Four Steps to Build Your Ultimate Study Bible

Posted by on 04/04/2016 in: ,


As a Bible teacher and technologist, people often ask me what they should buy to start building their Bible study library. I love answering this question and many are shocked by my response. The conversation begins by describing the massive library I’ve built over the years in several Bible software platforms. Then I tell them they don’t need all that & start listing the handful of resources that I find essential to Bible study. The end result is a concise but robust set of tools that anyone can use to study the Bible and grow in the things of God. Today, I will show you how you can build your ultimate Bible study library.

Step 0: Use the Bible Study App

If you’re at all technologically inclined, and I assume you are if you’re reading this, the initial step is downloading Bible software. For as much as I love print, it is easier and faster to study the Bible digitally. You can search resources in a matter of seconds, quickly look up cross references, and study anywhere. You don’t have to worry about flipping pages or having a large desk so that you can open all your books at once. Instead, carry your entire library on your phone, tablet, or laptop.

I always recommend the Bible Study App to people because it is feature rich and easy to use, and I say this not just as an Olive Tree employee. There is no steep learning curve required to use the app and all the features are intuitive. Plus, it’s free to download and try! So, download the app & let’s move to Step 1.

Step 1: Add a Bible Translation

A lot of people don’t think about Bible translations and how they can help their Bible study. For many, they use whatever Bible translation they were given when they became a Christian and never give it a second thought. Yes, the thee’s and thou’s of the KJV may be quite poetic, but what good is it if you cannot understand what you’re reading? In many respects, the Bible is already a difficult book to study, so why make it harder with a difficult to read translation? There is nothing wrong with owning a Bible written in a modern translation.

When choosing a Bible translation, you should find one that works for you. I also believe you should own at least two Bible translations. The first should be more word-for-word in its translation of the original languages, while the second should be more thought-for-thought or a balance between the two. I recommend checking out some of the translations listed below at and pick the one you find most readable in each category.

Once you have your Bible translations, you’re ready to build the rest of your ultimate study Bible library.


Step 2: Add Study Notes

Next to the Bible, if you had to spend money on one resource, hands down it would have to be a study Bible. These are great tools because they are an all-in-one resource. You get commentary, introductions, and a wealth of other useful features. With so many study Bibles on the market, wisdom is needed when making a purchase. You want to make sure you’re buying something that will help you understand what you’re reading and keep things in their proper context.

A good study Bible should contain: thorough study notes, book introductions, maps, charts & illustrations, and Bible chronologies. A few worth checking out include: the ESV Study Bible, NLT Study Bible, NKJV Study Bible, Life Application Study Bible, and the New Spirit-Filled Life Bible.


Step 3: Add Key Reference Tools

As you expand your library beyond Bibles and study Bibles, you should start by adding key reference tools. This is a broad category that ranges from single volume commentaries to Bible dictionaries and atlases.

Bible commentaries come in many flavors and vary in their target audience, which is often reflected in the price. Because of their depth, commentaries can quickly become the most expensive tool in your library. I recommend starting with single volume commentaries since they cover the entire Bible. While single volume commentaries may not be as thorough as their single-book counterparts, they do take time to cover all passages in general and are sure to explain the more difficult ones, making them useful additions to your library.


While study Bibles and commentaries are good at explaining the text of the Bible, they don’t always give enough detail about some of the Bible’s concepts and words. This is where a good Bible dictionary comes into play, which is, in effect, an encyclopedia for the Bible. To illustrate it’s usefulness, let’s say you’re reading the gospels and you encounter the Pharisees and Sadducees. Who are these guys and where did they get their authority? A Bible dictionary will explain who they are so you’re not left clueless about their role and purpose in the Bible.


Atlases are a fantastic tool to have in your library. If we’re honest, most of us aren’t familiar with the geography of the lands from Bible times. Not to mention, you’ll have no luck finding many places mentioned in the Bible on a modern map. Atlases provide you with extensive maps that help you get a lay of the land so that you can make better sense of the Bible’s narrative. Many atlases also provide relevant commentary on the Bible that corresponds to the map or picture.


