Beware of Study Bibles?

Steve Burchett over at the Christian Communicators blog writes an article warning folks to be careful of Study Bibles when actually studying the Bible.   He says it is easy to get too involved in the notes and not the actual biblical text.   Its easy to over focus on what the notes say and miss really thinking a passage through, then consulting the notes.

He writes in part:

Does this mean you should throw away your Study Bible? No, but consider three ways to guard against misusing this tool:

  1. Don’t use a Study Bible as your primary Bible. Regular Bible reading, group study, and personal study should be out of a Bible without study notes. This eliminates the temptation to look away from what God has said.
  2. Before you pull your Study Bible(s) off the shelf, force yourself to think hard about the text of Scripture alone. The person who “looks intently” at God’s Word and lives it out is “blessed in what he does” (James 1:25). You may even want to purchase a Bible with wide margins in order to write down your thoughts, or maybe a notebook or journal.
  3. When you struggle to figure out what a verse or passage means, ask the Lord for help. You’ll be amazed at what He helps you comprehend. If you still don’t understand what you are reading, ask Him again and meditate longer. How often do we skip this vital step of depending upon the Lord? Who is more resourceful, a biblical scholar or God?

I say, of course.  He’d agree they have their place and are of benefit to the church, but I think he could be right, some get too over focused on the notes and need to just spend some time reading and thinking through the text (and the surrounding context).  Most importantly, and he mentions this, is do we apply it to life?  Do we put it into practice?


11 responses to “Beware of Study Bibles?

  1. I actually use various reading strategies. I try to read large chunks at a time, focus on small passages or phrases, and then re-read passages. I mostly try to use the notes to help look at different possibilities for rendering a verse, and also to help me understand the context. This is where re-reading helps me out.

  2. This is going to sound prideful but this is why I prefer pew Bibles or reference Bibles. I would never use a study Bible as my main Bible. When people complain about the weight of the ESVSB it makes me wonder.

    What’s really annoying is being in a group Bible study where people have study Bibles and are constantly quoting what the notes say.

    If I do read from a study Bible using it to read the introduction to the book, I often forget to look at the notes. How backwards is that.

    I think #3 should always be done before reading the Bible. But then don’t be frustrated if you still don’t understand and use gifted scholars to help bring understanding out of the text.

  3. I agree. I think those who write study bibles should include that in the preface and especially celebrated theologians. We must not forget that the bible is inspired and though it does take some scientific methodology (literature, genre, historical and canonical context) we can have confidence in the Spirit. I think a basic inductive class would serve many of us greatly.

    However, we are taught that only those with seminary backgrounds can faithfully handle the scripture and if you have not attended your handling is subpar. Maybe you can write soemthing along those lines. God bless and I agree. A really good bible with few notes is the Key Word Study bible. I think it can help a bunch.

  4. A question about Bibles in general. I am a Bible junkie. I have multiple copies for multiple reasons and I just need to stop!

    I have received the new TNIV reference edition in fine leather as a gift from Zondervan and want to make it my primary Bible.

    The question: When you (the broad based “you”, so hopefully anyone reading can give me input) read and study, do you always carry your main Bible with you?

    I want to capture my notes in my main Bible, but because it is so nice (and a bit bulky) I’m not really fond of taking it around. But if I don’t take it around, then I find myself reading other Bibles and wanting to take notes (like at home).

    If you have a nice edition as a main Bible, do you use it in one place or carry it around?

  5. Dan, I carry it around since it is the Bible I use to do preaching from in our church. The TNIV Reference edition isn’t the best Bible for taking notes unfortunately. I know some have their “church” Bible which is usually smaller and more compact, and then they have a study Bible or two at home for more personal pursuits.

    A really really great Bible for taking notes in, in my opinion, is the New Inductive Study Bible put out by Precept Ministries.

    It’s got the margins and everything, charts at the end of each book of the Bible, with a page or two that has lines for notes. It is about the size of the typical Study Bible but depending on the person, it is workable for taking around or just having at home – but the idea is so you can have your notes wherever you go. The best thing is that the “notes” are all yours.

    Which goes along with Lionel’s comments – I believe the inductive method of Bible Study is the way to go in teaching people how to study the Bible on their own and break the mind set that only folks with masters or doctoral degrees can read and understand the Bible – this is just so not true.

    Thanks all for the comments!

  6. Thanks for the comments. The TNIV reference Bible really isn’t the most optimum for note-taking to be sure, but I can’t keep going out and buying Bibles! My wife will have to do an intervention on me! LOL

    Since I have adopted the TNIV for my preaching ministry, I will work on being careful and carrying it around. I also have a copy of the Books of the Bible, which pulls out the verses and chapters. But it’s not a good primary study Bible, either.

    So, I will march on, TNIV in hand, hoping I don’t spill coffee on it!

    And, I will look forward to the new edition where they will put one blank page between a printed page. If that size works, I will probably have to beg my wife to allow me yet ONE MORE purchase!

  7. Dan, that would be interesting, I think I would rather have a blank page or two at the end of each book of the Bible instead of every other page, that would be too hard to work with fromt he pulpit – before I got the TNIV Reference Bible, I was using the Life in the Spirit Study Bible (NIV) but the problem was it had articles interspersed throughout and occassionally it interrupted the flow when reading a passage that went from one page to the next, sometimes I’d have to turn a couple pages.

    Maybe think about giving a few away to get the ISB if you want it – probably better to go to the book store and browse one before deciding.

    Glad you are preaching from the TNIV – what do you think of my post on obnoxious Israel?

    Be blessed!

  8. Dan,

    I recently purchased the TNIV with blank pages, the one that is NT only. It is great and I think the full Bible version coming out later this year should be just as nice. It’s a shame there are no good wide margin TNIVs.

    All of the Bibles I own with big enough margins to write in are far too heavy to carry with me everywhere. Therefor I simply carry small pocket Bibles everywhere, and use different larger Bibles at home. If I were a minister I would probably invest heavily in a nice wide-margin edition Bible that I used every day and every where.

  9. Brian,

    I had to see it to believe it, but having a blank sheet opposing every single page of the text is great. The only difference I can see with the upcoming edition is two columns instead of single column as in the NT version.

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