Christianity seems to have reached a point where we are able to make whatever doctrine we want and we can find a bible to support it – this is especially the case with study bibles. One of the things which struck me when I (reluctantly) watched a Rick Warren video with our bible study group, was that he had a stack of different versions with him, and as he spoke he selected a version from the pile which best supported each point he made. And Christians don’t even think to question this. And I hasten to add, before we continue, that I’m not saying there’s no place for study bibles; I even use a couple myself. What I am against is the callous efforts of publishers who try and winkle every dollar they can from the pockets of honest Christians by flooding the market with novelties that have the potential to confuse and divide the Church along political, gender, age, and other lines, and provoke a tribal mentality within it.
The competition between versions is so intense and publishers so desperate to find a new niche in the market to fill that they are going to ludicrous lengths to gain sales, and we’re being swamped with countless study bibles. It started off reasonably, I suppose, with just ordinary study bibles i.e. bibles with notes attached which explain difficulties in interpretation, point out important points, deal with issues, and so on. The NIV produced a very thorough study bible which was very well received and sales went through the roof. It has since been through several revisions and updates as the NIV itself went through its own revisions. The other publishers of bibles couldn’t afford to be left behind in this untapped market so they each have their own study bible now – NIV Study Bible, NLT Study Bible, NKJV Study Bible, various KJV study bibles, GNB Study Bible, Amplified Study Bible and many others.
But the situation has gone crazy now as each publisher, in their greed for a greater share of the market, not only tailors a bible to suit various Christian groups and sub-groups but is actually creating niches in order to fill them with a relevant study bible.
About 5 years back the Zondervan bibles catalogue listed an eye-watering number of study bibles: NIV First Century Study Bible, NIV The Journey Study Bible, NIV Celebrate Recovery Bible, NIV Spiritual Renewal Study Bible, NIV Essentials Study Bible (does this mean the other study bibles don’t contain the “essentials”?), NIV Life Application Study Bible, NIV Integrated Study Bible, NIV Leadership Study Bible….and that was just page 1 of the Zondervan catalogue of study bibles! There were 9 more pages of study bibles in the catalogue, each page containing 16 items.
And in their current catalogue (2021) they list The Jesus Bible NIV Edition, NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible, NIV Cultural Background Study Bible, NIV Faithlife Study Bible, and NIV Celebrate Recovery Study Bible. There is also a large number of study bibles for children: NIV The Adventure Bible, NIV The Adventure Bible: Polar Expedition Edition, NIV Kids’ Quiz Bible, NIV Kids’ Visual Study Bible, and NIV Investigator’s Holy Bible. And this is just one page of one version! There is also NIV Student Bible, NIV Bible for Teen Girls, NIV Outreach Bible, NIV Outreach Bible for Kids, NIV Fuel for the Race of Life New Testament with Psalms and Proverbs: Inspiration for Motor Racing Enthusiasts (spare me, please) – and the list goes on. Admittedly there are several versions of the same study bible for different covers, indexes, and so on. But even so….
Other publishers have a raft of study bibles too. Also in the Zondervan catalogue are: NKJV Study Bible for Kids, NKJV Spirit Filled Life Study Bible, NKJV Children’s Outreach Bible, NKJV Ignite: The Bible for Teens, NKJV Know the Word Study Bible, NKJV Woman Thou art Loosed – T. D. Jakes, etc., etc.
In the KJV there are such bibles as KJV Study Bible, The King James Study Bible, KJV Life in the Spirit Study Bible, John MacArthur Study Bible, Charles Stanley Study Bible, Warren Wiersbe Study Bible, KJV Foundation Study Bible, and many more including the KJV equivalent of other study bibles in the other versions, all of which are the same bible but with the version appropriate to the publisher.
In a sale catalogue from my local Christian bookseller, a double page spread (p. 14-15) has these study bibles advertised: The Complete Jewish Study Bible; NIV Study Bible (2020 Fully revised Edition); ESV Study Bible; ESV Women’s Study Bible; NIV & NKJV Women’s Study Bibles; NIV Quest Study Bible; NKJV Spirit-Filled Life Bible (3rd Edition); NLT Life Application Study Bible (3rd Edition); The Jesus Bible; The MacArthur Study Bible (2nd Edition). On other pages there were: “Adventuring Through the Bible” by Ray Stedman; “The Infographic Bible: Visualising The Drama Of God’s Word”; and a host of journaling and colouring bibles.
These lists are only a fraction of study bibles available in most of the other versions, which would be too tedious to list any further, but you get my point…
And there is a great host of study bibles, most of which are probably out of print now but which were around just 5 years ago or so and can be found on Amazon: men’s devotional bibles, women’s devotional bibles, marrieds’ study bibles, teen study bibles, prophecy study bibles, Charismatic study bibles, Reformed study bibles, an archaeological study bible, a chronological bible, the Scofield Bible in its multiple editions and revisions; and the Thompson Chain Reference Bible also in many versions.
Add to these there are study bibles by your favourite bible “expert” – C.S Lewis, Henry Morris, Charles Ryrie, John Hagee, David Jeremiah, Kenneth Copeland, Joyce Meyer, Chuck Swindoll, Jimmy Swaggart, John Wesley, Matthew Henry, and the already mentioned John MacArthur, Charles Stanley, and Warren Wiersbe; the list goes on almost endlessly. But how many of these people have even trained in a theological college or served as pastors and teachers? How many have studied Hebrew and Greek? How many specialise in the topics they write on?
Again, these are but a few of what have been published. And the numberless teens and children’s bibles, and their appalling pictures, even within one bible version, is eye-watering! And all this hardly even scratches the surface of the multitudes of study bibles, niche bibles, and other specialty bibles available to dumbed down Christians.
I looked at Amazon’s pages for study bibles and they have 70,000 results! Yes, 70,000! Of course, not every item on these pages is an actual study bible, and many will be variations of the one study bible e.g. large print, indexed, different covers, and so on. To be generous, even if you reduced this to half the number – 35,000 – or even a quarter – 17,500 – this is still a staggering number of study bibles!
And some of them are so ludicrous I don’t know whether to laugh or cry – NRSV has a Green study bible, and 2011 NIV has a Grandmother’s study bible. But if that isn’t outrageous enough, I saw a bible for “coloured women” in an earlier Zondervan catalogue. For coloured women?!! What are they doing with the word of God? And what are they doing to the Church? What is so different about “coloured women” that they need a bible of their own? According to the bible I read, all Christians are one in Christ (Gal 3:28). And are grandmothers so different to other Christian women that they need a specialty bible of their own? Surely the bible can speak for itself and address the individual’s need or situation whatever and wherever and whenever it is? And do our bibles have to follow the whims and changes of politics? Why do we need a Green Study Bible?
The focus of the bible is God’s glory, the Lord Jesus Christ, the salvation of lost sinners and other cardinal doctrines that are eternal; not the environment. To focus on “green” issues, race, skin colour, gender equality, and other political issues which are all temporal and passing even if some of them are important, distracts us from the realities of heaven and hell, sin, salvation and reconciliation to God, faith, obedience, love, etc.
This tactic of finding a niche and filling it – or if there is no niche, create one – and filling it with a study bible is doing the opposite of what God wants, and it’s now dividing the Church and Christians into many disparate groups just so the publisher can make some extra sales in its efforts to have the top-selling bible and become No 1 – which means even more sales and extra profit, which is the publishers’ goal.
“For we are not peddlers of God’s word like so many; but in Christ we speak as persons of sincerity, as persons sent of God and standing in his presence” (2 Cor 2:17 NRSV).