Choosing Your Sword, Our Ten Best Study Bibles for 2020?
Are you ready to take your Christian walk to the next level? If so, you’re going to need a good study Bible. The notes, commentary and study helps are what set the best study Bibles apart from other Bibles. Chances are, if you’re interested in something specific, there’s a study Bible for that.
Some, like the MacArthur Study Bible are from a single person’s study and ministry. Some are targeted for a specific area of study. Others are intended for a specific audience. With so many options available, deciding on the best study Bible for you can be quite a task.
The best study Bible for you is one you will actually use. Don’t get something that intimidates you, but don’t be afraid to dive deep if that’s what you want to do. Find a Bible that appeals to you! Below are our top ten picks for 2020, in no particular order.
For each Bible we’ve provided an overview, a sampling of what makes it unique, and which translations are available. Unless specifically noted otherwise, all of these Bibles include what we would consider basic study tools: book introductions that include at least the basics of who, what, and when for each book of the Bible, a concordance, and a cross-referencing system to find related verses.
ESV Study Bible
The English Standard Version is one of the fastest growing translations, partially because it is a more recent word-for-word translation. The ESV Study Bible has detailed introductions to the different sections and books of the Bible, a substantial cross-referencing system, in-depth commentary, and numerous other study tools included.
The scripture text is single-column with commentary and helps in a double-column below. Over 80,000 cross-references are given in the inside margin. Because the notes are substantial they can take up much of the page, however, the outlining of sections and subtle use of color make this Bible easy to navigate. If you’re looking for a Bible with all your study tools in one place this is a great option.
First impression: solid
Pros: extensive tools and commentary
Cons: only one translation available
Best study Bible for: those looking for a modern word-for-word translation with excellent built-in study tools
The Life Application Study Bible
The Life Application Study Bible has been around for decades. With seven different English translations available, it’s no wonder this is one of the best-selling study Bibles around. The page layout is almost identical to the ESV study Bible with single-column scripture, double-column commentary and helps below, and cross-references in the side margin.
Commentary includes suggestions or leading questions to help you apply the Bible to your daily life. At the back you’ll find the Christian Workers Resource, intended to help you minister to those around you, along with an index of where to find specific helps which are put in line with the specific scripture they reference. Pages frequently have more commentary than scripture, which can make reading longer scripture passages a challenge. If you want everything relating to a specific verse on the same page, or you want a Bible in a specific translation this is a great study Bible for you.
First Impression: great big notes…itty bitty scripture
Pros: personal application prompts and questions
Cons: notes and commentary can overwhelm the page
Best study Bible for: those who want every tool and resource at the verse to which it relates
MacArthur Study Bible
John MacArthur is a well-respected minister, best known for his radio program Grace to You. His love for the word of God is reflected in the MacArthur Study Bible, which represents decades of personal study and ministry. The MacArthur Study Bible is available in NASB, NKJV, and ESV translations as well as translations in several other languages.
The scripture text is double-column with three-column commentary below. Extensive cross-references are given between the scripture and notes sections. In addition to the basic study tools you would expect, the MacArthur Study Bible includes many unique resources: an overview of theology, an index to key doctrines, interpretive challenges, and “How We Got our Bible” to name a few.
First Impression: unique
Pros: distinctive resources
Cons: single contributor to the commentary
Your best study Bible if: you want a trusted mentor to help you understand the Bible
CSB Apologetics Study Bible
If you want to equip yourself to defend your faith against skeptics or answer skeptical questions of your own, the CSB Apologetics Study Bible is a great resource. Many well-known apologists including Chuck Colson, Norm Geisler, Josh MacDowell, Lee Strobel, and Ravi Zacharias contributed to the commentary, articles, and introductions to each book of the Bible. Study notes are very specifically geared toward apologetics and related issues.
The scripture text is double-column with three-column commentary below. Surprisingly there is no cross-referencing of verses. Unique to this Bible are Twisted Scripture explanations of forty-eight commonly misunderstood verses in the Bible, biographical profiles of apologists throughout history, timelines of apologetics issues, and a comparison of world religions.
First Impression: logical defense
Pros: in-depth apologetics resources
Cons: no cross-references
Best study Bible for: those who want to be better equipped to answer skeptic
Zondervan Study Bible
This is the most colorful study Bible on our list, with color on every page. In addition to four-color graphics, this Bible includes full-color photography, maps and timelines. Color is used to clearly define different sections of a page and to give visual breaks between sections of the Bible.
The scripture text is single column with double-column notes in a shaded area below. Cross-references are in the side margin. The commentary includes a coding system to highlight biblical character studies, archaeology and personal application of scripture. With so much color, the pages have almost a magazine feel at times. It’s very engaging, and has everything you would want to dig deeper into the Bible.