Many of these tools you can add to your Olive Tree library at minimal cost and they will go a long way in helping you study the Bible.

Step 4: Add Advanced Reference Tools

Most people could stop at Step 3, but if you’re the person who wants to dive deeper into God’s Word you can buy more advanced reference tools. Resources that fall into this category would include: single book commentary sets, Greek & Hebrew lexicons, and more extensive versions of the tools found in Step 3. These are the tools used by pastors, seminary students, and those, like myself, who don’t mind treading through the original languages and academic level terminology. This is an area where you can spend a lot of money, but each resource is well worth the cost.


Build Your Ultimate Study Bible Today

By following the above steps, you will have built your own Ultimate Study Bible and have all the essential tools needed to study the Bible. Start building yours today with our Build Your Ultimate Study Bible sale!


  • Sharon Hoyt says:

    I don’t know what you’ve done or why you’ve done it, but I am FURIOUS!!! Now the Olive Tree app will not open!!! I am in the middle of my Bible study through the New Testament and can no longer continue with it. I am so frustrated!!! WHY have you done this? Please restore this app to its original state.! I feel you owe a personal answer to all of us who use this every day. Will we get one?

    • I use the OliveTree app daily for reading and sermon prep. It’s working fine for me on my MacBook, iPhone and iPad. Zero loading issues. Is your software up to date on your device? I would also recommend emailing OliveTree support with your concerns. I’m not sure if the support team sees blog post replies.

    • Andrew F. says:

      What device are you using the App on?

    • Jacques Maltais says:

      The best Bible, is the one you read…..

    • Phyl says:

      Sharon, have you tried contacting customer support? I have always received an answer when I contacted them.

      Also, have you considered it could be your device and not the app? I have the app on several devices. It works great on my android phone. I have never had any problems there. It also works great on my laptop. I had a little problems originally, but since I replaced my laptop, it’s worked great. I have it on my Nook Color where it’s had some issues usually resolved by rebooting the device. But since the Color isn’t supported any longer, I started saving for a tablet. I was given a used tablet that was known to have issues, and the app works least well on it, but is the problem with the app or with the device? I’m guessing it’s my device since everything else that I use on the device also has problems.

    • Margaret Baker says:

      Your app isn’t working and this brought you to a state of being “FURIOUS!!!”? And in the middle of studying the Bible and spending time with God, no less? Something’s not right here, and it’s not the app.

    • Graham says:

      Sorry but I found this article completely useless in answering the question of building a collection of Bible studies.
      I use Olive tree, naturally, love it it do not find it easy to create and save a Bible study. I was hoping this article would show how.

      • Andrew F. says:

        Graham, this was about creating a study Bible to help you in your own individual study. Can you give me a bit more info on what you mean by creating and saving a Bible study? I’d love to try and point you in the right direction.

  • Nuno says:

    “There is nothing wrong with owning a Bible written in a modern translation.”

    LOL Yea right… They have only a couple of good things, other than that, entire chapters missing and a complete distortion of texts that concern crucial issues like Christ’s divinity (e.g. NIV)… What could be wrong with that?? (…)

    • Peter Shaw says:

      Nothing wrong with favouring earlier manuscripts when making decisions on textual variants. Likewise I respect those whose who favour the Byzantine text type. Anyone interested in the topic of textual criticism and the debate around KJV, NKJV translating from Textus Recptus, and ESV, NIV, NRSV, NAS and REB which are closer to the Nestle-Aland Novum Testament (NA28) and United Bible Societies Greek (USB 5), I would recommend New Testament Textual Criticism Paperback – 1 Jan 1994 by David Alan Black ISBN-10: 0801010748,

    • Paul Johnston says:

      Hey Nuno, I’m okay with newer translations not having everything the KJV has–even “entire chapters missing,” if that’s what it takes. Translators nowadays can work from older manuscripts and manuscript fragments than the KJV people had available. The closer we can get to the originals, the better. Remember, the KJV is just as much a translation as any other.

