The Bible is a complex book that is teeming with great knowledge woven within its intricate language. To strengthen your faith with God, it is important to read and interpret the scriptures in order to internalize the teachings it offers. Picking up the Bible for the first time (or the first time in a while) may feel like a daunting task. But rest assured! There are plenty of resources out there to help you better understand the word of God, and one of the best of these resources is a good study Bible. There are an endless variety of different translations and versions to choose from, and, when looking to deepen your faith, there may be specific aspects you want to focus on. To help you find the best study Bible to help you grow in your faith, we take a closer look at the Bible itself and what to look for in a study Bible.
What is the Bible?
The Bible is made up of two main sections, the Old Testament and New Testament. While most Bibles contain both of these sections, you can also find Bibles that include just one of these major sections, and some that are even further divided to focus on one particular Biblical book. These can be useful for Bible Beginners unsure of where to start or for those who want to delve into one particular portion of the Bible for closer study. To help you narrow down what part of the Bible you want to study, we break down the two main parts, Old and New Testaments. After determining which Bible and part you want to study first, you can find a study book that can help you further interpret and understand scripture.
The first section of the Christian Bible is known as the Old Testament and consists of 39 books. The Old Testament covers the period of time spanning from the creation of the world to just before the birth of Jesus and documents the ancient history of Israel and provides moral teachings. The Old Testament of the Bible consists of the Pentateuch (containing books like Genesis and Exodus), the Historical Books (with books such as Joshua and Esther), the Wisdom Books (including Psalm and Proverbs), and the Prophetic Books (Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc.).
The New Testament
The New Testament of the Bible consists of 27 distinct books that document and share teachings of Jesus. The New Testament is believed to flow directly from events that occur in the Old Testament. The New Testament can also be divided into different sections. The two main sections are known as the Gospels and the Epistles.
The Gospels include the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. These books together document the birth and ministry of Jesus and also show his significance and sacrifice for humanity. Immediately after the Gospels is the book of Acts, which documents the first days of the church following Jesus’ return to Heaven.
The other major section of the New Testament consists of 21 Epistles, or letters. These letters, written by the Apostles to various early Christian communities, were meant to provide advice for church leaders on how to best commit to Jesus’ teachings. Here you find books such as Romans and Philippians. Finally, the New Testament ends with the book of Revelation which contains different letters to the churches and also interprets the meaning of life from the beginning to the end of the world.
What is a Study Bible?
Now that we have gone in depth on the composition of the Bible, let’s break down the study Bible and how it can help you deepen your faith. The original scriptures of the Bible were written in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic, and although today there are a number of different translations of the text, it can still be a complex text. Studying the Bible truly takes effort and guidance to fully understand the teachings and messages. This is what makes a study Bible so important.
A study Bible, as the name suggests, is a special type of Bible with additional study and guidance resources. This can take the form of indexes and cross-references, maps, short lessons, definitions, and a concordance that can help set you up for success. It can be similar to reading the Bible with a Biblical scholar beside you to help guide you through the scriptures. The time, place, and culture of the Bible can be difficult to understand since our modern times are so distant from these ancient traditions. This goes for not only the historical context but also the language of the Bible.
Since most translations try to follow the original word of God closely, the language can be difficult to follow. Much like it is difficult to read and understand Shakespeare, the language of the Bible uses different idioms and speech patterns than we use today. However, there are translations that use modern conversational English; many prefer to start with that and transition to a translation more faithful to the original text. This allows for a deeper study and more individual reflection. It is important to note that the Bible is not something that is read only once, and instead should be read and studied over and over. There is always more to the story and more to learn!
What Should You Look For in a Study Bible?
After understanding the importance of studying the Bible and how a Study Bible can help, we’ll examine the different considerations to choosing the best Study Bible for you. At different stages of your faith, you may be looking for something different and want to focus on different aspects of your relationship with God. Here are some valuable tools to look for in a quality Study Bible. There are a variety of different Study Bibles that share these characteristics, but they may have qualities that set them apart. Since Bible study is so important to growing your faith, it is important to take the time to choose one that will assist in your studies. Some features to look for in a study Bible include:
- Concordance- A concordance is an alphabetical index of key words and phrases found in the Bible. It shows you all the places these terms occur throughout all books of scripture. Concordances help you to understand the meaning of terms and the context in which those words are used.
