"All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness..." —2 Timothy 3:16
The Bible is our best written source for godly advice, guidance for life and relationships, and knowledge about God, His character, and His story. Even though it was written generations ago, the Bible is still relevant today. Maybe you know there are many reasons to read the Bible, but you're not sure how to get started. Maybe you know a little about how to study the Bible, but you're looking for something to help enhance that experience. But do you really need anything other than a good translation of the Bible?
A study Bible still contains the standard text from your chosen translation, but it will have additional commentary and explanations included. The scope and variety of these additions depends on the creator of the study material. Some study Bibles have expanded footnotes, cross references, and even definitions of certain words. Some will give side notes that explain cultural or historical context. Some may even include detailed maps, comparison charts, illustrations, and photos of locations or artifacts. Many will include short studies on verses, topics, biblical figures, practical application, etc. to help guide you through your reading.
A quick look through study Bible offerings at your bookstore will reveal an extensive selection, including every possible emphasis imaginable. You'll find study Bibles that explain various cultural practices during biblical times. Some focus on apologetics, which addresses the tough questions that skeptics might have. Yet others will highlight the original Greek or Hebrew language, adding information regarding the significance of certain phrases. A great number of study Bibles will narrow their focus to a specific audience, such as teens, college students, women or men, parents, recovering addicts, or members of the military. You're likely to find a study Bible for just about every demographic out there!
For a history of how study Bibles came into existence, take a look at the GotQuestions.org article on study Bibles.
As it is for all tools we use to help our spiritual growth (including this site!), we would be wise to use discernment about what we trust. Many study Bibles are created under the supervision of a team of conventional, evangelical Bible scholars, which means they have gone through a rigorous process to make sure they are biblically sound. But some study Bibles are produced by untrained Bible study teachers or church leaders who don't really have a firm grasp on biblical doctrine and/or accuracy. Just because something is printed in a study Bible, that doesn't necessarily mean it is useful or true.
"For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward. Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works." — 2 John 1:7-11
If you read something in a study Bible that doesn't seem biblically-sound, do your research by comparing those notes to other commentaries and what Scripture actually says. Any advice or teaching that goes against biblical principles is not to be trusted.
Most bookstores will have an incredible range of study Bibles, so it can be a little overwhelming to try and pick one. To find one that will work for you, consider what you want to achieve with your new study Bible. What type of Bible study are you doing? Are you looking for a scholarly resource or more of an application resource? Do you want a study that will help you as a student? Do you want something that will help you become a godlier man or woman specifically? Or are you simply looking for something to help you make a habit of reading the Bible daily?
The answers to these questions can help you narrow down your search and find a study Bible that will be accurate, helpful, and easy for you to understand. Try asking Christian friends or family members for recommendations and consider all your options.
In the meantime, there's certainly nothing wrong with simply taking out your trusty conventional Bible, some paper, and your favorite writing utensil, and allowing the Holy Spirit to lead you to a place to read God's Word. Then you can do some research on your own with an online commentary like BibleRef.com. You don't need a study Bible to study the Bible; you just need a Bible! (And even then, you could get away with merely having internet access.) But the right study Bible for you can help you reach those "above and beyond" goals and make daily Bible study a habit.
A study Bible contains the standard text from your chosen translation, but it will also have additional commentary and explanations included. The scope and variety of these additions depends on the creator of the study material. Use discernment when choosing a study Bible. If you read something in a study Bible that doesn't seem biblically-sound, do your research by comparing those notes to other commentaries and actual Scripture. Any advice or teaching that goes against biblical principles is not to be trusted (2 John 1:7-11).
Cat is the web producer and editor of 412teens.org. She loves audiobooks, feeding the people she cares about, and using Christmas lights to illuminate a room. When Catiana is not writing, cooking, or drawing, she enjoys spending time with her two kids, five socially-awkward cats, and her amazing friend-amily.