Although we don’t write about it a lot here, friends who visit the store often comment on the wide variety of Bibles we stock — most major translations and all manner of editions, covers, styles, fashions. (Not to mention Biblical studies and commentaries and tons of small group Bible study guides and DVDs.) I suppose most Hearts & Minds fans and BookNotes readers know what sort of Bible(s) they like to use, which translations they favor, and what kind of study notes and page lay out they prefer.
But maybe you want to try something new.
Or maybe you want to offer a very special gift this holiday season, to a growing Bible student or a real beginner.
Maybe you are joining a Bible study group in the New Year and want to have a good resource to help you work through the texts.
Or just need something really different, a new look with a fresh take.
Great. But here is one proviso before we share some ideas for you: we are glad to be enthusiastic about the Bibles shown below, but we are aware that many folks and some denominations have nearly set-in-stone preferences. I don’t have strong, strong opinions about most modern translations, and hope no one will think ill of me for highlighting an ecumenical and diverse batch of recent, interesting Bible editions. This isn’t the final word, nor even the best, necessarily. But we are happy to share the good news that there are many ways into the gospel story, many recent editions of the Holy Scriptures that we can use to great benefit. Don’t get in a snit if you don’t like some of these.
I often say that buying a Bible is like buying a car — there are so many options and features and customized choices. There are oodles of translations, of course, and compact and personal sizes, some with single columns, some with wide margins, some without verse numbers shown. (And designs and colors?
And then there are study editions, with introductions, background notes and commentary running across the bottom of the pages, explaining things, passage by passage.
To cut to the chase, our three biggest sellers, because we most often recommend them, are the “Cadillacs” that have the most notes, the most balanced comments, the most helpful, faithful info and the best layouts (in the three most popular English translations): the NIV Study Bible, the NLT Life Application Study Bible and the ESV Study Bible. They come in a variety of styles, of course. Give us a holler if you need more info. (If you don’t know these well, or have biases against them, I’d love to chat. I’m no expert, but can summarize the strengths and weaknesses of each.)
If you need to use the NRSV and want a less evangelical orientation, we most often recommend the New Interpreters Study Bible (produced by Abingdon) or the HarperCollins Study Bible (produced by the Society of Biblical Literature.)
We avoid study Bibles done by just one person, no matter who they are.
Here, then, are a few new study bibles that we think you should know about. The style options and prices are shown after the Bible’s description. They are all on sale, so we’ll deduct the 20% off of the standard retail prices that are shown.
The CEB Study Bible Abingdon Press This recent translation (CEB stands for the “Common English Bible”) was funded by the PC(USA), the United Methodists, the ELCA and several other mainline denominations who apparently felt that their standardly-used NRSV was a bit too dated, maybe even too stuffy. The translation draws on contemporary Biblical scholarship — even some anti-Empire notions, Middle Eastern insights about daily stuff like how to best translate “manger” (thanks, Ken Bailey!) and makes other user-friendly, contemporary moves in offering a solid but creatively done, easy-to-understand (and good to listen to) rendering. It has been out for several years in various sizes and shapes, and is gaining in popularity. Some serious Bible scholars I know esteem it. Now, after a few years of work, they’ve released a premier study edition, and it is very, very nicely done. From the heft of the volume, the pages and type fonts, the sidebars and notes, it is very appealing and looks really useful.
Most importantly, of course, you will want to know about the notes. Well. It is tricky to explain in crisp sound bytes the nuances and complexities of the CEB translation, let alone the commentary, but I’d say it brings a moderately liberal tone, fully fluent in modern critical scholarship, not excessively so. Yet, unlike the Oxford Annotated, say, (which I dislike for a dozen reasons) The CEB Study Bible seems to invite serious discipleship, warm faith, radical practices and communal discernment about how these ancient texts can change our lives and our churches today.
Naming some of the wonderful folk who led the teams of scholars on these notes may be helpful, and we are happy to note that the very impressive NT Biblical scholar from Asbury Theological Seminary, Joel B. Green, was the general editor. Seung Ai Yang (Chicago Theological Seminary) was the general NT editor, Mark Boda (McMaster DIvinity College), Mignon Jacobs (Fuller Theological Seminary) and Matthew Schlimm (Dubuque Theological Seminary) were the main Old Testament scholars. Superb!
