On Sunday after church we did a little study bible comparison to see what study bibles people preferred in our church. It certainly was not an extensive comparison, but it was interesting:
We got a bunch of different study bibles and passed them round, and let eveyone spend time reading the notes their bible had on John 1:1. After a few minutes we would pass on our study bible to the person next to us, and then read the notes in the new study Bible we had been passed. We kept doing this until everyone had read each study bible.
Before I give the results, I should say that this was by no means an exhaustive test. We only looked at one verse, so our results do not give a fair representation of each study bible in its entirety.
Nevertheless, I thought it would be interesting to post our findings:
1st: The ESV study bible was the favourite. We had to use an on-line pdf for this as it hasn't been published yet. This was favourite because it gave a good bit of information in lay-men's terms, with an attractive layout.
2nd: The Reformation Study Bible: This was a close second, with some people wavering between this and the ESV study bible. One person thought the notes on John 1:1 were slightly better than the ESV study bible, but each one contains little bits of info that the other didn't. A number of people use this already in our church.
3rd) The MacArthur study Bible: This came in third. The strength of this one was how the notes were arranged phrase by phrase so it really came across as an exposition.
4th) NIV study bible: The notes on this were brief, which pleased some, but didn't please others.
5th) NET Bible: The notes on this were the most scholarly, but assumed an understanding of Greek, and so not everyone understood it.
Within the group there were certainly differences, and these were mainly based on the level of study people were most comfortable with. For example, one new believer preferred the NIV study bible because the other notes seemed too complex.
Personally, I think that in terms of study, the NET Bible is probably the most useful - but it does presume prior learning. I really like the Reformation study Bible, which I often recommend to people (am not so keen on its article on baptism though). I am interested to see the diagrams that the ESV study bible has (which may give it the edge over the Reformation Study Bible), plus to see how its notes on baptism and gifts of the spirit will be. Clearly MacArthur is a tremendous blessing to the church worldwide, but I am not so keen on the idea of a study bible written by one author. I like the array of scholars the NIV study bible contains, however it is brief.
Above all, I think it is really important to be able to read study bible's recognizing that the top bit is the word of God, and the bottom bit is just people's notes on the word of God. No study bible's notes are infallible. I hope that any of us that use them are able to be fully confident in the word of God, and at the same time, recognize that the notes at the bottom are sometimes correct, and sometimes incorrect.