Battle for the eStudy Bibles

If you were looking for an eStudy Bible, what would look for?

If you were looking for an eStudy Bible, what would you look for?

This week, Zondervan is having an eBook sale of some of their popular Bible reference works. The sale ends on Saturday, March 12.

One of the best things on sale is the new NIV Zondervan Study Bible eBook, where the content was briefly reviewed a few months ago on Veracity. I have been wrestling with the idea of getting the new NIV Zondervan Study Bible, since it really looked to be a fantastic resource for digging into God’s Word. But Zondervan has it on sale this week for $4.99, so for less than the cost for lunch, you can have about a 3000 page, packed Bible study resource in eBook form (that is a steal compared to the $26.43 for the hardcover). So I gave up my lunch break yesterday and got it. Here is what I found….

An eStudy Bible Review

The problem is that I already have the print version of the Crossway English Standard Version (ESV) Study Bible.  The ESV Study Bible is really awesome, edited by a great team of evangelical scholars and loaded with helpful articles, maps, and extensive notes. When you purchase the ESV Study Bible, you also get access to the study notes via the website, which is even better, as all you would need is an iPad or other computer, instead of lugging around a heavy book. Internet access and the ESV Bible online account you get with your printed book registration is required.

You really do not need more than one print study Bible, and in my view, the ESV Study Bible is still the best choice, though in many ways the main factor in choosing between the ESV Study Bible and the NIV Zondervan Study Bible comes down to translation choice. What I appreciate about both Bibles, from a content perspective, is that you are getting a balanced view of Scripture, from a wide range of Scripture-honoring scholars. The difficulty with getting something like the Ryrie Study Bible or the John MacArthur Study Bible, is that you are getting pretty much one person’s opinion of what the Bible says. If the purpose of having a study Bible is to have essentially a “one-stop” go-to resource for digging into God’s Word, why limit yourself to just one person’s point of view?

What you could do to balance that is to get one Bible in print form, that you can use most of the time, and then get something else like an eStudy Bible with a more, well-rounded perspective. That is sort of the rationale I had in getting the NIV Zondervan Study Bible in eBook form, to complement the use of the ESV Study Bible in print form I already had, since I find it really difficult to choose between the ESV and NIV 2011 translations.

In brief, having the Kindle version of the NIV Zondervan Study Bible in eBook form is a mixed experience, at least for the Kindle Cloud Reader I am using on an Apple computer. For one thing, the Bible is big and it takes awhile to download, but once you have it on your local computer, it can be very convenient. On the positive side, working through cross references is really easy. One of the downsides of using a print Bible for looking up cross references is that it can be really painful to turn the pages. But on the Kindle version, cross references and study notes hyperlinked, so you can just click right through where you want to go. However, I have not been able to figure out how to easily go back to where I original started from, since not all of the cross references are linked in both directions, which can be frustrating. Zondervan should work with Amazon Kindle to fix that. Also, some of the wonderful maps that the NIV Zondervan Study Bible has are oriented sideways, which is really a stupid way of presenting the content. In fairness, from other reviews I have read, the ESV Study Bible eBook-version probably also has similar challenges.

The Kindle eBook format is not quite like using print version, in that each book of the Bible first has introductory articles (which are fantastic), followed by the text, followed by the notes for that book of the Bible, and then followed by the inline cross-references. The hyperlinking is not only convenient, it is necessary. When in doubt, I can always go back to the table of contents. Navigating eBooks for reference purposes could stand for a lot of improvement.

So, my little lunchtime foray into using an eStudy Bible in general is a mixed bag. If you want to use it like you would most other eBooks, the experience is about the same. Following cross-references using the eBook format, really is the way to go, and where Internet access is lacking, the downloaded eBook format is nice. But there is just something about having a print version of a study Bible that, at this point in time, simply can not be beat in my experience. Hopefully, book publishers will work more in the future with the folks at Kindle to resolve the navigation issues. In the meantime, having the ESV Study Bible in print format, with the option of using the Internet-available online edition of the notes is very helpful. To my knowledge, an online edition of the Zondervan NIV Study Bible is NOT available in the same manner as the ESV.

Of course, there are people like our Veracity blogger-in-chief, John Paine, who really like the New English Translation (NET) online Bible. The notes are very detailed, though possibly too technical for some (though I like them). For the wallet, the basic version of the NET Bible is great because it is free. While not really an eBook, the NET Bible goes the next step and leverages the Internet to make cross-referencing and detailed study even easier (there is an eBook version of the NET Bible, but I have not tried it).  In my view, the Internet based approach that the NET Bible was originally designed for is really the way to do it for the future. But for those who are not ready to make the technological leap, the two top contenders for study Bibles for the average layperson remain the ESV Study Bible and the new NIV Zondervan Study Bible.

As for other study Bibles (eStudy or regular print), there are other worthy second-tier candidates I should not forget to mention. The Reformation Study Bible is very good, but it may put off some readers as being “too Reformed.” On the other side of the spectrum, I really like the HarperCollins Study Bible for NRSV, mainly because it includes the Apocrypha, and it is probably the most academic of the lot, but some conservative readers might detect some critical bias at times in some of the notes that would perhaps distract them. For a helpful review of the HarperCollins Study Bible, this review is excellent. A nice survey of nearly all study Bibles out there on the market today is available at

About Clarke Morledge

Clarke Morledge -- Computer Network Engineer, College of William and Mary... I hiked the Mount of the Holy Cross, one of the famous Colorado Fourteeners, with some friends in July, 2012. My buddy, Mike Scott, snapped this photo of me on the summit. View all posts by Clarke Morledge

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