Some time ago I wrote a review comparing the the ESV Study Bible with the Reformation Study Bible (you can find it here). Since that time, I’ve had the opportunity to get acquainted with another study Bible. The Reformation Heritage KJV Study Bible (RHSB) was published in 2014 by Reformation Heritage Books. In some circles, it has been widely acclaimed, whereas others are somewhat less enthusiastic about it. At the outset, I can say that I heartily recommend it.
RHSB has most of the features that would expect in any study Bible. There are over 20,000 study notes, introductions for each book of the Bible, an assortment of maps, a reading plan, and a small concordance. It also has features that one would expect from any Reformed study Bible. The study notes are orthodox and Reformed in orientation, the articles as well, and in the back pages one can find the Three Forms of Unity and the Westminster Standards. Moreover, I think it can be said that in terms of biblical faithfulness, RHSB is unsurpassed. For instance, as John Byl has pointed out, RHSB affirms creation in six ordinary days, as well as a global flood in the days of Noah.
There are some unique features to RHSB that I find rather appealing. There is a section of articles in the back on “How to Live as a Christian.” Topics addressed include Coming to Christ, Reading the Scriptures, Why and How We Pray, Godly Contentment, How We Kill Pride, and Coping with Criticism. Such a collection of articles could be helpful, not only for new or young Christians, but also for more mature Christians who are teachable and want to grow in their walk with God (which should be all of us!). I’m so impressed with this section of the RHSB that I’m considering how I could incorporate some of this material into my catechism instruction.
Another unique feature is the “Thoughts for Personal and Family Worship.” My wife and I have done daily family worship habitually all our married life. As part of that, we have read through the Bible front-to-back several times. As a husband and father, you want to say something edifying about each chapter you read. It’s not always easy or obvious what to say. To help with that, for the last few months we have been using this feature of the RHSB and to good effect. Every chapter of the Bible includes one or two paragraphs with some edifying thoughts or questions about that chapter. Oftentimes, these thoughts or questions are explicitly designed to point us to Christ and our life in him. As an example, take 1 Chronicles 1. The first nine chapters of Chronicles are taken up with genealogies. It’s tempting to skip these chapters in family worship. But with the help of the RHSB, you can read these chapters in an edifying way. Here are the “Thoughts for Personal/Family Worship” on 1 Chronicles 1:
We have all descended from one man: Adam. The existence of Adam was as much history as the existence of David. In Adam, we were all made in God’s image and likeness. God’s purpose for His people therefore remains to fill the earth with His living image. In Adam, we all sinned and have fallen into spiritual corruption and enduring misery. We all share the same fallen nature as the Canaanites. We all die and face judgment, and human life is so transient that from God’s perspective all the generations from Adam to Israel fit on a single page of history. God’s people consequently must be redeemed by the Lord’s grace if they will ever achieve their high calling and eternal life. Mankind needs a new Adam. How has God met that need in Christ?
Obviously these sorts of notes are geared towards older family members, but one should not right away assume that younger children will not get anything out of them or the discussion that comes from them.
No study Bible is perfect. Any discerning reader will always find things with which to disagree or things that one might wish were different. For instance, RHSB is committed to the allegorical approach to the Song of Solomon. So in the introductory notes for that book the theme is said to be “The union and communion of love between Jesus Christ and His church.” I am not convinced, but I hold that there can be a legitimate difference of opinion amongst believers on this question.
That brings me to the biggest stumbling block that many face when it comes to this study Bible. Dr. Joel Beeke (the editor) and Reformation Heritage Books are committed to using the King James Version. In an introduction, there is an explanation for this commitment and I personally respect their explanation. At the same time, I recognize the value of a translation in more contemporary language. I know that many will struggle with reading the King James Version. Some times it’s simply a prejudice which has to be overcome, but at other times there are genuine difficulties. To be fair to the RHSB, I need to point out that the study notes do contain explanations of all the difficult or archaic words and expressions from the KJV. I would urge readers not to impulsively write off the RHSB on this point. The positives I’ve mentioned above by far outweigh this issue. Moreover, there are workarounds. You can use the RHSB in tandem with an ESV or some other Bible in a more contemporary translation. In our family worship, for example, we read from the ESV, but then use the “Thoughts for Personal/Family Worship” from the RHSB.
In our household, we currently only have one copy of the RHSB. But this one copy is already starting to look ragged from being used so often. Doesn’t that say something in itself? Again, it’s not the perfect Reformed study Bible. After all, it was created by fallible human beings. Yet I do think it’s fair to say that, in terms of biblical fidelity, this is as good a study Bible as we can find in print today. The ESV Study Bible may have more resources (maps, charts, etc), but RHSB has it beat in the potential for real spiritual edification.
NOTE: you may also want to check out this Infographic from Tim Challies comparing different study Bibles.