Featured image of a woman holding a Bible for an article about the best study Bibles

I gave my life to Jesus on November 18th, 1979. I was alone, in my bedroom, and couldn’t sleep because earlier in the evening I had met a group of Christians who prayed like someone was listening on the other end.

Up until that time, I had never met someone who believed God was listening.

Shortly after that, a beautiful Christian couple gave me my first study Bible.

That simple gift set the stage for a beautiful journey that has now lasted almost 38 years. I have had many study Bibles over those years, all of which have helped train and develop me into the teacher and communicator of God’s truths that I am today.

I am unable to buy each of you your first study Bible but I can at least give you some personal recommendations that will help you start your journey into learning the scriptures and understanding how to apply the Bible to your life and others lives, so you too can be a workman rightly dividing the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)

The Best Study Bibles I Am Recommending For You

The Best Study Bible – Editors Choice

The Spirit-Filled Life Study Bible

I have chosen the Spirit-Filled Life Study Bible as the editors choice for two simple reasons. Each of these study Bibles listed is great for what they do. However, the Spirit-Filled Life Study Bible is, in my opinion, the most rounded out of all the Study Bibles. It has a right balance of all the features a person needs in a study Bible.

Secondly, it can be used by a new believer or somebody just beginning to study the Bible, and by a theology student or minister. It was indeed designed to be the best study Bible for any Christian.

I have used mine now for over 25 years, and it is still my primary study Bible.
Here is a video of someone who has named it the best study bible as well. Listen to what he has to say.

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The favorite study Bible of Charismatic and Pentecostal Christians worldwide!

Features

  • 41 Biblical themes highlighted.
  • Over 550 key terms defined.
  • Charts for practical application with every book of the Bible.
  • Detailed book introductions.
  • Verse by verse study notes.
  • 50 articles from respected pastors, teachers and church leaders in the church today!

The Modern Study Bible

The Bible has the title of the world’s best-selling book, ever. Moreover, with 40 million Bibles sold in 2015, the Bible market is doing better than ever. So it is no surprise that the Bible has been translated into many languages from the biblical languages of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.

As of September 2016, the full Bible has been translated into 636 languages, the New Testament alone into 1442 languages and Bible portions or stories into 1145 other languages. (source)

Study Bibles are just a few of the available versions of the Bible. These Bibles are designed for people who wish to become real students of the word. They provide scholarly insight that is designed to help the student develop a stronger grasp and understanding of the original texts, context, and meaning. They produce Christians who rightly divide the word of truth.

A Brief History Of Study Bibles

Image of a person reading a study bible
The very first study Bible was called the Geneva Bible, written in 1560 a.d., and contained hundreds of scriptural cross-references and summaries.

In 1908, Dr. Frank C. Thompson published the Thompson Chain-Reference study Bible. Dr. Thompson believed the Bible should be presented in a simple, but a scholarly way. He saw the need for a well-organized reference Bible that would be of practical use to the layman as well as a minister.

The early 1970’s introduced a new era of study Bibles. Using the RSV translation, the Harper Study Bible in 1971 was the first Bible to contain a wealth of additional information from a respected conservative Christian scholar, Harold Lindsell.

Seven years later, the Ryrie Study Bible was published. It contained the same features (introductions, references, and notes) as the Harper Study Bible, but this time from the most well known dispensationalist biblical scholar of the twentieth century, Charles C. Ryrie.

In 1991, Dr. Jack Hayford, who was pastoring Church on the Way in Van Nuys CA., led a team of Pentecostal and Charismatic leaders in producing a study Bible geared towards those who are part of Pentecostal and Charismatic churches. The result was the Spirit-Filled Life Study Bible.

Choosing A Good Study Bible

When looking for the best study Bible for you, there are some things that you need to consider. I can’t just tell you which is best, because I don’t know you and where you are in your journey with God. I don’t know which Bible translation you prefer as well. So here are some helpful tips to consider as you make this choice.

The Difference Between A Good Study Bible And A Regular Bible

All Bibles have one thing in common. They contain the word of God. There are 39 books in the Old Testament, and 27 books in the New Testament. Catholic and some Orthodox traditions include other books called The Apocrypha

The difference between an excellent study Bible and a regular Bible is the extra study helps that a study Bible includes. The study Bible will have structural differences depending on the amount of additional material that it provides.

