Study Bibles: A Survey of Eight

A Look at the HCSB Study Bible, ESV Study Bible, NIV Study Bible, NKJV Study Bible, Reformation Study Bible,

MacArthur Study Bible, Life Application Study Bible, and the Thompson’s Chain Reference Bible


I am often asked to recommend a good study Bible, especially at this time of year when people are shopping for Christmas.  There are several good study Bibles in publication right now.  They all have strengths and each has its own approach to emphasize certain things.  None of them can do everything, as that would require the volume be so large you would have to pull it around in a wagon.  The goal here is to tell you what each study Bible does best, giving you the information, so you can determine which one best meets your needs.  Below is a quick overview of each study Bible and, then on the pages that follow, you will find more detailed information on each study Bible.  Then, there is information on translations and information about bindings.  There is one chart attached (a comparison of features), and there are two charts below, one with links to online samples for each study Bible, and one showing various categories and the study Bible(s) strongest in each category


An Overview of Each Study Bible:


The Thompson Chain Reference Bible

Have you ever wanted to read every verse from every place in the Bible that addressed a particular topic?  That is what the Thompson’s Chain Reference Bible does.  This study Bible is based on the idea that Scripture interprets Scripture. It has 8,000 topics identified with numbers for each topic in the margins. Then, you can look up that number and read all the verses on that topic in the back.  There are so many topics there is an index to the topics to help you find what you are looking for.  There is a concordance and an archaeological supplement and other articles in the back, but the topical arrangement of Scripture is the appeal of this study Bible.  If you are going to own two study Bibles this should be one of them—and if you are going to own one, the Thompson’s is worthy of your consideration.   Details


All the other study Bibles feature explanatory notes to understand the biblical text on the bottom of each page, introductions to each book of the Bible, a table of weights & measures, a short concordance, and articles, essays, and other features, generally found in the back.


The first four study Bibles discussed below are made for one translation of the Bible and can be found in only that translation:


HCSB Study Bible

This is the newest study Bible in print, released in October 2010.  The biblical text is in the Holman Christian Standard translation that appears in LifeWay Sunday School lessons and which is used at First Baptist Church, Tallassee.  As you can see on Amazon’s sample, the HCSB is, by far, the most colorful study Bible.  The chapter numbers are in brown, the verse numbers are in light blue, and the alternate translation notes have a cream background.  This makes it easy to more quickly find the verses or notes one is looking for.  Introductions to each book and brief essays are printed on parchment-looking backgrounds.  It has 141 color photographs (a feature unique to the HCSB Study Bible) and the most beautiful color maps of any study Bible!  In addition to the maps in the back, there are color maps that are occasionally placed throughout the biblical text, called in-text maps.  Content-wise, besides the usual explanatory footnotes on the bottom of each page, they have included 290 boxes with word studies based on the biblical languages of Hebrew and Greek.  They include numerous timelines to help you see where all the biblical events fit in history.  This study Bible is made by Holman, a division of LifeWay, but as seen from the list of contributors found in Amazon’s sample, it would be inaccurate to refer it as “the Southern Baptist Bible.”  Scholars from 17 denominations were involved in developing the HCSB translation and the contributors to the study Bible were likewise representative of the broader evangelical community.  The HCSB has a web site with its study notes and other resources:  Only the HCSB and ESV Study Bibles have this feature, though some offer digital versions that work with Bible software.   Details


ESV Study Bible

Biblical text is in the English Standard Version.  This Study Bible, with Wayne Grudem (who wrote the most popular modern book on Systematic Theology published) was much anticipated and released in 2008.  The ESV Study Bible has the most articles and essays of any study Bible.  The essays on doctrine and ethics are excellent.  While not as colorful as the HCSB, it has plenty of color (most study Bibles have only grayscale).  They use a soft green for charts and subject headings.  There are some terrific illustrations (color pictures) of the temple complex, for example.  The footnotes often contain what school teachers call “graphic organizers” (like the one below from Galatians 4):


