Choosing a Study Bible

I’ve searched for many years for the perfect Study Bible. I’ve tried many of the Bibles on the market and I’ve found things that I like and things that I don’t like in all of them. Through my years of Bible study I have found what does and does not work, and what I do and do not need in a Study Bible. I also have developed opinions as to what every person needs in personal Bible study. Let’s examine some features of Study Bibles and determine what makes a good Bible.

Translation

First of all… all Bibles in English are translations. The scriptures were written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. No translation can be considered equal with the original languages. A Bible translation should be chosen according to its purpose. Is the Bible for general reading or serious study? Maybe you want a Bible that will perform both tasks well.

There are two basic types of Bible translations: formal equivalent (literal, or word for word) and dynamic equivalent (thought for thought).

Some basic literal translations include KJV, NKJV, NASB, and ESV.

Thought for thought translations include NIV and NLT.

The KJV, NKJV, NASB, and ESV versions are well suited for serious study since they are literal translations. The NIV and NLT are better suited to general reading than serious study. Since they are thought for thought translations they will not have the higher level of accuracy that literal translations do.

There is another type of Bible available: the paraphrase. Paraphrases include The Message and TLB. A paraphrase is when someone rewrites a text in their own words. Paraphrases should not be considered the Word of God and should be avoided.

I consider the topic of the best Bible translation to be a personal choice. If you believe that one version is the only version to use- that would be your personal conviction. You should not place that conviction upon others. Many people will tell you to stay away from modern translations. They forget that the KJV is a translation. It is my personal favorite translation, but it is a translation. The KJV is largely based on the work of William Tyndale. Tyndale’s goal was to offer a translation of the scriptures to the common reader of his day. William Tyndale would strive to do the same thing today. He would work to bring an English translation to the modern reader.

My basic guidelines are:

For reading, choose something you can enjoy reading that is as accurate as possible. NIV and NLT are good choices, but I still prefer a more literal translation even for reading. I read the KJV, NKJV, and ESV. I also occasionally read the NIV.

For study, choose the most literal you can feel comfortable with. I use KJV primarily. I also use NKJV and ESV. Many consider the ESV a more accurate rendering. I am simply more comfortable with King James.

Stay away from paraphrases.

For choosing one Bible for reading and study, stick with the literal translations.

Text

I prefer at least a 9 point font. My regular size Thompson has an 8 point font. 8 point is OK, especially if the text is bold enough on the page, but my Thompson’s text is a little too light for me. Red letter is another key area for reading Bibles. My Thompson’s red letters are more pink than red. That’s OK too if you like the text, but red letters make it more difficult to highlight and color code. I prefer red letter for reading and black letter for marking.

Notes

Many Bibles have notes already in them. These are the notes of someone else that has already done their Bible study. I do not recommend using these Bibles for personal study as they include the writer’s biases. They can be handy as a commentary if needed, and some of them have some useful dictionaries and word studies. In hard cover editions they are usually much cheaper than buying full volumes, but I still do not recommend them as a personal Study Bible.

Features

Good Bible study comes through the use of good study tools. Tools that I use the most are:

  • Concordance
  • Dictionary
  • Topical list
  • References

Study Bibles usually include some of these features and a few others:

  • Introductions
  • Outlines
  • Biographical studies
  • Harmony of the Gospels
  • Essays and articles on doctrinal topics
  • Devotional helps
  • Maps
  • Charts
  • Self-pronouncing text
  • Wide margins
  • Ribbon marker (preferably 2)

A good Study Bible is a Bible that will give you the tools you need to do your own study- not gives you someone else’s study. A good Study Bible will give you the tools you need to come to your own conclusions. It will give you the tools you need to compare scripture with scripture.

Quality

The Bible you choose should be purchased with the idea that it’s going to get a long of use. For this reason you will want a Bible that will last. Some areas to pay attention to are:

  • Binding
  • Cover
  • Paper

A good binding will be sewn and have good stitching. Smyth sewn is the process of sewing groups of paper together and then sewing the groups together. This allows the Bible to lay flat when open.

The cover should be leather or hard cover. Bonded leather is OK, but do not expect it to last even if the Bible is kept in a Bible case. Bonded leather is very cheap material and will not hold up to heavy use. The higher-end materials are not a requirement for a quality Bible, but the higher quality the cover the longer it will last. Even calfskin will last for many years.  Other choices are goatskin and Morocco leather. A good quality hard cover will also last many years, and is far less expensive than leather. Many of my Bibles are hard cover.

A good Study Bible will give you good paper to write on and enough room to do that writing. Text from the other side should only be slightly visible. There will be some visibility, but the paper shouldn’t be so thin that the text is distracting. A thicker paper is better for writing. Thin paper will allow your pens and pencils to bleed through and leave indentions in the page.

Reading verses Study

A good reading Bible is a Bible that has a readable text and some basic features such as references, maps, and concordance. A reading Bible can be used in Bible study. Just look for a good quality Bible with good text, good paper, and a little room for writing.

Recommendation

I recommend a wide margin Bible. Ideally it will have plenty of good quality paper for writing and really wide margins. Other helps are nice, but most tools, such as concordances and dictionaries, can be purchased separately.

