by John Kight
The study Bible is one of the most indispensable and widely used tools for Bible study. Today, there are study Bibles for nearly every denominational and theological niche within Christendom. But not all study Bibles are created equal. Each reader is sure to have a preferred study Bible or two within the growing landscape, and the HCSB Study Bible has quickly become one of mine.
The foundation of a good study Bible is always the translation and text of the Bible. It is here that the reader will ultimately start and finish their study. Thus, for a study Bible to accomplish its most foundational purpose, the translation must be faithful and the text layout must be distinguishable from the study notes. The HCSB Study Bible is superior on both of these fronts. First, the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) is a translation that is both clear and faithful to the original languages of the Bible. The HCSB is the culmination of over 100 leading conservative scholars from 17 denominations, such as Thomas R. Schreiner, Iain M. Duguid, David Allen, Craig Blomberg, George H. Guthrie, Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Andreas Köstenberger, Tremper Longman III, Robert Mounce, Stanley Porter, and many more. Second, the text layout of the HCSB Study Bible is one that plainly distinguishes the study notes from the inspired biblical text. This attention to detail allows the reader to focus on the very thing they should be seeking to understand most—the Bible.
The framework of a good study Bible is the content. It is here that the reader will interact, understand, interpret, and apply the biblical text. To accomplish this task, there are least three qualities that should be found on every page of good study Bible.
(1) Helpful Background
First, a good study Bible must provide the reader with the appropriate background information—cultural, social, and historical contexts—to amplify the reading of Scripture. This may be one of the strongest characteristics of the HCSB Study Bible. The full-color layout includes scores of detailed maps, illustrations, photographs, timelines, and much more. Moreover, the papyrus-like color palette throughout the Bible immerses the reader into the world of the Bible like nothing else on the market.
(2) Faithful Exegesis
Second, a good study Bible must provide faithful exegesis of the biblical text. This involves the interpretation and explanation of the biblical text within the historical context, including discussion of the original languages and the meaning of the passage to the original audience. Again, the HCSB Study Bible exceeds well beyond many other study Bibles on the market. The HCSB includes clear and concise notes written by experts in the field, many having written full-length commentaries and articles on their assigned book(s). Also, throughout, the reader will encounter a number of wonderful articles that further detail specific topics and issues related to the text, as well as several brief Greek and Hebrew word studies.
(3) Encourage Biblical and Systematic Theology
Third, a good study Bible must encourage both biblical and systematic theology. This is because a good study Bible does not stop at the point of interpretation, but rather brings the reader into the world of application, and thus helps formulate the reader’s theology. The HCSB Study Bible does this well across the board, but not as good as the other two qualities above. This should not be a concern for most readers. The element is there, and it is there often, but don’t anticipate the HCSB Study Bible to spoon feed theological application from every page.
Looking for a decent study Bible has become a daunting task. While the HCSB Study Bible was released in 2010, I finally got my hands on one a little over a month ago. In the past, I have used the NIV Study Bible and the ESV Study Bible. I also recently picked up the Reformation Study Bible (2015) and the NIV Zondervan Study Bible. All of them are excellent tools, and all of them equally deserve a place on your bookshelf. But there is something unique about the HCSB Study Bible. Something that still shines brightly within the growing forest of these volumes. The HCSB is truly text-centered in its approach, and it brings the reader into the world of the Bible like no other study Bible I’ve used. The HCSB is remarkably faithful from the foundation to the framework, equipping the reader with solid exegesis and application. For this reason, the HCSB Study Bible has become one of the first study Bibles I pull from my bookshelf.
John Kight is pursuing an MDiv at Liberty University with an emphasis in biblical studies. He is Director of Adult Education at The Well Church in Brighton, Michigan, and is married with three children. You can connect with him on Facebook and Twitter, or at his blog, Sojourner Theology.