What Features to Look for in a Bible

In the previous post, we talked about 5 different ways you can engage with the Bible. 

But what about choosing a Bible? What kind of Bible (or Bibles) should you own? I can’t give you a one-size-fits-all answer to that question because – 

  1. I own several different kinds of Bibles and I think that if you can, you should own a few
  2. Different kinds of Bibles have all different kinds of features that are useful for different things

In this post, I’m going to share 6 features you can look for and consider when choosing a Bible. There really isn’t a hard, fast, right or wrong way to do this – it’s part preference and part what-you-need-from-a-Bible. These aren’t all the features offered in different editions, just the ones that stand out to me as most helpful.  

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1. Book Introductions

I love reading book introductions in a Bible because they give such great information about the book you’re about to read or study. My everyday reference Bible has simple book intros while my Life Application Study Bible has awesome, in-depth book introductions. 

You don’t have to have book intros in your Bible. I also really like referencing my Bible dictionary and Bible Handbook for this information. However, having them at your fingertips right in your Bible is super helpful!

2. Commentary

There are two main ways to engage with commentary –

  1. Commentary in a book or set of books written about biblical books or passages of the Bible
  2. Commentary in a study Bible

Commentary isn’t necessary in a Bible but it can be useful! If you are going to use a study Bible with commentary in it, there are a couple things to keep in mind when choosing one – 

  • Be mindful of study Bibles that include commentary from just one person. Bibles that have commentary done by committees of scholars are going to have a better sense of breadth and depth than any one person could possibly give. There are a lot of well-versed scholars, teachers, and pastors out there but no one person knows everything about everything in the Bible – it’s impossible. So while it’s not bad to have a single commentator study Bible, definitely consider a multi-scholar study Bible. This is especially important if you’re going to use a study Bible as your main, everyday Bible. 
  • Don’t rely on one commentary to determine what you believe about scripture. After prayer, Bible study includes consulting multiple voices (people you read, listen to, and talk to) that will challenge your thoughts and views and teach you how to discern between what is true about God and what isn’t.
  • Understand the different kinds of commentary that might be in a Bible. Some commentary is going to be devotional in nature, others focuses on practical, life application, while still others will give cultural background information, etc. Different types of commentary provide different kinds of help in your reading and studying. 
3. Cross references

This is a really helpful feature in a Bible. Cross references help you compare scripture with scripture so that you can better understand words, themes, teachings, and principles. Remember that the Bible is the best at interpreting itself and it’s important that we start with the Bible to develop a full case or argument for an idea or belief.

I chose this reference Bible as my everyday Bible so that I could have handy cross references at my fingertips. Cross references in one Bible aren’t necessarily going to be exhaustive but they’ll get you started when you’re studying a specific text or subject.

4. Margins

This one seems obvious but because journaling Bibles have become more and more popular in recent years, it’s worth noting. When choosing a Bible, you’ll want to consider how much space you want for taking notes (if you want to take notes in your Bible). There are so many different kinds of journaling Bibles and wide margin Bibles and even interleaved Bibles on the market, it makes this feature a lot of fun to consider (at least, I find it a lot of fun!).

5. Marginal notes

Book intros and cross references are nice to have in a Bible but if I had to choose between one of those features and marginal notes, honestly, I’d probably choose marginal notes. Marginal notes (also referred to as textual notes) in a Bible give us really important information about the variations in the original texts (written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek) and the decisions made by the translators of the version you’re reading. The deeper you get into Bible study, the more helpful this information can be.

I chose my particular reference Bible because it has book intros, cross references, and marginal notes!

If you really want to get nerdy about textual notes, check out the NET Bible, Full Notes edition. It has 60,000 translators notes and is an awesome resource for diving deep!

6. Verse-by-Verse or Paragraph

Some Bibles have a verse-by-verse format while others have a paragraph format. You may notice that older Bibles tend to be verse-by-verse while newer editions are paragraph or will specify that it’s a verse-by-verse. Neither is necessarily better or worse than the other, however I will say that a paragraph Bible is going to be much more helpful and useful a lot of the time. 

A verse-by-verse format is typically going to be easier to speak or teach from because you can better keep track of what verse you’re on. A paragraph format is preferable for studying (in my opinion) because you can better stay in step with the story line or argument that is being made. It’s also going to lay out poetry better than a verse-by-verse Bible. You may not realize it but the way that the scripture is laid out on the page is either going to help or hamper our understanding of the text. Literacy, or how we comprehend written language, doesn’t just rely on grammar, sentence structure and syntax. It also relies on punctuation, white space, and format. And these things have changed over time. I believe that just like modern translations help us to better understand scripture, modern layout and format also helps us best understand the text.

So when you’re choosing a Bible, consider whether the verses are stacked one on top of another or if it’s paragraph formatted. Also consider font size too! You want your Bible reading experience to be comfortable.

Are there features that you find really useful in a Bible that I didn’t include in this list? Let me know in the comments below! I’d love to know what you like to have in your Bible!

In the next post, we’re going to talk about how to choose a translation! Stay tuned!

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