on the market, but I wanted to share with you my two absolute favorites.

If you’re still confused about which Study Bible to choose for your own study time, then consider starting with one of these two.

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ESV Study Bible

I’ve been using the ESV Study Bible for nearly ten years.

What I love about it:

  • In depth Introductions for each book of the Bible (including author, title, date, location, themes, literary features, basic outline, and more!)
  • Good list of scholars who contributed to the Study Bible (93 in all)
  • Offers various perspectives on portions of scripture that tend toward controversy instead of taking a definitive stance
  • Full color maps, charts, and illustrations
  • Additional Articles and Resources on Biblical Doctrine, Biblical Ethics, tips on reading the Bible, the History of Salvation, and more!

What I don’t love about it:

  • Jesus’ words aren’t in red
  • No room for my own note taking within the Bible (a little wider margin would have been helpful)

Overall, this is hands down an incredible Study Bible that makes for an invaluable resource for any student of the Bible.

The New Inductive Study Bible

The New Inductive Study Bible is a new Study Bible for me. I’ve been using it for about a year now, and I absolutely love it.

What I love about it:

  • Based around the Inductive Study Method
  • Includes teaching on how to use the Inductive Study Method approach to scripture
  • Filled with full color maps, timelines, and illustrations of key structures in the Old Testament
  • Provides general instructions for each book of the Bible (including instructions on what to look for in each chapter, questions to ask as you go, and things to think about)
  • Leaves room for you to write in the margins
  • Includes additional study helps in the back of the Bible including Bible study plans

What I don’t love about it:

  • Jesus’ words aren’t in red
  • Doesn’t answer easily the key elements of each book (who wrote it, when was it written, etc.)

Overall, I use these two Study Bibles together most of the time. What one lacks the other makes up for.

If I had to choose just one to start with, I would go with the New Inductive Study Bible first. Then as soon as I was able to afford it, I would add the ESV Study Bible to my stack.

Choosing the right Study Bible can be a little overwhelming at first, but I hope that these simple questions and recommendations will help get you started.

What about you? Do you have a Study Bible that you love? Tell us about it in the comments!

What is a the best Study Bible and How to use a Study Bible to choose the best Bible you can study with. | IntentionalByGrace.com

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12 Comments

  1. I also use the new inductive study bible. I love that it allows me to receive what God wants me to see in the scripture and not what someone else sees. Then I can go and look at commentaries to glean more. But it’s most important that I allow God to direct me to see what HE has for me.

    Thank you for these great tips.

  2. First of all, thank you for your godly perspective on each of these questions you have posed. I would think that I had typed the article, except…I didn’t. ?

    I have been using the ESV study Bibke for a year and a half now and I LOVE it! That being said, I am tempted to add the Inductive study Bible too! Although I may have to wait a bit for the mere fact that I haven’t exhausted all the goodies in the study Bible yet. (Although I am well on my way to doing so!)

  3. I have the Beautiful Word NKJV Bible and I absolutely love it! It’s a journaling bible so there are wide margins plus more blank pages in ge back for notes, and Christ’s words are in red. Things I don’t like there are no maps or concordances or anything else for that matter but I do have other resources for those! Easy to read and understand.

    1. I bought it thinking I would love it, but I don’t love it. It’s a great intro to systematic theology, but I dunno…it’s not what I expected. I would just as soon spend the money on an actual ESV Study Bible.

  4. My favorite is the NKJV Nelson Study Bible. I had previously used the NIV Life Application bible, because I thought it was a good one, and my church always used the NIV version in everything. I found that to be a weak translation that I had problems with, and on top of that, the Life Application notes were strongly on the opinion side of things and I found myself frustrated with that. The Nelson Study Bible notes are pretty good, and I am old-fashioned enough that I prefer the capitalization of all pronouns referring to God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit. In some verses, it is sometimes difficult to tell who the writer is referring to when it says he, but if it says He, i know beyond doubt the author is speaking of God. The other reason for me is we are talking about our Lord and Savior, or our Father, and He deserves that tiny extra respect. I occasionally read paraphrases, but not often…just doesn’t have the authority of Scripture.
    I recently heard of a new one I’d like to check out called The Remedy….a paraphrase of the NT that highlights God’s intense and overall great love for us, and refutes the general notion that God is a great big angry judge who is constantly mad at us for not being perfect…this version might be very helpful to some people who have been caught up in a very legalistic denomination, or those who haven’t received the love of Jesus yet.
    I have never read the ESV and your recommendation means alot so I will be choosing one of the 2 above. Because I already have bs tools, would you recommend the New Inductive over the first one? I have the NASB Inductive but don’t use it much. Thank you for this review.

  5. What do you think of the Dake Annotated Reference Bible? My sister recommended it a few years ago when I first started my walk with the Lord.

    1. I’ve never heard of it, so I can’t give any thoughts on it. I’ve often found a Google search helps me learn why a Study Bible was created, who contributed to it, and some basic background information. These are also important key points to consider when choosing a Study Bible.

    2. Just found this forum. Nice article Leigh Ann, thank you!
      Jaimie, I LOVE my Dake! Just be cognizant that he seemed to ascribe to the Word of Faith school of thought and his commentaries are heavily biased in that direction. Remember to view scripture and his comments through the filter of the Holy Spirit. Decide for your self how the Word you are studying speaks to you and helps you at your place in your walk with The Lord and ignore anyone who tells you what ‘level’ your faith should be at or how exactly it is that you lack in faith. Be secure in the Word of God that ‘Every man is given THE measure of faith’ and that ‘Faith commeth by hearing and hearing by the Word of God’. Aside from that, the Dake is super full of insights and relationships between scriptures that I have never seen another commentator draw. There are also LOTS of diagrams, maps and such that can be helpful for visual learners like me.