They will be much larger in size and content because there will be more notes, references, and pictures. There will also be some differences in the way the text is laid out, including single column vs. double-column text, the length of the book introductions and outlines or maps, and more extensive study notes either in the middle of a two column layout or at the bottom of a single column layout.

Typical Features Of The Best Study Bibles

  • Annotations explaining often misinterpreted scriptures, hard to understand passages, and doctrine, and theology.
  • Pictures of critical historical ruins and archaeological artifacts of the period that is concurrent with the passage.
  • Contextual information on the passage’s setting and author’s reason for writing the book and his background.
  • Specific details about each book of the Bible in an introduction.
  • Biographical information of main characters in each book.
  • Different possible interpretations or meanings based on the definitions of the original language.
  • Bible dictionary and a concordance.
  • Historical maps of the Holy Land.
  • Timelines for each book of the Bible.
  • Devotional Bible reading plans
  • Real life personal application of the passages you are reading.
  • Scriptural references and parallels to other books of the Bible, many times tying the New Testament and the Old Testament narrative together.

It is also very common for study Bibles to be arranged around a theme or purpose. For instance, the Spirit-Filled Life Bible is arranged to show how the Holy Spirit is a vital part of the modern day believer’s life. The Ryrie study Bible shows how salvation is by grace alone and teaches dispensational theology.

Picking A Good Bible Translation

Image of a highlighted verse in a study bible
The Bible was not written in English. It was written in Hebrew, Greek, and a few small sections were written in Aramaic. Because of this, it is essential to understand how Bibles are translated. You need to understand the goals and methods used by the biblical translators so you better understand why there are differences in translations and which you should give more weight to.

There are also different manuscripts that Bibles are translated from. Most Bibles get their Old Testament translations from the Masoretic Text. The difference comes in with the New Testament. The King James Version was translated from the Textus Receptus which dates from the 10th to 13th centuries.

Later modern translations get their text from a compilation of two manuscripts, the Codex Vaticanus and the Codex Sinaiticus. These two texts date between 325 and 350 A.D.

The KJV and the NKJV are translated from the Textus Receptus. As much as I love my NKJV Bible, I understand why people would want to use a translation that is based on earlier manuscripts. The idea that the closer to the original documents you can base your translation upon has much credence.

Different Types Of Bible Translations

There are two primary methods of Bible translation used today in translating the scriptures from the original languages to English. They are called the formal equivalence method, which is sometimes referred to as the literal method, and the dynamic equivalence method, which is sometimes called the functional method.

Each method has its strengths and weaknesses depending on what is trying to be accomplished. If you seek accuracy of direct meanings of words, then the literal method is best. If you seek accuracy of the thought the writer is trying to get across, then the dynamic method is better.
An image of a study bible that is marked up

Word For Word Translation – Formal Equivalence

If you are looking to do a lot of word study, and dig into the individual meaning of words, then this method is best for you. Popular versions that use this method are the KJV, NKJV, RSV, NASB, and the ESV.

Thought For Thought Translation – Dynamic Equivalence

If your purpose for studying the Bible is to understand what the original authors were trying to convey, then this method would be the best for you. Instead of focusing on the individual words, the translators concentrated on the thoughts of the author. Popular translations that use this method are the NIV, NLT, CEB, and the NCV.

Paraphrase Translations

A paraphrase is not a translation. I would highly discourage using a paraphrase as a study Bible. The scriptures are paraphrased from the biblical scholar’s point of view. Two popular paraphrase versions of the Bible are The Living Bible and The Message.

The Top 10 Bible Translations In The United States

  1. New International Version (NIV)
  2. King James Version (KJV)
  3. New King James Version (NKJV)
  4. New Living Translation (NLT)
  5. English Standard Version (ESV)
  6. Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)
  7. Common English Bible (CEB)
  8. Reina Valera 1960
  9. New American Standard (NAS)
  10. New International Reader’s Version (NIRV)

How To Use A Study Bible

There are many ways to use a study Bible. I recommend that you experiment with what works for you. You can highlight passages with a Bible highlighter. You can use sticky notes. You can use a Bible journal to go along with your study.

I recommend that you pay attention to the cross-references. These will help you understand how the Bible all ties together. I also suggest that you pay attention to the historical and cultural background sections for each book. Many mistakes have been made in Bible interpretation because of people not understanding the cultural context of the day.
Here is an excellent video by an average Christian lady who shows how she uses her study Bible.

