Updated March 23, 2010 (first published June 8, 2004) (David Cloud, Fundamental Baptist Information Service, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061, 866-295-4143,; for instructions about subscribing and unsubscribing or changing addresses, see the information paragraph at the end of the article) -

The following is an updated edition of a section from the Advanced Bible Studies Course “How to Study the Bible,” available in print and DVD formats from Way of Life Literature. (The DVD edition does not contain all of the information that is in the book.)


A reference Bible refers to a Bible that contains various studies and helps in addition to the Bible text, and it is an important tool for the serious Bible student. Following are some facts and tips on their use.


most basic reference Bible commonly has the following features:

1. Cross references
2. Chapter headings and dates
3. A brief concordance and/or dictionary

Usually the concordance in a study Bible is not very helpful because it is so limited, but the cross references are invaluable.

Beyond that,
a more complete reference Bible contains many other features, such as the following:

4. Maps
5. Introductions and outlines of the books of the Bible
6. Notes and commentary
7. Topical studies
8. Larger dictionary
9. Larger concordance. The Scofield Bible contains an extensive and very helpful concordance. The Dugan Reference Bible, for instance, contains the complete Cruden’s Concordance.


1. Study Bibles often Use the Wrong Greek Text and Undependable English Versions. Most of the newer study Bibles are based on undependable English versions and incorporate corrupt readings from the modern critical Greek New Testament. These will have notes that say things such as “oldest and best manuscripts omit this verse” (Matthew 17:21) or “oldest and best manuscripts read he who instead of God” (1 Tim. 3:16). But this is misleading, because what they should say, in the majority of cases, is that one or two or at most a handful of old manuscripts make these changes whereas the vast majority of manuscripts read the same as the Received Greek New Testament underlying King James Bible. The Old Scofield Reference Bible, though based on the King James Bible, contains marginal notes supporting the modern critical text.

2. Study Bibles Can Contain Heretical Notes. Another problem with reference Bibles is that many of them contain false or misleading notes. As with commentaries, the student must be careful to “prove all things” (1 Thess. 5:21) and not merely believe everything that is written.

For example, Dake’s
Annotated Reference Bible, edited by Finis Jennings Dake and published in 1961, was written by a Pentecostal, and his theology is reflected in his comments. A pamphlet that accompanies the Bible from the publisher claims that Dake received his teaching by divine revelation. Dake teaches that there was a pre-Adamite world ruled by Lucifer between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2, that healing is guaranteed for the Christian, that tongues are for today, that the believer can lose his salvation, that God has a body, that each member of the Trinity has his own soul and spirit, that God created the races to “reproduce after their kind,” and many other fanciful and false things.

Another example is the
New Oxford Annotated Bible, edited by Bruce Metzger and Herbert May. It is filled with heretical modernistic notes. The notes claim that the Pentateuch is “a matrix of myth, legend, and history.” The worldwide flood of Noah’s day is said to be a mere “tradition” based on “heightened versions of local inundations.” The book of Job is called an “ancient folktale.” The book of Isaiah supposedly was written by at least three men. Jonah is called a “popular legend.” The HarperCollins Study Bible is also filled with this type of modernistic comments.

The notes in the
New Jerusalem Bible and New American Bible contain Roman Catholic heresies. For example, they say that Matthew 16:18 refers to the pope.




  • Clear, easy-to-read print
  • Wide margins on all four sides
  • Cross References
  • Concordance

There are other wide margin reference Bibles like this. Cambridge publishes the
Concord Wide Margin Reference Bible, which has cross-references, a concordance, and maps. There is also an Oxford Wide Margin Reference Bible, with cross-references and maps but no concordance.


Scofield Study Bible was edited by Cyrus Ingerson Scofield (1843-1921). He fought in the Civil War from 1861-1865 under General Robert E. Lee. Afterward he was a lawyer and served for one year in the Kansas House of Representatives. He was a heavy drinker before he was saved, and his first wife divorced him. He was converted at 36 and ordained in a Congregational church in 1882. Scofield later recalled two great events in his life: “The first was when I ceased to take as final human teachings about the Bible and went to the Bible itself. The second was when I found Christ as Victory and Achievement.” In 1884, he remarried. He pastored First Congregational Church of Dallas, Texas, and Trinitarian Congregational Church of Northfield, Massachusetts. In his later years, he traveled extensively preaching on biblical subjects. He did not have formal seminary training, but he was a diligent student. In 1890, he published the Scofield Correspondence Course, which was turned over to Moody Bible Institute in 1914. In 1890, Scofield also established the Central American Mission through the influence of talks with Hudson Taylor of China. Between 1904 and 1907, Scofield and his wife traveled to England and Switzerland three times to do research and prepare the notes for his reference Bible. It was first published in 1909 and an improved edition appeared in 1917. By 1930, one million copies had been printed. The New Scofield Study Bible was published in 1967 and was revised and updated by many well-known dispensational Bible scholars, including E. Schuyler English, Charles Feinberg, Frank E. Gaebelein, Alva J. McClain, Wilbur M. Smith, and John F. Walvoord. The New Scofield contains more than 700 new footnotes and 15,000 new cross-references.


