Religious text has always been a balance of scripture and commentary. In Judaism, the Talmud supplements the Tanakh—largely what Christians know as the Old Testament—with a collection of opinions, arguments, and discussions relating to the Torah and the rest of the Hebrew Bible. Christian theologians, too, have annotated and expanded upon the Bible in order to provide context, clarification, perspective, and debate. If you want to go beyond simply reading the Bible, these expanded editions will lend you greater insight into the word you read. In this post, we’ll go over some of the differences between reference and study Bibles so you may find the edition that’s right for you and your reading needs.
Improving upon the King James Version of the Bible is, of course, a nigh-impossible task. However, American theologian Cyrus Scofield sought to give readers of the KJV a deeper understanding of the Bible by annotating its books with a series of guides and indexes that would lead readers to follow themes across books rather than simply reading the Bible in order. A reference Bible allows for a more encyclopedic approach to the text, as well as a narrative approach. Though the Scofield Reference Bible contained commentary from the author, future reference Bibles have kept the cross-references while taking a more dispassionate perspective, allowing readers to develop their own opinions.
As the name would indicate, study Bibles are intended for serious Bible scholars who seek not only to read the Bible and apply it to their lives but also gain greater historical context for the work and engage in the continuing theological discourse. Study Bibles contain many educational aids for the reader, such as historical maps of the ancient Middle East, historical context for each book, or advanced profiles of key characters in the Bible. Thematic connections between books occur in both reference Bibles and study Bibles. Study Bibles also come with many theological interpretations included alongside the original text, which a reader may or may not agree with.
Which Is Right for You?
The Bible is, of course, a book that demands an in-depth reading, which publishers have addressed with different reference and study Bibles. The KJV Store has many varieties of KJV Bibles for sale, with both reference and study Bibles for your edification, in addition to the classic and unannotated King James Version. If you’re already familiar with the Bible but seek to go deeper still, or if you have your eyes on divinity school, a study Bible may be the right choice. For readers who are put off by scholars editorializing upon the Bible, a reference Bible may be a wiser decision. But of course, no one can go wrong with the original.