Of course the notes for each book of the Bible were done by experts in those books — Carol Bechtel of Western in Holland Michigan did Esther, Bruce Birch of Wesley in DC did 1 and 2 Samuel, Jerome Creach of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary did Joshua. There are older renowned scholars on board (Terence Fretheim of Luther Seminary did Job, J. Ramsey Michaels of Missouri State did John and Daniel Harrington SJ did Tobit. (for the edition that comes with the Apocrypha; it can be purchased without the Apocrypha as well.) Younger scholars are here such as Emerson Powery of Messiah College, Daniel Reid, a senior editor of IVP Academic and many more who are the rising stars of the newer generation of Bible scholars.
Our good friend Michael Gorman (New Testament prof and former dean of St. Mary’s Ecumenical Institute in Baltimore) did Romans. That he hangs out with his friends Richard Hays, N.T. Wright and Sylvia Keesmaat may help place him, and the perspective of the notes, in this Bible, just a bit. (Gorman’s books on Paul published by Eerdmans have gotten wide acclaim, too, by the way.) But you’ve just got to read the introduction and notes to realize how wise and helpful he is. Joel Green and his colleagues picked some very, very solid contributors to this huge project.
It is simply a delight to see scholars from places as diverse as Baylor and the University of Findley, The University of Capetown and Candler at Emory, Boston College and Calvin College, Ashland University and Eden Seminary all involved. This solid representation of a wide range of voices (from Episcopalian to Anabaptist, Presbyterian to Roman Catholic and more) does not make this odd or uneven or even eclectic, as they contracted some of the best voices within moderate, contemporary, mainline scholarship. The notes are very interesting, insightful, and useful and I think hold together well. I haven’t used them all yet, of course, but after spending some time with it, I am pleased to commend it to those who need this kind of a new study edition, grounded in a responsible, reasonable theological center.
Besides the helpful notes and moderate, upbeat theological voice, there are several feature in The CEB Study Bible that make it very attractive. It is printed well with full color on many pages with photos and maps and charts, making it visually quite interesting. There is plenty of great information — a feast, really. The text is in a single-column format which many readers love. There are the standard features found in any good study edition such as cross references, a good concordance, timelines, maps throughout; and there are 21 other full-page maps produced by National Geographic. There are over 300 articles on topics that will enhance your appreciation of the cultures and contexts of the original texts.
I like that one of their tag lines is that this is “readable, reliable, and relevant.” I think this could be a very good study Bible to add to your collection of Bible resources, or a great one to give as a gift to one new to serious Bible reading.
HARDBACK (with Apocrypha) $59.99
IMITATION LEATHER (brown) $69.99
BONDED LEATHER (black) $74.99
NLT Chronological Life Application Study Bible Tyndale NLT stands for the New Living Translation and it is a very solid, if colorful, modern translation. (Those who worked on it are stellar, including my brilliant friend Al Wolters and respected scholars like Tremper Longman. It is not silly or unfounded.) I hope you have heard about this fascinating study edition that Tyndale has done. It has glorious full color maps and charts and photos, lots of archeological discoveries, cultural background and such, and gives the splendid NIV Archeological Study Bible a run for its money. It is loaded with good stuff, and it has added to it the useful, practical notes of the popular “life application” study Bibles. In one really colorful, very sturdy, handsome Bible you get the Scriptural material arranged chronologically, offering the books of the Bible in more-or-less proper historical order, offering a conservative but interesting re-setting of the books, chronologically and the user-friendly, Life Application notes!
Of course, this could be perplexing to some, but for many it is just brilliant, and so very helpful. Readers here at BookNotes most likely know that the Bible as we have it isn’t quite in the proper historical order. In this edition, some of 2 Kings is split up (for instance) and the prophets are shown as either before or after the “splintered nation” and exile. Chronicles are naturally placed a bit later, after exile. The gospels are, of course, inter-meshed. Many of Paul’s letters are interspersed beside the accounts of Acts, offering a sense that these were real letters set in particular times, Paul in one city, writing to another he had, or intended to visit. There are timelines galore offering real context and nearly tangible connection.
