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A Comparison of Three Study Bibles

Copyright October 15, 2012 and December 1, 2014 by Robert Wayne Atkins, P.E.
All Rights Reserved.



ESV Study Bible NKJV Study Bible NIV Stuby Bible

If you are interested in gaining a deeper spiritual understanding of the Holy Bible then one of the above Study Bibles could help you achieve your goal.

All three of the above Study Bibles have a lot in common but they do have a few differences. Let's begin by looking at what these three Study Bibles have in common.

All three Study Bibles contain all the following:
  1. An up-to-date easy-to-read English translation of the entire Holy Bible including the Old Testament and the New Testament.
  2. An introduction, historical overview, and brief outline of each of the 66 books in the Bible at the beginning of each book. This includes a discussion of who wrote the book, when the book was written, why the book was written, and to whom the book was written.
  3. Topic headings within each chapter that provide a very brief summary title of the information that follows that heading.
  4. In-depth articles about specific topics in the Bible.
  5. An alphabetical concordance of the important words used in the Bible.
  6. Full color maps at the very end of the Bible for quick easy reference purposes.
Now let's look at some of the unique features of each Study Bible.

The English Standard Version (ESV) Study Bible contains the following:
  1. Single column printing at the top of each page.
  2. Double column study notes at the bottom of each page that provide some history and background information about selected scripture verses at the top of the page.
  3. References to other scripture verses that are directly related to the scripture verses on each page. The references are on the inside margin of each page on the top part of the page. This means that the references are on the part of the page that gently curves down towards the spine of the book. In my opinion this is the best place to put these references because they are on the part of each page that is the most challenging to read because that part of the page curves down towards the spine.
  4. The words of the Holy Bible are printed in a larger font in a single column at the top of each page because they are the words of God. The study notes are printed in a smaller font in a double column at the bottom of each page because they are human words that provide additional information about the scriptures on the top of the page.
  5. More than 40 illustrations of important biblical structures, cities, and objects. Some of these illustrations are in full-color.
  6. More than 200 full-color maps strategically located throughout the bible.
  7. More than 200 charts that help to clarify and explain important concepts and information in a clear easy-to-understand format.
The New King James Version (NKJV) Study Bible contains the following:
  1. Double column printing at the top of each page.
  2. Double column study notes at the bottom of each page that provide some history and background information about selected scripture verses at the top of the page.
  3. Center column references to other scripture verses that are directly related to the scripture verses on each page. The center column references are at the bottom of each page between the double column of footnotes for that page.
  4. Approximately 350 word definitions. Each word definition is on the page where that word is actually used in the Bible. These word definitions are linked to Strong's Concordance if you are interested in gaining an even deeper understanding of that specific word. I really appreciate the word definitions because they help me to better understand the meaning of some words you only see in the Bible.
  5. The pages have a reasonable margin all the way around each page and this means you can lay the Bible flat on a desk or table and easily read all the words on every page. I appreciate being able to read all the words on a page without having to adjust the position of the page as I read the Bible.
  6. Overall I like the NKJV English translation of the Holy Bible because it uses most of the original words in the authorized King James Version of the Bible that I grew up with. I like the elimination of the words "Thee, Thou, and Ye." I also appreciate the occasional rearrangement of the words in some verses to correspond to the way we currently speak in the United States.
The New International Version (NIV) Study Bible contains the following:
  1. Double column printing at the top of each page.
  2. Double column study notes at the bottom of each page that provide some history and background information about selected scripture verses at the top of the page.
  3. Center column references to other scripture verses that are directly related to the scripture verses on each page. The center column references are at the top of each page between the two columns at the top of the page.
  4. Approximately 400 color pictures and illustrations of some archeological discoveries including some pictures of the Holy Land. I really, really enjoy the color pictures.
  5. The pages are printed rather close to the center spine and this requires you to lift the edge of the book up as you read a page so you can read the words that are printed close to the center spine of the book. However, I don't mind putting forth the extra effort required to be able to read the printing in the columns that are near the center spine of the book.
  6. Overall I like the NIV English translation of the Holy Bible. However, in a few places I wish they had used a more socially acceptable synonym for a word that would be more appropriate for young children instead of the politically correct translation of that word. I also wish they had been a little more discrete in the way they draw special attention to two short passages of scripture that are currently in controversy among some Bible scholars.

A Comparison of the Three Study Bibles

Let's begin by comparing John 3:16 as it appears in all three bibles.

ESVFor God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
NKJVFor God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
NIVFor God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.


Now let's compare the study footnote in each bible that corresponds to John 3:16.

