Are Study Bibles Obsolete?
This week we've been looking at the history of the study Bible format and some of the reasons for its popularity. Those reasons include (1) a desire on the part of readers for easily understandable interpretive guidance (especially during periods of religious controversy), (2) a desire on the part of religious leaders to popularize a particular understanding of the Bible, (3) a desire on the part of publishers to promote a particular translation, and (4) a desire on the part of some readers for ready help with a particular aspect of Bible study (application, apologetics, etc.). Because the study Bible combines study helps with the text of the Bible in a single print volume, the reader can consult it with far less effort than is required by a separate dictionary or commentary.
That explains why print study Bibles have sold well, but isn't that advantage of convenience nullified by the advent of Bible study programs like Accordance? In Accordance, an in depth commentary or encyclopedic dictionary is just a triple-click away, so one might expect study Bibles to lose much of their appeal. When someone can get reams of information so quickly, why would he want a study Bible which can only provide a concise treatment of any given passage? If we assume that more is always better, we might expect study Bibles to sell poorly in electronic form.
Contrary to this assumption, study Bibles are just as popular as Bible software add-ons as they are in print. It would seem the study Bible has other advantages than its convenient one-volume format. In fact, far from making study Bibles obsolete, Bible software has actually set them free from the limitations of print.
As we saw in yesterday's post, many study Bible notes have been explicitly paired with a particular translation. This means that if I really like the helps in a study Bible paired with a particular translation, but happen to prefer a different translation, I'm forced to choose between the study Bible notes I want or the translation I want. Some study Bibles, such as Ryrie, have tried to get around this by printing a different edition for each major translation. Others have engaged in a kind of serial monogamy with respect to translation, switching over time from one translation to another.
In Accordance, of course, you can display the notes from any study Bible with any translation you want; or, for that matter, with a whole bunch of translations displayed in parallel. This liberates the study Bible from its association with a particular translation.
Accordance also makes it easy to access the study Bible best suited to a particular task. A college student may prefer the ESV Study Bible notes for general study, but when debating with a professor, he might want quick access to the Apologetics Study Bible. While leading a Bible study on campus, he might rely heavily on the Life Application Study Bible. With Accordance, he can load these three hefty volumes on his iPhone and access the one he needs at any given moment.
While Accordance makes the study Bible more useful and flexible than it could possibly be in print, the question still remains as to why people would want to use a study Bible when they have instant access to larger, more comprehensive resources. The answer is simple: sometimes a concise treatment of a subject is preferable to an exhaustive one. Although Accordance can quickly show you what a dozen commentaries have to say about a given verse, you still have to read all that information to benefit from it. Looking up the note on a verse from a favorite study Bible may be all you really need at a given moment, and it requires far less time and effort to sift through.
For these reasons, the study Bible has successfully made the transition to the digital age. I think we can all agree study Bibles are in no danger of becoming obsolete any time soon.