In Praise of “Cheater” Bibles

In our Sunday night Bible Study at church, we jokingly call Study Bibles (SB) “cheater” Bibles for their ability to provide on-the-spot answers to tricky questions. But the truth is, Study Bibles are a gift to the church and they are welcome blessing to any Christian’s library.

But there are many to choose from and it can be a little challenging to navigate many selections floating around there on Amazon. I did a quick survey of these reference works on my shelf (both physical books and electronic) and made a list. It is by no means exhaustive but here’s a short summary of their strengths and weaknesses.

ESV Study Bible

This is my go-to SB. If I was trapped on a desert island with only one book, the answer, of course, is the Bible. But if the rules allow me to modify my choice, I would take this beauty. The combination of notes, articles, commentary, background info, theology, maps and charts with my favorite Bible translation makes this one unbeatable. The notes are doctrinally solid. Very solid and as deep as a SB is going to go. And the graphics are second to none. Throw in the online version free and you had me at, well, free.

CSB Study Bible

This recently-published Bible is a solid addition to the Study Bible lineup. Its detailed notes, maps, beautiful photos, and word studies along with a very readable translation make this one of my new favorites.

The Reformation Study Bible

This Bible is strong on theology and packed with notes, though quite weak in background information and graphics. The variety of free electronic resources that are unlocked with the print version make this SB even more appealing.

The ESV Systematic Theology Study Bible

I recently received this Bible as a gift and have been greatly enjoying it. This SB is packed with fantastic articles and clear explanations of important Bible doctrines, while showing where those doctrines turn up in various texts.

Archeological Study Bible

This reference work includes cultural and archeological background that most of the other SB’s only mention in passing. What it lacks in commentary, the Archeological Study Bible makes up for in visually transporting you to the Holy Land.

Gospel Transformation Study Bible

The focus of this SB is the Gospel. It endeavors to show “Christ in all of Scripture and God’s transforming Grace for all of Life.” Therefore the study notes center around those very topics. While short on other SB features such as maps, charts and background, it is strong on application and points us faithfully to Christ.

The Scofield Reference Bible

The original SB courtesy of Cyrus Ingerson Scofield. This one’s a bit outdated and appeals to a very specific theological persuasion – the classic dispensationalist. It really doesn’t hold up to modern SB’s (even the updated version); however, it was groundbreaking in its day and pairs very well with the Ryrie Study Bible and Clarence Larkin’s charts.

The NKJV Study Bible

This is not a bad SB with some useful word studies and notes, however not as graphically pleasing as others and does not possess a great deal of theological depth. Plus I just don’t use the NKJV all that much.

Faithlife Study Bible

Some very good graphics in both the electronic (Logos Bible Software) and print format. A little more theologically general than I like, but includes some very helpful notes. The electronic version is free with most Logos Bible Software packages.

The Life Application Study Bible

This was one of the first SB’s our family owned and is a very accessible and well-laid-out volume. The notes and book introductions are very readable and I appreciate the character studies. However, difficult passages are watered down some as attempts to appeal to a broad evangelical audience and lacks the doctrinal oomph I would like.

The Apologetics Study Bible

As the title suggests, this Bible has a very specific focus. This will serve you if you are looking to know how to better defend the faith but is not strong on commentary or graphics.

The NIV Proclamation Bible

The focus of this Bible is unique – to help Bible teachers and preachers understand, apply and communicate the text. It lacks commentary notes, but contains some very good articles.

The NIV Lifehacks Bible

This SB contains articles/devotions designed to strengthen spiritual habits and disciplines. Not a typical SB in that it does not contain commentary or background information.

Two other SB’s that I do not own but have heard are solid are the NIV Study Bible and the Macarthur Study Bible. The former has many good notes but they are designed to appeal to a broad Christian audience. The latter is doctrinally robust, contains a number of charts, and appeals to a reformed dispensational audience. Additionally, both David Jeremiah and Chuck Swindoll have released SB’s in recent years. I have not personally perused either of these works but respect these men and their ministries.

Check out this link for a helpful chart summarizing some of these Bibles.


One thought on “In Praise of “Cheater” Bibles

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  1. I also have a library of Bibles. The first I started using as a new Christian was the Joyce Meyer Bible, it drew me in until I realized just how far off the true scriptures were. Then I purchased the NIV from Zondervan 2013. This Bible was easy for me to understand as a new Christian, I also used the rainbow bible tabs to have quick access to each book, this bible has most of my notes and book marks in it and since using the tabs I can now use other bibles without tabs with ease. I received the NASB from my former Pastor and it is great for the closest translation. I have used it in for school a lot. I recently I purchased the John MacArthur Large Print NASB and other than being a heavy study bible I love it. I also have the KJV, NKJV, even an old Way bible, the Catholic Bible and a variety of older bibles.

    I would highly recommend the John MacArthur Study Bible, if you are a fan of his, the commentary is written exactly as he speaks. His commentaries are right on.
    But I am still attached to my NIV, sentimental I guess.

    Just my thoughts!

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