Contrasts in Paul's Allegory (4:21–31)


slave woman

free woman



according to flesh

through promise





present Jerusalem

Jerusalem above




In addition to the maps in the back, there are frequent small, in-text maps as you go through the biblical text; for example, in the Gospels to show the places Jesus traveled.  The 29-page Overview of Bibblical Theology and the 25–page Overview of Biblical Ethics are excellent and, though many articles in the back of study Bibles are not used as often as the explanatory notes at the bottom of the pages, these should prove to be helpful.  The approach in the book introductions and explanatory notes is broadly evangelical – that is, all Bible-believing Christians and their distinctive perspectives are listed and treated respectfully.  As Tim Challies said in his review, “The matters at the heart of the faith are described and defended while the matters of lesser importance are presented charitably and non-dogmatically.” 1   This would be seen, for example, in the introduction to the book of Revelation, where the various understandings of the Lord’s return are listed and explained.  The ESV also has a web site with its study notes, illustrations, and maps at   Details


1 Tim Challies, 


The NIV Study Bible by Zondervan

The New International Version has been around since the 1970’s.  This study Bible was updated in 2008.  The same translation team developed the study notes as developed the translation, all conservative evangelicals.  This study Bible is somewhere in emphasis between the HCSB and the ESV Study Bibles, with their emphasis on answering the question, “What does it mean?” and the Life Application Bible with its focus on answering the question, “How does that apply to me?”   A unique feature in the NIV Study Bible is the use of icons to label different kinds of explanatory notes—900 Character Profile icons, almost 3,000 Personal Application icons, and 450 Archeology icons. You can find the introductions and outlines for each book of the Bible that appear in this study Bible at:    Details


The NKJV Study Bible

In the very beginning, this study Bible was called the Nelson Study Bible, then the NKV Study Bible, and now, it is the NKJV Study Bible second edition (revised in 2008).  It has a very attractive layout with blue headings and chapter numbers.  There is blue shading for cross references in the center column of the page and for text boxes with word studies.  While there is not a NKJV Study Bible web site, you receive a CD with a digital version of this study Bible with its notes.  There is a wide array of useful information in this study Bible.  Appearing in text boxes throughout the biblical text are: 350 Word Studies keyed to the Strong’s Concordance number (among those surveyed here, a feature exclusive to this study Bible), 150 notes on Bible times and culture, and 114 short articles on the key doctrines of Scripture.  There are also 80 in-text charts and graphic organizers.   Details


The Reformation Study Bible

This study Bible uses only the English Standard Version.  Its general editor is R. C. Sproul, noted Presbyterian professor, popular author, and the leader of Ligonier Ministries ( study Bible has notes and short articles written by other leading scholars such as J.I. Packer and Wayne Grudem.  As one can tell from the name, this study Bible comes from the Reformed perspective, affirming the teachings emphasized during the Protestant Reformation, including election and amillenialism.  It is the most theological in its emphasis, with such side bar articles as The Atonement, Adoption, Perseverance of the Saints, and Election and Reprobation.  That is not to say application is absent; there are also side bar articles on Marriage and Divorce, The Mission of the Church in the World, and Christians and Civil Government.  Each of these 96 side bar articles are about a half-page.  There are also the explanatory notes on the bottom of the page.  In the updated edition they have added maps.  Other than the color maps in the back, everything is in grayscale.  The print size looks to be 12 points – by far the most readable typeface among the study Bibles discussed here.  The Reformation Bible is also the thinnest and lightest, making it easier to carry to church.    Details



The Thompson’s Chain Reference Bible, the Life Application Bible, and the MacArthur Study Bible are available in more than one translation. 


The Life Application Bible

This Study Bible is less technical in its approach, at times a little oversimplified, but a good study Bible for the Sunday School teacher preparing the application section of the lesson.  It’s a good entry level study Bible.  In the introductions to the books of the Bible you will find headings like Vital Statistics, Key Verse, Key People, The Blueprint (outline), Chapter Summary, and Megathemes with a chart layout showing an Explanation and the Importance of each theme.  Information is laid out so it can be easily found.  There are occasional graphic organizers.  It lives up to its name in emphasizing practical application;  in the biblical text you will find occasional text boxes with practical application.  This study Bible has over a hundred half-page character summaries of people in the Bible with charts listing Strengths and Accomplishments, Weaknesses and Mistakes, Lessons from his Life, Vital Statistics (home, relatives, etc.), and Key Verses.  There are 16 pages of color maps and timelines in the back.  Its in-text maps are in grayscale.  WordSearch has the study notes from this study Bible available for use with their Bible software.     Details


