Why a Study Bible?
by R.C. Sproul
The editors of Tabletalk asked me to speak about study Bibles and what drove Ligonier Ministries, in particular, to publish a thoroughly revised and updated version of the Reformation Study Bible. I’m glad to take up this task, as I continue to believe that a good study Bible is one of the most important tools for helping people grow in the things of God.
Another article this month will deal with the history of study Bibles, so I won’t go into detail on that specific subject. However, I do want to point out that our efforts to produce a study Bible are born of the same passion that drove men in years past to get the Word of God into the minds and hearts and souls of every person. This passion compelled William Tyndale to cross the whole continent of Europe, moving from city to city to escape execution, translating the ancient Hebrew into words that a literate plowboy could read and understand. After the Diet of Worms, Martin Luther fled in a faked-kidnapping episode to the Wartburg castle. There, he donned a disguise and undertook the task of putting the Bible into the German vernacular. This was anathema to the Roman church—Luther was told that if he were to translate the Bible into the common tongue, he would open a floodgate of iniquity. Hundreds of different denominations would arise, each claiming to base their faith on the Bible. Luther agreed that that could very well happen. But, he said, if getting the gospel that is plain enough for every child to understand into the hands of the normal person carries with it the risk that some will misinterpret Scripture and open a floodgate of iniquity, then so be it. Luther understood the importance of every person’s knowing Scripture, and he knew that the church had to get it out to the masses even though misuse of the Bible was possible. As long as the church is faithful to this Word, she cannot be held accountable for its misuse.
At Ligonier, we’re confident in the power of the Word of God to convert sinners and equip Christians for every good work. We want the gospel to go forth to every nation, even if some may take that gospel and twist it to their own ends. But we want the people of God to grow deeper in their faith and to explore the depths of the gospel, which is simple enough for all to understand and yet so deep that in our lifetime we can only begin to scratch the surface of its meaning and application. For that, sound teaching is indispensable, and that’s why our goal has been to provide a study Bible grounded in the Reformed tradition of Christian theology.
Reformed theology, which C.H. Spurgeon said is merely a nickname for Christianity, is our passion here at Ligonier. We want to spread the knowledge of the gospel to as many people as possible to help churches around the world understand the substance of its message. Everything we do through Ligonier Ministries is directed toward that end, including the Reformation Study Bible.
There is distaste in our day, even in the church, for doctrine. People say, “I can live the Christian life without being concerned about doctrine.” Well, if you are not concerned about doctrine, then the best thing you can do with your Bible is throw it away, because that is what the Bible is—it is sixty-six divinely revealed books of doctrine. On the night before His execution, Jesus met in the upper room with His disciples and prayed His High Priestly Prayer. He poured out His soul to the Father in behalf of His followers—His disciples and those who would believe through the ministry of the original disciples. And His prayer was for their sanctification. He said to His heavenly Father, “Sanctify them through thy truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). Now, if you want to be sanctified, if you want to grow in conformity to the image of Christ, you need to know the truth of God. You need to know doctrine. The whole point of a good study Bible, such as the Reformation Study Bible, is to help you learn the theology that God reveals in His sacred Word that will shape your life and bring you into conformity with Christ.
The original Geneva Bible, which you will read about in this issue of Tabletalk, was developed to help people learn the theology revealed in God’s Word. It is in the spirit of that Geneva Bible that we produced the original New Geneva Study Bible, and then the Reformation Study Bible. We wanted a resource that, like the Geneva Bible, faithfully taught the Scriptures and presented the key tenets of Reformed theology rediscovered in the Protestant Reformation. And in that same spirit, we have the completely new, reworked edition of the Reformation Study Bible—which really excites me.