And, just to point out how lovely the illustrations are, consider that there is a reproduction of Van Gogh’s “Good Samaritan” on the page where parable is shown.
Oh, and did I mention that running on the bottom of the pages of all this glorious chronological stuff are the helpful notes of the Life Application Study Bible Yes, I did. This Bible has a lot of stuff going on and will keep you busy for years and years. Whew.
IMITATION LEATHER (brown/tan) $79.99
IMITATION LEATHER (tan/green/teal) $79.99
IMITATION LEATHER (brown/ teal/blue) $79.99
NLT The Wayfinding Bible Tyndale Wow, this is a very interesting new kind of study resource and is great certainly for those new to Bible reading, but maybe for others, too. It isn’t a “study Bible” that has the customary notes and commentary. But what it does have, quite inventively, is three routes, three pathways to “find our way” through the complexities of year long BIble reading. The colorful ad on the back of the slip case showcases three routes for three sorts of readers.
THE FLY-OVER ROUTE This is for someone who says ” I’m looking for the big story. How does all of this fit together?” In about 50 Scripture readings, you’ll cover the most important events in the Bible, gaining an overview of how these events tell one big story.
THE DIRECT ROUTE Ever hear yourself or others say “I’ve tried to read through the Bible, but honestly, I get stuck in Leviticus every time’? This guided path offers 200 key readings that help develop a better understanding of how God’s story develops throughout history.
THE SCENIC ROUTE They say that this might be for those who say “I’m a wonderer. I love discovering new things in God’s Word” and are willing to journey through about 400 readings, discovering the depth and richness of God’s Word.
The cover looks almost like an office flow chart or a map in a big city subway station. It’ll get you where you want to go, learning to handle the Bible in a coherent and helpful way. Obviously, the whole Bible is here, and it can be used in traditional ways. But these colorful route markers and signposts help guide you along. I think it is a cool idea. Here is a link to their website, that explains a lot, and give you a feel of this fresh and helpful tool.
IMITATION LEATHER (brown) $54.99
IMITATION LEATHER (black) $54.99
The ESV New Inductive Study Bible Harvest House $49.99 The ESV is considered by many to be the most accurate translation yet done, blending the word-for-word rigor of the New American Standard, say, and the elegance of the old RSV from which it was largely derived. The translators used a conservative, serious philosophy guiding their work of rendering the words properly and with a classic-sounding style. It resists gender neutral language in some places, making it seem as if it is poking against modern conventions, but the translators did this certainly for sheer accuracy. It is popular especially among newer Reformed folks, and the standard, but study edition is certainly brilliant.
This new edition is not done by Crossway (who does most of the other excellently made ESV editions) but a trade publisher that is known for publishing inductive Bible studies of Bible teacher, Kay Arthur. Here, they offer “the simple, proven approach to letting God’s Word speak. It provides tool after tool for you to observe what the text says, interpreting what it means, and applying it to life.” It doesn’t say it on the back, but it uses Kay Arthur’s inductive study precepts as a guide. As it says on the back, it encourages you to “Discover God’s Truth for Yourself.”
The many sidebars and charts tend to offer helpful overviews, again, so that you can see the data and make sense of it all. They offer tips for studying each book of the Bible. It features “observation” methods and the resources they offer are designed to help reader gain insights directly from the text.
I suppose I don’t have to say to most BookNotes readers that even this seemingly unbiased method carries with it certain sort of assumptions. No study Bible is neutral, not even this sort. (In other words, one might ask why not draw on commentators from church history or tradition; why not use social or political historians to illuminate the deepest meanings of the text? These are ideological choices embedded in this very format. We might ask, is the Bible, as they say, perspicuous? And is it meant to be studied mostly by one’s self, devoid of outside influences? Well, despite all that, the inductive method offers what it does: pretty conventional aids to help you dig in and read carefully and studiously and it is useful.