- References- These help to connect the scriptures and lessons they provide with other scriptures in the Bible. Much of the lessons in the BIble are interconnected, and this can help you connect ideas together.
- Introductions and Context- While reading individual books of the Bible, an instruction can help provide the necessary context. This can be information regarding who may have written the book, descriptions of theme and setting, and why it is important. A study Bible with an introduction helps to set the tone for lessons learned in the book.
- Maps- This may not seem like an important aspect of a Bible, but understanding the locations in which the scripture takes place helps to bring together ideas and teachings. It gives the reader a better context for the events that as they unfold in the Bible.
- Commentary- This is one of the most important aspects in a study Bible because the author’s notes can help point out important details and provoke your own thoughts. These comments can give direction while reading and point out aspects that you may not have noticed your first time through.
- Definitions- Definitions can help explain unfamiliar words or words whose Biblical usage is different from our modern understanding.
- Guided Questions- Guided questions help you to structure your personal reflection after reading and provoke additional thought as you seek to take what you have learned and apply it to your life. Applying lessons learned from the Bible is an important aspect of a life of faith. Study Bibles that guide you to applying these concepts to your life can help deepen your faith.
- Author- As you set out to find the right study Bible for you, it is helpful to consider the author’s personal context. There are many different denominations and perspectives; you may want someone who comes from a similar background or tradition as you do. Or, perhaps, you are looking to expand your perspective and want to learn from an author approaching scripture from a differing denomination.
Top 5 Picks For Best Study Bibles to Deepen Your Faith
This NLT Life Application Bible is a top-seller for a reason. The Bible is translated in New Living Translation, which adapts the original text into modern English that is easy to understand. The study Bible features introductions and overviews for each individual book of the Bible. There are also maps and charts throughout to provide you with quick referencing and a deeper understanding of the context. One aspect that sets this Bible apart is its application notes that help you apply these learned lessons and teachings to aspects of your everyday life. This study Bible can be great for beginners and those looking for a more in-depth study.
- NLT translation is easier to understand
- Application notes help guide you
- Comes in different sizes and designs
- NLT translation may be too simplified for some
- Print is a bit small
The Quest Study Bible is another best-seller that can assist you in reading scripture. This study Bible focuses on questions that you may have and provides insight and also provokes thought. This study Bible features a New International Version text that provides an adequate balance between the original text of the Bible with modern language that we can better understand.
- Great for those that have many questions
- Provokes thought
- Comes with reading plan with different tracks
- Pages are thin
- Print can be too small for some
The HarperCollins Study Bible is a student version that can assist anyone on their path to deepening their faith. This study Bible features the New Revised Standard Version that closely resembles the original text of the Bible. This Bible features thorough introductions and comprehensive notes for those looking to take a deep dive into the Bible. The notes and essays are written by leading Biblical scholars and help to provide additional guidance while reading the text.
- Comes with comprehensive notes
- NRSV version follow closely to original text
- Includes charts and maps
- Not geared for beginners
The Jeremiah Study Bible is written by well-known pastor and author, Dr. David Jeremiah. This study Bible focuses on understanding and interpreting the Bible to apply to each individual. The introductions and study notes are thorough and provide an in-depth study of the text. The study Bible also features additional resources such as highlighted key words, sidebars, full-color maps, and easy-to-read print. This is a comprehensive study Bible that can be great for new believers as well as those who want to deepen their faith using the Bible.
- Through notes and resources
- Written by well-known and respected pastor
- Study notes provoke thought and application
- References have small fonts
- Bible is a bit on the heavy side
There are many high-quality study Bibles that can assist you on your journey to deepening your faith in God. These resources can help you break down the scripture, to take the lessons, and apply them to your daily life. Depending on your focus, you will find a study Bible that works for you. Since there is always more to learn about the word of God, you can always start with one study Bible and try out another to get a different perspective and deeper appreciation of the lessons in the Bible.
Finally, in addition to a study Bible, it is important to have a Bible solely dedicated to the text to help you deepen your relationship to God, once you’ve had a chance to go through all the supplementary material. In these instances, the collection from Alabaster is a good place to start looking as you seek more ways to guide you along your journey.