[This is an expantion of a blog I wrote back in 2009]
One of the questions I get asked fairly frequently in ministry is, "What is the best Bible to buy my teenager?"
The easy and obvious answer is, "The one which they will read." In many cases this means picking a translation which I personally would use myself, but which will help them actually spend time in the Bible.
For high school students, I usually recommend getting a good study Bible. Realistically, high school students aren't struggling to read their Bible because they have an inadequate reading level. They struggle to read the Bible because they're not really sure what's going on in the text.
ENTER A GOOD STUDY BIBLE!
So obvious follow up question:
What is the best Study Bible?
I love this question because I own lots of study Bibles. In fact I've got a bit stack of study Bibles which I carry back and fourth between my house and my office. Once you factor in everything I have on Logos, I've got quite the collection.
With that in mind, not all study Bibles are equal. In fact, there are some which continually provide me with great insight and others seem devoid of anything useful at all. For anyone interested, here is my take on each of my study Bibles.
ESV Study Bible - To put it simply, I own nearly ten study Bibles and this one is packed full of notes not found in the others. It also has these wonderful charts which make breaking down a text remarkably easy. It's the most recent addition to my collection, and it immediately rose to the top of the stack. It does have a clear reformed bias, but I'm, of course, fine with that.
NIV Study Bible - This Bible consistently has great, useful notes. It may have the best background and context notes of any study Bible. The back of the book claims it's the best selling study Bible, and it has earned that position. I lost my original copy of this. I was a fool to wait 3 years to replace it.
The Reformation Study Bible - The Bible has some great articles, but the notes aren't as consistent. I find that when I'm studying a passage, the notes are pretty hit or miss. They aren't necessarily bad, but I find myself not getting what I want from the notes.
The MacArthur Study Bible - I think this was the first study Bible I ever purchased. It's filled with solid notes. The big problem is the name on the cover. If you know anything about MacArthur, you know he's infamous for writing a book about everyone who disagrees with him. The notes have a similar, "I've got it all figure out" attitude.
The Quest Study Bible - When I bought this at the used book store, I assumed it was going to be another crappy teen study Bible. I was wrong. It has a unique spin on it's notes. Instead focusing on listing comments on verses, this study Bible has answers to questions you might be asking in the margin. By approaching notes from this perspective, they often give much richer information. However, this method takes up more room than a simple comment. Therefore, there are far few notes, and they focus on the big issues instead of giving the background on each verses.
Hit or Miss:
Life Application Study Bible - The notes inherently tend towards interpreting (and applying) the meaning of the text rather than giving the cultural and theological context so I can interpret the text. The emphasis on application gives some notes a unique edge, but most of the notes simply lack what I'm looking for.
Harper Study Bible - I'd never heard of this Bible before picking it up at the half-priced book store. The good notes are great, but too often I simply don't find anything unique, useful, or meaningful.
Ryrie Study Bible - One of my best friends has carried one of these for over 10 years. I just don't find anything helpful in mine. To be fair, my copy only has the New Testament and may have truncated notes. Though, even in that case, you would expect the notes to be awesome.
The Student Bible - This Bible just doesn't distinguish itself. It has few notes, and the ones it does have don't stick out.
Logos - It is the standard. I don't know why you'd get anything else.