Review of the Reformation Study Bible Student Edition, English Standard Version

Study Bibles have a special place in my heart. As a church-going but unbelieving teenager, I did not understand the Bible and had no interest in reading it. But when I became a believer at the end of college, I really wanted to know what the Bible meant. Studying the Bible was transformational, but my new-found excitement about reading it was regularly dampened by the difficulty of certain passages. Providentially, a friend was wise enough to hand me a study Bible and that really changed my Bible reading. Concise, helpful notes by trustworthy scholars explained the Bible in a way that renewed my enjoyment of reading it. Ligonier Ministries has produced a time-tested study Bible that is now available as a Student Edition. When requested to review the Reformation Study Bible Student Edition, I was excited to see what unique contributions a student edition would make to the study Bible I already loved.

The value of a study Bible

God has given us his word so that we may understand who he is and what he has done for us in his Son, Jesus Christ, and by his Spirit. The Bible informs our faith and shapes our worship and the way we live our lives. But in order to do that, it must be understood. There is not much virtue in simply reading if you cannot understand.

Here is where we encounter a challenge: not everything in the Bible is equally clear in meaning. As the apostle Peter spoke of the apostle Paul’s writings, “…there are some things in them that are hard to understand” (2 Peter 3:15-16; ESV; emphasis my own). Likewise, Westminster Confession of Faith 1.7 states the following,

All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.

Though what is necessary for salvation is clearly taught in the Scriptures, understanding sometimes requires the expertise of people who are trained to interpret the Bible. And that is what the Reformation Study Bible provides: a large panel of respected and trustworthy experts in the Bible. I understand that some may have reservations about putting study notes alongside the text of Scripture out of concern that the notes may be treated as authoritative. While that concern is valid, the study notes are clearly separated from the text, and the introduction gives a clear explanation that the study notes are merely an aid to understanding the text. Study notes are, of course, not a substitute for attending Church for the preaching of the Word and catechetical teaching, but they are an excellent supplement to strengthen your Bible knowledge.

One of the difficulties in reviewing a study Bible is that much of the information in the study notes and introductions can be obtained relatively easily elsewhere, especially online. The value, then, is that the notes have been produced, condensed, and edited by experts in the Bible. The Reformation Study Bible’s notes are particularly useful because the authors and editors are primarily confessionally Reformed rather than broadly Reformed or evangelical. It provides quick references to the key issues, and insights into some challenging passages as a first reference to aid fruitful reading of the Bible.

Primary benefits

According to the publisher, the objectives of the Student Edition are to “understand truth” and to “grow in your faith.” Understanding truth is the result of Bible experts providing detailed notes throughout the Scriptures, and growing in faith is the result of applying the “practical insights” and reading the “helpful callouts” to answer your questions.

The callouts are certainly helpful. As an example, the callout in Acts 6 is, “What is repentance?” and is followed by a helpful, confessions-based, and concise answer. Some callouts have an apologetic objective. For example, in Genesis 1 there is a callout section, “Does science contradict the Bible?” which offers a brief apologetic about concursus, dealing with the relationship between science and the Bible. There are also key definitions offered, like “retributive judgment” in the introduction to the book of Nahum—an important concept throughout the book. There are also helpful introductions which deal with important basics about each book of the Bible broken down into history, structure, themes, and lessons. These are excellent summaries that orient you before you proceed to read the book. As Bible teachers will tell you, obtaining an understanding of the background to a book will help your reading greatly.

Additional features include a Bible reading plan, several detailed maps, a concordance, and a table of weights and measures. Notably absent from the Student Edition are the creeds, confessions, and catechisms present in the standard Reformation Study Bible. As of the date of this review, each purchase of the Reformation Study Bible Student Edition also includes access to $400 worth of additional online resources from Ligonier Ministries, as well as a six-month subscription to TableTalk magazine.

Versions, design, layout, feel, and useability

The Student Edition is currently only available in English Standard Version. The design makes use of an easy-to-read font and colorful introduction pages and callout boxes. The layout is very condensed with almost no margin and very small text. There is certainly no room for taking notes of any kind, except in certain poetic or prophetic passages, like the Psalms and Hosea, for example. This is doubtless to condense the overall size of the Bible, but the result is a cramped feel. The pages are quite thin, with moderate bleed from the text on the other side of the page but are not overly delicate and won’t tear easily. The result is a study Bible that is relatively light for its class, compared to the full-sized standard Reformation Study Bible which is significantly heavier.

Careful consideration must be given to the cover type you choose. It comes in paperback, cloth-bound, leather-like, and premium leather. The Bible I was sent as a review copy is blue cloth-bound. The cloth-bound format is not a pleasant tactile experience, and its rough surface will likely wear and mark quite easily. As it happens, I accidentally stained my review copy with the remnants of some coffee I spilt on my desk. Rather, I suggest opting for the other cover variants. An impressive aspect of the product is that the binding is so well designed and produced that the Bible can lie opened to Genesis 1 or Revelation 22 and not flip closed. Another helpful addition is the 2 ribbons which can be used to mark your place, which is especially helpful for those doing a reading plan through the Old and New Testaments.

Concluding thoughts

The Student Edition of the Reformation Study Bible is a high-quality study Bible that benefits from some streamlining to improve portability and some student-focused additional material to aid younger Christians. With the multitude of excellent online resources available to help students tackle complex issues, I was initially doubtful of the need for a student-focused edition. After reviewing the Student Edition, the category of students who I suspect would benefit most from the edition are those who are young in the faith, or younger in age. The clear definitions and apologetics callouts will prove helpful to those who are just beginning their reading of the Bible. Older students, and those more mature in the faith, would likely benefit from the standard version of the Reformation Study Bible with its more extensive resources. In sum, this Student Edition is great as an accessible and affordable study Bible for youth, or newer Christian students.

© Alex Hewitson. All Rights Reserved.


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