First Impression: visually engaging
Pros: extensive tools and commentary
Cons: only one translation available
Best study Bible for: those looking for a modern thought-for-thought translation with excellent built-in study tools
Hebrew-Greek Keyword Study Bible
At first glance, the different little numbers and letters inserted throughout may seem overwhelming. If you feel like you need a guided tour to use this Bible, you’re right. Fortunately, that’s included in the front, where the annotation system is explained in detail.
The scripture text is double-column with cross-references in between and notes in a single-column below. Book introductions are brief. Graphics are extremely minimal. This study Bible has zero fluff, and some serious study tools.
Annotations are coded to the notes below or the resources at the back, which include a Hebrew and Greek dictionary to help you discover the depth of the original language. I would not recommend this study Bible for beginners, but if you’re ready to take your study of the Bible to the next level, you may want to invest in this one.
First Impression: hefty
Pros: tools to understand the original Hebrew and Greek words
Cons: the detailed annotations in line with the text can be intimidating
Best study Bible for: those who want to understand the depth and shades of meaning from the original language
Every Man’s Bible
Everything about Every Man’s Bible is direct. Book intros, study notes, and graphics are specifically targeted to help men navigate their unique challenges. On the second page of every book is a one sentence answer to the question, “What is the point of this book?”
Unique to this Bible are almost one hundred biographical sketches of men in the Bible who are examples of what to do, or what not to do. There are also Personal Gold articles throughout from respected Christian ministers. The scripture text is double-column with single-column commentary below.
Because it is missing both cross-references and a concordance, this could be considered a discipleship Bible rather than a study Bible. If your focus is on developing in your relationships at home, at work, and with God, this Bible is an excellent resource.
First Impression: to the point
Pros: rich insights from Christian men specifically for what men face
Cons: no cross-reference, no concordance
Best study Bible for: those who want discipling and devotional content for men
Woman’s Study Bible
The Woman’s Study Bible features devotional and inspirational articles from over 80 Christian women with a variety of denominational backgrounds. There are also inspirational quotes from Christian women throughout history and biographies of one hundred different women in the Bible. The purpose of much of the additional content is to highlight God’s love and care specifically for women.
The scripture and notes are both double-column. Notes are in a shaded area and a different font, so they are easy to distinguish. One tool that is notably missing is a cross-reference system for related verses. The four-color graphics used throughout definitely have a feminine flair, adding interest without distracting from the text.
First Impression: feminine
Pros: biblical insights from women from a wide variety of backgrounds and professions
Cons: no cross-references
Best study Bible for: those who want a Bible with a good balance of study material and devotional content for women
Kids’ Visual Study Bible
One of the first things you’ll notice about this Bible is that once you take it out of the box, the embossed cover looks very grown up. The complete text of the NIV translation is included. The scripture is single-column with simplified study notes in the colored side bar of each page. The vibrant four color design makes the maps, charts and info-graphics fun and easy to read.
The target audience is kids ages 8-12. Other than the simplified study notes, this Bible doesn’t include the basic study tools an adult would look for, such as cross-referencing and a concordance. If you use this as an adult it would be more of a colorful, easily accessible, reading Bible rather than a study Bible.
First Impression: vibrant
Pros: great graphics, easy-to-understand notes
Cons: missing basic study tools for digging deeper
Best study Bible for: kids 8-12 years old, or someone at that reading level
The Inductive Study Bible
This study Bible is designed to help you discover for yourself the meaning of the scripture and how to apply it. If you don’t like marking in your Bible, this one is not for you. Bible study tools are kept at the front and the back of the Bible, leaving the single-column scripture text almost uninterrupted. Cross-references are on the inside margin.
The Inductive Bible Study method is explained in detail in the front section. Each book of the Bible has an introduction and overview, but chapter headers and book outlines are left blank for you to fill in as you study. Other than minimal prompts on keywords to look for as you study, there is very little commentary. If you want to pull scriptural truths from the Bible for yourself, without getting too technical you will love this Bible.
First impression: pencils ready!
Pros: makes understanding the Bible accessible to everyone
Cons: you are on your own and may miss inspired insights from seasoned ministers
Best study Bible for: those who want to discover things for themselves and are comfortable marking their Bible
The Best Study Bibles Help Make Studying A Habit
The Bible is God’s instruction manual for living. No matter where you’re at in your Christianity, studying God’s word will change you for the better. The bottom line is to start making the Bible a part of your everyday life.
Whether you choose a highly technical tool like the Hebrew-Greek Keyword Study Bible, an exposition of the word developed from one persons’ lifetime of ministry like the MacArthur Study Bible, a different Bible from our top ten list, or one that wasn’t listed at all – the best study bibles get you to start digging into God’s word for yourself. Once you do, you will be glad you did.