If a wide margin Bible is not your preference then I recommend a Study Bible that is not filled with someone else’s notes. A good choice is the Thompson Chain Reference Study Bible. Thompson has plenty of topical chain references in the margins and doesn’t have any commentary. The topical chains allow the reader to compare scripture with scripture, which is my favorite type of study. Another Bible that I like is no longer being published, but if you can find it (I’ve seen several on eBay) I highly recommend the Dugan Topical Study Bible (also printed by Jubilee). This Bible contains the Bible printed twice- once in standard Biblical order and again with every verse under a specific topic. It also includes a Bible dictionary (the equivalent of a Smith’s Bible Dictionary) and a Cruden’s Concordance. I like this Bible better than Thompson. Another good choice would be a quality reading Bible.

My choice

I recently decided to purchase a new Bible. I went through several weeks of searching before I finally decided. My new Bible will hopefully last me 20 years or more, so I wanted a Bible that would promote good Bible study habits. I chose a wide margin in KJV. It is calfskin leather and has a 2.5 inch margin on the outside of each page. It’s the Note Taker’s Bible from LCBP for $55.

Before buying this Bible I considered a new Thompson and a Dugan (I found the Dugan on eBay). I also considered a hard cover wide margin from Henderson. A wide margin allows you to interact with the scriptures, which in my opinion promotes better Bible study.

Do you have a favorite Study Bible? What are some of your favorite features in a Study Bible?

10 Comments

  1. I use a standard edition Jerusalem Bible. It’s not technically a study bible, but it has enough footnotes and references to qualify as one. Plus, the translation is a joy to read. :)

  2. I heartily second the wide margin NoteTakers Bible from LCBP.  I’ve had mine about three weeks now and I’m really enjoying having room for my own notes.  I also own the Dugans’, which is probably the finest study Bible I’ve ever seen and I’ve collected a bunch of Bibles along the way. 

    Now, I can take the fine cross references and put them at the end of the texts in the wide margin Bible, and my notes in the big wide column.  I can also read my wide margin Bible when my eyes tire of reading the smaller typeface of the Dugans. 

    A Dugans and a Notetakers Bible might just be the perfect combination!

  3. I think the hardcover Henderson is the one I have its in KJV… I really like the wide margins on that one. I thought I posted here about it but that must have been another site. You have great insight as to how to one should go about choosing a study bible. I also have a thompson but the work is already done for you. Which is nice but still hardly any margins to write in.

  4. What an amazing article.  I too enjoy the wide margin for better study habits, but I’ve noticed others in my family have different preferences. It’s good that many different types of study bibles exist to accommodate the different styles of learning. Thanks for spelling all that out.

  5. Does the notetakers Bible have cross-references?  I don’t see a center column and don’t see any references at the end of verses?  Do you find that the absence of reference detracts from your study?

  6. Andy,

    The Note Takers does not have cross references. I’ve been working on adding them myself, which makes for good Bible study, but I would rather have them already there because it takes up too much of the margin. Not having references detracts from my study if I don’t have another source of reference. I still have my Thompson, my Dugan Topical Study Bible, and many others including software, so I’m usually OK without the references (at least at home- I find myself running references with Olive Tree on my Palm Centro when I’m away from home). Adding the references myself makes the end result more personal, but I’d rather have them in a center column and just add what I want. I recommend using the Note Takers to make your own study Bible, but use a good reference Bible for carrying with you until you’ve made the Note Takers your perfect Bible. That will take a while, but it is a very rich study of the Scriptures.

    Randy

  7. Thanks for everything including the prayers i’m asking on behalf of my family, myself included.  It’s been many years since i was dedicated to bible study and the price has been way to high.  i’m now a grandfather with more souls to account for.  PLEASE help with your prayers!

  8. Thanks for the great balance information.  I also have a Dugan from years ago and it is without doubt my favorite all time study Bible.  I also have a Thompsons, which I use, but have found at times that the chains only follow the thoughts and theology of the publishers, which can cause you to miss out on finding challenging references that he has left out.  Whatever Bibel you end up using, it is important that you press in yourself to learn and grow in God’s Word.  Thanks for the great article.

  9. Hi Roy. I’ve been searching for another Dugan. The last Dugan I saw on eBay went for around $160, bonded leather. I want to start over with my marking. It’s looking like I will have to settle for a new Thompson. I use a Cambridge wide margin, but I don’t like the concordance that well and I don’t like my own handwriting. A lot of the time, the Thompson already has what I would write in the margin anyway. I like the topics in the Thompson. It’s looking like I will have to settle for a new Thompson. If I get one, I am considering only marking the marginal topics and leaving the text clean for reading.

  10. I favor the Dugan and have had more than 1 in my search for Truth.
    I find it not docternal, and allows the reader to glean truth from scripture, unlike many reference Bibles.
    I also loved My logos ASV Study Bible now out of print for
    decades.
    and the Original Jerusalem Bible, that is not even close to
    todays Jerusalem bible.
    I like the Rotherham for just plain reading of the scripture
    Sam

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