The Bible

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The Bible may seem to need no mention but a trustworthy translation of the Bible is essential if we are to be confident that we are as close as possible to the original reading of the passage except that we are reading it in English. A study Bible will not be essential but it will be a tremendous asset as study Bibles usually include in one volume many useful study helps such as: cross references, historical background information, book introductions and outlines, etc. An other important type of Bible worth purchasing is a parallel Bible, one that shows on one page several translations side by side, making it easier to compare various translations of a passage. My personal preference for a study Bible would contain only the text of a reliable translation, a good collection of cross references, a useful dictionary/concordance and a relevant set of maps and charts. The primary benefit of such a Bible would be that it would tend to avoid the risk of doctrinal error that is inherent in study Bibles laden with interpretive notes and encourage its use in allowing the Bible to speak for itself.

There are many study Bibles available, far to many to include in this study guide; of those that I have personally enjoyed using I can recommend the following:

The NASB Topical Reference Bible is the study Bible that I've been dreaming of for years and is currently my favourite Bible for reading and study. While it doesn't quite have everything that I mention below in "My Ideal Study Bible", the Bible study resources that it does include are comprehensive and eminently useful. 1) A 255 page topical index. 2) An extensive  center column cross reference system with over 90,000 references. 3) A 210 page concordance. 4) Charts showing: a) Jesus' genealogy b) God's promises c) Jesus' miracles d) Old Testament prophecies fulfilled in Christ e) Jesus' parables f) Jesus' titles g) Book introductions and h) a One year reading plan. 6) Eight full colour maps. Built on the very literal and highly respected 1995 edition of the New American Standard translation, the text of the NASB Topical Reference Bible includes in-text indicators of alternate translations and italicizes words that have been added during translation to enhance readability.
The ESV Study Bible is perhaps the finest all-in-one study Bible I have yet encountered. Combining a translation that is both readable and highly accurate with study notes that enhance the Bible's message, the ESV Study Bible is a joy to use. Copious charts, maps and notes make the text come alive and enable our entry into a culture 2,000 years gone as much as is possible in a single volume. With 80,000 cross references, extensive tables of Old Testament prophecies fulfilled in the New Testament, geographical and historical background it is possibly the most comprehensive study guide available.
The NIV Thinline Reference Bible is a compact reference Bible combining the NIV text with the extensive cross reference system of the NIV Study Bible and a moderately sized concordance. This Bible is very good for inductive Bible study as it includes none of the study notes commonly included with study Bibles and allows Bible students to follow a concept through the Bible and come to their own conclusions on the Bible's teaching.
The NIV Study Bible which with its in text maps and historical notes is an excellent choice. Its cross referencing system is almost without peer as to quantity (about 100,000) and usefulness. It also contains excellent book introductions, maps, and quite a large concordance, as well as many other useful tools. The interpretive notes frequently tend to ignore the power of God and attempt to give natural explanations for supernatural events. Other notes, however, offer very useful biographical, historical and cultural information in a very timely manner.
The Thompson Chain Reference Bible which is still one of the standards by which other study Bibles are measured and is one of the few study Bibles actually included in readily available Bible study software. Over forty years of research and study were spent in compiling the system of topical chains and references that allow the Bible student to quickly come to an understanding of almost any area of study. Extensive archaeological information is also printed for many places referred to within the text of the Bible. As well it boasts a considerable topical Bible, and a large concordance each of which enhances the ability of the Bible student to easily locate specific teaching or verses in the Bible. All in all there is very good reason why the Thompson Chain Reference Bible is still one of the most popular study Bibles available. One further advantage of the Thompson Chain Reference Bible is that, since it is in the public domain, it is frequently bundled in Bible software packages.
The New Inductive Study Bible is an excellent study resource with a minimum of interpretive notes but a wealth of guidelines on interpretive principles, even the various book introductions refrain from specific analysis and offer guides to interpretation instead. The New Inductive Study Bible is also a relatively conservative treatment of the Bible; for example, although many study Bibles include a chronology of Biblical events the chronology included with the NISB is one of the few I have seen that begins at 4000BC rather than ambiguously referring to the pre-Abrahamic period as the undatable past. With many maps, charts, cross-references (although not as many cross references as in the NIV Study Bible, there are significantly more than in many other study Bibles) and wide margins around the text this is an especially useful resource for the serious Bible student.
The Open Bible which contains a cyclopedic topical index, a concordance, book introductions and analyses, and many other valuable helps and study guides. Although its cross referencing system is not up to the standard set by other study Bibles this lack is ably compensated for through its comprehensive topical dictionary. The Open Bible also includes tools of value for Christian workers such as answers to common objections to Christianity and basic Gospel presentation. Although more difficult to obtain than previously it is an extremely useful tool and is highly recommended.

