(This post has affiliate links.)
In Choosing a Bible – Part 1 and 2 I discussed what a version is; deciding on if you want a literal, balanced, or paraphrase version; and the differences in those versions. Now I am going to go over features of various Bibles. The features of Bibles are going to vary per Bible making it very difficult to choose one online. The ideal situation is to go to a store like LifeWay that has a large selection of Bibles, go to the section with the version you want and just compare the various Bibles. I realize that is not possible for everyone and many of you will have to order a Bible online.
Once you’ve decided what version you want you need to consider what features are important to you.
Cover of the Bible - It is worth the money to get one with an imitation leather cover on your Bible. A Bible is something you will have for life. Invest the money in a good cover if you can afford it. When I worked at the Christian bookstore it always amazed me that people would pick a Bible out based on a pretty cover and the way it looked.
Remember the version is the most important selection. Then the features you want to have in the Bible. The pretty cover is the least important choice in picking out a Bible.
Indexing - These are the indents on the side with the name of each book of the Bible. If the Bible comes with indexing it usually adds about $10 to the price of the Bible. Indexing isn't really necessary. It is helpful when you first start reading the Bible, but after awhile you know where the books are. Better yet go old school and memorize the books of the Bible in order! There are on-line YouTube songs that help you do this. You can buy separate tabs and add them to your Bible. These tabs stick out from the pages and often bend and sometimes rip off. I don’t really recommend tabs.
Font Size - The font size is called point and varies greatly from Bible to Bible! The smaller more compact the Bible, the smaller the font. Thinline Bibles and pocket Bibles have very small font size. Study Bibles often have small point and the point of the text notes is even smaller. The small font size makes it hard to read, especially in poor lighting. The number one complaint is the print is too small! If you are ordering a Bible online, check the point. Bibles do come in large print and giant print. My NASB Bible is giant print so that when I’m somewhere with poor lighting or when I’m teaching, I can still easily read it. However, the font size being bigger makes the Bible bigger. If you get a large print study Bible, the Bible will be thicker and heavier than other Bibles. I looked at the specifications for several study Bibles online and for a regular study Bible the text point is 8 and the text note point is 6. I can’t read that very well! I looked at the same study Bibles in large print and they had either 10-point or 11-point text and 8-point text notes. A large print Bible is the print point of a regular book. Giant print is 14-point.
Two Column versus One Column - I just prefer a two column Bible. I think it makes them much easier to read. I have an NIV Life Application Bible that is one column and I don’t have any problem with it. But I have an ESV Study Bible which is one column and is a nightmare to read. The ESV will combine several small paragraphs into one long paragraph and I’m constantly getting lost in the paragraph!
Page from ESV Study Bible showing how difficult it is to find a verse in the paragraphs.
Words of Jesus in Red - This is an important feature to me because it makes it easier to see what Jesus said. The red print jumps out at you as you are reading. It used to be this feature was standard on all Bibles. Not anymore. Most ESV Bibles and the NIV Essential Study Bible do not have this feature.
Page from 1984 NIV Study Bible showing 2-column, Jesus' words in red, reference column in the middle, text notes at the bottom
References - Most Bibles give references either in the text or in a center or side column to other Scripture with similar content. References help you find commonalities between different parts of the Bible. References are good to have, but some Bibles have a lot of references and too many can be distracting. It is best to look at the layout of the page if you can.
Concordances - A lot of Bibles have Concordances located in the back of the Bible. A Concordance is an alphabetical list of words and under each word is listed several verses where that word can be found. Concordances are great for topical studies like if you want to look up a verse that has to do with a certain subject. For instance, you want to look up verses on prayer. A concordance is helpful, but not necessary in this day and age because you can go online and search “Bible verses having to do with prayer” or whatever you are looking for.
Maps - Not all Bibles have maps in the back of them. Maps can be very helpful to visually show you information such as the Land of the Twelve Tribes or Paul’s Missionary Journeys. They aren’t necessary because you can look this information up online, but it is nice to have some of the basic maps in your Bible.
Pronouns Referring to God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are Capitalized - I believe the NASB (New American Standard Bible) is the only one which does this. I absolutely love this feature! You have no idea how many times Jesus is talking to someone and it says “him” and “Him” (referring to Jesus) in the verse and makes it very evident who is who/ Who in the verse. I really hope future Bible revisions incorporate this feature.