The MacArthur Study Bible

The general editor of this study Bible is John MacArthur, pastor of Grace Community Church and prolific author, whose sermons are heard on Christian radio stations across the nation.  Like other study Bibles this one has articles on things like How We Got the Bible and How to Study the Bible.  There is a 60-page Topical Index and an Outline of Systematic Theology.  There are illustrations in grayscale.  Though every study Bible has them, the principal attraction of this Bible would be the study notes at the bottom of each page, with 25,000.  Though one can’t always tell by merely counting them (if there is commentary on verses 6-7 in one study Bible and another has two separate notes with as many words who really has the most?  That kind of thing.), it appears that this study Bible has the most explanatory notes on the biblical text.  The chapter numbers appear in blue, there are blue lines above the text and between the biblical text and explanatory notes, and the print is very readable at 8.7 points.    Details



The Exact Theological Perspective of the Study Bibles Will Vary

Though all these study Bible affirm the essential teachings of the faith, they take various approaches concerning those secondary issues upon which Bible-believing Christians disagree.  Some will dodge the issue on things like baptism. Others tackle such subjects head-on. Here is an insightful quote from Tim Challies (


“To satisfy my curiosity, I opened my NIV Study Bible, Reformation Study Bible, MacArthur Study Bible and ESV Study Bible and compared their notes on several areas of controversial theology—end times, predestination and spiritual gifts. None of these Bibles offered notes that were unbiblical so I was left looking for the differences in perspective. In general I found that the MacArthur Study Bible offered the most defined position. This makes good sense as it represents the position of a single individual. This was followed by the Reformation Study Bible which offers the position of many individuals but each of them drawn from a very consistent theological position. The ESV Study Bible came next, offering a charitable but open view on most of these issues. The NIV Study Bible seemed almost to shy away from some of the issues. So while it is clear that the ESV Study Bible is not distinctly Reformed in its position, neither is it Arminian. It is not cessationist or continuationist and is neither amillennial nor premillennial. In fact, it seems as if it emulates the parent who tells one of his children to cut the last piece of cake in half and the other to choose the first piece. In many cases a person from one perspective wrote the notes while a person from the other perspective screened them. This ensures the notes maintain both charity and some degree of objectivity in those areas of dispute.”



What Features of the Study Bible are You Likely to Use?

Determine which feature you are actually going to use in a study Bible and choose one that is best at that.  For example:

o   Bible Reading Plans, Presentation Pages, etc. are listed as a feature, but are not good reasons to buy a Bible – unless it is something you are actually going to use.

o   Are you likely to read articles or essays in the back?  If not, regardless of how good the articles are, don’t let that be a consideration when making your purchase.

o   Generally, in a study Bible, a Harmony of the Gospels is no more than a list of references instead of the actual text of the Gospels printed out and arranged in chronological order.  Unless you are likely to look up the references, then don’t let that influence you in favor of that study Bible.

o   Are you a visual learner, learning better with charts, graphic organizers, and maps?  If you do, then be sure to select a study Bible that is strong in these areas.  If you learn better by reading notes, then don’t worry about these things.


Explanatory Notes:

The most used part of a study Bible is the set of explanatory (or expository notes) on the bottom of each page which explain the meaning of the biblical text. Below is a chart of links to samples for each study Bible:


Online Samples of Each Study Bible







Life Application


Genesis & Assorted



Genesis & Mark


Genesis & Topic Index

Genesis & Intro

Genesis & Romans


Assorted & Illustrations




Assorted Samples


Genesis & Romans

Genesis & Assorted


More Samples


Assorted Samples











Additional summary details can be seen on another Study Bible comparison chart (in pdf)


Detailed Lists of Features for Each Study Bible

Gleaned from various online book stores


Details: Thompson Chain-Reference Bible

Available for WordSearch Bible software: Information



o   The Thompson Chain-Reference system contains over 100,000 topical references in over 8,000 chain topics, helping to make in-depth topical study and lesson preparation easier and more efficient. The Thompson Chain is also known for its excellent archaeological supplement and extensive collection of charts, diagrams, and other illustrations. Other features include a revised concordance, 16 pages of full-color maps, and words of Christ in red.


