Optional page text here. The Beast's Lair: Study Bibles vs. Classic Bibles

Friday, February 23, 2007

Study Bibles vs. Classic Bibles

I have found myself having this discussion 4 times within the last couple of months, so I thought it helpful to write my thoughts concerning the use of study bibles vs. normal, classic bibles. When I say classic bibles, I simply mean bibles without any commentary added, perhaps just cross references.

Before we begin, it might be useful to review my brief article on the different kinds of translations available out there.

As is the case for most comparative discussions, there are advantages and disadvantages to both kinds of bibles. Typically, a study bible is a method of combining biblical commentary and the text of the bible in one neat, easy to use source. At the bottom of the page the commentator will write his or her interpretation of what the particular text referenced means. In contrast, a reference bible typically just has cross references in the margins of other scripture to look at for better understanding or for parallel accounts, prophecy, etc. Briefly, here are my thoughts.

Study bibles are best used for your at home in depth study time. They are a tremendous way to intake both the text of scripture and follow up very quickly with some insightful help from right there on the same page. Study bibles are for me most helpful when trying to place a book or event in its proper year or context. They will typically give helpful background and historical context notes that can really aid the understanding of the biblical data.

Having said that, here are my two issues, and they are biggies, concerning study bibles. 1) There is a human tendency to very quickly scan the text and then jump down to the commentary to discover "what it really means." This is deadly for the believer. A few reasons why this is worrisome is because, a)we must remember that the commentary is written by a person just like us trying their best to make sense of Scripture just like us. They will bring with them their own presuppositions and theological tendencies (Calvinism, Arminianism, etc) and the commentary will always be a reflection of those interpretive presuppositions. That is not necessarily bad, but we can never read the commentary as a replacement for reading the text. b)we forget that in the long run, we don't need commentaries. In a powerful truth that I will write about in detail later, we can ask the question, "who is the ultimate author of the Bible?" God, of course, the Holy Spirit filling and moving the biblical authors to write the inerrant, infallible word of God. Now, who convicts and regenerates the lost into faith? The Holy Spirit. So, the Christian has living inside of them the very author of Scripture!! Who in the world needs a commentator when we have the very author inside of us?! 2) Study bibles can be distracting. Two elements of the bible are crucial to the believer. One is bible intake, the other is meditation. Doing something like reading through the bible in a year is awesome because you receive a ton of bible intake. But if that is all you did, you would miss on the meditation. Intake is reading or hearing many verses at once. Meditating is concentrating with the Holy Spirit on a few verses, maybe even just one. With a study bible, that can become difficult to do, because you have tons of cool stuff, charts, maps, diagrams, fold out laminated tables of monies, etc. I love all those things and they are helpful, but I think they can get in the way at times. For those of you who take a study bible to church with you, answer honestly. . .how many times have you found yourself thumbing through all the cool "stuff" and getting caught up in the commentary while the preacher was bringing the message? Its easy to do.

Concerning classic reference bibles, these are typically my preference. I definitely use them exclusively at church and just find something comforting about having the plain ol' text right there in front of me. These bibles are best for meditation and definitely best for sharing the gospel. The weaknesses are fairly obvious. . .if you need to know what year Samuel set out to find the first king of Israel in a moments notice, you are out of luck. I use study bibles every week at home and in my office preparing for lessons and to remind myself of certain elements of the story. I am so thankful for them in that regard.

So, you should get a study bible. You should definitely have a classic reference bible. You should read and use both regularly. You should never depend on anything or anyone except the Holy Spirit to give you the ultimate authority and understanding of scripture. Lastly, different people will experience the bibles in different ways. I have laid out my preferences and some potential concerns for both types. The most important thing of course is that you have a bible and are reading it. So, get to it.

2 Comments:

Blogger Kelly Klages said...

Does anyone *really* need to know what year Samuel set out to find the first king of Israel in a moment's notice? ;o) You make some good points. The "excessive factoid factor" stands out to me. I love charts, graphs, maps, and all that extra paraphernalia. But depending on which study Bible you end up with, you're right-- some of those charts will be mostly useless except as a distraction. (Don't get me started on the "Revolve" magazines.) In fact I've done entire Bible studies where it seems like most of the point of it was an accumulation of historical factoids and details that made us all feel really smart as we color-penciled our booklets, but it didn't really take us anywhere. It gave us information, but not Jesus. What's handy is a study Bible where the notes and charts and stuff are Christocentric and help you read Scripture through the lens of Jesus.

I wish I'd learned earlier in life that different Bible translations (and of course other books) and especially their study notes are created, necessarily, from certain doctrinal presuppositions that are quite different from each other. I don't see a problem with an informed (say) Calvinist purchasing a study Bible with notes from a Calvinist background, since he knows that this confession of faith is the one he stands in agreement with. What's messy is the unsuspecting Calvinist buying a Bible with Arminian study notes, and being perpetually confused that what he's reading in his study notes is different from what he's hearing from the pulpit.

I pretty much exclusively use a "classic" Bible. But not because I hold to a theory of hermeneutics that may suggest that Bible interpretation is something that's personal and just between me and the Holy Spirit.

February 23, 2007 2:48 AM  
Anonymous agog said...

agreed I too prefer the reading from a plain text bible. . .although I think I own more study bibles. I think another factor is just the practical value, study bibles are bulky and hard to carry.

February 23, 2007 10:50 AM  

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