There are customary timelines and maps and some good stuff on background culture and languages of the Bible. The New Inductive Study Bible shares key events from Israel’s history and even a harmony of the gospels. There are wide margins for note taking, since they presume readers are really going to pick up their pens and get to work.
As Howard Hendricks of Dallas Theological Seminary writes, “Knowledge that is self-discovered is stored in the deepest part of the mind and remains the longest in the memory. There is no jewel more precious than that which you have mined yourself.”
This was produced by Kay Arthur Precepts ministry, and was previously available in the NAS. Many will be glad that Harvest House has brought this out in the ESV.
IMITATION LEATHER (charcoal) $74.99
IMITATION LEATHER (olive) $74.99
GENUINE LEATHER (burgundy) $94.99
The Guidebook: NRSV Student BIble HarperOne In our view, this is the best youth edition in the NRSV of which we know. The great notes and guides were firstly done by St. Mary’s Press and published as the Catholic Youth Bible, from which this was revised in ways that made it more ecumenical. Included are over 700 short articles, lots of pull quotes and nifty notes, offered with cool (but not overdone or garish) graphics, a wonderful way to get young adults more attentive to the Scriptures and their call to a robust, spiritual way of being in the world.
This has a full menu of tips, facts, and suggestions, introductions to each book of the Bible and so forth. It invites lectio divina sorts of meditative practices — the very front says boldly “Study It – Connect It – Pray It – Live It.” It gives guidance for Bible memorization. There is a glossary, some indexing, and other helpful youth-friendly aids. Very nicely done.
The NIV Essentials Study Bible Zondervan Okay, this sounds a bit like a marketing ploy, but I assure you, it is not. The good people in Grand Rapids discovered that they have so many really good and popular study Bibles that get so much good feedback they wanted to somehow combine them, a study Bible mash-up, so to speak. They call it “multi-faceted.”
Evaluating customer feedback and adding some scholarly discernment from the editors, they realized that most of their study editions each offer something rather unique. As they put it here, each offers a certain lens. They took some of the best notes from 7 different study Bibles and put portions of ’em in here, so you can easily use these varied methods and angles of vision to see essential truths in God’s Word.
I think this is a perfect way to dip into different styles of notes, with the best content from the best NIV study editions available. I call it a “greatest hits” study Bible, or a perfect smorgasbord. It isn’t as thick or weighty as, say, the NIV Study Bible, and the print size is nice. Here is how they describe it all.
Fly-over Lens: Start each book of the Bible with the right perspective from easy-to-read introductions from the popular Essential Bible Companion.
Unpack Lens: Easily understand and interpret Bible passages with bottom-of-the page study notes and in-text charts from the best-in-class NIV Study Bible.
Dig Deep, Look Close Lens: Understand the fascinating historical significance of the Bible with articles and photos from the bestselling NIV Archaeological Study Bible.
Q + A Lens: Get concise, easy-to-grasp answers to your most perplexing questions about the Bible with questions and answers from the beloved NIV Quest Study Bible.
People Lens: View Scripture from the perspective of the 100 most important people in the Bible with notes for the student of any age excerpted from the timeless NIV Student Bible.
Guided Tour Lens: Get a bird’s eyes view of Scripture with a Guided Tour, also excerpted from the category-leading NIV Student Bible.
Insight Lens: Find meaning in the Bible by reading these magazine-style call-outs from the NIV Student Bible
R + R Lens: Reflect and Respond with this quick inspirational focus time, which unveils the sweeping narrative of the Bible as seen in the award-winning The Great Rescue NIV.
IMITATION LEATHER (chocolate/tan) $79.99
IMITATION LEATHER (honeysuckle/pink) $79.99
ESV Gospel Transformation Bible Crossway This is not a full study Bible, with commentary to illumine every passage, and in fact, may run the risk of missing some of the themes of the Scriptures with its single minded focus. But this is still remarkably useful with a great collection of serious, scholarly exegetes, theologians and pastors working to bring the themes of grace to the fore in this niche marketed Bible. The working teams were over-all edited by the wonderful preacher Byran Chappell and the evangelical focus — on the gospel of grace and it’s power to redeem and restore — is clearly seen throughout. With authors like Michael Horton involved you know it has a distinctively Reformed slant. They are intentional about using the historical-redemptive “method” which sees the unified connection of the Scripture as a covenantal, Christ-centered, developing plot.
