When a new believer wishes to learn more about Jesus, his faith, and what God says, he is often directed to purchase a study Bible, or at least a Bible with marginal notes, footnotes, or cross-references.
This article is about more than just study Bibles, though that will be the main focus. Man's Bible notes include marginal notes, which often change or obscure the meaning by using different words for a translation, and footnotes, which do the same or confuse the reader with unnecessary information. I am even wary of cross-references, which can force an interpretation on the reader. These can be useful when connecting an Old Testament prophecy or quote used by Jesus or the apostles, but they carry the risk of restricting the meaning of the passage. Cross-references should be connections we learn under the guidance of the Holy Ghost during daily reading.
Before 1900, for the most part, man used to keep his words separate from God's words. Commentaries used to be separate volumes. The earliest instance in English when a commentary was included within a Bible was the Geneva Bible in 1560. The most popular instance (and the first since the Geneva) was the Scofield Reference Bible in 1909, of which I will write more about in a future article. Today, study Bibles combine a commentary, marginal notes, footnotes, cross-references, and more alongside the text of the Bible.
Study Bibles interpret a passage for you, when instead we should seek the Holy Spirit's guidance for the truth. They limit the Bible to a few notes, putting your mind in a small box. They can confuse the reader by giving several interpretations, frequently all false. I have seen study Bible notes directly contradict a passage being commented on. Bible notes sound like shortcuts for understanding God's Word, but they will keep you a baby Christian. We are supposed to search the Scriptures daily.
This isn't to say that we cannot use other sources for help, but these notes should certainly not be our primary means of learning; especially not modern notes. After the 19th century, nearly all Bible commentators and theologians lost the truth. All modern study Bibles are suspicious at best and should be avoided. They can contain useful helps like maps, drawings, concordances, timelines, etc., but the main substance of these Bibles is the interpretive notes.
For this article I will use examples from two study Bibles: the ESV Study Bible (the most popular contemporary study Bible) and the Old Scofield Reference Bible (the most popular study Bible for fundamentalists).
This passage is a reference to Christ. The scepter not departing from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet means that after David, who was of the tribe of Judah, the ruler and the lawgivers of the nation of Israel would come from the tribe of Judah, until Christ (Shiloh) came. Although the prophecy is about Christ, a Biblical principle is revealed: that a power should not rule without law, a balance to prevent abject tyranny. This prophecy began with David's rule and was complete when the Sanhedrin's (the lawgiver from Judah at the time) power was limited under Herod's rule, showing that Christ was to arrive. Then, the kingdom was Christ's and the gathering of the people (the Gentiles) was unto him.
Here is how this verse reads in the ESV:
There are two major differences in this version. First, "until Shiloh come," is changed to "until tribute comes to him." Second, "a lawgiver," is changed to "the ruler's staff," which is what a scepter is. I won't dwell on these issues here, as this is a topic for another article on Bible translations.
Regarding Shiloh, there is a footnote for 1 which says:
There is also a study note for verses 8-12, in which this is found:
The prophecy that the ruler and lawgiver would originate from Judah until Christ's first advent is completely hidden in these study notes. It is clear that both the translators of the ESV and the writers of the study notes did not fully understand what this passage was about and instead direct the reader down a path of confusion.
I am not going to examine any other passages from the ESV in this article, as most of the issues with it begin in the text itself, which I will discuss more in the future.
Scofield's note for this verse contains this:
Salvation has always been by grace through faith and was never of works. This is a common misconception that is cleared up in Galatians, an epistle written in response to local churches being influenced by Judaizers who went to churches in Galatia after Paul and bewitched new converts into believing that they must keep the law of Moses.
In case there are any who think that maybe men were justified by works under the Old Covenant, Romans clearly shows that even the Old Testament saints were justified by faith, not works.
Also, read Hebrews chapter 11.
Here is the marginal note in the Scofield Bible for k: "the."
This is a case of a subtle marginal note which changes the meaning of the text. The first sentence states that many deceivers are entered into the world, which directly contradicts the use of the definite article "the" in the following sentence.
Some claim that the people this epistle was written to knew about the Antichrist. However, notice that "antichrist" is spelled with a lowercase "a" and that the second half of the verse states that multiple antichrists are already here. We aren't supposed to sit idly by waiting for Fox News to show us one single Antichrist to come in the future, but to be aware of the many antichrists now present.
Another verse later in the chapter adds clarity:
I John and II John are clearly not talking about a single individual.
Sometimes these resources can be helpful, but any believer would do well to approach them with caution. If you do look to some of man's notes, it's best to look at ones written before 1900, such as commentaries by Matthew Henry, Albert Barnes, John Gill, and others, and make sure to not rely on only one, but compare it with others. I have never seen a commentary that was 100% correct.
God gave us multiple warnings about tampering with His words, the chiefest of which is found in the final book of the Bible:
In the past, not everyone had such easy access to a copy of the Bible as we do today. English speakers have had the opportunity to know and study God's Word in their own language for multiple centuries. Ungodly authorities have infringed our liberty by telling us that although we're allowed to read the Bible, interpreting it is forbidden. Instead of appreciating the efforts of those who sacrificed so that we could have the freedom and capacity to read the Scriptures in our own language, we forfeit it with the excuse, "I'm too busy."
All that is required to understand the Bible is the Holy Spirit. If we don't trust that God will help us find the truth, He will send us a lie.