I haven’t written on this for a bit, and I wanted to note some differences between three of the major study Bibles I use in terms of introductions to books. I’m studying Romans right now, so I thought I’d compare there.
In comparing words, I get myself a quick approximation of the average line length in words, and then multiply by the number of lines in a particular section. That is not very precise, but it is good enough for comparison. As with those pesky political polls, consider close numbers to be more or less equal.
I’m going to briefly compare three study Bibles that I personally reference in my studies. My primary use for these is to get a quick overview of certain representative points of view, and I include a number of others as well. This particular use may influence how I see each one.
Oxford Study Bible
The first is the Oxford Study Bible. Based on the REB and including the Apocrypha, this Bible has proven to be extremely useful to me over the years and my copy is well-worn. Overall, however, its comments tend to be brief and to deal more with technical and critical issues than with theology. Its Romans introduction is around 190 words, and gives us a fairly standard protestant view of the theme of Romans. It does not date it very precisely, giving a range of 48-58 CE, and indicating it was probably written after Galatians. The notes on the first chapter give new meaning to the word “concise” but do cover the most important issues. They take up around 240 words.
NLT Study Bible
The NLT Study Bible has become a regular companion for me to help me keep track of the scholarly evangelical position in outline form. It proves its usefulness with over 2100 words of instroductory material on Romans. I’m not entirely surprised by this huge difference, as Romans is a pretty critical book in the evangelical community. The introduction is divided into:
- Summary (with the standard inset outline and timeline)
- Date, Place, and Occasion of Writing (around AD 57)
- Paul’s Purpose in Writing
This is then followed up by over 1200 words in the notes on the first chapter. The notes are, unsurprisingly, very evangelical, as would be expected. I believe they would be very useful to a pastor preparing a sermon, or a Sunday School teacher preparing a lesson. The pastor in particular would be added by the list of additional reading.
New Interpreter’s Study Bible
The New Interpreter’s Study Bible falls between these two. Its introduction runs a bit over 1,000 words plus a more detailed outline than that provided by the NLT Study Bible. It also dates the book to 57 CE, and provides a fairly standard protestant discussion of the themes of the book. It also has just over 1,000 words in the notes to chapter 1 plus an excursus, The Righteousness of God, running a bit over 100 more.
In general I find all three of these Bibles useful. The Oxford Study Bible and New Interpreter’s Study Bible include the Apocrypha, which I like, but which also makes them a bit more tight on the space. There is also some difference as to what is included in introductory material, and what is including in general articles. One of the great features of the Oxford Study Bible, for example, is around 190 pages of general articles written by some quite well-known scholars.
There are obviously many things that go into choosing a study Bible. I hope that these few notes will help those especially who are buying on the internet and can’t spend hours looking through an actual copy.