When I was 18, a friend shared the gospel message with me, and I prayed
a salvation prayer. As a new Christian, I knew I should be reading the Bible,
so I rummaged through drawers filled with heirlooms and scrapbooks until I
found the family Bible, rarely used or mentioned in our home.
Not knowing where to start, I opened at random to the book of Ezekiel,
using a King James Version. Mystical descriptions of wheels and winged
creatures, Elizabethan English, a lack of understanding of a different time and
culture, and tiny print all worked to defeat my good intentions.
lthough there are many lovely, encouraging and easy-to-understand passages
in the Bible, unfortunately, I didn't find them on my first attempt to read
I closed the Bible and figured that if Christians were supposed to
understand or enjoy reading this stuff, I was doomed.
Later, I tried reading through the Bible with a more modern translation and
still found it hard work. The lack of explanatory notes meant I was on my own
when trying to understand God's sometimes harsh ways with His people and His
people's equally harsh ways with each other. The book of Judges was
particularly tough to accept.
I finally gave up and surreptitiously checked out a children's Bible
storybook from the local library. It gave me an easy-to-read overview and
skipped the more troublesome passages. It wasn't a particularly intellectual
approach, but it helped give me a foundation from which to understand the
history of God's relationship with His people.
Today, many good translations and study and devotional Bibles are available
to help seekers and new and mature Christians surmount some of the difficulties
in reading and understanding God's Word. Translations such as the New
International Version (NIV) and the New King James Version have updated the
language of the Bible without damaging the integrity of the message. The
Contemporary English Version and the New Living Translation appeal to those who
prefer a simplified reading level. Explanatory notes in study and devotional
Bibles help guide readers through some of the tougher passages.
As you share the gospel with friends, you'll want to use, give or recommend
Bibles that will help them grow in Christ. Many current Bibles help bridge
cultural and language difficulties and make the theology of our rich Christian
history accessible to modern seekers. Here
are some particularly helpful Bibles on the market:
My favorite study Bible, the Gold Medallion Award-winning Student
Bible (Zondervan), combines NIV text with user-friendly notes illustrating
and explaining the context, culture and relevance of passages.
Best-selling authors Philip Yancey and Tim Stafford, who wrote the notes for
the Bible, state three common reasons Christians don't read the Bible: "I get
discouraged," "I can't understand it," and "I can't find [anything in] it."
Yancey and Stafford designed the Bible helps in TheStudent
Bible to resolve these three common complaints.
Stafford and Yancey suggest three detailed study tracks for reading the
Bible. Readers can get a basic overview of biblical truths in a two-week guided
study, an overview of the Bible in six months, or a read through the Bible in
Besides a guide to studying key passages, The Student Bible
contains excellent notes that help modern-day readers understand biblical times
The introduction to the book of Judges, for example, states "every picture
has shadows; every suspenseful novel has chapters that look truly dark. In the
story of God and His people, Judges is that kind of chapter. Heroes appear
sporadically, but humanity remains terribly unheroic." Notes like these assist
new--and mature--Christians in making sense of difficult passages.
Even the book of Ezekiel becomes manageable.
The Quest Study Bible, also a Zondervan Bible, sprinkles "Did You
Know?" and "Let's Live It" notes throughout the NIV text. Mary Feist, manager
of Christian Supply Center in Great Bend, Kansas, believes it's one of the best
Bibles for new Christians on the market.
Before The Quest existed, a children's version, The New Adventure
Bible, made a big splash with children--and their parents. In the notes
accompanying the NIV text, this children's Bible asked and answered hundreds of
common questions about the Bible.
Zondervan soon realized The New Adventure Bible wasn't just
"The Quest Study Bible came about as a result of The New
Adventure Bible for children selling so well," Feist says. "Adults were so
impressed with the explanatory notes that they bought the Bible for
Recognizing that adults had the same need to understand more about the
Bible, Zondervan adapted the format of The New Adventure Bible and included
questions to address adult issues.
The Quest Study Bible poses and answers more than 6,000 questions.
Mini-articles delve a bit deeper into the culture and significance of
Feist also recommends the Life Application Bible (various publishers)
and the Experiencing God Study Bible (Broadman & Holman).
The Life Application Bible is available in many translations. Its
footnotes help readers answer the question: How does what I just read apply to
my life today? It's a good Bible for beginners, although its sheer bulk may be
daunting to some readers.
