My study Bibles take up a whole shelf. I have, among others, the NIV Study Bible (New International Version), the ESV Study Bible (English Standard Version), the Literary Study Bible, and the Archaeological Study Bible. I also have a Serendipity Bible for Groups, and the Jewish Annotated New Testament (study notes are written by Jewish scholars who don’t believe Jesus is the Messiah, but it provides interesting cultural insights on the New Testament).
Study Bibles are a tremendous gift to us in our quest to understand the text, the culture and the history of the Bible. Each study Bible understandably has a theological bias though, so that’s why it’s a good idea to have more than one. That’s also why I keep my eyes open for new study Bibles that I think will round out my collection.
We live in a time when we have more study Bibles, study aids and commentaries than we know what to do with. We have the means to gain mountains of knowledge about the Bible. And there lies the danger. It’s a great temptation for me to revel in my knowledge without ever actually incorporating it into my life, without acting on what I’m learning. I could study a long list of Scripture passages that discuss trusting God, do a study on them with my small group, even write a blog about them. But when anxiety wakes me in the middle of the night and I fail to lay my anxieties at the feet of my Father in heaven, all of my studying and knowledge is for nothing.
If all my study Bibles and commentaries and cultural resources don’t make me a more ardent follower of Jesus, I’ve wasted my time. I’m like a five-year-old who can clearly parrot back the instructions he’s just been given to pick up his toys, and even verbalize the location for each toy to be put away, but then runs away without picking up a single toy.
The Protestant church is about to celebrate the five-hundredth anniversary of the Reformation, which began when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the church door at Wittenberg, Germany. There is much to say about Luther and the Reformation, but what strikes me is Luther’s desire for people to read the Bible in their own language. Up to this point it was read to them only in church, in Latin, and then explained by the clergy, whether well or badly. Luther wanted the Bible to be available, understood and practiced in everyday life.
We have the privilege of the Scriptures in our own language, given to us by the sacrifice and blood of many godly and faithful scholars. This privilege, which we sadly take for granted, is still lacking for over six thousand people groups in the modern world.
I recently read again Matthew’s account of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, before he began his public ministry. The temptations that Satan flung at Jesus were suavely packaged offers to receive a kingdom and glory without the suffering, to skip the cross in favor of immediate fame. This shortcut must have been attractive, even to Jesus.
It’s stunning to me that Jesus, who is God Himself, the creator of the universe, didn’t perform some miraculous superhero feat to defy Satan, but simply and powerfully quoted Scripture. He rebuked the tempter by declaring that Scripture is more valuable than food (“Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God”), God doesn’t take kindly to attempts to bait him (“Do not put the Lord your God to the test”), and that worship is reserved for God alone (“Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only”). Satan knew these passages too, of course, but he was used to human beings knowing them without living them.
Jesus didn’t just know the Scripture, he didn’t just quote the Scripture. He delivered God’s word to Satan in such a way that it was clear he was determined to be obedient to the Father. His answers and his steadfastness silenced Satan, and Satan left him.
What failures might we avoid if we not only knew Scripture but lived Scripture? My prayer is that all of my knowledge from all of my study Bibles will make the jump to my heart, to my mouth, to my feet, to my hands. The New Testament writer James says it best: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”
May my pile of Bibles not be used in vain.