  • Excellent cross references
  • Helpful concordance
  • A profitable chain reference system traces key topics through the Bible
  • Dates of events at the top of each column
  • Bible passages are outlined and contain excellent paragraph headings
  • The notes and comments are conservative and dispensational and are largely accurate


  • The erroneous Gap theory is taught in Genesis 1:1-2
  • The Scofield Bible from its inception has been committed to the critical Greek N.T. For example, the note at Acts 8:37 says, “The best authorities omit v. 37.” The note at 1 John 5:7 says, “It is generally agreed that v. 7 has no real authority, and has been inserted.”
  • The New Scofield places its “better renderings” into the text itself thus modifying the King James Bible. We thus recommend the Old Scofield over the New.

Though not perfect, the Old Scofield Reference Bible is my favorite. I have a small edition that I carry on travels and a wide margin edition that I use for everyday study.


Thompson Chain Reference Bible was compiled by Frank Charles Thompson (1858-?) and was first published in 1908. Thompson worked for 31 years on his study Bible, with assistance from his wife, Laura. He was an ordained Methodist preacher with a Ph.D. from Boston University, but at one point in his life he taught on the staff of the L.I.F.E. Bible Institute founded by the Pentecostal, Aimee Semple McPherson (Edith Blumhofer, Aimee Semple McPherson: Everybody's Sister, Eerdmans, 1993). The studies in his reference Bible, though, do not appear to reflect Pentecostal theology except perhaps in very minor ways.

Thompson Chain Reference Bible has gone through several editions, each one an improvement over the previous one. The 5th edition was published in 1986. It is one of the most complete study Bibles ever published.


  • Extensive cross references and marginal notes
  • Analysis of every Book of the Bible
  • Extensive Topical studies (8,000). The Thompson topical studies are helpful and a topic can be followed through the Bible with this system.
  • Biographical studies
  • Archaeological studies and how they reflect on the Bible account
  • Harmony of the Gospels
  • Bible Atlas (color) and Bible land studies (journeys of Abraham, Israel, Christ, Peter, Paul, etc.)
  • Dictionary of Old English words
  • Helpful concordance


  • There is very little space to write your own notes in most editions.
  • It is very large and cumbersome to carry around.
  • The cross references are linked to the topical system and are not as simple and straightforward as those in other reference Bibles.
  • The Thompson Bible contains a misleading study on the history of the English Bible, falsely presenting the modern versions as superior to the old Protestant ones and failing to inform the reader of the corruption of the underlying Greek text. The Thompson study on English versions also fails to inform the reader of the corruption of paraphrases such as the Living Bible and the Today’s English Version.
  • Thompson had the wrong view of Bible prophecy and this is reflected in his studies. For example, the Thompson Chain Reference Bible views the book of Revelation as history rather than prophecy.


We mentioned the Ryrie Study Bible in earlier editions of this course, but upon further consideration we have stopped recommending it. It has far too many corrections to the KJV.


This is published by Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University and was previously called the Liberty Annotated Study Bible.


  • Good cross references, concordance, color maps, harmony of the gospels, conservative introduction to the books, doctrinal studies; prophecies, miracles and parables of Christ, archaeological research proving the accuracy of the Bible, weights and measures, biographies
  • Introductions and outline to each book
  • Explanatory notes written from a baptistic, non-Calvinist, dispensational, pre-tribulational viewpoint


  • Some critical text errors, such as the note at Daniel 3:25 “like the Son of God” - “Or a son of the gods,” or at Mark 16:9-20 -- “Ancient manuscripts contain two different endings for Mark. While some suggest that Mark did indeed intend for his gospel to end at verse 8, it ends on a note of fear and lacks a clear Resurrection account. In light of the uncertainty attached to verses 9-20, it may be advised to take care in basing doctrine upon them...”


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