When I first became a Christian I remember being in awe by all the different kinds – from the numerous translations to the various styles, sizes, and included resources.
I also remember being at a loss for how to read my Bible, especially the Old Testament. By the time I ran into the story of Lot and his daughters I was appalled. I realized Scripture wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies, but raw and real about the sinfulness of human nature and the turbulence of human history.
As beautiful as it is, Scripture is not simply a “love letter from God” to encourage us. It is a diverse collection of Spirit-led works that weave together complex themes, cultures, and prophecies, for the purpose of exalting God and revealing His redemptive plan for the world. The Bible highlights God’s glory in various genres – from poetry to genealogies to proverbs and spiritual laws.
To understand why certain books were written, who wrote them, and how they reveal Christ and the Gospel, it’s helpful to look at the insights of those who have studied them extensively.
That’s where study Bibles come in. In addition to providing the verses, these specially-crafted Bibles include background information and commentaries to assist us in properly comprehending, interpreting, and applying Scripture.
If you’re reading through the Bible in a year or hoping to, study Bibles can be a tremendous help!
Picking a Study Bible
Select a word-for-word translation.
What do I mean? Translating the ancient biblical languages to English is no easy task, and is also subjective to human perception. Word-for-word translations attempt to translate each Hebrew or Greek word to the English equivalent word.
These include ESV, NASB, and KJV.
Other popular versions, such as NIV, NLT, and the MSG are thought-for-thought translations, seeking to convey the idea or concept behind each phrase or sentence. They lean more on the interpretative end, rather than pure translation.
Although thought-for-thought translations can give insight when studying a verse, I think it’s best to primarily reference those with the most precise translation from the original ancient text.
In my review below we’ll look at the newer CSB version, which attempts to translate closely to the text while seeking clarity for a modern audience.
Check the author or authors.
Study Bibles are filled with notes from a scholar of the Scriptures. However, not all scholars share the same doctrinal beliefs, leaning either toward conservative or liberal interpretations of the verses.
When choosing a study Bible, seek one from a trusted pastor or theologian, or doctrinally-sound publishing group. You’ll find that looking for a word-for-word translation Bible will help narrow the selection.
My first study Bible, and one I use often, is by John MacArthur, a solid pastor known for his faithfulness in explaining Scripture verse by verse.
Using a Study Bible
It’s wonderful to have the wise words of scholars and pastors at your fingertips while reading Scripture, but don’t neglect personal study first.
Read the book or passage you’re on without referencing the notes. Systematically highlight, underline, circle, scribble down your own insights in a notebook or in the margins, as the Holy Spirit leads you. In this way you start comprehending the text for what it is, without getting lost in others’ thinking.
Give yourself the opportunity and make the effort to independently understand the meaning of the passage. This allows you to challenge yourself to engage with each word and soak in its richness. You can write down questions your have in your notebook or record baseline observations.
Don’t forget to use your Bible’s cross-references to see how other portions of Scripture can help you grasp the one you’re in.
Once you’ve taken time to process the passage, now you can look in the verse-by-verse notes or feature boxes of your study Bible to help gain added context – such as historical details – and to consider the writer’s interpretations or explanations for tricker verses.
Filter them against your notes to either correct or deepen your original thoughts. I sometimes even underline comments that clarify or highlight the verse’s meaning.
Review: Christian Standard Bible’s Study Bible for Women
Lifeway sent me a copy of this beautiful study Bible written by women for women in the CSB translation in exchange for an honest review.
This is the first study Bible I’ve owned that is specifically aimed for female readers. I not only adore its floral, high-quality design, but its practical features to equip you to glean core themes from the text.
It’s filled with gender-specific resources like biblical womanhood articles, character profiles on women in the Bible, “written on my heart” applications, and a concordance including all women in the Bible.
However, what I most appreciate is that it doesn’t back away from serious study of the Word. Sometimes we as women become lost in the “feelings” or emotional nature of the verses. When we stop there, we often only touch the surface.
While Scripture does move the heart in many ways, it’s extremely important to find biblical truths that inform our view of God’s glory and ground our beliefs.
That’s why it was a delight to see that this Bible fills every book with “Word Study” boxes that look closely at the particular meaning and usage of words in the ancient Hebrew and Greek languages – which often brings so much more to light!
Even more, the Bible has “Doctrine” boxes that emphasize and explain crucial pieces our theology and faith. “Hard question” sections also are scattered throughout to help you think about cultural hot topics and difficult to swallow verses.
Finally, book introductions and timelines provide historical and cultural context, with reading tips needed to mindfully approach a book.
An exceptionally neat part of the intros is that each one asks, “Why should women read [book title]?” This little portion explains the role of women in that time period as well as why it matters to us today as we read these God-inspired words.
Overall, I LOVE this study Bible so far, and also appreciate the CSB translation’s overall mission to “faithfully and accurately capture the Bible’s original meaning without compromising readability, helping you experience God’s truth as never before.”
I look forward to studying Scripture with this translation in addition to my favorites – ESV and NASB.