Recalculating: How Study Bibles Can Limit Bible Study
by Jen Wilkin
We love our study Bibles. Many of us spend our daily reading time with a study Bible in hand, stopping at trickier passages to glance to the bottom of the page for help with interpretive difficulties. And we make progress—our reading plans stay on schedule, and we find that we reach the end of a passage with greater understanding than when we started. But are study Bibles as helpful as they seem?
Several years ago I moved from Houston to Dallas. Having lived in Houston for 13 years, I could drive its streets with ease. I had no idea how to navigate Dallas, so I used a GPS to get everywhere I needed to go. It was a great feeling—knowing almost nothing of the city, I could map a route to my destination instantaneously. I never felt lost or wasted time wandering around on the wrong roads.
But three years later, I still didn’t know my way around Dallas without that GPS. If its battery died or if I left home without it, I was in big trouble. And then another strange thing happened: I took a trip back to Houston. In a city I knew well, I found that my GPS didn’t always pick the route that made the most sense. It still spoke with the same tone of authority it used in Dallas, but I could tell that it was choosing the obvious route over the most direct one.
The Benefit of Getting Lost
When I got back to Dallas I knew what I had to do: I had to allow myself to get lost. I had to wander around a bit, plan extra travel time, miss some exits, and make wrong turns in order to learn for myself the routes my GPS had spoon-fed me. And in some cases, in order to learn better routes.
This is the same lesson I have learned about study Bibles. If I am not careful, they can mask my ignorance of Scripture and give me a false sense that I know my way around its pages. I do not labor for understanding because the moment I hit a hard passage, I immediately resolve my discomfort of feeling "lost" by glancing down at the notes. And hearing their authoritative tone, I can grow forgetful that they are, in fact, only man’s words—commentary, an educated opinion, profitable but not infallible…
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