Thoughts on the Apologetics Study Bible

From the beginning let me be very clear that some will read this review and find it to be very caustic, some may even reach the point of frustration or at worse anger. For that I can offer no apologies, these words are my opinion and my opinion alone, agreeing with me, or disagreeing with me isn’t the issue, the real issue is that Christians can and will have differing opinions on things, and the usefulness and effectiveness of works of this nature is open to all manner of opinions. If you find that we agree then all is fine, and if you disagree with me I will still consider you a brother and hope you extend the same grace to me.

Now I will freely admit that I am not typically a fan of “study bibles,” preferring to let scripture stand alone on its own God ordained merits. I am also weary of study bibles because they run the risk of occasionally promoting doctrine that is clearly unbiblical. The clearest example of this comes from what I consider to be the least reliable and most detrimental study bible of them all, the Scofield Study Bible. According to Scofield’s notes Jesus is what can be called a “parenthetical insert” into history because salvation history has been detoured into the Church age until the Jewish people are ready to return to God? From his perspective Jesus did not intend to establish a Church, and the very idea of the “Church” is God’s plan “B” because the Jews of Jesus day rejected him as Messiah? 

I personally use a Thompson Chain Reference Bible (NASB) for my preaching and teaching preparation, and very rarely do I disagree with the cross-references presented for a given passage. A “cross reference bible” is different from a “study bible,” in that it only provides relevant parallel references, not the theological considerations of men. Truth be told I have a love/hate relationship with study bibles, I do own a few of them, and my favorite would have to be the Archeology Study Bible, which I have found to be a better than average production as far as “study bibles” are concerned.

Here recently I was told about a “new” study bible produced by Holman Bible Publishers entitled the “Apologetics Study Bible.” (ASB) This concept intrigued me and I was excited to get the chance to look at it, especially upon hearing the names of the scholars that would be presenting an apologetic defense of Scripture. In fact I was so excited that I was even tempted to simply order a copy of my own before I looked at it. I am ever so glad that I didn’t jump the gun, and that I maintained my questioning mindset concerning this new study bible. I really wanted to like the ASB, but alas it soon became apparent to me that what I held in my hand’s wasn’t so much a study bible as it was a bible with an extremely biased denominational commentary built in.

What I was expecting were articles and insights that would bolster the truth of scripture and the evidence for the existence of God. What I read was an out and out attack on doctrines that the editorial board of the bible didn’t agree with. If someone wants to take issue with a specific doctrine that another church holds, that’s well and fine, but if these courses of action are going to be taken, then they need to call this bible what it what it is,  a “doctrinal” study bible not an “apologetics” study bible. 

Though it appears to me that the ASB focused more on doctrine than apologetics there were several articles on apologetics and even a few that I liked. Many of them that I read disappointed me greatly. Most of the men who authored them have written better apologetic defenses than the ones that appear in the pages of this work. The ASB editorial board should have been more selective when choosing the articles, for there are some of them that I found to be fraught with “circular logic” and “straw man” arguments. 

Besides presenting a relatively weak apologetic deference of the Christian faith, the ASB adds injury to insult by specifically attacking some faith groups. The churches of Christ are the most prevalent recipient of this uncontainable action. Three times they specifically called out and attacked for their doctrinal stance, on what they hold to be very biblical principles. If the ASB editorial board wants to take issue with a religious bodies doctrinal stance it is free to do so, but in that situation both sides of the issue should be fairly presented, and the reader left to draw their own conclusions. When it comes to the ASB the scriptural basis for these differing opinions isn’t presented, the differences are merely rejected as unbiblical – what a disgraceful action! 

My disappointment with the ASB was pushed to the edge when it became apparent to me that the most egregious act of the editorial board was the addition of a feature called “Twisted Scripture,” in which verses that have varying theological explanations are examined. This feature proved to me beyond a shadow of a doubt that this Bible was the product of a group of individuals with a specific doctrinal bias. The feature was a far cry from being a fair judgment of a much debated text; it was simply a condemnation of any interpretation that that was contrary to that of the editorial board.

 Far from being “Laser Surgery for Blind Faith,” or “Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith.” as some information about the ASB claims, it is a reference bible that will only serve to divide the faithful and confuse those who are seeking to understand God. Some readers of a specific theological perspective will find the ASB a useful reference. But given the drawbacks of the volume, blatant bias, divisive commentary, and weak apologetic presentation I suspect it would prove to be only a very occasional reference tool for most people. As far as biblical exposition and apologetic defense are concerned to call this offering a “lightweight” would be the understatement of the century.   

I am not usually one to heap this much condemnation on any book produced for the study of scripture, but this book stands out to me as the final word (until another takes its place) on how NOT to produce an “apologetics,” study Bible. The best thing a person can do is to read and meditate on scripture for themselves, seeking out God’s guidance in interpreting any given passage. So is there a “study Bible” that I recommend… the simple answer is NO, especially when it’s a new believer who’s asking me. The main reason that I don’t suggest new believers use study bibles is because of the danger that exists in subconsciously elevating the authority of the notes to that of Scripture. Back in the day when the “Schofield” study bible was one of the only options for a study bible there was a well known spoof about it that was derived by editing the line of a well-known hymn: “My faith is built on nothing less than Scofield’s notes and Scripture Press!” Funny as that line may be, it also serves as a sad commentary on what we imperfect people can do with the word of God.

 Now before anyone gets down on me for “bashing” Study bibles, I do believe that they have a place in the study of scripture, as long as the notes of men aren’t given the weight of the inerrant Word. To truly understand Scripture one must take time to study the text and rely on the guidance of the Spirit for direction.

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About Jim

I'm currently the Communications Director for Missouri Operation for Vigorous Evangelism [MOVE] A Church planting ministry located in Jefferson City, MO. I believe that the church is the primary means through which God works in a community to love and redeem it. Here at MOVE we’re discovering new ways to be used for this purpose as God leads us and lights His path for us. As God forms this organization and shapes it for a new kind of world I want to be right in the middle of what He’s doing, traveling on this road of a disciple’s journey.

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