Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Pulpit Review: Study Bibles


NLT Study Bible (New Living Translation). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2008. 2488 Pages + 40 + Maps. Cloth.  $39.99. www.NLTStudyBible.com  www.newlivingtranslation.com  www.tyndale.com  (LHP)

HCSB Study Bible (Holman Christian Standard Bible). Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2010. 2272 Pages plus maps. Cloth. $49.99. www.HCSBStudyBible.com  MyStudyBible.com (LHP)

MacArthur, John, General Editor. The MacArthur Study Bible ESV. Wheaton: Crossway, 2010. 2102 Pages plus maps. Cloth. $44.99. www.crossway.org  www.esvbible.org  (P)

Glo: The Bible for the Digital World. Grand Rapids: Zondervan/Immersion Digital, 2009. Multimedia. Four DVD-Rom discs. $89.99. www.Zondervan.com  BibleGlo.com (P)


Some book reviews take longer than others.

For example, a novel takes longer than a non-fiction book for me to read.

Books where I have no concerns about the content provide quickly-written reviews. Resources that are strong but need improvement often need reviews that are carefully-worded to be clear, constructively-critical, yet encouraging. Sadly, some resources are like vermin that need to be eradicated with all necessary force.

The books featured in this review are study Bibles. It takes a long time to get through one. This review covers four.

My comments will be brief and will largely focus on the study notes and editor/publisher-added helps rather than the translation itself. I will provide representative rather than comprehensive critical and/or positive examples, followed by a final recommendation.

The Study Bible I most frequently use has these features among many others:

  • English Standard Version translation
  • 36 maps and 880+ map references
  • over 31,000 concordance entries
  • over 26,500 study notes
  • 120 charts and diagrams
  • over 90,000 cross-reference system entries
  • 220 thematic articles

I own and use the leather, regular, compact, Kindle, and LOGOS editions. I know it well and trust it highly. The text is black on white with red text for the words of our Lord.  It will serve as our standard/control/reference study Bible for comparison in this review.

I also trust this resource on Bible translation/translations: http://lhpqbr.blogspot.com/2010/11/lhp-review-word-of-god-in-english.html.

The NLT Study Bible makes use of a 2004 update of the original 1996 New Living Translation by Tyndale House Publishers, itself a more respected, respectable, and academic successor translation to the personal, yet biased paraphrase The Living Bible of a generation ago. NLT self-identifies as as more "dynamic equivalent" than the New International Version, halfway in publisher's estimation between "essentially literal" and paraphrase (Text and Product Review, 14). I have used the NLT version of John 9 to preach as the man born blind because of the text's conversational tone.

The number of study notes is almost comparable to our standard of reference in this review. 52,000 cross-references is quite respectable, but just more than half of our standard's. The number of thematic notes exceeds that of the standard. Greek and Hebrew words studies are a nice touch, as are person profiles, often part of the book introductions in our standard.

Other positives include the Master Timeline (A20ff); an OT introduction that carefully explains the order of the Hebrew and English canon (4ff); a "mountain" outline of the Penteteuch (11); a helpful Abraham to Joshua chronology (118ff); drawings of the golden lampstand and altar of burnt offering (172, 173); a discussion of Atonement in the context of Christ (223); an article on the Aaronic Benediction (259); a mention of the alternatives of "dragon" and "sea monster" in connection with Behemoth and Leviathan in addition to the weak typical alternatives of hippopotamus and crocodile (896-897); an article on temple architecture and Jesus (1373); defense of the historical physical Resurrection of Jesus (1641, et al); a drawing of a tomb like Jesus was laid in (1813); good articles on the Good News (1847, 2025); a largely complete article on the work of the Holy Spirit (1945, yet lacking in sacramental focus); a mostly complete article on suffering (2139, could be strengthened by focusing on vocation and the theology of the cross); color maps in the end paper.

I was disappointed by a lack of clarity on "sons of God" in Genesis 6:1-2; no refutation of "decision theology" based on Joshua 24:15 in context; an out-of-context eisegesis on the Millennium (1629, note on 24:40-41); "three dominant interpretations" of the Lord's Supper (1633), including "consubstantiation," an historical mis-characterization of the Lutheran position; a weak article on Baptism (1828); three positions on Women's Roles in the NT Church (2053); three views on The Millennium (2195). Multiple articles on "sovereignty" were expected.

