Thursday, December 11, 2008

On Study Bibles

I recently had an eye-opening experience at a bowling alley. A lady who knew that I was a Pastor came up to me and asked me a question about a passage in the Bible and her interpretation was a little bit out of left-field. She told me that she had learned it from her study Bible. As we discussed the passage I could not get her to really look at the passage, she was hung up on the study notes.

I remember as a baby believer in college that my study bibles (yes it quickly became plural) were incredibly helpful in my early growth in understanding the Word. I remember lugging two very large study bibles to a dorm bible study. I also remember John’s devotion to his MacArthur study bible. I heard many a sermon from John holding that huge Bible in the pulpit. I was a study bible junkie and I still feel the urge to buy every new study bible (the ESV Study Bible is calling my name).

So the question I’m asking myself is what role a study bible should have in the life a believer. I have had both positive experiences and negative experiences. So what I would like to do is sort of weigh out the positives and negatives, and see where we land.

First in the positive category a study bible can help a baby believer take their first steps in understanding the Word. I remember knowing nothing a junior in college and with every passage I had questions, and my study bible’s really helped.

Another positive is the benefit of all the specialty bibles floating around. For example I love my Apologetics Study Bible. So if you are feeling a little uninformed in an area you can probably find a study bible to help you. Or if you are really passionate about a subject (such as apologetics) then you could benefit from reading the bible with consistent notes that show how apologetics reflects on whatever passage you happen to be reading.

The last benefit that I can find is the benefit of having some notes with you in the church to test the orthodoxy of what you are hearing. But this could also be a negative in that you could get distracted be reading the notes instead of listening to the message. Also you could make Tim LaHaye or John MacArthur your test of orthodoxy instead of testing scripture with scripture.

In the negative category there is the fact that by the nature of the space allowed nothing is treated in depth. Sometimes such a bare bones treatment isn’t helpful at all.

Also because publishers want to sell bible’s they avoid offending people, which means that they tend to avoid the really controversial passages, which in my mind would be the biggest need for a study bible.

Another negative is the unwavering devotion that can develop between a believer and the study bible that helped them greatly when they first started reading the bible.

There is also the danger that I have seen where there is confusion between what is inspired scripture and what is the fallible guidance of people.

Now in light of these few positives and negatives what recommendations seem wise? For a little honest disclosure, I no longer use study bible’s in my quiet time and very rarely in the study.
This may be for a couple of reasons, my library has grown and with the commentaries on my shelf the study bible’s have been dwarfed. Also I have grown in my knowledge of the Word and no longer lean on study bibles the way I used to.

So I think that I would recommend a study bible to a new believer to help them begin growing in the Word. But in the light of the dangers a believer who has extended themselves in studying the Word would appear to be wise to lay aside their study bible, keep it as a resource as a tool, but study the Word on its own merits with no intruding thoughts from anyone else.


Joshua Owen said...

Jamie, I thought your pros and cons were helpful, but could you explain what you are getting at with your last sentence?

John Lucas said...

Jamie, I agree with Josh that this was a very helpful post. You had a good list of the pros and cons. I would take issue with one aspect though(big shock right:)). I would recommend study Bibles to a seasoned laymen for studying and having trustworthy interpretation. For the new believer I am hessitant b/c of the danger you mention of becoming too dependent upon them. I would instead recommend a new believer reading through Scripture without such a tools, with guidance from a mature believer or pastor along the way. This would teach him/her the value of going to the text FIRST. That does not mean they should not invest in a good study Bible, I would just encourage reading the Bible without them as much as possible to become immersed in the NT, learning to ask questions and find answers, and see how the Scriptures themselves will answer our questions through prayful study. Great post bro.

Jamie Fugate said...

I think that I can answer both of your questions at the same time. (Bear in mind that I'm planning a follow-up post on having a daily quiet time).

What I was aiming at in my last sentence and what I was aiming at overall was to create an intimacy with the Word that resources can inhibit.

I would advocate that every believer baby or not sit with the text and wrestle with it. Try to unearth what God has spoken in His Word. Then whenever we remain mystified or in need of help we turn to our resources; study bibles, commentaries, dictionaries and the like.

But I remember being a baby believer in college and needing very basic help very frequently, so I anticipate that the new beleivers will have need of help more frequently and that those questions will probably be more basic (the kind a study bible can help with) than that of a more biblically literate believer.

Sorry if I wasn't clear.