The Gift of a Good Study Bible

We are built up by God’s truth as we understand it. A good study Bible can help immensely in this department.

Chris Hutchison on March 8, 2019

It shouldn’t be a big surprise by now that I am a fan of study Bibles. I believe that a good study Bible is one of the most important things a Christian can own.

I also believe that Christians should not be afraid to use a study Bible during their regular devotional time. I didn’t always think this way. I’ve counselled people, “Use a study Bible for study, but for your regular devotions, just use a plain Bible so that it’s just you and God.” I now think of this as fairly wrong-headed advice. What good is it to read the Bible if you have no clue what you’re reading? 1 Corinthians 14:6-12 suggests that we are only built up by God’s truth when we understand it. God has chosen to reveal Himself to us in a book, and we should do everything we can to understand it.

This is why study Bibles are so wonderful. They allow you to read the Scripture text, then read the study notes, and then immediately read the Scripture again, this time with (hopefully) more understanding.

In other words, a study Bible can play the role of Philip from Acts 8:31-31: “So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ And he said, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?'”

Now, what I’m describing here requires a good study Bible, one which is designed to help you understand Scripture better. Not all so-called study Bibles have this focus, and there are many which should be avoided.

Here are some study Bibles which I recommend:

ESV Study Bible
This is the gold standard of study Bibles. The sheer size of it gives things away: it’s almost more of a small library than just a study Bible. It is built on the excellent ESV translation, and is packed with charts, maps, book introductions, and illustrations. There’s a supplement at the back full of helpful articles.

The study notes themselves—the main feature of any study Bible—are spot-on, assembled by an international team of top-notch scholars. They are in-depth enough and readable enough to be helpful to a broad swath of people. I wish I could put this resource into everybody’s hands; it’s that good. If you can just get one study Bible, I heartily recommend this one.


ESV Global Study Bible
This is a slightly-stripped down and mildly simplified version of the ESV Study Bible. It’s also more affordable. In fact, it’s free online or in the ESV mobile app if you create an account at https://www.esv.org/subscription/.


NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible
Like many, I have some concerns about the new NIV translation, and wouldn’t recommend it as your main Bible. However, as a secondary study resource, the NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible has a lot going for it. The study notes and articles are on par with the ESV Study Bible in terms of content and quality, and have a particular focus on explaining the unfolding story of Scripture. This would be a worthwhile addition to your library.


ESV Story of Redemption Bible
This study Bible which would be a good choice for a new Bible reader or even someone who doesn’t yet believe the gospel. It’s focus is on helping the reader grasp the big story of Scripture and how it all fits together and points to Jesus.


ESV Student Study Bible
This is a version of the ESV Study Bible specifically adapted for high school and college students. The notes have been made more accessible, and it contains additional helpful tools like a glossary of key terms.


For Children
Crossway (publishers of the ESV) also have some excellent Bibles for children which contain notes, illustrations, and helps aimed at different age groups. Click on the titles below for more information: