Study Bible or Commentary – which is better?

Posted on: January 17th, 2013 by Michelle Stramel 5 Comments

Study Bibles have become very popular over the last few decades. Today they come in many sizes and flavors with some even targeted at specific groups (i.e. women, grandmothers, teens) or purposes (i.e. apologetics, archaeology, recovery). Study Bibles offer a combination of Bible text, brief commentary and extra study helps such as maps, tables, and explanatory or introductory articles. With PocketBible, we provide the study part separately from the Bible text so you can mix and match (with the exception of the ESV Study Bible which includes the Bible text). By “mix and match”, we mean you could use the NIV Study Bible Notes side-by-side with your NKJV Bible or your NLT Study Bible Notes with your ESV Bible.

Think of study Bibles as the Swiss army knife of Bible learning. You get a little bit of everything but you sacrifice depth for breadth as compared to a single purpose tool like a commentary or Bible atlas. For example, the notes or commentary part of a study Bible are designed for quick insight into the Bible. There simply isn’t room for lengthy arguments about what everyone thinks a passage means as is done with multi-volume commentaries.

It’s easy to see the benefit of having a multi-volume commentary on your phone but what about a study Bible? There is still a weight factor to consider even with study Bibles! Wouldn’t you rather have a study Bible on your phone than carry around a mammoth book (even if it is only one volume)? Plus, study Bibles offer extensive cross-references which are more convenient to check with PocketBible.

One of the frustrations I have with study Bibles in general is that they don’t always have a comment on the verse I am interested in. Unfortunately, for brevity’s sake, most study Bibles won’t comment on every verse in the Bible. Thus, it is a good idea to have at least one verse-by-verse commentary in your PocketBible library. On the positive side, if you just want a quick understanding of what a verse means, study Bibles are ideal. You can check there first and move to a commentary for more information. In this way, your study Bible and commentary can work hand-in-hand.

We often get asked “which study Bible is best?” Rather than say one is better than the other, we suggest you consider things like the Bible translation it is based on, any unique helps it offers and how much of the Bible it covers. Here is a comparison chart of the study Bibles we currently offer that can help you make a decision based on those features.

  Based on Bible Translation Study Notes Maps Charts Illustrations Unique Features Price
ESV Study Bible ESV (included) 20,000 200 200 40 80,000 cross-refs; 50 articles $34.99
NIV Study Bible Notes NIV 1984 Ed. 20,000 16+ 24 10 Topical and Note Index $14.99
NLT Study Bible Notes NLT 2nd Ed. 20,900 Yes Yes Yes Personality Profiles, Book Themes $14.99
Life Application NA 10,000 NA 200 NA Personality Profiles, TouchPoint Topics $14.99
MacArthur’s Study Bible Notes NKJV 20,000 35 100 10 Overview of Theology, Harmony of Gospels $39.99
Dake’s Study Bible Notes KJV 35,000 NA NA NA 500,000 cross-refs, Pentecostal, Dispensational $39.99
Women’s Study Bible Notes NA Hundreds NA Yes NA Topical Articles, Character Portraits, Quotes $29.99
Spirit of the Reformation NIV 1984 Ed. 20,000 NA NA NA Catechisms and Creeds, Reformed Theology Articles $14.99

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5 Responses

  1. Tom Cucuzza says:

    Hi Michelle,

    Didn’t you leave out the Ryrie Study Bible? I have it in PocketBible and use it regularly.

    Tom Cucuzza

    • Hi Tom, yes, we did previously offer the Ryrie Study Bible and if you purchased it in the past it will still be available for you on all platforms. However, we no longer have a license for that particular title.


  2. Craig Horlacher says:

    I have a number of commentaries and Study Bibles from Laridian. They’ve built up quite an excellent selection over the years. For what it’s worth, I strongly recommend two, The ESV Study Bible and the Life Application Bible Notes. I especially like the commentary in the ESV Study Bible. Both have great features that explain terms or tell you about people in the Bible or give you timelines.

    I loved having the ability in PocketBible for WinMobile to open a verse in all commentaries installed! That really made it useful to have a number of commentaries because you could easily see what all your references told about a specific verse. Otherwise it can be hard to know which book has the best information about a given topic and time consuming to check them all. I look forward to this feature coming to Android soon along with looking up a verse in all installed Bibles. Those were two the the most time saving features I ever saw.

    Unfortunately the ESV Study Bible has some serious problems with the way it was tagged (created for PocketBible), not by Laridian, but the publisher. I’ve contacted the publisher about this but it’s been a number of months and I haven’t heard anything. I still strongly recommend the ESV Study Bible because it’s such a great reference. It’s just hard to get at some of the content…for instance, in Matthew you can only go directly (using the goto feature) to commentary on verses up to 2:13. After going there, scrolling down a little and pressing the goto button to change verses, you can now continue to find a verse further in Matthew. In Psalms, you can only go to Psalm 22. Go there, scroll down to the next chapter, tap go to again, and now you can go up to Psalm 119. It’s a real pain. Hopefully the publisher will fix this soon. There are more tagging issues but those are just a few examples.

    Again, even with these tagging anomalies it’s one of my favorite references. Once the tagging issues are fixed it will be incredible! What a bargain too at the price which includes the ESV Bible, which I think is a great translation. I also would recommended the Holman Christian Standard Bible – another great translation! It’s accurate, even more natural language than the ESV, and it has pro-nouns for God capitalized!!! Why don’t all translations do that!??!?

    • Craig, thanks for your comments!

      The Autostudy feature in PocketBible for iOS provides some of the same benefits you are mentioning with the “open all commentaries” of PocketBible for WinMobile although there are a few more steps involved.


  3. Craig Horlacher says:

    I wanted to update my post and mention that I did hear back from the ESV Study Bible publisher a second time and the “Digital Licensing Manager” says “they are aware of the problems and are hoping to have a fix soon”.

    I can’t wait to have a correctly tagged (fully functional) ESV Study Bible to go along with what is turning out to be a great version of PocketBible for Android!

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