Bible Translations

Part 3: What's the Best Study Bible?

By Robin Schumacher

A couple of years ago, my wife was serving as a counselor at a Christian youth retreat. She took along her NASB MacArthur Study Bible, but was told by the person heading up the retreat that she should not use a study Bible, but instead use a Bible with no commentary and just let the Spirit of God speak to her through the text. While I understand the spirit behind what the guy was saying to my wife, I don't agree with his position.

Paul tells us in Ephesians, “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11–12). Now my question is – what is the difference in a gifted expository teacher explaining the Scriptures from the pulpit and a gifted expository teacher explaining the Scriptures with notes inside a Bible? To me, there is no difference.

I personally have many different study Bibles that I use and refer to, and have greatly benefited from the commentary and other information contained within them. Of course, not all study Bibles are created equal and some definitely pack more of a punch than others. Here are the ones I routinely use for study ranked in order of which I believe contain the most beneficial information:

1. The MacArthur Study Bible. This is the Mac-Daddy (pun intended) of study Bibles. To me, the thing I look for most in a study Bible is one that doesn't skip over the tough parts of Scripture and contains commentary for most every verse that's meaningful on the page. I haven't found a study Bible that equals MacArthur's in that respect. I have to smile at some pages in his study Bible like the first page of John where 85% of the page is his commentary and 15% is the actual text, but I appreciate MacArthur's attention to detail and the deep insight he provides.

2. The ESV Study Bible. This study Bible should come with wheels so you can pull it behind you when you go into church. It's a whopper. But, that's good in that the scholars commissioned to provide commentary took their job seriously and supply lots of good information including competing views on difficult passages. Plus, there's a plethora of articles and other help aids that add to the weight of this monster.

3. The Ryrie Study Bible. My Old Testament and Hermeneutics professor in seminary was perhaps the most exacting individual (in a good way) I've ever encountered, and I watched him time after time pull his completely worn out Ryrie study Bible from his briefcase. I also listen to Chuck Swindoll from time to time and hear him say on various occasions “My Ryrie study Bible says…” Both those testimonies were good enough for me. Ryrie constantly provides good insight and historical information for many passages that really help take the reader deeper into the text.

4. The Life Application Bible. When teaching through a passage, good Bible teachers always follow the three key steps for biblical exposition: (1) Observation – what do I see? (2) Interpretation – what does it mean? (3) Application – how does it apply to life? What I like about this study Bible is it reminds you to not forget the third step.

5. The Apologetics Study Bible. Not only do you get good commentary on various passages in this study Bible, but there are solid articles throughout the work that answer critical questions about the Christian faith and give evidence for why what you're reading is true.

6. The Reformation Study Bible. I enjoy Dr. R. C. Sproul's teaching, so I purchased this study Bible primarily because of the linkage to him. However, it has the least about of commentary of all my study Bibles. What I do like, though, are the various historical articles and commentaries on reformed theology that run throughout the Bible.

My Primary Bible

Today, my primary Bible is an NASB Ryrie study Bible that I've had rebound in a premium calf skin exterior (resists marring extremely well and doesn't dry out). Although I believe the MacArthur and ESV study Bibles contain more commentary, the Ryrie Bible contains plenty of good commentary too, plus I like the follow attributes that it offers:

• The print is very clear and bold.
• Having the cross-references for each verse positioned on the outside vs. middle of the page works very well.
• The page margins are wide enough to allow for good note taking (this is the one knock I have of the MacArthur study Bible – the margins are very narrow)
• The pages hold my dry highlighting well (yellow for the Trinity or deity of Christ; green for salvation by grace and original sin; blue for Christ's resurrection references)


It's sometimes said that the best Bible is the one that you read. Maybe that's true, but why not make the Bible that you read one that takes pains to faithfully reproduce the text from the original languages in the most accurate way possible? In my opinion, that equates to using a good literal/formal translation, with my personal favorite being the NASB.

Bible Translations The Series

Part 1: The Issues
Part 2: A Comparison of Translation Methods
Part 3: What is the Best Study Bible?

Image Credit: Alejandro Herrera; "LastBibleStudy"; Creative Commons

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Republished 5-20-13