Periodically, someone asks me, “What is the best Bible?”, particularly, if someone is new to Bible reading. Usually, what he or she is actually asking is which translation is best. Translation is only one of multiple considerations though to keep in mind as you purchase a Bible. Here are some other features that make for an extremely functional devotional/study Bible. I’ll deal with translation in a separate post.
1. A decent size font--Get a Bible with print that it is easy on the eyes, unless your highest priority is portability. There are numerous Bibles that will fit in your back pocket. Those are great for certain purposes like witnessing or travel, but I wouldn’t recommend one as your regular study Bible. Get a Bible that is visually comfortable to read and large enough print to allow easy underlining and highlighting.
2. A wide margin–I love making notes in the margins. I mark memory verses, create section headings, make personal notes about meaning, sermon or bible study observations, keywords or concepts, arrows connecting related passages, etc. in the margins.
3. Pages thick enough to write on–Gift Bibles often times have extremely thin “onion” skin paper. This doesn’t work well for notetaking and highlighting. Get a page thick enough that a standard ball point pen won’t bleed through it. Highlighting tip: Use colored pencils instead of highlighters. You have many more color options and they will not bleed through.
4. Hardcover or softcover?–My only observation on this is that my experience has been that hardcover Bibles tend to pull away from the binding far more quickly than softcover. Otherwise, cover is a rather subjective choice.
5. Tabs–When you are beginning you want a Bible that is as accessible and readable as possible. Tabs make it really easy for you to find things when you start out, but if you study consistently you will find they rapidly become unnecessary. If you find a Bible that you really like without tabs you can always buy tab sets and add them.
6. Headings–Many Bibles have headings inserted into the text to identify different passages, for example they might have the words “Parable of the Prodigal Son” as a heading above that story. These are helpful additions by the editor. They did not come as part of the text. In my personal study Bible I do not have headings. I create my own after studying; however, I love having a Bible with headings for skimming and finding passages rapidly. This is really helpful when you are starting out or browsing.
7. Cross references–Bibles that note related passages or in the case of the gospels parallel stories help you understand the unity of the witness of scripture. These references can also help you more fully understand how a theme or concept in a Bible gets replicate numerous times throughout scripture.
8. Study Supplements and Maps–One of my all time favorite study Bibles that I used for many years was a Thompson Chain Reference Bible loaded with all kinds of great charts, outlines, and articles in the back. Browsing those sections stoked my fire for deeper study.
9. Book overviews–Some Bibles offer introductory material before each book. This is another fabulous aid to the beginner. Even now after reading and studying daily for over twenty years, I frequently read these introductory materials to prime my brain to look for key themes or put me in touch with the purpose of the book before delving in to it.
10. Embedded commentary–Many Bibles now offer reflection questions or articles embedded in the text; particularly, devotional Bibles aimed at a specific audience such as a men’s or women’s devotional Bible. These devotional thoughts and comments will often prompt you to new insight or application.
In closing, the bottom line is to find a Bible that you will read and that will pull you into greater study. Don’t get tripped up on finding the perfect Bible. None of the features above are absolutes. Pick which ever ones will help you read and read daily. Blessings to you as you pursue a deeper understanding of God’s Word.