I am sure your kids (young and old) have a long list of “wants.” I am sure your spouse and parents have some things they would like too. No doubt you’ll give away some toys, clothes, and other useless stuff, but let me nudge you to invest in their soul. Helping them dig into Scripture may be the best thing you could ever give.
Of course, maybe this is just a gift you should give for yourself. Or maybe just print this article, circle your preference, and leave it conveniently for others to find.
No matter how, I hope you find a transformative gift under your tree. A great study Bible is my top pick.
I compared several study Bibles, including those on our resource table. My recommendations are listed in order below, but depending on the needs, any of these are great gifts.
Before hitting those specifics let me nudge you to spend more on a quality cover. Paperback and hardcover Bibles don’t last. The bonded leather and imitation leather covers are much better, but genuine leather is worth the cost (not that you need the $215 Blue Goatskin ESV Bible). You should consider spending between $60-$100 for a Bible that will last.
You should also consider the font size. Most Bibles are now 8 or 9-point, but some are smaller. You can get large (11-point) and sometimes giant (13-point+). It matters, so check the product details before you buy. Now, to the actual reviews…
ESV Reformation Study Bible: The 2015/3rd edition is the most preferable option to me as it clearly helps explain things from a reformed perspective. It is not as colorful as the other options, but incorporates reformed creeds and beliefs in such a way that I can’t resist recommending it. (The Condensed edition is more convenient to carry, but 1/2 the notes. The Student edition is coming in 2022 and may be the church’s new gift to our freshman.)
ESV Study Bible: This one is the most thorough of all the options. It’s loaded with colorful maps and charts. It is widely endorsed by Bible scholars and seems to be the new standard.
NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible (previously the Zondervan Study Bible): Is very similar to the ESV Study Bible. Sometimes notes are better and sometimes not. If you really want the NIV 2011 translation, this or the one below are great options.
NIV Study Bible: The 2020 update is loaded with notes and colorful maps and charts. Generally the notes are shorter than the above options. So on the one hand it’s more concise, but on the other lacking depth.
NIV/NLT Life Application Bible: This is significantly different from the other options as it gives less explanation and more application. Personally, I’ve found it sufficient at answering basic questions about the text and very helpful in actually applying it to life. That said, the Holy Spirit always applies the text to my life with or without any study notes. Prayerful reading will always lead to practical direction.
NET Full-Notes Edition: This is a great resource for insight into the Hebrew and Greek. The footnotes fill 75% of each page and explain the rich meaning behind the text. This is a fabulous study tool. The translation and notes are free online at https://netbible.org/, so the print addition is not really essential.
There are many more study bibles. They target many different audiences and issues or come from a popular pastor. I’d recommend getting a book (for your audience, issue or by the popular pastor) with one of the study Bibles I’ve listed. Get one of the best study Bibles and then look for books that address specific issues.
This is the big question that will greatly impact your study Bible options. I’ve been doing side by side comparisons on my sermon text for a while with my Bible software, Logos (It’s amazing and quickly replacing my use of printed books). My comments below are based on that research.
I like NIV 84 as it’s what I’ve always read and it’s in our pews. However, it’s been replaced with the NIV 2011 which moved more toward a thought-for-thought translation. The ESV is preferable for its readable word for word translation of the original language texts. However, it is sometimes awkward and difficult to understand. The NET is an excellent word for word translation with notes explaining the translation choices. I am conflicted over choosing between these three option and I do think you will love whichever you have.
I no longer recommend the NLT as it simply strays too far into interpreting the text. It is easy to read, so if you’re looking for something to understand at first glance, this is your best option. Just know you may miss the depth of the original text in favor of a particular interpretation of the translators. The NASB 1995 is a good choice as it is similar to the ESV. I’ve not looked much at the newer NASB 2020 or MacArthur’s Legacy translation. Maybe, next year.
Sidebar: The consistory briefly discussed replacing the pew Bibles, which led to discussion around translations. The elders, earlier this year, concluded the ESV is preferable, but that we value the use of each of these translations. My hope is that more and more people bring their own Bible on Sundays to take notes.
Stocking Stuffers/Bible Accessories:
Colored Pencils: Gel Pens work, but I find them no better than a crayon. Highlighters too often bleed through pages. So I recommend any colored pencils for underlining and writing notes.
Bible Book Tabs: This will make your life much easier as you try to find different passages. Some Bibles already have “thumb indexes” or tabs, but if not, it's a great stocking stuffer.
Merry Christmas and Happy shopping!
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