At the risk of stirring controversy, I suggest that pastors should refrain from using “study Bibles.” At its best a study Bible is a devotional tool, not meant for serious study of the Scriptures. At their worst study Bibles are the dubious reflections of popular preachers that propagate sectarian or questionable doctrines. Also, too many readers of study Bibles fail to make the distinction between the inspired text and the notes contained on the same page. Instead of a study Bible, I suggest investing in just a few books that, with constant use, will make the pastor/teacher a competent interpreter of Holy Scripture.
First, you need a good Bible dictionary. I recommend Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible (Eerdmans, 2000). It’s exhaustive with excellent scholarship. A Bible dictionary will provide a solid foundation of historical, contextual, and theological information for the Biblical student.
Second, you need a good dictionary of biblical terms. The Bible was written in Hebrew and Greek, but most pastors don’t know the biblical languages. So, a good language tool is essential. Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (2006) is an excellent resource.
Also, a dictionary of theological terms will be helpful. The Bible is full of unfamiliar terms that are loaded with meaning. Furthermore, through the centuries the church has developed a theological vocabulary that can be somewhat foreboding. These terms need to understood. The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 3rd Edition (2017) is a excellent resource that includes contemporary scholarship.
Finally, the dedicated preacher needs a good set of Bible commentaries. This can be a serious investment of hundreds of dollars, so the right choice matters. There are scores of commentaries available. Through the years I have used several, but I’ve discovered that there is one set that I have preferred for sermon preparation. The Tyndale Commentary series offers serious scholarship that is accessible for the dedicated student of Scripture that has limited formal education. I know the cost for the entire set is prohibitive, but they are available per volume for about $20 each. Logos Bible Software is currently offering the entire digital set for $130. Click here.
I would also suggest that every pastor needs a good systematic theology. My favorite is Thomas Oden’s Classic Christianity: A Systematic Theology (2009). Oden’s work is ecumenical and presents the best of the Christian theological tradition. Also, Rodman Williams’ Renewal Theology: Systematic Theology from a Charismatic Perspective (1996) is an excellent resource.
Keep in mind that many of these resources are available in digital format and will be significantly less expensive. One final word of advice, buying books can become an expensive and addictive habit. Exercise discretion.
With just a few good resources, and a few years of constant study, you will be able to write your own study Bible!