One of the greatest joys of my nascent pastoral ministry came around the holiday season. Our youth staff had been hammering, fruitlessly it seemed, for over a year: study your Bible, study your Bible, study your Bible. Then one November day, the ice broke. A parent approached me and said, “My teen asked for a study Bible for Christmas; which do you recommend?” Then another parent asked the same question. And then another. Over the next few weeks, a dozen or more parents asked the same question. I was on cloud nine.
In God’s providence, before submitting to God’s call to pastoral ministry, I served as the Bible buyer for a Christian bookstore. That job forced upon me some very specific knowledge—some useless, some not. Any good Christian book buyer, for example, can take one glance at your Bible and tell you the retail value to the penny. That said, I was able to give these parents some seasoned advice.
If you’re thinking about buying a study Bible for a loved one this holiday season, here’s a quick buying guide. Space doesn’t permit me to hit every resource. But, if you have a specific question that I don’t address here, I’d be happy to reply to emailed questions.
But before mentioning particular Bibles, let me say a word about book quality. In my opinion, you shouldn’t waste your money on any of the leather options—“Bonded,” “Genuine,” or even “Premium Calfskin.” I know, that seems like sacrilege. But before you rattle off that angry comment, let me explain.
The synthetic covers, known as “TruTone,” “NuTone,” “DuoTone,” et al., are not only cost effective, but extremely durable when compared to leather options of equal cost. Yes, genuine calfskin is the best Bible cover material on the market, but at triple the cost (sometimes more). Furthermore, the synthetic covers far outperform the lower quality leather options. They stand up better to moisture, to constant use, and to being left accidently in the car mid-summer. For whatever it’s worth, my pulpit Bible is a black, TruTone, ESV Study Bible. And most Bible publishers will replace any Bible whose synthetic cover wears prematurely.
- ESV Study Bible: In my opinion, this is the best study Bible on the market. It’s packed with incredible maps, reasoned interpretations, balanced theology, and superb book summaries. It doesn’t attempt to push the reader toward one theological persuasion or another, but gives all the data one needs to make his/her own decision ($25 in Hardcover).
- MacArthur Study Bible: If the ESV Study Bible is 1A, then the MSB is 1B. Containing the same colorful maps, timelines, book studies, etc, it’s available in multiple translations and languages. You may have heard that MacArthur has put forth bad interpretations in the past—fear not, they are NOT present in this Bible. The MSB can be a little more opinionated than the ESV Study Bible, but sometimes that’s a good thing when tackling challenging passages ($34 in Hardcover).
- Scofield Study Bibles: The Old Scofield Study Bible was so prevalent in years past that preachers told their congregations to open to a page number rather than a verse reference! The New and Scofield III versions rub off some of the old-line dispensational edges, but in my Bible selling experience, people who want a Scofield, want those edges. God has certainly used this resource over the decades and it remains a very popular seller ($32.50 in Hardcover).
- New Inductive Study Bible: The idea behind this resource is that the owner makes his or her own study Bible. And although it does have a fair amount of explanation, it’s made for personal discovery rather than pre-packaged reference. I would recommend this study Bible only to those who have used and enjoy Kay Arthur’s study method. Buyer beware: the covers and bindings are notoriously flimsy. You will probably want to supplement this one with a quality Bible case ($38.50 in Hardcover).
- Life Application Study Bible: Adult believers can certainly benefit from this resource, but I’ve found that this Bible works extremely well for teens, especially those showing giftedness for ministry. The notes show the reader very tangible ways of making the Bible real-to-life (hence the name). That’s not to say the exegesis is inferior; it’s just not as complete as other options ($35.50 in Hardcover).
- NIV Teen Study Bible: I see a lot of teens carrying this study Bible, but the reviews tend to be mixed. My fear is that parents purchase this Bible because it looks cool (and it does!), but that thrill wears off pretty quickly. If a teen isn’t reading the Bible he/she already has, a cooler looking version won’t pique the interest either. That said, the NTSB is laid out differently than a traditional reference study Bible with verse-by-verse explanation; the NTSB provides commentary less frequently and in larger contextual chunks. The explanations are sound and the layout is attractive; I know one teen in particular who has truly benefited from this resource ($20 in Hardcover).
- The Big Picture Story Bible: This is absolutely the best resource I know for children learning to read. The authors trace God’s promises from Eden to Eternity in a way that teaches me when I read it to my children. The illustrations reinforce the theology in striking scenes: it was Jesus who crushed the Serpent; who was pictured in the Law, in King David’s Promises, and in the Prophets’ predictions; and who will reign as King in the Eternal Kingdom. And the more times you work through the Bible with your children, the more they get it ($17 in Hardcover).
- The Action Bible: I had not interacted much with this resource until a couple in my church bought it for their daughter who is a very strong reader for her age; she devoured it. The graphics aren’t my cup of tea, but the proof is in the pudding—every parent I’ve talked to raves about this resource’s effectiveness for their children ($16 in Hardcover).