What is the Best Study Bible? (Ratings, Features, & Bart's Favorite)

Written by Joshua Schachterle, Ph.D

Author |  Professor | BE Contributor

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Date written: May 23rd, 2024

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily match my own. - Dr. Bart D. Ehrman

A study Bible is a version of the Bible with added notes and commentary geared toward scholarly study. The best study Bible can either be general in scope or oriented toward particular readers or topics. 

As a historian and biblical scholar, I’ve used multiple study Bibles, so in this article, I’ll recommend 5 of them, including the best study Bibles for scholars, beginners, children, women, pastors, as well as Bart Ehrman’s favorite study Bible.  Along the way, I’ll be providing some details about their contents and focus.

What is the Best Study Bible_ - Ratings, Features, & Bart's Favorite

Best Study Bible for Scholars:

HarperCollins Study Bible (Newest edition: The SBL Study Bible)

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Ratings: 4 out of 5 stars on Amazon

For those involved in the academic study of the Bible, the scholars of the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) have long provided helpful and insightful scholarship. This newest version is an update of the famed HarperCollins Study Bible based on the New Revised Standard updated edition (NRSVue) translation made in 2023.

The HarperCollins has long been the gold standard for scholarly English translations of the Bible. I used it throughout my PhD studies and continue to use it today. 

Like most good study Bibles, it contains both the canonical books and the Apocrypha. In addition, there are essays on such scholarly topics as textual criticism and historical trends in biblical interpretation, all written by reputable scholars in the field. Each book starts with an introduction which includes information on the authorship and dating of the book, structure, contents, and even writing style. 

Here’s an example:

The image above is of my own HarperCollins Study Bible.  As you can see, this is an introduction to the book of Mark.  It includes details on authorship, setting and date, style, genre, and more.

In short, this edition has everything a scholar might need in a study Bible and I highly recommend it.

Amazon customer review - “This is the latest and best scholarly critical study bible out there, with the updated NRSV translation. Great introductions, side bars, pictures and notes.”

Best Study Bible for Beginners:

Ratings: 4 ½ out of 5 stars on Amazon

I chose this edition for beginning students of biblical studies because, although the New Oxford and others have vast amounts of information on biblical studies, the New Interpreter’s Study Bible does not assume that the reader already has a scholarly background and thus provides easy-to-read explanations.

For someone who is interested in the scholarly study of the Bible but uninterested in getting a PhD, this is a good place to start. Like the New Oxford above, this contains the canonical books and the Apocrypha. It also contains commentary and essays by respected scholars.

My only reservation about this study Bible is that some of the commentary is theological rather than scholarly. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t useful scholarly information in it as well. For a beginner, the info included is mostly quite helpful.

For readers looking for both scholarly and theological interpretations (it is published by Cokesbury, a United Methodist publisher), this is a great choice.

Amazon customer review – “Of the big three study Bibles – Oxford, Harper Collins, and New Interpreter's – this is likely the most accessible to a layperson. Although the considerable footnotes do address complex textual issues, they do so in a way that should be understandable to a curious reader who does not have the benefit of seminary education.”


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BONUS: Best Study Bible for Pastors

Ratings: 4.8 out of 5 stars on Amazon

The translation of this study Bible is the New American Standard Bible (NASB) which is not the most accurate but is certainly acceptable. The benefit of this Bible for pastors, in my opinion, is the inclusion of a concordance, for locating passages, cross-referenced with Hebrew and Greek dictionaries.

For the pastor who cares about the insights of modern biblical scholarship, I think learning and understanding a bit of the Bible’s original languages could provide fruitful fuel for sermons.

Amazon customer review – “I really like that in one text now, I have the Bible, a concordance, and both a Hebrew and Greek key word dictionary. I also like the commentary provided at the start of each book, as well as amplifying footnotes throughout.”

Best Study BIble for Women:

Ratings: 4 ½ out of 5 stars on Amazon

Full disclosure: I had a hard time with this category. Of course, any of the best academic study Bibles will be useful to women interested in biblical scholarship.

I first wondered if I should recommend the 19th-century Woman’s Bible by feminist icon Elizabeth Cady Stanton. It was a landmark text for its time: Stanton stated that her purpose in writing and publishing it (with the help of other famous feminists of the time) was to combat the religious notion that women should always be subservient to men. Obviously, this was, and is, a laudable goal (and an uphill battle with some biblical texts!). However, Stanton’s text is outdated and for someone interested in contemporary scholarship, it won’t be useful.

