What does the apostle Paul mean when he says ‘live a quiet life’ in this verse?” The question was posed by a person participating in a Bible study I was visiting as part of our church. The facilitator—a veteran of facilitating small group discussions—flipped his study Bible open to that verse, dropped down to the footnotes, then read the explanation of the verse in the footnotes. The person that had originally asked the question responded, “Oh okay, that makes sense now.”
I had always believed in the importance of having a study Bible, but this experience reminded me that a study Bible is an essential tool to help Christians do Bible study. People that are new to the Christian faith will especially benefit from a good study Bible. Here are some features of a study Bible and how it can help you.
INTRODUCTIONS TO BOOKS OF THE BIBLE
One of the great features of study Bibles are the introductions to each book of the Bible. These introductions have notes about who the author of the book is, when it was written, what key verses are found there, the central theme or big idea, as well as an outline of each book. These book introductions are helpful when you come to complex books such as Ezekiel or Matthew or Revelation because they help give you a good framework for moving forward. These notes provide a solid foundation for you and your study of the Biblical text, almost like a “springboard” for further in-depth study.
SCRIPTURE STUDY NOTES ON VERSES
Another great feature of a study Bible is the study notes on passages, verses, and words of the biblical text. An example of this is from the ESV Study Bible. Romans 6:23 reads, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” If you look at the study notes at the bottom of the page on this verse, it reads, “6:23 Those who give themselves to sin will die both physically and eternally, whereas Christians are assured of eternal life. Wages implies that the punishment for sin is what one has earned and who one deserves. Free gift is the opposite of something one deserves, which fits Paul’s earlier emphasis on justification by grace alone (God’s unmerited favor; see note on 4:16), through faith alone (trusting in Christ for justification; see 1:17; 3:21-4:25).” As you can see, the ESV Study Bible helpfully explains this verse, then it comments on specific words in the verse (“wages” and “free gift”). These notes help explain what the passage means and how we are supposed to apply it to our lives. Don’t worry, focusing on specific words or passages won’t negate the whole picture and meaning of the full passage (or how the Holy Spirit speaks to you), but it may help you think deeper and enjoy more of the richness of God’s words.
A concordance is another helpful feature of a study Bible. (Most Bibles have a concordance but might not be as extensive as a study Bible concordance.) A concordance is a list of words in alphabetical order with a list of verses that mention that word. If someone in your small group asks, “What does the Bible say about the word ‘hate’?” A quick glance at the concordance in the ESV Study Bible shows that the word is used in Lev 19:17; Pss 5:5; 139:21; Prov 8:36; Amos 5:15; Luke 6:27 and Rom 7:15, which allows you to read those verses to your group. You can delve in more deeply to the context and situations surrounding specific subjects. While most concordances only present a “select” number of occurrences of that word due to space restrictions – it’s a great place to start!
Another helpful resource of a study Bible is the cross-reference system. This allows you to look at other Bible verses that discuss the same topic or use the same word. For example, Revelation 13:5 talks about the Anti-Christ who will be revealed in the future, “And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months” (ESV). This verse has several cross-references in the ESV Study Bible, one which lists 2 Thessalonians 2:4 as a verse related to this one, “the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God” (ESV). As you can see, the cross-reference system helps you find passages that discuss similar topics, which helps you learn and understand difficult Scripture passages. Cross-referencing can help you connect even more to the larger biblical narrative that God is telling.
GREAT STUDY BIBLES
Which study Bible you have is not as important as the fact that you have one which you regularly use. I recommend these study Bibles: ESV Study Bible, NLT Study Bible, NIV Study Bible, Swindoll Study Bible (NLT), Ryrie Study Bible (NASB, KJV), Scofield Study Bible (NIV, NKJV, KJV), Wiersbe Study Bible (NKJV). The best translation to use is the translation you use! The same is true for study Bibles.
Regardless if you are a seminary professor who has been teaching the Bible for fifty years, or a new believer that is just looking to purchase your first Bible, it’s a great idea to get a study Bible. I encourage you to study it, meditate on it, and live it.