Updated August 24, 2023
What is the best Study Bible for Christians?
- If you affirm reformed theology and the "doctrines of grace," the best study Bible for you is the Reformation Study Bible. Get the full edition (weighs 2 kg).
- For other evangelical Christians, the best study Bible is the ESV Study Bible.
Below is a written summary of today's best study Bibles.
1. ESV Study Bible (ESV)
If you are looking for a study Bible in the English Standard Version, Crossway’s ESV Study Bible is a terrific option. Besides numerous study notes, book introduction, and cross–references, the ESV Study Bible includes a concordance, 240 full-color maps and illustrations, and additional extensive articles on various biblical topics.
The quality of the study notes is excellent. Many study notes on individual verses are more thorough (historical and cultural context) with more cross references than those found in the Reformation Study Bible.
I recently purchased the ESV Study Bible for my son this past Christmas, so I can recommend the ESV Study Bible without any reservation.
ESV Study Bible Sample Pages
Purchase ESV Study Bible
2. Reformation Study Bible (ESV, NKJV)
Revised in 2015, the Reformation Study Bible is primarily the work of contributors with a background in Reformed theology. There are over 1.1 million words dedicated to verse explanation, and there are additional theological articles. These theological sidebar articles are particularly well written, and they are either written personally or carefully edited by the late R.C. Sproul.
Beautifully formatted, the Reformation Study Bible (2015 edition) is an excellent alternative to the MacArthur’s Study Bible if your theological leanings are more consistent with covenant theology (Presbyterians and Confessional Baptists).
If size and cost is not a major factor, I wholeheartly recommend getting the full edition (2 kg or 4.5 lb) of the Reformation study Bible. The condensed edition and student edition both weigh in at under three pounds. Beside using a smaller font, the student edition and condensed edition are abridged, shortening the study notes and book introductions to accommodate its smaller size. The condensed edition and student edition also omit the invaluable theological articles that is one of the greatest strength of the Reformation study Bible.
Reformation Study Bible Sample Pages
Purchase Reformation Study Bible
3. MacArthur Study Bible (ESV, NASB, NIV, NKJV)
I had attended Grace Community Church during the years that John MacArthur and his staff worked on this study Bible in the late 1990s. I bought the first edition when it was first published in the New King James Version. Today, I have two additional copies in the NASB and ESV.
There are probably more study notes on the New Testament text than any other study Bible in print. The study notes are exegetical, and the second edition is a sizable expansion over the first edition.
John MacArthur is a Calvinist, cessationalist, young-earth creationist, and dispensationalist. But even if your biblical convictions do not fully align with these theological perspectives, the MacArthur Study Bible remains a top three study Bible. It is my favorite study Bible for the NASB.
Purchase MacArthur Study Bible
4. Life Application Study Bible (HCSB, KJV, NASB, NIV, NKJV, NLT)
Over the last 15 years, this study Bible has become one of the best selling Bibles in the United States. For Christians who are looking primarily for a study Bible to help bridge the gap from Bible reading to life application, the Life Application Study Bible remains a fine choice. Now in its third edition, this study Bible is available in almost every modern English translation except the ESV.
One of my friends named this study Bible as his favorite Bible since a common challenge is reading the Bible and being a "doer of the Word." This study Bible with its focus on life application serves Christians well for its devotional use. Sometimes, the most important aspect of Bible reading and study is the practical application of Scripture, and this study Bible challenges the reader admirably.
Purchase Life Application Study Bible
5. CSB Study Bible (CSB)
Published by Holman (affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention), the CSB Study Bible is another top–notch study Bible. If you are using the Christian Standard Bible (CSB) as your primarily Bible translation, this is definitely the study Bible to get.
I even recommend this study Bible if you do not use the CSB as your primary English translation. But if you are only getting one study Bible, choose a study Bible with your preferred Bible translation.
6. NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible (NIV)
Zondervan updated their original NIV Study Bible to this NIV Zondervan Study Bible under the guidance of D.A. Carson. In 2018, it underwent a revision and was renamed the NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible. If your church uses the New International Version (NIV) and you want a study Bible with study notes and theological article, the NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible makes an excellent choice.
I still prefer one of the three study Bibles listed above. However, if you prefer the NIV translation and do not want the MacArthur Study Bible that affirms a young earth, cessation of miraculous sign gifts, God’s complete sovereignty in salvation, and a dogmatic interpretation that God's plan for the church and Israel remain separate, the NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible becomes a great choice.
- NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible for Logos Bible Software
- NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible at Amazon.com
7. New Living Translation Study Bible (NLT)
This study Bible, published by Tyndale, is my favorite study Bible for the New Living Translation (NLT). Even though I don’t use the NLT, the NLT is a top 3 English translation in the United States based on unit sales in recent years.
Some will find the NLT more readable than the NIV (seventh grade level). Purchase this study Bible if you are using the NLT as your primary translation. This study Bible will serve you admirably.
8. Grace and Truth Study Bible (NIV, NASB, Spanish NBLA)
Al Mohler and a group of Bible scholars (some from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), have helped produce a new study Bible published in 2021. It is the Grace and Truth Study Bible. The goal is to deliver a "trustworthy and approachable guide to Scripture to Bible readers." Like most all the study Bibles on this list, this study Bible features a book introduction to each book of the Bible, a cross-reference system, study notes, an NIV concordance, and 14 full-color maps.
9. Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible (NIV, NKJV, NRSV)
If you do not have to the IVP Bible Background Commentary, the Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible best provides the historical and cultural background of the biblical text.
Presently, this study Bible is only available in the NIV and NRSV. For most Christians, I would still recommend MacArthur Study Bible or NIV Zondervan Study Bible as a first study Bible purchase. But the Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible is an excellent second study Bible to help bridge the historical and cultural gap.
Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible (ESV, NASB 1977, NKJV, NIV)
If you want a study Bible to help you with lexical word study, the Hebrew–Greek Key Word Study Bible was created for you. All the most important words are tagged with Strong’s number. There is a concise Hebrew and Greek dictionary in the back of the Bible you can use to look up all the words using Strong’s key numbering. You can do original Hebrew and Greek word studies using this study Bible alone.
Many of the important verbs and nouns are parsed, so if you have a basic understanding of Hebrew and Greek grammar, you can use that parsing information to better understand the underlying grammar.
I don’t recommend this study Bible as a first study Bible purchase, but it is a great study Bible for individuals who have studied beginning Hebrew and Greek. It's also one of the few study Bibles that is available in the original NASB 1977 translation.
Why Christians Should Have a Study Bible
If you only had 50 US dollars to spend on tools to study the Bible, I would recommend purchasing a good study Bible. Study Bibles have several important features that make it an essential tool for Christians.
A. Study notes
Study Bibles contain notes which comment on individual Bible verses. They provide observation, commentary, and insight to help readers with Bible interpretation. In a study Bible, you are carrying a concise whole Bible commentary.
If you want a compilation resource on the doctrines of the Christian faith, consider also getting a systematic theology to complement your study Bible.
B. Book introductions and outlines
Study Bibles include a 1–3 page introduction to each book of the Bible. This introductory material includes information on the original human author, date and context of the original audience, discussion of the book's most important themes, and a summary of the book's purpose. The book outline helps you understand the general flow of the book.
Study Bibles include cross references. The cross–references guide you to other Bible verses and other portions of Scripture that are relevant to the verse you are reading. This helps you to use Scripture to interpret Scripture.
D. Maps and charts
Study Bibles include maps to help you visualize and understand the geography pertinent to the Bible text. Charts help organize information and track dates and events more easily.
Helpful Articles on Study Bibles
- 9 Best Study Bibles on Logos.com
- How to Choose the Right Study Bible
- Study Bibles as Theological Tool Kits
- What Makes a Really Good Study Bible
- 7 Great Study Bibles (Infographic)
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