What to look for in a new Bible

Its not just about the translation

If you’ve been into a Christian bookstore recently, you may have noticed that the range of Bibles available is huge. If you aren’t expecting this, it can all be quite overwhelming. When most people think of buying a new Bible, the first question they ask about is, what translation? While this is a good question, there is more you should consider than just the translation. Here’s what to look for in a new Bible, particularly if you’re going to use it for your quiet time.

Translation

Before 1881 nobody asked which English Bible translation they should choose. When people thought of a Bible in English, they automatically thought of the King James Version. Today there are dozens of translations of the Bible into modern English, in fact, there are more than two dozen complete English Bible translations published since 2000. The number of translations worth purchasing is much lower than this.

My goal here is not to write an article on translations, but to make some suggestions relevant to your Bible reading. My first suggestion for an English translation for your quiet time is to hear what God wrote as clearly as possible. This means staying closer to the “word for word” end of the Bible translation spectrum. While there are good translations throughout the spectrum, they become less frequent the further we move to the right.

With regards to translation, there are several things to consider. First, how well do you read? If reading is not your strong point, you might want to consider something with an easier reading level. Fortunately, this doesn’t mean a great sacrifice in accuracy. The Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) has excellent readability, at the reading level of an 8th grader, someone around 13 years old, but it works to optimize a balance between a word for word and thought for thought translation. If you read well, you might appreciate something like the English Standard Version or the updated New American Standard Bible. If you want a high-level review of the different translations, Dan Wallace, a recognized translation scholar, wrote this helpful overview of translations a few years ago.

Every translation will have passages that are either hard to understand or less than faithful to the actual text, so there is no perfect translation. I recommend you select a translation that balances accuracy and your reading ability.

Study Notes

A second element to consider is whether you want to have notes or not. Study Bible notes can be helpful, particularly if you’re new to the Bible. The Bible was written a long time ago in a country and culture very different to our own, in a historical period of which most modern readers don’t know much. For this reason, a study Bible will help bring out the background of passages, conversations, and events so that the reader can understand the context.

This information is helpful to have at the bottom of the page. But it is also useful to have in the introduction to each book of the Bible. A Study Bible that includes information about the author, background, and theme of the book can help you understand why the book or letter was written, what the author was trying to communicate and why, and trace the argument he uses.

Personally, I like the MacArthur Study Bible because I know many of the men who were contributors and know that they have a rich and deep knowledge and love for the word of God. It is also available in several English translations. Other good Study Bible choices include the HCSB Study Bible and the ESV Study Bible, each of which are unique to their English translations.

References

Even if you don’t want study notes, you might still want references. One of the important principles of biblical interpretation is that scripture interprets scripture. Cross references can be a useful tool to help you with this. There is a good chance that you already have these in your Bible. So the question becomes, do you use them? If you don’t use them, consider not having references next time, particularly if you intend to write in your Bible. That way, you can add just the references that you find most useful, which you will be more likely to refer to later.

If you’re looking for a study Bible, you won’t have much choice about whether you get them or not. I am not aware of any study Bible that doesn’t have references.

Wide margins

If you are considering writing in your Bible (and you should), consider getting a Bible with wide margins. This gives you space around the text so that you can write your notes. If you don’t have wide margins and you’re going to write in it, then the narrow margins in a regular Bible will be a source of frustration for writing anything more substantial than sparse cross references.

One of the under-utilized aspects of wide-margin Bibles is the space at the bottom of the page. This is a perfect place to write longer notes or a long chain of cross-references throughout a book or the entire Bible.

Wide margins will add some bulk to your Bible, so if you’re looking for a smaller Bible with wide margins, you might have to compromise on one of those two things. A wide margin Bible is a worthwhile investment, and writing in it is a great way to engage the text in your personal quiet time.

Typeface and Text size

The typeface and size of the text are often overlooked, but it is an important consideration when selecting a Bible. The typeface is the font or style of the letters used. A typeface can make a difference in the readability of the text (i.e. how easily a reader can distinguish a word, sentence or block of text) and the legibility (how easily a letter can be distinguished from another letter. There is an interesting discussion about typeface if you’re interested. For people like me who don’t notice the typeface, it is worth considering whether the text looks good and doesn’t get in the way of your reading.

Another important aspect is the font size. We’re all familiar with “large text” editions, which are great if your eyes are failing. But in addition to how well your eyes work, it may also be considering the purpose for which you are going to use the Bible. I have a preaching Bible with an 11pt typeface so that I can read it without squinting or leaning forward. But for travel, I have a Bible with a 9.5pt text simply so that the Bible is small enough to easily carry with me. For an everyday Bible, this small text size is terrible, but for short trips, I can manage.

Quality

A quality Bible will have a high quality paper that can absorb the heavy usage a (well used) Bible will receive. If you’re going to get a wide margin Bible, you’ll want to check to see if they’ve selected their paper to take notes and ink as well as the usual wear and tear. <a href=”http://www.cambridge.org/bibles/” target=”new”>Cambridge</a> is careful to choose paper based on the format of the Bible like this, other manufacturers are likely to do the same. Check the manufacturer’s website before purchasing.

In addition to paper, there is the binding to consider. Don’t buy a paperback Bible. Sure it might be just $5, but you’ll spend that $5 again to replace it soon. Get at least a hardcover Bible, and don’t plan on keeping the dust cover on it, as it won’t take the wear and tear of daily use. I’ve already mentioned leather elsewhere, and my recommendation is to get a good leather bound Bible. Leather Bible’s are always sewn (hardcover Bibles are usually sewn), and the leather will endure better than a hardcover. Avoid bonded leather, since often bonded leather won’t last as well as even a hardcover. Many bonded leather covers will even tear after a year or two of heavy use.

Aesthetic appeal

Part of the reason I encourage a good leather binding is not just because of its quality, but also because of its aesthetic appeal. The sensory engagement with your Bible is an encouragement to pick it up and read it, and for this reason, it is worth spending a little extra to get a Bible you will love to hold and read.

Budget

The final consideration is your budget. It is not the final consideration because it is the least important, but because ultimately your budget will determine what you should get. If your budget is $25, you will have a limited range of quality Bibles from which to choose. In this case, look for something that is a hardcover so that at least it will last a reasonable amount of time. Also, if this is a first Bible for someone, you can probably budget on something that will last for 1-2 years of heavy use. If they use it heavily, they will be in a good position to know what they like and don’t like about it and get something that suits them at the end of that time.

If you have the ability to save and spend $200-$300, this will allow you to get something that will match your needs more closely, last a lifetime and that you will enjoy using. However, spending this much money should not be done lightly. Don’t plan on spending this much money every year or so, instead, do it 2-3 times throughout your lifetime, and enjoy these investments.

After reading this, I hope you’ll have some fresh ideas of what to look for in a new Bible.

Question: What is most important to you when you purchase a new Bible? You can leave a comment by clicking here.