Regular Bible vs. Study Bible: What’s the Difference?

The Bible is the best-selling book in the history of the Western world. Every week churches teach and preach from its passages and verses. Every day millions of people around the world read Old and New Testament stories. But sometimes Christians read different kinds of Bibles.

A Study Bible contains notes, articles, maps, charts, timelines, reading plans, concordances, cross-references, word studies, biographies, and other features that the regular Bible doesn’t have. A regular Bible contains only Scripture and no other information.

What are some examples of the features Study Bibles have? What are the best Study Bibles? Why do some people prefer regular Bibles? Keep reading to learn more.

Also, see the Study Bible Comparison Chart to compare dozens of options.

woman reading a Bible
See my video on Study Bibles below

Study Bibles Have More Information than Regular Bibles

A Study Bible may have the exact same biblical text as a regular Bible. For example, a person may use an NIV Study Bible or a regular Bible that uses the NIV translation.

A person may use a KJV Study Bible or a regular Bible that uses the KJV translation. And the same goes for ESV, NASB, NLT, and so on. The difference between them is the extra information Study Bibles have.

Study BibleRegular Bible
Biblical textIt can be any translation: NIV, KJV, NKJV, ESV, NASB, NLT, NRSV, etc.It can be any translation: NIV, KJV, NKJV, ESV, NASB, NLT, NRSV, etc.
Extra information included?Yes — explanatory notes, theological insights, application suggestions, color photos, maps, and charts, and much moreNo
Cost$20-$40 but could be more if a reader wants a leather cover, for example$8-$20

Study Bibles cost more than regular Bibles for a few reasons:

  • Study Bible can be twice as big to accommodate all the notes, articles, pictures, and other informative features
  • Many Study Bibles are now published with dozens, if not hundreds of sharp, full-color photographs of places related to Bible stories, e.g., Mount Sinai, the Jordan River, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Corinth, Rome, etc.
Well-Reviewed Study Bibles
NIV Study Bible (see price on Amazon)
ESV Study Bible (see price on Amazon)
Life Application Study Bible; comes in different translations (see price on Amazon)
Women’s Devotional Study Bible; comes in different translations (see price on Amazon)

Also see Reference Bibles vs. Study Bibles: What’s the Difference?

Why Do Some Readers Prefer a Regular Bible?

Some readers prefer a regular Bible over a Study Bible. Or, sometimes, people who have a Study Bible, and take it to church or their small group, still use a regular Bible as well. But why?

People like regular Bibles because they enable them to focus on the inspired text alone. Especially for devotional reading, some Christians want “just God’s Word” at that time.

Their focus isn’t so much on learning the history and theology of the text, which is some of the information that Study Bibles provide, but relationally connecting with God, who speaks through the Word.

People like regular Bibles because they would be distracted otherwise. All the features that Study Bibles have distract some readers. Instead of reading the biblical text, they read the theology articles.

Instead of meditating on the Word, they look at all the beautiful photographs. Other readers are disciplined enough to separate the biblical text from the extra information.

People who use regular Bibles devotionally can still use a Study Bible for individual study and to take to Sunday school classes and small groups. A person doesn’t have to pick one or the other but can use both kinds of Bibles depending on their purposes.

Well-Reviewed Regular Bibles
NIV Bible (see price on Amazon); most popular translation
ESV Bible (see price on Amazon); fastest growing in use
KJV Bible (see price on Amazon); a centuries-old classic
NLT Bible (see price on Amazon); the easiest English to read

Also, see the Best Commentary On Every Book of the Bible to learn more.

Why Do People Like Study Bibles?

People like Study Bibles because they not only contain the inspired text of Scripture but because the extra information they have helps them understand the Bible. Historical information, theological insights, and application suggestions help make the Bible less confusing. Features that are common to Study Bibles include:

  • Study notes: In most Study Bibles, explanatory notes appear at the bottom of each page. Authors of the notes, who are mostly Bible scholars and pastors, explain passages and verses in ways that anyone can understand. The notes aren’t inspired like the biblical text is. Instead, they are like learning from a preacher or teacher. The notes don’t replace the text; they explain the text.
  • Articles: Some Study Bibles contain one-page or two-page articles on historical and theological topics. For example, in the ESV Study Bible, there are dozens of articles in the back of the book. The articles act as a small, built-in library for Bible readers that covers topics like World Religions, the Trinity, and the Dead Sea Scrolls. (Also see Best ESV Bible Commentaries)
  • Photographs: Illustrations in the first Study Bibles were hand-drawn. Now, Study Bibles commonly print full-color photographs of places that are related to Bible stories. Visual learners especially enjoy this feature as well as anyone else who likes to see a picture of a sunset over the Sea of Galilee or a sunrise from atop Mount Sinai. Full-color pictures are one reason why Study Bibles are more expensive than regular Bibles.
  • Maps: Visual learners also like looking at maps, which help them visualize travel, warfare, trading routes, waterways, mountains, terrain, cities and towns, and much more.
  • Timelines: Sometimes when Bible readers are studying a certain person or a certain generation in biblical history, they don’t easily understand the big picture of what God is doing. Timelines help people put people and events in chronological order, but they can also help people see the “forest,” which helps them to understand the “trees” better.
  • Reading plans: Examples of reading plans include Reading the Bible in a Year, Studying the Life of David in 40 days, and Understanding the End Times in One Month. Such plans are often organized into a chart that assigns a text of Scripture to each day of the plan. For instance, on Day 1 of Studying the Life of David, the chart may indicate 1 Samuel 16.
  • Concordances: This study tool, often found in the back of Study Bibles, enables readers to do word studies. Arranged alphabetically, concordances help people find all the uses in Scripture of a particular word. For instance, a person could turn to the “H” section and find the word “hope,” which lists all the chapters and verses where that word is found.
  • Cross references: Cross references help readers find verses of the Bible that complement whatever verse a person is reading. For example, John 3:16 says, in part, that God loved the world. A cross-reference to this verse may be 1 John 4:8, which says, in part, God is love.
  • Word studies: Some Study Bibles contain word studies, which often take the form of an article. A word study on “faith,” for example, wouldn’t contain a list of verses where the word can be found in a concordance. Instead, it would be a summary of the biblical meaning and use of the term.

Also, see the Best Bible Commentary Series to learn more.

Daniel Isaiah Joseph

Daniel's seminary degree is in Exegetical Theology. He was a pastor for 10 years. As a professor, he has taught Bible and theology courses at two Christian universities. Please see his About page for details.

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