There are good notes, here, and lots of fabulous side-bars and study aids. I like the emphasis on the unified nature of the whole story. There are the renowned Crossway/ESV cross references, and they are put to good effect, showing how Christ’s redeeming grace is not isolated or random, but holds together as the grand story of the Bible unfolds and develops. This Christo-cenetric, gospel-centered hermeneutic may not suit everyone, but the promise of “transformation” is beautiful here. I appreciate the pastoral sense that Christ’s work is sufficient, and that the gospel the final answer to any of life’s needs. I have not studied it enough to comment on whether its view of transformation adequately extends to all aspects of creation — some notes really seem to capture a “Kingdom vision” while others seem to miss the broader implications of gospel transformation. Still, overall, this is a splendid project, what one reviewer called a “modified study Bible.” If it would be helpful to read the Bible in a way that helps to underscore how the gospel of grace frees us from our idols and points us to the healing work of God in Christ, and how that is seen from cover to cover in the grand meta-narrative of Scripture, the Gospel Transformation Bible might be a great resource for you.
HARDBACK (white) $39.99
HARDBACK (black) $39.99
IMITATION LEATHER (TruTone – various designs) $64.99
GENUINE LEATHER (various designs) $89.99
The NIV Ragamuffin Bible Zondervan This is not, technically, a real study Bible. Rather, it is what we call a devotional Bible. These sorts of Bibles have brief readings, devotions, and meditations on pages alongside the Biblical text. In some of these niche-marketed Bibles the devotional readings seem “dropped in” and nearly irrelevant to the passages on the pages on which they are shown. (I happen to think this is mostly not helpful, btw.)
This new one, though, seems to be created with great integrity; the tender and raw excerpts of Brennan’s many books just glow beside the text of Holy Writ. So, if you want “meditations for the bedraggled, beat-up and brokenhearted” and appreciate reading the writings of this ragamuffin priest of grace right alongside your regular Bible reading, this could be a great joy.
The back cover explains that there are 104 devotions to guide you into a deeper connection to God and His Word. Also there are 250 reflections linked to specific texts to help you understand what it means to be a child of God. Scattered throughout the pages of this nicely printed NIV are 150 calligraphed quotes by Manning, as well.
Look: the Bible is pretty complicated and a good study edition is an essential tool, I think. A devotional companion Bible isn’t quite enough. But being reminded by these passionate, poetic writings by the late author of God’s deep love for us, despite our screwy sinfulness, is a fine, fine thing to help us understand the heart of the Biblical story. The occasional quotes and reflections that appear here very nice to see. Maybe it is just enough to keep a bedraggled one reading. If so, it is worth it’s weight in gold. Amen?
IMITATION LEATHER (tooled brown) $49.99
CEV Poverty and Justice Bible (American Bible Society with World Vision) The CEV is a great translation, perhaps the easiest to read Bible that is an actual translation. It is not a new translation, although it isn’t well known. This particular edition came out a few years ago, but I thought I should list it again. It highlights all the many (many) texts that deal with peace and justice, poverty and shalom, setting captives free and working against oppression. The “highlighting” looks literally like a hand-done highlighting job, giving this a rough-hewn DIY look. Younger adults, especially, will appreciate the graphic design — browns and oranges — and overall effect.
There are included some good testimonies of good justice work, some powerful photographs from brothers and sisters around the world, and some great study resources provided by World Vision. My goodness, what an illuminating experience, reading this through for a while, and having such powerful teaching highlighted for you. How do we read this book and miss this stuff? Of course there are other themes in the Bible (obviously) but these need to be underscored, in part because we so easily seem to miss or minimize them. Highly recommended. (And kudos to some friends who read every highlighted verse out loud in front of the U.S. Capitol back when the Congress was cutting essential services for the poor. You know, this would make a very useful gift to anybody in Christian ministry. Why not??
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