Available in:

·         King James Version

·         New King James Version

·         New American Standard Version

·         New International Version



Details: HCSB Study Bible  (information about the HCSB Study Bible) (online version of the study Bible)

Available for WordSearch Bible software: Information


o   Number of Pages: 2100

o   290 word studies for Hebrew & Greek words with passages where they appear (with an index to find them)

o   15,000 study notes

o   141 photographs

o   62 timelines

o   59 maps

o   24 articles

o   16 illustrations/reconstructions

o   15 charts

o   Two-column text setting

o   One-year Bible reading plan

o   Center column references

o   Topical subheads

o   Black letter text

o   Lined pages for personal notes

o   Bullet Notes: Definitions of 150 terms such as “firstfruits” and “highplaces.” (7 pages)

o   Topical Concordance, 12 pages

o   Proverbs Topical Chart; part of introduction to the book of Proverbs (6 pages)

o   52-Week Scripture Memory Plan

o   Three-year Bible Reading Plan

HCSB Study Bible Essays:

o   How to Read and Study the Bible, George Guthrie (9 pages)

o   The Origin, Transmission, and Canonization of the Old Testament Books, Jeremy Royal Howard (7 pages)

o   The Origin, Transmission, and Canonization of the New Testament Books, Jeremy Royal Howard (5 pages)


The following essays are all one page or so…

o   The Uniqueness of the Genesis Creation Story—Genesis 2, Kenneth A. Mathews

o   The Historical Reliability of the Old Testament—Genesis 9, Kenneth A. Kitchen

o   The Exiles of Israel—2 Kings 17, Duane A. Garrett

o   Significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls—Isaiah 6-7, Peter W. Flint

o   Differences in the Gospels—Matthew 3:17, Robert H. Stein

o   Church Discipline—Matthew 18:15-20, Mark E. Dever

o   The Biblical Basis for Missions—Matthew 28:19-20, M. David Sills

o   The Resurrection of Jesus Christ as a Historical Event—Mark 16, Gary R. Habermas

o   Messianic Expectations—Luke 7:20, Craig A. Evans

o   Christ in the Old Testament—Luke 24:27, Craig A. Blaising

o   Incarnation and Christology—John 1, Stephen J. Wellum

o   Is Jesus the Only Way?—John 14:6, Robert M. Bowman, Jr.

o   The Cross and the Gospel—John 19:17, Bruce A. Ware

o   The Missional Church—John 20:21, Ed Stetzer

o   Opportunities and Challenges in Global Missions—Acts 1:8, M. David Sills

o   The Message and Lifestyle of the Apostles—1 Corinthians 4:9ff, Michael J. Wilkins

o   The Bible and Sexuality—1 Corinthians 7, Daniel L. Akin

o   Perseverance of the Saints—Ephesians 1:13-14, Daniel B. Wallace

o   The Bible and Women—2 Timothy 1, Mary A. Kassian

o   The Bible and Civil Rights—Philemon, Kevin L. Smith

o   Jesus and Atonement in the Old Testament—Hebrews 9, Eugene H. Merrill

o   Salvation in the Old Testament—Hebrews 11, Paige Patterson

o   Faith and Works—James 2:18, Mark DeVine

o   The Historical Reliability of the New Testament—2 Peter 1:16, Craig L. Blomberg



Details: ESV Study Bible

Online Version of ESV Study Bible:

 Available for WordSearch Bible software: Information


ESV Study Bible Articles

Complete List of Contributors and Articles:

o   Introduction: A User’s Guide to the ESV Study Bible, Lane T. Dennis (4 pages)

o   How to Interpret the Bible, Daniel Doriani (4˝ pages)

o   Overview of the Bible (Survey of the History of Salvation), Vern Poythress (3˝ pages)

o   Reading the Bible (9 pages)

o   Reading the Bible Theologically, J. I. Packer

o   Reading the Bible as Literature, Leland Ryken

o   Reading the Bible for Application, David Powlison

o   Reading the Bible, Prayer, and Communion with God, John Piper

o   Reading the Bible with the Church, John Hannah

o   The Bible’s Use in Preaching and Public Worship, Kent Hughes

o   God’s Plan for Salvation, Mark Dever (3˝ pages)

o   The Theology of the Old Testament, C. John Collins (2˝ pages)

o   Introduction to the Pentateuch, Gordon Wenham (3 pages)

o   Introduction to the Historical Books, David M. Howard Jr. (3 pages)

o   Introduction to the Poetic and Wisdom Literature, David Reimer (3˝ pages)

o   Introduction to the Prophetic Books, Paul House (4 pages)

o   The Time Between the Testaments, J. Julius Scott Jr.  (7 pages)

o   Jewish Groups at the Time of the New Testament, John DelHousaye (2 pages)

o   The Roman Empire and the Greco-Roman World at the Time of the New Testament, David W. Chapman (4˝ pages)

o   The Theology of the New Testament, Tom Schreiner (3 pages)

o   The Date of Jesus’ Crucifixion (2 pages)

o   Reading the Gospels and Acts, Darrell Bock (2˝ pages)

o   Reading the Epistles, Thomas R. Schreiner (2˝ pages)

o   The Canon of Scripture (4˝ pages)

o   The Canon of the Old Testament, Roger Beckwith

o   The Canon of the New Testament, Charles E. Hill

o   The Septuagint, Peter Gentry (2˝ pages)

o   The Reliability of Bible Manuscripts (4˝ pages)

o   The Reliability of the Old Testament Manuscripts, Paul D. Wegner

o   The Reliability of the New Testament Manuscripts, Daniel B. Wallace

o   The Old Testament and Critical Scholarship, Walter C. Kaiser

o   The New Testament and Critical Scholarship, Darrell Bock

o   Archaeology and the Bible (4˝ pages)

o   Archaeology, Ancient History, and the Reliability of the Old Testament, John Currid

o   Archaeology, Ancient History, and the Reliability of the New Testament, David W. Chapman

o   The Original Languages of the Bible (6 pages)

o   The Original Languages of the Bible: Hebrew and Aramaic, Peter J. Williams

o   The Original Languages of the Bible: Greek, David Alan Black

o   How the New Testament Quotes and Interprets the Old Testament, C. John Collins  (4˝  pages)

o   History of Salvation in the Old Testament: Preparing the Way for Christ (27 pages)

o   Overview of Theology (13 Articles), Erik Thoennes  (29 pages)

o   Overview of Biblical Ethics (12 Articles), C. Ben Mitchell, Craig Mitchell, Wayne Grudem (25 pages)

o   The Bible and Other Religions, Harold Netland  (8 pages)

o   The Bible and Contemporary Judaism, Marvin R. Wilson

o   The Bible and Islam, Timothy Tennent

o   The Bible and Religious Cults, Ron Rhodes (4 pages)

o   The Bible in Christianity (10 pages)

o   The Bible in Christendom: Roman Catholicism, Gregg R. Allison

o   The Bible in Christendom: Eastern Orthodoxy, Robert Letham

o   The Bible in Christendom: Liberal Protestantism, Bruce Ware

o   The Bible in Christendom: Evangelical Protestantism, Bruce Ware



Details: The Zondervan NIV Study Bible


o   900 Character and People Groups Profiles

o    425 Archaeology icons labeling archaeological information

o   Almost 3,000 Personal Application icons.


Details: NKJV Study Bible


o   February 2009

o   15,000 Nelson's expository study notes provides a warm yet scholarly explanation of the Bible. Practical Applications of biblical teachings.

o   There are 103 InDepth Articles that discuss items of interest. For instance, in James there is an article on Faith and Works and in Acts there is an article on Roman Citizenship.There are 8 "Full View Bible Summaries," including the doctrine of the Trinity and the Old Testament at a Glance.

o   150 Bible times and culture notes (text boxes with information on subjects like synagogue or a specific city) There is an index list of Bible Times and Culture Notes.

o   114 short articles on the key doctrines of Scripture

o   Short book theme summaries in text boxes

o   80 QuickView Charts and graphic organizers that help with quick overviews of passages. In John, there is a chart of the 7 "I Am" Statements and in Psalms, there is a chart called "Psalms for Every Occasion."

o   350 WordFocus word studies keyed to Strong's Concordance provides access to important terms from the original Biblical languages.  For instance, in 1 Kings there is a word study on ba'al and in John there is a study of logos.

