Growing up as a kid, my dad had all kinds of different tools. My dad has always been the type of guy who had the incredible ability to fix almost anything. It was always exciting to see him diagnose a problem and put all of those tools to work. Tools are something that you grow accustomed too, but when it was time to get my own tools, it was almost impossible to get an exact duplicate of his tools, especially his voltmeter. Dad’s voltmeter was simple, straightforward and to the point. When I purchased my voltmeter, it had symbols and functions that require their own education. To be honest, I have owned my voltmeter for years and still am not sure what all it does. For many, your study bible is exactly the same way. You have owned it for years and are still not sure what all it does.
A Study Bible is a tool. It was designed to help you more effectively study God’s Word. It is filled with features that allow you to study the Bible on your own in order to grow in your faith. Study Bibles come in all kinds of different translations, publishers, editors and even with different focuses. Each have features that are unique, but most have some general features that common among all.
Articles – Although there are a many different kinds of Study Bibles, many have articles that have been contributed by authors to help you grow in your faith. I have many different Study Bibles, some have a devotional focus and others have a more serious focus. Generally, there is a list of these articles somewhere in your Bible. You may find it helpful to allow yourself time in your study to read these articles as you study, or you may commit yourself to reading an article a day. They have been designed to help you deepen your knowledge of the Bible and ultimately help you grow in your faith.
Maps – Almost every Bible includes maps. These maps will help you trace the movement of the characters of Scripture. You will find that there are maps tracing the division of the land in the Old Testament. There are maps that display the change of the land of Israel from the Old Testament and the New Testament. There are even maps that help you follow the different missionary journeys of the Apostle Paul. Maps will help you understand Scripture more fully and serve to bring the stories to life.
Cross References – Scattered throughout verses in your Bible you may find little letters, or numbers that coincide with a collection of verses on the page. These clusters of verses are almost always cross references. The greatest commentary for the Bible is the Bible. It is helpful to understand the passages that are more difficult to understand with the passages that you understand clearly. It is important to point out that not all clusters of verses are general cross references but are study systems that are designed to walk you through preselected subjects. Cross references can help you gain insight into passages of Scripture and expose you to more of the Bible itself.
Book Introductions – Study Bibles most often come with book introductions. These introductions are designed to help you become more acquainted with the book before you actually read it. They usually help you become acquainted with the setting of the book, who wrote it, when they wrote it and why they wrote the book. Some of the more serious Study Bibles may also help you become acquainted with interpretive challenges in understanding the book. Possessing a basic understanding of the background of a particular biblical book will be a great help in understanding what you read.
Book Outline – Book outlines are another feature that will help you in your study. These outlines have been provided by an author and reflect their understanding of the composition of the book. Such an outline is helpful to understand the biblical author’s thought process as he writes. These outlines are also helpful in understanding the author’s line of thought if you aren’t reading that book from the beginning.
Commentary – The most obvious characteristic of a Study Bible is the commentary. The commentary section of a Study Bible can be exceptionally helpful because it records the understanding of an author for a particular passage of Scripture. Study Bible commentaries can range from excerpts from a pastor’s sermon, devotional application, or in some cases contributions from respected bible scholars. Each contribution is only as good as its author.
Concordance – A Study Bible Concordance is a list of biblical references arranged by a selected word in the verse. A concordance can help you find a favorite verse. Concordances can be of great help in doing Bible study, unfortunately the Concordance in most Study Bibles is fairly anemic. The purpose of most Study Bible Concordances is to help you find a particular verse, but not much more.
Topic Index – In some Study Bibles there is a Topic Index. This index contains selected text for subjects. These subjects or topics are arranged by common interest or biblical doctrine. Each topic is followed by selected verses. This is helpful as you seek to gain a greater understanding of what the Bible teaches about each selected topic. It is important remember that this Topic Index is not exhaustive—it doesn’t list everything in the Bible about a given subject, but it will be helpful as you study.
Reading Plan – I have found that most are willing to read the Bible, in fact many what to read the Bible, but don’t know where to begin. A preset reading plan can be of great help in finding a place to begin. Not every Study Bible has a reading plan. A reading plan is often arranged by dates or by weeks of the month. The purpose of these plans is to help you actually get into God’s Word and read it for yourself. A reading plan gives you a consistent place to begin to read the Bible.
A good Study Bible is a valuable tool for any level of Bible student. Once you become more acquainted with the features of your Study Bible you will find it to be a great help in your spiritual growth. Each of the features above will become a valuable tool in helping expose you in a greater way to God’s Word. Many Study Bibles have unique features, it will benefit you greatly if you take some time to acquaint yourself with these features.