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JSPNot all will agree with my top 3 study Bibles (duh), but then again not all readers of the Bible are at the same place and looking for the same things.

Apart from that, this list is objectively accurate and if you can’t see that it’s not my fault.

In no particular order, here they are:

HCSB and NISB include the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical books and use the NRSV as their text. The JSB does not include these books and is based on the Jewish Publication Society’s translation, Tanakh.

So what do I like about these study Bibles?HCSB

  • Personally, I like the NRSV. I think it is a combination of being the least idiosyncratic and most scholarly translation. There I said it. It also lends a freshness to those accustomed to other translations, as does the Tanach translation (although there I am not always sure why they did what they did, but that’s another subject).
  • All three include excellent, informative, scholarly essays on a wide variety of topics. For me, the best of the three is JSB. It’s like a seminary/intro-level grad school education (and I’ll throw in here the essays in the The Jewish Annotated New Testament). I feel like I’m part of a bigger conversation in my reading of the Bible rather than being insulated from one.
  • I rarely feel that the essays and study notes are trying to sell me snake oil. There are exceptions here and there, but on the whole I feel I am getting reliable, balanced, and academically up-to-date information rather than being driven to accept a final answer to difficult problems.
  • James Kugel once relayed to his students, “Commentaries are like traffic cops. They’re never there when you need them.” I feel the same way about many study Bibles out there, namely those produced with a conservative readership in mind. Again, with some exceptions, the notes in these study Bibles are insightful, yield information that goes far beyond stating the obvious, and rarely have qualms about noting where there are contradictions and/or historical problems in the Bible. (NISB also has frequent lengthy “special notes” that deal quite squarely with things like historical issues and moral challenges.)

NISBI don’t have a favorite of these three. I’ve been using NISB for a few years in class, but I will always take a look at the notes in JPS and HCSB to see what they have to add.

Anyway, I wrote this post in part to answer a common question I get: “I don’t have a degree in Bible, but I want to be able to track with things I see online or read books to help me understand more. How can I get started?”

My answer is, “Read a good study Bible along with the notes.” So these three are what I consider to be “good study Bibles.”

Pete Enns, Ph.D.

Peter Enns (Ph.D., Harvard University) is Abram S. Clemens professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He has written numerous books, including The Bible Tells Me So, The Sin of Certainty, and How the Bible Actually Works. Tweets at @peteenns.