Literal rendering is given in NLT textual footnotes (e.g., Acts 2:42, "the Lord's Supper) as in other NLT editions. The Ten Commandments (158ff) are formatted and explained according to the Reformed numbering system.

Conclusion: The NLT Study Bible is stronger than most study Bibles that cross this desk. The editors are true to their theological tradition(s), which historically are weak on the sacraments as means of grace. There seem to be several issues (women in the Church, the sacraments, the Millennium) where the publisher is trying to acknowledge the mutually-exclusive positions of several Christian traditions in order to sell more Bibles. Text is readable, clear, and reliable: black on white. The most affordable in this group of four, I would recommend NLT Study Bible as a second or third study Bible for the reference shelf of an active Lutheran Christian, but not as the primary Bible study tool.

The HCSB Study Bible is the official study Bible using the Holman Christian Standard Bible translation. This is a 2009 update to the full translation of the Bible released in 2004. I note a Baptist flavor to the translation, interpretation, and notes. The HCSB is similar to the NIV in being largely of the "dynamic equivalent" type of translation, though the translators prefer "optimal equivalence" for the HCSB (xli). They also take special care with the names of God (xliii, 103, 498, 1883, et al). This is to be highly commended!

A feature comparison was not possible on all points noted for the standard study Bible above. 

Bible text is in black. Section headings and chapter numbers are in tan. Verse numbers are in light blue. Introduction and article pages are colored like ancient manuscripts. Maps and photographs may be in color. This is very visually appealing, but due to the paper shininess and the color ink, some features may be harder to read in bright or very dim light.

This study Bible is notable for an alphabetical table of contents (x); Hebrew and Greek word boxes explaining essential terms (12-13, passim); a scale color rendering of the ark (20); a color family tree for Abraham (85); a color, in-context map of the route of the Exodus (125); a helpful chart on the Ten Commandments (133, Reformed numbering assumed); a color rendition and explanation of the high priest's garments (147); a concise chart on the sacrificial system (176); a focus on worship in Numbers (219); an artistic rendition in perspective of the camp of Israel around the Tabernacle (224);  a drawing of a typical Israelite Home (412); a clear in-text color map of the Fall of Samaria and deportation of the Israelites (629); interior and exterior color renditions of Solomon's Temple (706); the first "dinosaur" references to Behemoth and Leviathan I have seen in a study Bible (873); Hebrew lettering provided for Psalm 119 segements and a text box on "Torah" (996ff); a brief, yet essentially complete article on the significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls (1138); a clear Christocentric interpretation of Isaiah 52-53 (1210ff); a photo of the purported Tomb of Daniel (1457); a logic flowchart on the reliability of the New Testament Writings (1597); possible harmonies of the genealogies of Matthew and Luke (1608) and of seeming Bible differences (1612ff); an unbiased interpretation of Matthew 24:40ff (1661ff); a clear and informative chart on the apostles (1745); clear teaching on the uniqueness of Jesus and salvation only in Him (1836); an emphasis on and knowledge of the Gospel (1923, 2044, passim); a good article on faith and works (2139); multiple Bible reading and memory plans (2253ff); unique color maps in the end paper.

Of concern to Lutheran Bible scholars in this study Bible are "decision theology" (xxxviii, 382, et al); an overall law predominance (passim, "principles," 1031; "ordinances"); lack of any significant notes on the Lord's Supper in Matthew 26 (1664ff) and only referring to the group of Christians as "body" in 1 Corinthians 11: 28-29 (1978); a bias in favor of believer's baptism only (1672, 1893, 1894); rapture (2070); denial of baptismal regeneration according to Jesus' promise and the Lord's action (2104, 2153); multiple millennial theories (2226ff, et al);

Conclusion: The HCSB Study Bible, at $50 for a standard edition, is visually pleasing and provides Christians a reliable translation by people who take the Bible seriously.  Notes are largely helpful. Unfortunately, when the word "ordinance," meaning "law," replaces "sacrament," or "means of grace," in a Christian tradition, the notes will likely be unfriendly at best to Lutherans with regard to Baptism and Communion. Notes supporting conversion by choice and millennialism (including rapture) are also included. Positives outweigh negatives on the HCSB Study Bible, yet I am troubled that some of the negatives are because notes contradict the clear Bible text. For Lutheran Christian students of the Bible, I recommend this study Bible as the second or third on their shelf, not a primary resource.