Best Study Bible Recommendations

The Best Study Bible For Southern Baptists And Other Non-Charismatic Christians

The Ryrie Study Bible

I have a fondness in my heart for the Ryrie Study Bible. It was the first study Bible I ever owned. It was given to me by the parents of a girl I met in High School who was instrumental in leading me to the Lord.

The Ryrie Study Bible is a great Bible for those who might attend more conservative or traditional evangelical churches. Its focus on dispensational theology is loved by Southern Baptists, Presbyterians, and those non-denominational non-charismatic churches.
It does a beautiful job explaining the plan of salvation and the benefits of being saved, including the security of the believer in Christ.

Here is a little more about the Ryrie study Bible.

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Beloved favorite study Bible of Baptists and non-charismatics.

Features

  • A synopsis of Bible doctrine.
  • Archaeology of the Bible.
  • Survey of church history.
  • Maps, charts, timelines, and diagrams.
  • Topical index and cross-references.
  • Comprehensive concordance.
  • Detailed introductions to each book.

The Best Study Bible For Beginners

The Life Application Study Bible

The Life Application Study Bible came out after I was already a mature believer in Christ and active in ministry. However, I have recommended it to many High School and College students over the years along with new believers and those just beginning to learn how to live the Christian life.

I still recommend it today for many students and new believers. It is by far the best study Bible for those that want to learn how to apply the Bible to their everyday life.

If you are a new believer, or just beginning to learn to live like a Christian, or perhaps you are looking for an excellent study Bible for a new Christian, then this is the Bible to get.

Listen to this young lady explain why she loves her Life Application Study Bible.

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Rated the best Bible for students and new believers in Christ.

Features

  • 10,000 application notes.
  • Over 100 Biographies of biblical characters.
  • Charts and timelines.
  • Biblical concordance.
  • Verse by verse commentary notes.
  • Over 23,000 cross-references.
  • In-depth introductions to each book.

The Best Study Bible For New Pastors And Bible Teachers

The Thompson Chain-Reference Study Bible

I first came into contact with the Thompson Chain-Reference Study Bible when I started Bible college. I was attending the church that my uncle pastored while attending Bible college. He had a dear old retired pastor in his congregation named Brother Garman. Brother Garman loved his Thompson Chain Reference Study Bible. It was the only Bible he ever owned.

The Thompson Chain-Reference Study Bible has been a favorite of pastors since 1908. Its chain referencing system has taught ministers around the globe how to understand the overriding themes of the Bible.

With the Thompson Chain Reference Study Bible, you not only get a piece of history, but you get the tool to help you learn how to study the Bible as the old-timers did. Moreover, that is not a bad idea. They held true to the truths passed down through the ages.

Listen to this guys excitement when getting his Thompson Chain Reference Study Bible.

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Used by pastors for over a century. It is one of the must-have Bibles for pastors.

Features

  • Alphabetical Index.
  • Numerical index of Bible topics.
  • Bible reading plan.
  • Outlined studies of the Bible.
  • Bible character studies.
  • Bible harmonies and illustrated studies.
  • Large concordance.
  • Full-color maps

The Best New Study Bible

The Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible

I have included The Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible for the simple reason that it is the unique and helpful study Bible to be released in a long time. With solid theologians like N.T. Wright endorsing the Bible and with all the help that understanding the context is, in a biblical study; this Bible needed to be mentioned.

One of the things that have helped me teach the scriptures is knowing what was being said in the context of the listeners. What were they hearing when it was being said.

The Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible is an excellent asset for the serious student of the Word of God. It may not be the best study Bible if you are buying your first study Bible, but you should consider getting it as you are expanding your study Bible library.

Here is a little more about the Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible.

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The best new study Bible on the market to help you understand the context of what was written in the Bible.

Features

  • Expert insight into the culture, customs, and writings of biblical times.
  • Verse by verse study notes.
  • Key Old Testament And New Testament terms explained.
  • Over 300 in-depth articles.
  • 375 full-color photos, images, and illustrations.
  • Cross references, concordance, and indexes.

Final Thoughts

I hope that this list of study Bibles has helped you decide on which one would be best for you. There are many excellent study Bibles on the market, but these are some of the best and the most loved ones out there.

If I did not include your favorite, please do not be offended. I am sure yours is good as well. These are just the best ones I have found over my lifetime and journey with Jesus.

God bless you on your journey of discovering all that God has for you in the scriptures.