ESVHere is the most famous summary of the gospel in the entire Bible. For connects to v. 15 and explains what happened to make it possible that someone can have " life" (v. 15), that is, through believing in Christ. God so loved the world was an astounding statement in that context because the OT and other Jewish writings had spoken only of God's love for his people Israel. God's love for "the world" made it possible for "whoever" (v. 15) believes in Christ, not Jews alone, to have eternal life. God's love for the world was not mere sentiment but led to a specific action: he gave his only Son, which John elsewhere explains as sending him to earth as a man (v. 17) to suffer and die and thereby to bear the penalty for sins (see note on 1 John 2:2; cf. Rom. 3:25). On "only Son", see note on John 1:14, which contains the same Greek phrase. The purpose of giving his Son was to make God's great gift of eternal life available to anyone -- to whoever believes in him, that is, whoever personally trusts in him (see note on 11:25). Not perish means not perish in eternal judgment, in contrast to having eternal life, the life of abundant joy and immeasurable blessing in the presence of God forever. Those who "believe in" Christ have that "eternal life" and already experience its blessings in this present time, not yet fully, but in some significant measure.
NKJVGod so loved the world: God's love is not restricted to any one nation or to any spiritual elite. World here may also include all of creation (see Rom. 8:19-22, Col. 1:20).
NIVGod so loved the world. The great truth that motivated God's plan of salvation (cf. 1 Jn 4:9-10). "So" here means "in this way" rather than "so much." world. All people on earth -- or perhaps all creation (see notes on 1:4,9). gave his one and only Son. Cf Isa 9:6 ("a son is given," referring to the Messianic Son of David who is also God's Son [see 2 Sa 7:14 and note]). See also 1:14,18 and notes; cf. Ge 22:2, 15; Ro 8:32 and notes. Although believers are also called "sons" of God (2 Co 6:18; Gal 4:4-6), Jesus is God's Son in a unique sense (see 20:31 and note).


In my opinion the above is a good illustration of the differences in the study footnotes that are in each bible.
  1. The ESV footnotes generally have more depth and they do a better job of clearly explaining the meaning of each scripture verse.
  2. The NKJV footnotes are more concise but they do include the most important information.
  3. The NIV footnotes are more challenging to read and understand because of the way in which they are written.
If I could only afford one study bible then I would select the ESV Study Bible.

Now please allow me to explain why you might wish to consider purchasing more than one study bible. After you have read one study bible from cover-to-cover two or three times then you gradually begin to remember the book introductions, the study footnotes, and the supplementary material from the last time you read them and your spiritual growth begins to slow down. However, if you begin reading a different study bible that has different introductions to each book, different study footnotes, and different supplementary material, then you once again achieve some significant spiritual growth each time you read the bible because you are exposed to what a different team of bible scholars has written about the bible. Since spiritual growth is the reason most of us purchase and read a study bible, it just makes good sense to switch to a different study bible after you have read your current study bible from cover-to-cover several times.


Recommended Daily Reading Schedule

In the morning before you begin your normal activities for the day, you may wish to consider reading two pages that are side-by-side in your Study Bible. Start on page one of the Bible. Begin by reading the scripture verses at the top of both pages and then read the study footnotes at the bottom of both pages. This method will significantly enhance your understanding of what you just read. This method would allow you to read the entire Bible in approximately six years. If you read four pages per day then you could read the entire Bible in approximately three years. If you decide to read four pages per day then may I suggest that you start on page one and read two pages in the book of Genesis and then turn to the middle of the Bible and begin reading the first two pages in the book of Isaiah. This method will allow you to read the history books of the Bible at the same time you are reading the Prophets and eventually the New Testament. You may be surprised at the number of times you will read something in the history books and then discover that a Prophet, or Jesus, or Paul, makes a reference to that event on the two pages you are reading in the second half of the Bible.


Before You Begin

If you have not yet read the entire Bible from cover-to-cover then I suggest that you start by reading The Golden Children's Bible, The Old Testament and The New Testament, Golden Book Western Publishing Company, Inc., Color Illustrations, 1993, 510 pages. I am not trying to insult your intelligence by making this recommendation. I make this recommendation because I believe it will help almost everyone, regardless of his or her age or I.Q., to more quickly and correctly understand the sequence of events that are discussed in the Holy Bible. Although the books in the Holy Bible are arranged in a reasonable chronological order, some of the historical events are discussed in more than one book of the Bible. If you have a good general understanding of the basic sequence of Bible history then you will be able to more easily and correctly understand the topics that are discussed in the Holy Bible even when those topics are discussed at different spots in the Bible. Finally, if you have children (or grandchildren) then you can read a story from this Children's Bible to your children each morning as they eat their breakfast before they go to school. As you read your children can look at the full color illustrations on each page of the Bible and this will help them to remember the story on that page. Since the public school system is no longer permitted to teach from the Holy Bible, this would allow you to fill the gap that has been missing in our public school educational process since the year 1962.

Respectfully,
Grandpappy.



Click on www.grandpappy.org for Robert's Home Page.

Grandpappy's e-mail address is: RobertWayneAtkins@hotmail.com