As a pastor and a student of the Word, people often ask me which study Bible is best. For those who may not know, a study Bible is a Bible that contains scholarly and/or popular notes at the bottom of the page. These notes serve as a commentary for the biblical text. Some of these notes may provide historical information that provides insight for the passage at hand. Other notes may give a cross-reference to other passages of Scripture. Even other notes may try to explain more difficult passages of Scripture.
But many people will ask, “Pastor, in your experience, which is the best study Bible?” Such a question is good and completely understandable due to the massive number of study Bibles on the market today. Therefore, I would like to present you with my personal top 5 list of recommended study Bibles. I may revise this list in a future article as more study Bibles are published. I gauge these study Bibles according to the quality of notes and articles provided along with the usefulness of the study Bible in question.
- Life Application Study Bible. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale. 2004. Avg. price $39.99. 2448 pages.
The Life Application Study Bible comes in a wide array of translations. For those who love the NIV or the KJV, you will find this study Bible for your preferred translation. The Life Application Study Bible (LASB) offers a chart harmonizing the Gospels along with over 10,000 notes. The downside to this study Bible is that the LASB offers more of an application of the text rather than scholarly notes. Thus, if you are desiring a study Bible that serves as a devotional Bible, then the LASB will be for you. In contrast, if you are looking for a more scholarly treatment of the text, then you will want to consider some of the other study Bibles given in this article.
- HCSB Study Bible. Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2010. Avg. Price: $49.99. 2100 pages.
The HCSB Study Bible is the recipient of the 2011 Christian Book Award Winner. And for good reason. The study Bible offers around 15,000 study notes, 315 word studies, 141 color photographs, 62 timelines, 59 maps, 24 articles, 16 illustrations, 15 charts, and even a one-year Bible reading plan. The notes are scholarly and well-written. The only problem is that this study Bible is written from a particular perspective within evangelicalism. It is a perspective that with which I am in great agreement. However, I do not feel that it offers a fair treatment on some issues, particularly issues pertaining to the age old debate surrounding divine sovereignty and human freedom. Also, I have a love-hate relationship with the HCSB text. The HCSB is very easy to read. The HCSB is a conservative translation as well. However (and it may be where I am too traditional), it is difficult for me to get accustomed to the number of times the HCSB uses the personal name Yahweh in the Old Testament. Most translations keep the tradition in translating the personal name of God to “LORD.” Regardless, if you can get past some of the nuances with the translation, the HCSB Study Bible may be for you.
- HCSB Apologetics Study Bible. Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2012. Avg. Price:$39.99. 2048 pages.
The HCSB Apologetics Study Bible is a must have for anyone interested in apologetics. The Apologetics Study Bible offers 5 full-color maps, 11 charts, and a timeline of Christian apologists and their works. The downside to this study Bible is that it does not have many in-text notes. If you are looking for historical information pertaining to particular passages of Scripture, then you will need to look at other study Bibles in this list. However, this study Bible excels in its articles. The Apologetics Study Bible features 132 articles written by individuals such as the late Chuck Colson, Norman Geisler, Hank Hanegraaff, Josh McDowell, Albert Mohler, Ravi Zacharias, Lee Strobel, and 90 more contributors. The Apologetics Study Bible is one that the serious student, pastor, and layman alike will want on their shelves.
- NIV Zondervan Study Bible. Grand Rapids: MI: Zondervan, 2015. Avg. Price: $49.99. 2912 pages.
The newest study Bible on our list was released in August of 2015. This Bible is chock-full of information from some of the most notable scholars in our day. Drs. D. A. Carson (PhD, Cambridge University), Richard Hess (PhD, Hebrew Union College), Douglas J. Moo (PhD, University of St. Andrews), and Andrew David Naselli (PhD, Bob Jones University; PhD, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) are among the top contributors to this work. The study Bible offers approximately 20,000 comprehensive verse-by-verse study notes; hundreds of color photographs, maps and charts; over 35,000 verse concordance; section introductions, over 60 scholarly contributors; dozens of full length articles; and to top it off—free digital access online for those who purchase the Bible. The only downside is that the NIV 2011 updated text has come under scrutiny since the update was released (something that I feel has been both unjustified and unfair). However, the fact that conservative leaders such as Joni Eareckson Tada, Tim Keller, and R. Albert Mohler have added their endorsements to this study Bible should relieve any hesitations that one may possess. The study Bible is MASSIVE which indicates the voluminous contributions that the study Bible will hold for your personal study of the Scriptures. The NIV Zondervan Study Bible is a hot-contender for the number one spot.
- ESV Study Bible. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008. Avg. Price: $49.99. 2752 pages.
To say that the ESV Study Bible is the king of the mountain when it comes to study Bibles is an understatement. I have many friends in graduate school and teachers alike. I often hear praises from them concerning the value of the ESV Study Bible. It is also telling that one version of this study Bible was out of stock and waiting to be refilled on Amazon.com at the time this article was published. The ESV Study Bible provides 25,000 verse-by-verse notes, over 200 full-color maps, over 80,000 cross-references, over 200 charts, section summaries, book introductions, and a massive collection of articles in the back of the Bible. The study Bible was created by a diverse team of 95 leading scholars from 9 countries, 20 denominations, and 50 institutions of higher learning. The study Bible also holds the English Standard Version (ESV) text which has been praised for its accuracy and readability. Dr. Daniel Wallace (Greek expert and Executive Director of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts) even praised the ESV at a recent conference for its translational accuracy from the original biblical languages. For any serious student of the Bible, the ESV Study Bible is a must-have. I recommend it as the best study Bible up to the point that this article has been published.
© March 11, 2016. Brian Chilton.
 All prices given are for the hardcover editions. The list prices are also given. Bibles may vary from the price listed. Leather bound study Bibles will hold a higher cost, whereas softcover editions may be somewhat cheaper.
 The controversy stems over the NIV’s use of gender inclusive language where masculine pronouns are intended for both men and women. However, other translations such as the ESV, NLT, and HCSB all do the same. Contrary to the hype, the NIV does not change the divine pronouns. While the NIV does make some changes that I do not like (holding that John 3:16-21 is a teaching of John rather than a quote of Jesus, and italicizing the script of the two controversial passages in Mark 16:9ff and John 7:53-8:11), the NIV is a good translation. It may not be as literal as the ESV and NASB, but many find it to read easier than others listed.