Soon after the monopoly of the King James Version was ended with the British Revised Version of 1881-1885 and the American Standard version of 1901, two distinct study systems developed.
Frank Charles Thompson introduced his Marginal Chain-Reference Bible in 1908, and Cyrus Ingerson Scofield published the Scofield Reference Bible the following year, both of which remain popular choices in a Study Bible today. Thompson's was a study system that was doctrinally objective, while Scofield incorporated a system of interpretation within his marginal notes. Most modern Study Bibles follow one or the other of these two models.
Today, due to advances in the printing process and a ravenous appetite among Christians for new editions of the Bible, publishers are releasing new translations, versions, and editions of the Bible almost as rapidly as they issue new books. I have about thirty different Bibles myself.
Rather than spending decades developing a new study system, as did Tyndale and Scofield, Bibles are now being published in order to take advantage of a trend, or major personality.
The most important decision to make when choosing a Study Bible, or any Bible, is to select a translation. With some translations, the available study editions are limited. If you are having trouble deciding between one translation and another, the available choices of Study Bible editions might be a deciding factor. Since the mid-1980s, the New International Version has been the best-selling translation of the Bible in the United States. Together, the NIV and the KJV account for more than half of all Bible sales, so most Study Bibles are available in one or the other of these translations. Also high in popularity are the New American Standard Bible, the New King James Version, and the New Revised Standard Version.
After deciding on a translation, you will need to determine your approach to Bible study. New students of the Bible, or those who simply want to understand what they read, might prefer a Study Bible with annotations to the text, usually found in the right margins.
Another choice to be made involves theological orientation. A Study Bible may be conservative or liberal in nature, for example; and Catholics may prefer a Study Bible made especially for Catholics.
Once you've decided on a translation and have determined which orientation you are looking for, all that remains is to compare the available editions in order to find the most useful study edition.
You might also consider matters of aesthetics, durability, and price; comparing bindings and color, and choosing between a paperback, cloth, or genuine leather edition. If you are unsure of a proper choice in a Bible, you might consider first purchasing a paperback edition before committing to a genuine leather (and more expensive) cover.