As frequent readers of our reviews know, we have tried to review every study Bible to feature the ESV text. The following is the latest.

For years, the spiritual lives of countless men and women all over the world have been strengthened with the help of The MacArthur Study Bible. This all-in-one spiritual library contains Dr. MacArthur's personal study notes below the full-length Bible text. Virtually every Scripture has a matching study note with detailed information, explanation, and helpful insight. The notes are based on Dr. MacArthur's verse-by-verse approach to the Bible and nearly forty years of careful study. His goal is to let the Bible speak for itself—nothing more, nothing less.

In August 2010, for the first time, The MacArthur Study Bible will be available in the English Standard Version (ESV). An "essentially literal" translation, the ESV Bible combines "word-for-word" accuracy with readability, literary excellence, and depth of meaning. More than 100 of the world's leading Bible scholars and teachers were involved in its creation. Timeless, trustworthy, and relevant, the ESV has become the fastest-growing Bible translation and the trusted choice of millions of Bible readers, students, teachers, and preachers worldwide.

The ESV MacArthur Study Bible is an essential resource for growing Christians. It can transform your personal time in God's Word by clarifying difficult passages, bringing unseen cultural and historical details to life, and helping you understand and apply biblical truth.

  • Complete ESV Bible text
  • Nearly 25,000 explanatory notes from Dr. John MacArthur
  • Bible text in 8.5 point type, 7.5 point study notes
  • More than 140 two-color maps, charts, timelines, and illustrations
  • Complete introductions to each Bible book
  • Concise articles on How We Got the Bible and Introduction to the Bible
  • 80,000 cross-references
  • An extensive concordance
  • A section of full-color maps
  • Bible reading plans
  • Crossway's lifetime quality guarantee on all leather and TruTone® editions

(publisher's website)

I am not a regular reader/viewer of John MacArthur. Having 25,000 study notes from one person is impressive, but everything depends on the quality of the notes, which were taken from the 1997 NKJV The MacArthur Study Bible. Crossway is responsible for the concordance, color maps, cross-reference system, and most of the art. Text is black on white with some gray and light blue in charts and maps. Bible chapter numbers are in the same blue. This is a good compromise between full color and black on white only.

MacArthur's Introduction (xi) is a decent start. The editor's "personal notes" (xvi) which sound passionate and orthodox. He invokes Luther in a section on Bible history (xxiiff). He also puts the OT and NT in rough chronological order (xxiv, xxv). His "How to Study the Bible" is missing a proper distinction between Law and Gospel, yet should be helpful to most Bible students (xxviiff). I like the lifeline/timeline chronology of the OT and NT (2-3, 10-11, 1336-1337, 1342-1343). Other positives include a Ten Commandments with chapter and verse on the OT death penalty and a NT "restatement" (123); charts focusing on Christ in the Levitical Offerings (156), Israel's Feasts (186), the Psalms (835), and in Isaiah (946, 1013ff); a diagram showing the placement of Israel's tribes around the Tabernacle (198);  a chart of the "-ites" peoples around the Promised Land (306); a note NOT pushing "decision theology" with Joshua 24:15 (331); a chart of the Judges of Israel (338) and a map of their locations (351); a chart of Bible Resurrections (500); a chart of the sources of the Chronicles (569); a helpful chronology of Esther (676); Behemoth and Leviathan also listed as possible dinosaurs, the second such designation I have seen in any study Bible (730ff); an enlightened commentary on marriage in the "Background and Setting" of The Song of Solomon (923); a chart on the future kingdom (1030); a comparison chart of 2 Kings, Jeremiah, and Lamentations (1110); a map of Ezekiel's Temple (1180, 1304 for other temples); Matthew 18 is taught so that the excommunicated are to be treated as evangelism prospects (1392); John, in Elizabeth's womb, is noted to be filled by the Spirit (1475); Acts 2:42 means worship and communion (1594).

Where does MacArthur go wrong? He claims angels and humans procreated (25); teaches a millennium and the rapture (999, note on Isaiah 44:1-5; 1243, 1324, 1801, 1955, 1970, 1987ff, passim) and has a chart on millennial sacrifices (1181); says "Israel as a nation" is included in the New Covenant of Jeremiah 31 (1079) in Palestine (1080); Matthew 24 has problematic interpretations, including a "Church Age"  (1356, 1403ff); no mention of Baptism in notes on Matthew 28 (1415) or John 3 (1540ff); "This verse does not give authority to Christians to forgive sins" DANGEROUS (1584, note on John 20:23); note on Acts 16:19 says "This does not include infants" (1620); confusion on Israel, millennium, and the tribulation (1671, Romans 11); denial of baptismal regeneration (1894-1895); an inadequate and/or false concluding confession of faith.

