I love the Bible. I’ve devoted my life to the teaching of God’s word. But I have a confession to make.
I hate Study Bibles. Not the actual Bible part, the “Study” part, where they add all those extra notes in the margins and at the bottom of the page.
I want to invoke the curse at the end of Revelation (21:18-19), which states that if anyone adds to the words of the prophecy, all the nasty things that Revelation describes will come upon them. Seems appropriate, don’t you think?
Why? A valid question.
The comments in Study Bibles appear to have the same authority as Scripture because they are printed right there on the same page. That’s scary. Hence the Revelation curse. In fact, since the comments often attempt to clarify an unclear text, they seem to have more authority than God’s word. Obviously, discerning readers will view the comments critically and take them with a grain of salt, but most people don’t do that.
I can’t count the number of times during a Bible discussion someone says, “Well, my Bible says…”. I ask, “Is that your Bible, or a note in the margin?” It’s usually a Study Bible comment. In my 5+ years of teaching at Seminary, I’ve read hundreds of papers that quote Study Bibles in academic papers.
Study Bible comments are kind of like stuff on the internet. Sometimes the information is good, sometimes it’s junk. But at least when you go to the internet, you know you’re going to find some junk. You don’t expect to find junk in your Bible. At least you shouldn’t.
Some Study Bibles are relatively harmless, and even helpful at times. The notes are limited and just provide context and background that most typical Bible readers just don’t know. But most Study Bibles can’t resist the temptation to speak with authority on matters that Scripture isn’t clear about (here comes that Revelation curse). They often give a particular theological emphasis or interpretation. I’ve seen comments that attempt to lay out the correct biblical perspective on Baptism, authorship of a book, spiritual gifts, women in leadership, the environment, etc. Sometimes I agree, sometimes I don’t–that doesn’t matter–what matters is that people are inserting their theology directly into the text.
I’m not going to mention any Study Bibles in particular (there are hundreds out there), and I realize that many people love them and find them helpful. Just a word of caution, take those comments with a grain of salt.
View Study Bible comments like you’d view the comments from a person in your Small group. Sometimes you agree, sometimes you don’t. Study Bible comments can be like the person who talks too much, talks too dogmatically and doesn’t ask questions. They’re not fun to have in a discussion.
What kind of information do you want or find helpful in your Bibles?