o   69 InText Maps giving background to the passages.

o   8 FullView Bible Summary sections in color

o   Timelines of each book of the Bible

o   78 maps, including nine in color

o   Prophetic reference system

o   A comprehensive, 20-page Topical index to the study notes, Bible times and culture notes, articles, word studies, book introductions, maps and charts

o   In passage asterisks point to differences between the Nestle-Aland 27/ UBS4 text, the Majority Text and the Textus Receptus, with the latter being the text used for the NKJV. This helps give differences between the manuscripts and is a superb tool for comparing them.

o   195-page NKJV Concordance

o   New! Christ in the Scriptures: each book’s introduction traces the Christ-centered salvation theme present throughout the Bible.

o   New! eBible CD-ROM containing the Bible in a searchable electronic format (Libronix)



Details: Reformation Study Bible


o   Very, very readable typeface

o   Theological Notes index

o   In-text maps index

o   Charts index

o   Section introductions (Pentateuch, History, etc)

o   Book Introductions

o   Passage headings

o   Double-column format

o   Center-column references

o   Black letter edition

o   Concordance

o   Black genuine leather

o   8 pages of full-color maps


R.C. Sproul, founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries, served as this study Bible's general editor. "The Reformation Study Bible contains a modern restatement of Reformation truth in its comments and theological notes. Its purpose is to present the light of the Reformation afresh," stated Dr. Sproul.


The thousands of in-depth study notes included in the RSB were compiled from over 50 distinguished biblical scholars, including Drs. J.I. Packer, James Boice, and Wayne Grudem. In addition to the comprehensive study notes, the RSB offers readers extended discussions on the authority of Scripture, the atonement, and other key aspects of biblical theology.



Details: Life Application Study Bible

Available for WordSearch Bible software: Information


o   Presentation Page

o   Family records section

o   Single Column Format

o   Side-column cross references

o   Index to Notes

o   Index to Charts

o   Index to Maps

o   Index to Personality Profiles

o   Dictionary/Concordance

o   Scripture Text: 8 Point

o   Notes: 8 Point

o   16 pages of color maps & diagrams

o   New International Version

o   Hardcover


The revised and updated edition of the Life Application Study Bible is currently available in the following translations:



Details: MacArthur Study Bible



The MacArthur Study Bible is currently available in the following translations:



Bible Translations Available for the Study Bibles Discussed Here


Modern Bible translations utilize different translation philosophies.  These include placing a higher value on word-for-word accuracy (called Formal Equivalence) and placing emphasis on translating thought-for-thought, in order to gain a greater level of readability (known as Dynamic Equivalence).   Since one is translating from another language, no English version can be fully Formal or fully Dynamic.  Each translation must strike some sort of a balance.  I would select one of the more literal, word-for-word, translations for use in a study Bible.


Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) The HCSB employs a translation approach they call Optimal Equivalence, which “seeks to achieve an optimal balance of literary precision and emotive clarity through a comprehensive analysis of the text at every level” to translate “both words and thoughts.” It is not as literal as the ESV or NASB, but is more so than the NIV. It is more readable than the ESV and far more readable than the NASB.  The Holman was published by Broadman & Holman in 2003.  Reading Grade Level: 7-8


English Standard Version (ESV) is an "essentially new literal translation" follows the tradition of the King James, American Standard Version, and Revised Standard Version. Published in 2001 by Crossway, it was developed with the goal of being very accurate (word for word), and yet very readable.  It is very popular among Christian studies majors and in the Reformed community.  Reading Grade Level: 10


New American Standard Bible (NASB) - was by the Lockman Foundation and completed in 1971. This version is so literal that you can check your Greek homework by it.  It sticks as close as possible in translating to the vocabulary and word order in the original, although the resulting English can be wooden. It often is preferred by those who want an English version that reflects the grammar of the original. An update was published in 1995 which seeks to smooth out the English while preserving the literal nature of the translation.  Reading Grade Level: 11


New International Version (NIV), The NIV is copyrighted by the International Bible Society and was completed in 1978.  It is the best-selling English version in the U.S. today. It combines contemporary, literary English with traditional biblical vocabulary.  It translates more phrase by phrase rather than word by word.  However, it is not nearly as literal as the three translations above.  Reading Grade Level: 7-8