Unfortunately, almost every study Bible I found that was oriented toward women sought to reinforce archaic notions of what a woman should be based on ancient standards interpreted from biblical texts. These are notions that women have rightly been combatting for centuries.

Therefore, I chose the eminent Women’s Bible Commentary instead. Technically, this is not a study Bible: in order to use it properly, you would need a copy of the NRSV translation at hand. But there is such a huge number of important women scholars contributing to this volume that I feel entirely justified in recommending it. The commentary focuses mainly on feminist readings of the biblical texts.

One of the editors, Carol Newsom, is one of the leading experts on the Dead Sea Scrolls and the book of Daniel as well as a past president of the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL). The experts who have contributed to this volume include some of the major luminaries of the field: besides Newsom herself contributors include Amy-Jill Levine, Carole Meyers, and Susan Niditch.

Amazon customer review – “These are simply some of the best scholars working today. They are not only historically and theologically sound, but their responses to these texts capture the richness of these texts in both creative and practical ways.”
best study bible for beginners

Best Study Bible for Children and Teens:

Ratings: 4 ½ out of 5 stars on Amazon

This is apparently a study Bible used frequently by church confirmation classes. As such, it’s geared toward young readers and doesn’t assume that they come in with prior knowledge of the backgrounds of biblical texts.

The NRSV Student Bible contains only the canonical books, which is not in itself a detriment to a young person just starting out. Each book begins with an introductory essay summarizing the book’s contents. It’s not biblical studies, per se, but it’s a start. I think non-theologically motivated young people could still get a lot of useful information from this edition, possibly motivating them to search out the more scholarly editions later on.

Amazon customer review – “Each book of the Bible has a great introduction and a calendar for reading the book, and there is a subject guide in the back with Bible verses that pertain to the given subject. Good basic maps, and lists of stories, parables, and other special texts to explore are in the back.”

Bart Ehrman’s Favorite Study Bible:

Ratings: 4 out of 5 stars on Amazon

I already said this was my favorite study Bible, but it turns out that this is also Bart Ehrman’s favorite too!

The NRSV and its newest updated version is considered the best English Bible translation for most biblical scholars. In a blog post, Bart discussed why this is so. He quotes his teacher and mentor, the renowned scholar Bruce Metzger, as saying that the translators of the NRSV tried to make it “as literal as necessary and as readable as possible.” Why is this important?

Translation of any text is complicated. Translation of texts as ancient as biblical texts into modern languages is even trickier since they contain words and idioms for which modern languages may not have analogs. For this reason, Ehrman notes that most readers of the Bible want to have at least a somewhat literal translation just to have a notion of what the original documents said.

On the other hand, he points out that an actual literal translation of the Bible into English would be all but unreadable. Therefore, the translators struck the best balance they could between literal and readable. As one of the preeminent biblical scholars working and writing today, Ehrman says the translation, while not perfect, is excellent.

This newest edition, the SBL Study Bible, contains the latest updates of the NRSV. But like all the previous editions of the HarperCollins Study Bible, there are also enormous numbers of reputable scholars contributing information to each book. This includes introductory essays as well as helpful comments on each verse or group of verses, giving readers context that most would not otherwise have.

I would also like to add that I first encountered the HarperCollins Study Bible before beginning my PhD and found its scholarly contributions very readable and not at all above my head. I think even a beginner would find this version, especially the latest edition, very useful.

Amazon customer review – “This is an updated version of the HarperCollins Study Bible, put out by the Society Of Biblical Literature. The new articles are brief but insightful much like those of the New Interpreter's Bible, but now featuring an updated version of the NRSV translation. The notes are helpful in facilitating interpretation without controlling the interpretation.”


If you Google “study Bible,” the vast majority of results will be theologically motivated Bibles designed to tell readers how best to interpret the texts in order to maintain the orthodoxy of whatever denomination produced them. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this if that’s what you’re looking for.

However, if you’re looking instead for study Bibles that offer the latest in insights from biblical scholars, you may find the above editions helpful.

Josh Schachterle

About the author

After a long career teaching high school English, Joshua Schachterle completed his PhD in New Testament and Early Christianity in 2019. He is the author of "John Cassian and the Creation of Monastic Subjectivity." When not researching, Joshua enjoys reading, composing/playing music, and spending time with his wife and two college-aged children.

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