My Ideal Study Bible does not yet exist; but perhaps a Bible publisher will one day read this and is moved to produce it. This list of features is more of a personal preference than anything else and is my response to the observed failings of currently available study Bibles. Any combination of the following would appear in-text; as much as possible without disrupting the readability of the Bible so that the necessary resources are present where and when they are needed with a minimum of page turning except to minimize repeated identical references. My Ideal Study Bible would contain the following:

Extensive cross reference system with a minimum of 100,000 references
A concordance listing all verses for significant items and comprehensive listings for less significant items (or a combination of concordance & cross reference system where the reader can easily locate any verse not listed in the concordance by means of cross references at the verses that are listed in the concordance)
Historical notes highlighting significant points in history from creation to relatively modern times
Biographical snapshots of significant individuals, groups & nations found in the Bible
Treat the Bible as a valid and reliable reference document (ie: Creation occurred near 4000BC rather than in the undated past; the flood of Noah was global rather than local; miracles really occurred rather than being fabricated events; Jesus is coming back as opposed to the world continuing on forever and etc.)
Abundant in-text charts and illustrations
Minimal use of interpretative notes except where absolutely necessary
Comprehensive maps, political, geographical and historical
Archaeological notes on major Biblical locations with illustrations

Many other excellent study Bibles are available but those listed above enjoy almost universal approval. Regardless of which study Bible you make use of you must be aware of any apparent bias on the part of the study helps incorporated into the Bible. Some study Bibles emphasize through their notes and helps doctrinal opinions that are accepted by only a small minority of believers and which can sometimes be at odds with the truth of the Bible itself. Even several of today's standard translations will occasionally exhibit a theological trend somewhat off the beaten path and of which the student must be aware. When in doubt as to the value of a specific study help remind yourself that any contradiction between human understanding of the Bible and the true meaning of God’s word is always due to finite capabilities of the human mind and its ability, regardless of level of education, to make mistakes.

For we know in part, and we prophesy in part; but when that which is complete has come, then that which is partial will be done away with. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I felt as a child, I thought as a child. Now that I have become a man, I have put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, even as I was also fully known.

1 Corinthians 13:9-12

No set of notes will ever be perfect as each will be the product of the human mind and will never be without a certain amount of bias; all comments and reference notes must be compared against the Bible itself. It is always a worthwhile task to review the editorial and copyright information within any Bible you wish to purchase/use in order to determine the nature of the bias present in that treatment of God’s word and be prepared for when it appears during your studies. It is also a very good idea to ask if you can preview any Bible before you purchase it and examine its notes on specific issues. Pay specific interest to the notes relating to issues that would be of concern, such as: creation, eschatology (study of end times), theology (study of God), or soteriology (study of atonement). For those who interpret Genesis literally the notes in most modern study Bibles will fall far short of their ideal, having chosen to compromise the teaching of God with that of man by interpreting the Bible in the light of evolutionist teaching. Also controversial are modern translations that remove gender specifics in reference to God, weaken the Bible’s authority on homosexuality and/or other morality issues, or deny the interruption of the normal by acts of Gods’ power (miracles). If no available study Bible meets your immediate needs perhaps a combination of any or all of the tools below should be considered.

The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Beroea. When they arrived, they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. Many of them therefore believed; also of the prominent Greek women, and not a few men.

Acts 17:10-12

Two additional types of Bible that can be very useful aides in Bible study are Interlinear Bibles and Parallel Bibles. These typically are not accompanied by in-text notes or maps, but by printing various translations side-by-side the reader can easily compare translation styles.

Simply put, an Interlinear Bible is a Bible in which each line of English text is interspersed by that same text as it would appear in the original language. This allows you to actually see the structure of thought in the original and gives you an extremely literal translation, although very difficult to understand. A second advantage of using an interlinear Bible is that you can determine at a glance the actual words used by the original authors and how these words have subsequently been treated by the translators of the English Bible. Most bookstores will have copies available of some form of interlinear New Testament, and most computer Bible programs will also have an interlinear New Testament. Interlinear copies of the Old Testament are less practical as Hebrew was written from right to left and therefore an exact English translation would be extremely difficult to read unless the Hebrew original were to be reversed, which would somewhat defeat the purpose of the process.
A Parallel Bible is a Bible that contains two or more translations of the Bible in the same language. This tool is useful when the student wishes to compare how a passage has been translated by differing schools of thought. Again, although the student may be tempted to accept on translation's treatment over an other's, we must all remain open to the guidance of God's Holy Spirit and allow Him to teach us what we need to be taught rather than choosing a translation that appeals to our opinions or bends the Bible to our own will. As the difference between even the two most divergent translation traditions (as represented by the King James Version and the New International Version) amounts at most to only 5% of the Bible, and as this difference in no way affects any critical Christian doctrine, the parallel Bible is often less important than the other Bible study tools. It does, however, allow the student to easily determine where differences have occurred and perhaps note those areas for further study. One problem with studying with a parallel Bible lies in the uncertainty of which text to follow in the event of textual differences. In the case where such differences occur it is recommended that you fall back upon an alternate resource, such as “The New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge” (below) in order to determine what alternate passages of the Bible may have to say regarding the passage being studied. As the various translations within a parallel Bible will often express Biblical teaching in different ways we may be tempted to choose the translation that most suits our desires. Again, it is the context of the passage that determines its meaning. Alternate translations may shed light on a passage but their teaching must not be accepted simply because it appeals to us. We must also take care not to reject an alternate translation merely because it states things differently than does our favoured translation.