When it comes to studying the Bible, not only are there many choices of translations, but also many choices of study Bibles. Here is an overview of some that I have found helpful.
There are several general study Bibles that are connected directly to a certain translation of the Bible. If a person cannot afford an entire set of commentaries, or wishes to have commentary on the whole Bible in one volume, these study Bibles are the best option. The NASB Study Bible (also available with the same notes as the NIV Study Bible), the HCSB Study Bible, the ESV Study Bible and the Jeremiah Study Bible (NKJV) are examples of this. Each of these study Bibles have extensive introductions to the books of the Bible, maps, and notes at the bottom of the page to explain the text in the particular translation used. The ESV Study Bible is the most scholarly and exhaustive of these study Bibles. The HCSB Study Bible is in a more popular style, and makes the best use of color, making it the easiest to read. The Jeremiah Study Bible has notes by popular Bible teacher, Dr. David Jeremiah.
Some study Bibles focus on a special purpose. The Archaeological Study Bible (NIV) includes notes and articles that explain the cultural and historical background of the Bible. The Life Essentials Study Bible (HCSB) and Life Application Bible (available in NLT, NIV, NKJV, NASB) focus on applying the truths of scripture to our lifestyle. The Life Essentials Study Bible makes use of QR code. Readers can scan the code with their mobile phone and watch a video of a Bible teacher explaining the passage in greater depth. The Discover God Study Bible (NLT) focuses on devotional and doctrinal truth. This is an excellent study Bible for a new believer. The Apologetics Study Bible (HCSB) includes notes and articles that defend the Christian faith against non-Christian religions and skeptics.
All of these study Bibles are excellent resources in shedding light on God’s word. I refer to many of them on a regular basis, depending on how I am studying a particular passage. But none of these aids can substitute for simply reading the text first yourself. I would recommend you read and read again the text and make your own notes on what you observe before you turn to these or any other study aids. After your own study, check your observations with those of the experts. That way, you will allow the Holy Spirit to speak directly to you through scripture, and to speak to you through those who have studied it before you.
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The Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) is an excellent Bible translation that premiered in 2004. It is more readable than the New American Standard Bible (NASB), but more accurate than the New International Version (NIV). However, until now there has not been a really good study Bible available in the HCSB, with the exception of the Apologetics Study Bible, which is really intended for scholarly readers. The HCSB Illustrated Study Bible was not really a study Bible, but more of a Bible with a lot of illustrations. The absence of a good popular study Bible in this good translation is about to change in October 2010.
The HCSB Study Bible was published in October 2010. I had the opportunity to study a preview copy and later I reviewed a hardbound copy.
As a busy pastor, I love the rich resources available all in one volume in the HCSB Study Bible. This study Bible takes some of the good qualities of both the HCSB Illustrated Study Bible and the HCSB Apologetics Study Bible, but much more. The Apologetics Study Bible is more scholarly, whereas the HCSB Study Bible takes a more popular approach. However, don’t let that statement mislead you. The HCSB Study Bible is very thorough in dealing with all kinds of issues of Bible interpretation and the footnotes do an excellent job of discussing the important issues of interpretation, historical background and theology. It has all of the things one would expect in a study Bible, including center column cross-references, helpful notes at the bottom of the page, maps, introductions to each book of the Bible and a concordance in the back (one negative is that the concordance is not a full concordance, but only a 12-page topical concordance; I hope this will be corrected in future editions). But it also has some extras that set it apart from any other study Bible I have seen: word studies of Hebrew and Greek words, time lines to place events in their historical chronology, a Bible reading plan and essays on theological issues. It has an abundance of full-color photographs to illustrate Bible times and places. I particularly like the word studies. When Luke’s gospel mentions that Jesus was born of a virgin, at the bottom of the page there is a text box with a more detailed explanation of the Greek word “parthenos,” translated “virgin.” The footnotes also make frequent explanation of Hebrew and Greek words used and their translation, which is not often found in study Bible footnotes.
The hardbound volume is well-made. It lies open on the desk, even if is open to Genesis or Revelation. The paper quality is thick enough to write on. I love the use of color in the text: chapters numbers and section headings are in brown, and verse numberings are in blue. This is easier on the eye and helps the reader find his or her place. At the bottom of the page, the textual notes have a tan background, which separates them from the study notes below which have a white background, again making it easier on the eye to find. This study Bible also makes generous use of full-color maps and illustrations. For example, at 2 Chronicles 12 the description of Shishak king of Egypt’s invasion of Israel is illustrated with a full-color map of the battles on the facing page; at John 9 there is a photograph of the Pool of Siloam where the blind man in John 9 washed his eyes.
While it is not perfect, this may very well be the best study Bible available to date.