Conclusion: I am wary of Bible resources that rely too much on the teaching, preaching, opinion, insight, and scholarship of any one man, whether John MacArthur or Martin Luther. I personally favor the ESV. Yet, unfortunately, I cannot recommend The ESV MacArthur Study Bible to lay Bible readers. I am so deeply disappointed by the negatives of his notes that I do not wish for members of my congregation or those of our readers' congregations to be further exposed to the false aspects of MacArthur's teaching from them or elsewhere. I will give a qualified recommendation for Lutheran pastors to consider this as both tertiary reference study Bible because of its unique charts and also as a counter-example for them to use to show laity how study Bible notes sadly, tragically, and horrifically sometimes deny the clear Word of God. MacArthur avoids the "three options" error of some notes in other study Bibles, but by picking one (wrong) option, he comes down as anti-sacramental and anti-Bible on crucial points. Millennial and Rapture theology permeates the book too much for me to trust it in the hands of my people. For these reasons, The MacArthur Study Bible is unacceptable for use by Lutheran Christians.


Glo is more than a digital study Bible. It is a KJV, NIV, NIV2011, The Message, and ESV study Bible. It is interactive and available across digital platforms, currently serving PC, Mac, iPad, and iPhone.

I hope Android (Kindle Fire) and/or Blackberry versions are in progress.

I regularly use video projection for Sunday morning Bible class. My typical tool is LOGOS 4. On occasion, I have used Glo and it wowed the class.

Glo Premium includes:

  • Photos (2300+), 
  • 360 degree virtual tours (450+), 
  • maps (140+), 
  • and an entire 3.5 hour HD interactive video documentary.

These resources helped me add context to our summer study on "How to Study the Bible." I spent weeks talking about the different kinds of Bible studies, study tools, and how to use them. We used Glo to show how all of the tools come together in Bible software like Glo. Glo Lite is free. Upgrades to Premium are then available to users at a discount.

Glo's main screen has five lenses for your Bible study:

  1. Bible
  2. Timeline
  3. Atlas
  4. Topical
  5. Media

You can open to a specific Bible chapter in two or three clicks. Change the translation with a click.

Find the historical context of whatever book of Bible figure you are studying. Learn about contemporaries.

The atlas reminds me of a pared-down offline Google Earth. Maps provide essential context to Bible events and event sequences.

Topical study should be more popular than it is. Glo gets you started with cross-references, encyclopedia-like articles, and ties to Glo media and wikipedia.

The Media lens is probably the most impressive. I wish the access to photos was more intuitive and that you could set things up in an easy slide show for Bible class and personal study.

For more on the five "lenses" Glo uses, visit http://www.globible.com/aninteractivebible/.

In addition, where an internet connection is available, updated content is always being added. Software upgrades are periodic and helpful.

My Glo is your opportunity to add notes and bookmarks to Scripture and media, journal and prepare a presentation, customize a Bible reading plan, and sync everything across all available digital devices.

Two years ago, we reviewed other Zondervan Bible Resources. See http://lhpqbr.blogspot.com/2010/12/pulpit-review-zondervan-bible-resources.html. We recommend that A Reader's Hebrew and Greek Bible texts be added to

I highly recommend the full Glo Premium software package for home, church and school use. The resource is very affordable and often on sale. Customer support is prompt, professional, and effective. As software and as as a Bible study resource, Glo shines!  Click here to order.


I get ANGRY when any Christian, preacher, writer, or Bible editor has the audacity to directly contradict what the Bible says. I have high standards when it comes to what I will recommend to you as I do when considering books to recommend to family, friends, and congregation members. If we are to worship the Lord in Spirit and in Truth, no falsehood can be tolerated. Law and Gospel must be properly distinguished. And the Gospel shall predominate. God Bless your Bible reading.

Rev. Paul J Cain is Pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming, Headmaster of Martin Luther Grammar School, a member of the Board of Directors of The Consortium for Classical and Lutheran Education, Wyoming District Worship Chairman, and Editor of QBR.

View article...