Study Bibles vs. Bible Commentaries – Comparison Chart

Study Bibles and Bible Commentaries are two of the most common resources bible readers use to help them understand and apply Old and New Testament Scripture. But what is the difference between them?

The comparison chart below describes how Study Bibles and Bible Commentaries are the same and how they are different, giving simple descriptions and providing numerous examples.

Please also see the Study Bibles: Video Overview and the Bible Commentaries: Video Overview, which are found below the comparison chart.

Study BiblesBible Commentaries
of term
refers to bibles that contain brief “study” notes on history, theology, application, and other topicsrefers to authors, usually bible scholars and pastors, who are “commenting” on Scripture
Physical formata bible in its entirety with supplemental notes, and sometimes maps and pictures, usually found at the bottom of pagesmost commentaries cover one book of the bible, i.e. A Commentary on the Gospel of John; there are also one-volume whole bible commentaries
Main textScripture in its entirety, from Genesis to Revelation, often in a common English translationIn-depth explanations and discussions of Scripture, e.g. descriptions, analyses, clarifications, summaries, applications, definitions, etc.
Secondary textExplanations of Scripture, e.g. descriptions, analyses, clarifications, summaries, applications, definitions, etc., often found at the bottom of the pageScripture, sometimes in its entirety, but other times only in part, i.e. key words, phrases, and verses
What English
is used?
Study Bibles come in a variety of translations, e.g. King James (KJV), New International Version (NIV), New American Standard Bible (NASB), English Standard Version (ESV), Christian Standard Bible (CSB), New Living Translation (NLT), New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), and moreMany commentaries use one particular English translation as they explain and discuss Scripture, but in some mid-level, and in most advanced commentaries, authors supply their own original translation
Do notes and
emphasize a
specific topic?
The notes in some Study Bible provide an overview of the text, while others emphasize a certain topic or theme. Examples of general Study Bibles: The NIV Study Bible, The ESV Study Bible, study bibles written by pastors. Examples of thematic Study Bibles: The Archaeological Study Bible, The Systematic Theology Study Bible.Most commentaries approach the text in a general way, but some emphasize certain subjects like history or application. Examples of general commentaries: New American Commentaries, Expositor’s Bible Commentaries
Examples: Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, The NIV Application Commentary.
Who are
the authors?
Sometimes pastors, sometimes scholars;
Examples of pastors: John MacArthur, David Jeremiah, Joyce Meyer, Charles Stanley, Charles Ryrie
Sometimes pastors, sometimes scholars;
Examples of scholars: Douglas Moo, D.A. Carson, John Stott, Darrell Bock
Who can
use it?
Anyone. Most English translations are written at an 8th to 12th grade reading level. Study notes are intended for all readers, whatever their knowledge level.Commentaries have different target audiences. Some are introductory; others are intended for pastors, and still others for professors
Life Application Study Bible, ESV Study Bible, Biblical Theological Study Bible, Ancient Faith Study Bible, John MacArthur Study Bible, Tony Evans Study Bible, Charles Ryrie Study BibleNIV Application Commentary (NIVAC), Expositor’s Bible Commentary (EBC), Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary (CCEC), J. Vernon McGee commentaries
Depends on format: many paperback and hardback editions range from $20-40; leather-bound versions can be $50-60 or higherIntroductory-level commentaries (e.g. NIVAC, CCEC) are often $20-30, mid-level (e.g. NICNT, PNTC) and higher (e.g. NIGTC, ANC) can be $50-80
1. Pick the English translation you want.
2. Decide if you want general notes or notes about a certain topic or theme. Browse the Study Bible Comparison Chart (link below) to find the right one for you.
3. Choose the format, e.g. hardback, paperback, leather-bound, etc.
1. Define your purpose for using it, e.g. devotional use, Sunday school teaching, etc.
2. Browse the comparison chart below to find the right commentary for your purposes.
3. Choose the format.
Compare 50+ Study Bibles on one single chartCompare 75+ different commentary series on one dingle chart

Video Overview: Study Bibles

Study Bibles: Comparisons
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Daniel Joseph Isaiah

Daniel has been in Christian ministry for 25 years. He has been an Associate Pastor and a Senior Pastor. Currently in higher education, Daniel has taught more than 25 different undergraduate courses in Bible and theology-related topics.

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