Study Bibles - I highly recommend getting a study Bible! A study Bible contains the full text of the Bible, along with a library of study features to help you more completely grasp and understand what the text is saying. All study Bibles have introductions to each book of the Bible. The text study notes explain a wide variety of background information to the biblical text and provide deeper insights. Study Bibles also include maps, graphs, tables, concordances, charts, and people profiles that will enhance your reading.
Page of NIV Life Application Study Bible showing one of many charts in the Bible.
Page of NIV Life Application Study Bible showing one of the many People Profiles.
I highly recommend the NIV Life Application Study Bible (affiliate link) which is today’s #1-selling study Bible. (I know KJV, HCSB, and NLT also have Life Application Bibles.) NIV also has a regular Study Bible, a Quest Study Bible, and an Essentials Study Bible. The Life Application Study Bible gives you a wealth of information, but also has in the nearly 10,000 text notes how to apply the Scripture to your life. An example of a text note from the NIV Life Application Study Bible for Luke 10:27-37, The Good Samaritan is shown in the picture below.
Text note for Luke 10:27-37 in the NIV Life Application Study Bible.
My 1984 NIV (New International Version) Study Bible text note says:
10:31-33 priest…Levite…Samaritan. It is significant that the person Jesus commended was neither the religious leader nor the lay associate, but a hated foreigner. Jews viewed Samaritans as half-breeds, both physically and spiritually. Samaritans and Jews practiced open hostility, but Jesus asserted that love knows no national boundaries.
MY ESV (English Standard Version) Study Bible has the following text note:
10:33 Samaritan. Culturally, it would have been unthinkable for a Samaritan to help a Jew. Thus Jesus makes the additional point that to love one’s neighbor involves showing care and compassion even to those with whom one would not normally have any relationship (cf. Jesus’ command to “love your enemies”; Luke 6:27, 35).
10:36 Which of these…proved to be a neighbor? Jesus’ question corrects the lawyer’s improper question (v. 29). The question is not “who is my neighbor?” but “how can I be a neighbor?”
The NIV Life Application text note for Luke 7:47 ends with “Do you appreciate the wideness of God’s mercy? Are you grateful for his forgiveness?” The NIV Life Application text notes explain the text, but take it a step further to make you think about your own life.
For several months I did some research for the pastor at my church. He would give me a passage and I would give him anything I could find on that passage. I would go through my reference books, my commentaries, online research, and look at the text notes from my 3 study Bibles. I found my 1984 NIV Study Bible to have fairly short text notes that gave you really good historical, cultural, and background information. My ESV Study Bible text notes were good, but they tended to be quite scholarly. I really came to appreciate the 2011 NIV Life Application Study Bible text notes because they explained the text, but really made you think about applying the Scripture to your life.
All study Bibles will have an introduction to each book of the Bible, text notes, graphs, maps, charts, etc., but I definitely favor the Life Application text notes. Remember how I said I didn’t care for the layout of the ESV Study Bible because I found it difficult to read from? I did want to mention that the ESV Study Bible has a wealth of information that other study Bibles don’t have. It has in the back a number of articles like God’s Plan for Salvation; Biblical Doctrine: An Overview; Biblical Ethics: An Overview; Reading the Bible; Reliability of Bible Manuscripts; etc. Hence the ESV Study Bible is quite popular with seminary students, ministers, and scholars.
[* Update on 1/22/18: The Christian Standard Bible (CSB) was published in 2017. It is a revision to the HCSB. I recently purchased a CSB study Bible and so far I like everything about it - layout, readability, point size, Christ's words in red, the study Bible information. The CSB is a balanced version. As I use it more, it may become my recommendation.]
Go online to ChristianBooks (affiliate link) and click on Bibles and then the version you want. Go to the Bible you are interested in and click on it. Scroll down to the specifications and it will tell you about the Bible and its features. You can even look at an excerpt which will show you the page layout.
11-point Bible text
8-point note text
"Special Memories" personal record page
Words of Jesus in red
Gold page edges
9.50" x 6.50" x 2.25"
Again, do some research at home comparing Scripture from various versions and deciding on a version first. Then look online at the various Bibles in that version. Decide if you want a study Bible. Pay close attention to the point (font size) in the specifications. A Bible does you no good if you can't easily read the text!
If at all possible, go to a store which has a large selection of Bibles such as LifeWay and actually look at them in person. It is very hard to order a Bible online. You need to see it.
Who knew there was so much to consider when choosing a Bible?!
Once you have chosen the version you want, and the features you want (and hopefully a study Bible); now you can pick a pretty cover!