Bible Commentaries to Help Read the Bible in a Year

Are you looking to read the Bible through in a year or seeking spiritual study tools? Consider reading one of these Bibles. A couple of them are study Bibles with notes about people, places, words, and events.

Review By Casey Fedde

Categories: Bible Study, Commentary

The Everlasting Light by Erma Wood Carlson

In this chronologically condensed King James Version of the Bible, the focus is the Bible, separated into three parts: the Old Testament, the four Gospels ("the life and work of Jesus"), and the acts and writings of the apostles. As noted in the foreword, The Everlasting Light is a simplification "designed to be enjoyed." Its formatting and intention are equally simple: allowing the Bible to be read without being interrupted by footnotes, maps and charts, explanatory analysis, and repetitive language – including all those pesky "begats." The message of the Scriptures truly shines in The Everlasting Light; the words flow unobstructed; and the theme – "God, One Power and man's relationship to Him" – radiates from Genesis through Revelation.

Note: The subheads, many of them biblical citations, used throughout The Everlasting Light and chronicled in the "List of References" at the end of the book, are powerful one-liners – "Believe With All Thine Heart" (1029) and "Be Ye Doers of the Word" (1193).

The HarperCollins Study Bible (Edited by Harold W. Attridge)

The HarperCollins Study Bible, edited and annotated by the Society of Biblical Literature, presents itself as "accessible and scholarly." For the reader seeking "sure-footed" guidance on reading the Bible, the first part of the book is loaded with essays from "Strategies for Reading Scripture" to "Israelite Religion" to "The Bible and Archaeology." Or jump directly to Genesis. Each book also begins with a brief introduction, which provides well-written context and a sneak peak into what comes next. For example, in the intro to Genesis, the reader is urged to read Genesis on its own terms since the book was not written "to be a work of modern science." Instead, "it is a book of memories ... promises that bind the past to the present and the future" (4). Or take the thrilling buildup to the religious allegory of the Song of Solomon, which tells the tale of two lovers and their "communion of souls" (904). Beyond the supporting works, the canonical text itself is formatted in side-by-side columns with subheads; but these subheads do not visually separate the text from the annotations, making for an often trickier read. Overall, the scholarly texts combine beautifully with the prose and poetry, hymns and prayers, riddles and letters, of the Scriptures, creating a wonderful tool for reading and studying the Bible.

Note: The concordance is a treat for readers. Tucked at the back of the study Bible, it includes citations for notable words, including people and places, from Aaron to Zophar. Hours could easily be spent exploring the biblical usages of "lamb" or "wheat."

The Message by Eugene H. Peterson

Longtime pastor and teacher Eugene Peterson paraphrased the Bible from its original languages, Greek and Hebrew. And it took him ten years! Peterson says, "As we read, and the longer we read, we begin to 'get it' – we are in conversation with God..." (17). To enable this conversation, Peterson helps familiarize readers with the Bible, its "stories and songs ... prayers and conversations ... sermons and visions," by using modern-day language. Each book of the Old and New Testaments begins with an introduction written by Peterson, which beautifully sets up the books. Also, verse numbers are added for each paragraph, instead of next to each verse, to sustain the flow of the writing; this can prove temporarily problematic when using this paraphrased edition with a more traditional version of the Bible. Overall, The Message is a heartfelt "remix" of the Bible, successfully offering readers a fresh, contemporary way to "take in" the Bible daily, monthly, or on-the-go.

Note: After reading the Bible – The Message or any other format – Peterson's introductions to each biblical book make great chapter summaries. They may also serve as uplifting mini-sermons to rekindle the comfort and joy, prayer and conviction, present in the Bible's trials and triumphs.

The One Year Bible (Published by Tyndale)

The One Year Bible, available in both the New Living Translation and the New International Version in compact and full-size editions, guides readers on a one-year journey through the Bible. (The text can easily be adapted for two- and three-year study, according to the introduction.) Designed for "regular Bible readers," each of the 365 daily sections contain 15-minute readings from the Old Testament, New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs – with a verse highlighted for memorization or daily thought. Thus, each section reads like a sermon, pointed and powerful. There are no charts, scholarly essays, or annotations to contend with, allowing undivided focus on scriptural study. If reading the Bible has been challenging, then The One Year Bible might be the way to power through it.

Note: There is also The One Year Chronological Bible, which places the prophetic books with their corresponding historical accounts – all in the same 365-day reading plan.

The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha: New Revised Standard Version (Edited by Michael D. Coogan, et al)

The New Oxford Annotated Bible serves as an effective teacher to any "student" of the Bible. In the Fourth Edition, readers are treated to fully revised introductions to the biblical books; updated maps, charts, and diagrams; and added Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical content. The "lengthened" intros and the capstone scholarly essays stand alone from the biblical texts, allowing "unprejudiced" reading. The single-column annotations in the canonical units are also self-contained; however, they can eat up as much as half of each page, rivaling the actual text for attention. But for readers interested in a deeper level of study, the essays and textual criticism offer a thorough analysis of the Scriptures, historical perspective, and modern-day relevance. Like any annotated Bible, this book is a real page-turner: Be prepared to follow the footnotes and flip to the citations noted in the cross-references.

Note: With all the expanded material, The New Oxford Annotated Bible retains many traditional biblical features, such as thumb guides on the sides of the pages for easy reference.