      Just one maybe silly example: the story in Daniel of the three Hebrew worthies and the fiery furnace… Repeatedly (probably for humorous effect), there’s a lengthy inventory of the Babylonian musical instruments. Well, when the KJV was produced, they had no idea what some of those instruments were. So they used contemporary instruments of King James’s day, such as the sackbutt. Since then, archeological discoveries can give us more certainty about what all those Chaldean-via-Hebrew instruments were.

      It’s a challenge when a Bible doesn’t say what we want it to say, but if it’s closest to what earliest sources said, we need to be okay with that IMHO.

  • Dan says:

    I like the look of the new blog!

    Well done!

  • david says:

    Plz can you or someone tell me how many chapters and what those chapters are if any missing in my NLT version God’s word for the oil patch fuel for the soul thank you in advance

    • Paul Johnston says:

      Hi, David. I don’t know what Nuno had in mind. One of the possibilities… Some may be concerned about the shorter ending of Mark, which textually is probably more dependable. But there are many textual variants–and consequently varied approaches (and footnotes!) in Bible versions–in how to end the Gospel of Mark. Most, though not all, versions do give the various short and long endings. And then, like I said, explanatory notes.

  • Bethany says:

    Another way would be to re-introduce customizable reading plans. I find that to be the single-most needed but still missing tool for this app.

  • Martin Simanjuntak says:

    Useful article, thank you. I have been an ad-hoc user of Olive Tree Bible Study App in the last few years and I have seen improvements that have been put into the app enhancing user experience. So, well done.
    The one feature I looked for in the app that I couldn’t find was the tool / symbols that can be used in an ‘inductive Bible Study’ ( Would be great if this study mechanism can be supported by the app too.

  • Roger says:

    A well-reasoned article, thank you.

    However, you omit to mention that the notes in study bibles are only one person’s interpretation. Most of the time, of course, they are dependable, but they will inevitably reflect the theological/doctrinal bias of the writer. (An extreme example would be the Scofield bible.) Just as you recommend having two or more translations (I concur), for consistency’s sake you should also recommend using more than one set of study notes – by authors with different biases. I believe the best method is to read the passage for what it says, to compare other passages, to ask the Lord for understanding, and to be prepared to change your mind (shock horror!) now and then.

  • Stephanie says:

    It there not free versions of this set that we can use? For the ones like me that does not have the funds to get these resources.

  • Arlene says:

    Is this a downloadable application. If so, can youplease provide the link. Thanks…

  • Jacques Maltais says:

    The best Bible, is the one you read…..

  • Jacques Maltais says:

    Galatians 5:22
    Fruit of the Spirits.

  • Kay Purcell says:

    It sounds like the latest version of the Bible Study App has been optimized for the i-series of devices. I am using an Android phone (Motorola Turbo 2), and it takes a full 60 seconds to open, which is not helpful during a class whether I be student or teacher….

    • Rob Main says:

      Yes! I’ve been using this app for years, Windows PDA, Laptop, and desktop but the Android is nothing less than terrible. I’ve spent much time trying to get help from Olivetree but to no avail.
      If Olive Tree would get their act together I’d go back to using the app more. For the mean time I’ll keep using another app which has far, far more competitive pricing.

  • Arlene Pimentel says:

    I enjoy using this app, it has been a blessing to me. I would like to see resources in Spanish. I know there are lots of great resources, please make them available. By making language diversity in resources it will make both ends happy. A win -win situation : Olivetree will sell more and Hispanic people will read more.
    Gracias and God bless,


    • Andrew F. says:

      We’re hoping to continue adding Spanish language resources in the future. Thanks for your feedback!

  • Sharon Hodges says:

    I cannot get my Olive Tree to hi-light so that I can make notes. I have a Samsung 7.0 Nook, with my old Nook I could hi-light and take notes. But the note taking was difficult. I have had my newer Samsung Nook for a year and have not been able to hilight or make notes at all. I am not technology saavy, I learn what i need to do to navigate, but I do not problem solve well.

  • Lance Wilcox says:

    This is probably off topic but I’m wondering how I can submit feedback regarding errors in the text. I’m not talking about Bible translations – I’m no scholar! – but I’ve noticed some obvious scanning errors in Spurgeon’s sermons (as well as Keil and Delitzsch). Just wanted to be able to report these. Thanks.

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