New King James Version (NKJV), Published by Thomas Nelson in 1982. It seeks to preserve the classic style and beauty of the King James Version while updating the vocabulary and grammar. Although it uses the same Hebrew and Greek texts as the King James Version, it indicates where other manuscripts differ. Grade level: 7


New Living Translation (NLT), Published by Tyndale in 1996. This is a translation and not a paraphrase, like the Living Bible. This is a very readable translation, but is as non-literal as a translation can get and still be a translation; all the way to the end of the spectrum on the the thought by thought end, and opposite the word for word approach.  Reading Grade Level: 6


Compare Translations at : and





Hardcover:  More durable than both paper or kivar bound books, and they are often referred to as hardbacks. They are slightly more expensive than the paperback or kivar bindings; however, they are more economical than leather bindings.


Bonded Leather:  Made from real leather. However, as the name suggests, the cover is made from leather pieces that are bonded together with latex. Once bonded, the leather is dyed, cut and embossed to look like genuine leather. The look and feel is as genuine leather (though not high-grade leather). Due to the fact that it is not made from a single sheet of leather, bonded leather is less expensive, and can be less durable than genuine leather.


Genuine Leather: Berkshire Leather, Genuine Leather, Top-Grain Leather, Cowhide, and Morocco Leather differ from Bonded Leather in that they all consist of a single piece of leather, not many bonded pieces. Types of Genuine Leather are listed below:

Berkshire Leather: A term for pigskin – high quality pigskin tanned to enhance its appearance and durability — the material most commonly used in bookbinding when 'genuine leather' is the description used..

Genuine Leather: Made from first quality animal hides (usually pig or cowhide). It has a finely grained texture, which is thicker and coarser than Top-Grain Leather.

Premium Soft Genuine Calfskin Leather: The softest leather available. A traditional high-quality leather used in fine bindings. It is long-lasting and its suppleness increases with use.

Top-Grain Leather: Cut from the top or outside of the hide and consists of Pigskin or cowhide. Its grain is thicker and coarser than Cowhide.

Cowhide: Cut from either cattle or water buffalo. It has a finer and suppler grain, which is slightly more durable than Top-Grain leather. As a result, it is more expensive.

Morocco: High quality leather made of imported goatskin, usually worked by hand. It is considered to be one of the finest binding leathers. As such it is very durable and expensive.


The prices will vary for different bindings.  For example, here are the regular retail listed prices listed for the HCSB Study Bible in its various bindings.  You can get these Bibles for much less online or on sale at LifeWay, but the differences in price give you an idea:

·         Hardcover: $49.99

·         Duotone Simulated Leather: $69.99

·         Bonded Leather: $69.99

·         Genuine Leather: $79.99

·         Deluxe Leather: $150

·         Thumb Indexed: Add $10


The information on bindings above comes from at:

and Cambridge Bibles (Cambridge Bibles are famous for their quality binding) at:





Strengths and Emphases of Various Study Bibles:

The Strongest Study Bibles in Various Categories


What is the Contextual Setting?

History, Timelines, Culture & Customs





What Does it Say?

Word Studies, Biblical Languages



What Does it Teach?

Doctrine & Theology





What Should I Do?


Life Application



Depth & Meatiness





Most Material





Advocates One Point of View



Shows Various Evangelical Views

Without Wimping Out on Essentials


Baptist Friendly




Presbyterian Friendly





Text, Maps, Charts, & Illustrations



Can You Show Me a Picture?

Illustrations & Photographs



Dispensational Premillennial

Rapture then Tribulation


Historic Premillennial

Tribulation then Rapture



Jesus is Coming Back and It’s Over


Various Evangelical Views

On Second Coming Explained


Topical Study

Thompson’s Chain Reference


Character Studies

Life Application


Readable Typeface



Light Enough to Carry to Church




Online Samples of Each Study Bible







Life Application


Genesis & Assorted



Genesis & Mark


Genesis & Topic Index

Genesis & Intro

Genesis & Romans


Assorted & Illustrations




Assorted Samples


Genesis & Romans

Genesis & Assorted


More Samples


Assorted Samples







Additional summary details can be seen on another Study Bible comparison chart (in pdf)