When I was young in the Christian faith, I was asked to teach a Bible study every Saturday night for my church's youth group. I felt honored, but at the same time I was terrified since I had never actually completed reading the entire Bible and did not have a clear idea about what to teach from Scripture. My first impulse was to find different topics that I thought were important to Christians, so I started looking for passages in the Bible that would teach about love, justice, forgiveness, salvation, and so on. It was a lot of work, until a friend told me about the Thompson Chain-Reference Bible and how it could help me to find every verse from every place in the Bible that addressed a particular topic. I was amazed and, for a long time, that was my "little secret." That was my first experience with a study Bible, and to this very day, I see how the time I spent going through that Bible helped me to memorize Scripture and to have a general understanding of different topics in the Bible.
During my years in seminary, I got to know other study Bibles that became wonderful tools for my theological understanding of different Christian traditions. The MacArthur Study Bible offered me a defined, comprehensive, and consistent position on different theological topics, especially because it represents the work and thought of Dr. John MacArthur. The Reformation Study Bible gave me easy access to a variety of Reformed scholars who share a common ground theologically. This Bible became a great resource for me to discover new authors who have since greatly influenced my theological convictions. As a pastor, I think that a good study Bible can encourage people in our congregations to discover new authors and ideas that can help them to have a deeper understanding of the gospel and its implications. A study Bible can also be the first step toward cherishing sound theology.
As a pastor and church planter, I recommend that new believers take a look at different study Bibles and other tools that are available, especially those that can be found on the Internet, such as Bible Gateway and Bible Hub. These two resources make it very exciting to study Scripture as they include studies of the Hebrew and Greek, along with maps, history charts, and many different commentaries that provide a world of scholarly information about the Bible and its interpretation. The problem for me in a Spanish-speaking country is that most of these study Bibles and other resources are available only in English, and that makes it hard for a lot of people in my congregation to take advantage of these resources.
In recent years, my interest in study Bibles has grown, so it always surprises me when I hear some people in the church boasting about how they "don't read any commentaries or books about the Bible" and how they "just want to know the Scripture." This may seem pious to some people, but I think these affirmations show that there is a lack of instruction in the church that prevents people from valuing the ministry of the Holy Spirit that we find expressed in the work of godly men who have taken the time to seriously study God's Word. I believe that it is arrogant to reject the use of commentaries and Bibles with notes, as if our own first impression of a text could be just as good as careful study using reference tools.
Finally, I have found that study Bibles are also a great tool to encourage people in our congregations to renew their interest in reading the Bible. In the new church we recently started, we have implemented a Bible-reading program using Bible Gateway. This program provides different options that can help us read the Bible in new ways. You can read the Bible combining the Old and New Testaments (each day includes a passage from both the Old Testament and New Testament), chronologically (reading the Bible in the order in which its stories and events occurred), historically (reading the books of the Bible in their historical order according to the estimated date of their writing), and many more options. Some people in our church who had never previously completed reading the entire Bible have now read it three times in a three-year period. As a pastor, I believe that study Bibles can be the first step toward a renewed faith in the church.
One of the great lessons of the Reformation is that serious study of the Bible is essential for Christian growth. Martin Luther, for example, spent years studying and teaching through books of the Bible. In many ways, his lectures on Psalms, Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews provided the basis for the Reformation. His theological convictions were the result of careful and diligent biblical exposition.
Study Bibles can provide a first glance at the expository study of the biblical text. Then, by God's grace and by the work of the Holy Spirit—as with Luther—people will find Jesus as a result of studying the Bible. This is what a pastor dreams of and works for—to see our congregations filled with the knowledge of the love of Christ.