The Experiencing God Study Bible is only available in the New
King James Version. It's designed to help readers become acquainted with
God through such sections as "Did You Notice?" and "Prepare to Meet God." The
notes are based on the best-selling Experiencing God book and study
series by Henry Blackaby and Claude King.
Editors of The Journey (Zondervan) state that the notes, articles and
introductions accompanying the NIV text "address key questions that spiritual
seekers, as well as many Christians, ask about the Bible and its relevance
today." The Bible was formatted to help seekers, and it follows the
seeker-sensitive Willow Creek Community Church model of offering practical
illustrations dealing with real-life issues. It is designed like a book, using
a single-column format throughout.
our local Christian book store can show you other excellent Bibles for use
with people who are new to the Bible and new Christians. Ask to look at several
different Bibles. The staff should give you the time you need to read and
compare versions. Knowledgeable store managers will be able to give
recommendations and point out Bible features useful in evangelism and
Besides study notes, keep in mind some practical considerations when looking
for a good Bible for a seeker friend. Does your friend have good or poor
eyesight? Some Bibles have larger print than others and are easier on the eyes.
A smaller Bible may appeal to a student friend who wants something portable,
but the trade-off will be print size.
Is the Bible for someone whose second language is English or whose reading
ability is minimal? If so, look for a translation such as the New
International Readers Version or the Contemporary English
Version. These simplified reading translations lose little in the
translation and will greatly encourage struggling readers.
Consider price. If you find yourself giving away Bibles frequently to
seekers, try to get Bibles through the American Bible Society or the
International Bible Society. If you're recommending a Bible to a friend with a
small budget, ask the clerk for some good options under $20. The paperback
Student Bible can be purchased for about $12, which shouldn't strain
And now that you're ready to explore study Bibles at your local bookstore,
here's a caution for you. Some pastors raise a flag about using them. They
worry about new believers relying more on the extensive commentary rather than
allowing the Holy Spirit to enlighten them.
"My main reason for feeling this way, and this is particularly true in the
case of non-Christians and new believers, is that too often the reader confuses
the 'authority' of the notes with the legitimate authority of the text itself,"
says David Daniels, of Port Perry, Ontario. Daniels is a pastor and reviewer of
academic and pastoral books for the Christian Booksellers Association.
"It's not that I never point new Christians, or those I'm trying to reach
with the gospel, toward study Bibles, but I'm never in a hurry to do so," he
Daniels prefers a plain NIV or NKJV text complemented by a good Bible study
series, such as the NavPress "God in You" series. However, if he were to
recommend a study Bible, his first choice would be "The NIV Study
Bible, then The Student Bible (NIV) and, third, The Nelson
Study Bible (NKJV). I like these because they don't ignore the differences
of interpretation held among evangelicals. They attempt to strike a
middle-of-the-road position in controversial areas."
As for translations, Bible editor and scholar John Kohlenberger III, based
in Oregon, recommends the NIV and the NKJV.
"My favorite translation, hands down, is the New International
Version," Kohlenberger says. "It's a reliable translation, widely accepted
within evangelical circles and beyond, plus it's understandable to average
readers. I like the New King James Version also, and I would recommend it to
anyone in a more conservative environment."
When giving or recommending a Bible to a new Christian, remember the best
study aid available can't be found on the shelves of a Christian bookstore.
Whether or not you're a Bible scholar, your encouragement, your commitment to
Christ and the real-life understanding you've gained into God's character are
the best tools you can offer a non-Christian or new Christian friend in
understanding the Bible.
If possible, offer to spend time with your friend in Bible study. Keep it
low-key and don't overwhelm him or her with too much information. Your goal
isn't to dazzle your friend with your scholarly footwork but to nurture a love
for God's Word. Daniels recommends starting with the Gospel of John, then Acts
of the Apostles, then the book of Romans.
Finally, it helps to know that we can count on the Holy Spirit to guide and
enlighten new believers' understanding of God's Word. Throughout the ages, the
unschooled and the scholarly alike have learned, applied and delighted in God's
inspired Word--even without the help of footnotes and study guides.
Lynn Waalkes is a journalist and writer living in Otis, Kansas. She is
the former book editor for the Christian Book-sellers Association's CBA
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