April 1, 2016

10 features Bible readers want

After reviewing new editions of the Bible for over four years and being an avid Bible reader long before that, I’ve learned that other readers look for the same features I like to see.

If I’ve omitted your favorite, please add it in the Comments section below. Or, if you’re a Bible publisher, please let us know what plans you have along these lines:

First, the physical features:

. Manageable Size .
The first thing most of us notice is whether a Bible is too big, too heavy, or too small to fit our needs. One of the most gorgeous study Bibles I’ve ever received was so massive, I found it too awkward to handle and read except at my desk. Nor could I comfortably carry it to my Bible discussion group, which was a loss to all of us since we missed the benefits of some very impressive footnotes and sidebars.

. Readable Font with Adequate Ink .
On several occasions, I’ve received review copies of “large print” Bibles that weren’t! Unless the font is a minimum of 10-point type with 9-point footnotes, the print will not be large enough for young readers to focus on or for older eyes to see without a blur. I hope type lauded as large print will become standardized at 11 or 12-point type with giant print at 14 points and super giant at 16 to 20. That said, none of the above will ease a reader’s eyes unless the publisher selects a well-inked font.

. Adequate Margins and White Space .
When a font of any size cuts into the surrounding margins, the text seems to scream at the reader’s eyes. That might be a necessary compromise for a study Bible, but people who interact with Holy Scripture usually need a wide-margin edition that provides space for jotting down those insights that come during reading.

. Quality Paper, Sewn into the Binding .
As do many Bible lovers, I like to underline God’s promises and words of encouragement, but some paper textures won’t readily accept a pencil or stop bleed-through from light markers. A creamy, thicker, easy-to-turn paper can be ideal for a reader edition, whereas thin paper might be necessary for a study edition. In either case, the quality of paper makes a big difference in Bibles meant to be kept and used often, which also means those pages must be sewn – not glued – into the cover.

I’m personally displeased with the cheap grade paper often used in children’s editions. I suppose the thinking is that they’ll soon outgrown a kid version and want a “grownup” edition, which might be true for some. However, a lifelong love for the Bible began for many of us in childhood, and I’m happy to say I still have the first Bible ever given to me. Keeping it was my choice, but if the publisher had used the cheap grade of paper I often seen now, I doubt my zipper-enclosed children’s edition would have lasted for decades!

. Durable Cover .
Regarding that zipper, which I don’t want in a Bible now, it still works amazingly well! Again, that’s because the publisher used quality materials and workmanship, which I’m finding more difficult to locate. However, contemporary translations in paperbacks with glued-in pages give us a chance to see if we want something more durable. If so, high quality leather covers that lay flat are a long-time preference for favorite editions, while top-quality man-made covers that lay flat can last well and also be pleasant to the touch. For encyclopedic editions, though, my gorgeous goatskin-covered study Bible can not stand up on my desk! Then, a sturdy hardcover binding with sewn-in pages makes the most sense.

. Two (preferably three!) Ribbon Markers .
Yes, we can always add bookmarks, but two or more ribbon markers encourage us to read from both testaments and actually check out those cross-references. For instance, I might want to read the Gospels straight through, as I would other books, but turn to Psalms for a morning meditation. Then, if I want to investigate the verses referred to in a passage, I need another ribbon to hold my place while I look up the next scripture. Therefore, three ribbon markers work great in study editions. Regardless of the number, though, each ribbon needs a hem-finished tip to prevent unraveling.

More importantly, students of the Bible, avid readers, and study groups need:

. Cross-References .
Make that readable cross-references! Most are not! Even in large-print Bibles, the references typically have a thin, tiny font that requires a magnifying glass. Since these often get placed between columns or in the outside margin of paragraphed text, this cuts into usable space for note-taking. One workable solution is to place a reference at the end of the Bible verse to which it connects, making it immediately accessible and also very readable as such cross-references sensibly use the same sized font.

. Book Intros .
For a reader edition, a brief introduction about the author, time, place, and purpose helps to get us grounded. For study editions, outlines and themes work well, but for either, a one-sentence thesis statement can help us to find which book is most likely to have what we’re looking for.

. User-friendly Layout .
Timelines, photographs, maps, and/or sidebars in an eye-appealing format make readers just want to keep reading, which should be a primary aim for any new edition. Those visual aids also help us to see the relevancy of scripture today. If space prevents those features, however, just having chapter subheadings will visually break up the text and help us to find the passages we’re looking for with greater ease.

All of the above features encourage Bible reading, but most importantly, we need:

. Unbiased Footnotes and Articles .
At first glance, this preference seems to have exceptions. For instance, when I received a review copy of The Lutheran Study Bible, I expected – and, indeed, wanted – footnotes to interpret the Bible from the perspective of that denomination. Ditto for the Didache Bible, whose footnotes include quotations from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC.) Such editions provide an important service to members of a particular denomination by helping them to see where their church is coming from and why. In addition, this info can foster ecumenical understanding in Christians from other backgrounds.

Study notes that present various interpretations can be very helpful, too, when they’re fair-minded, avoid telling readers how to think, and do not speak against any denomination ever! The more Christians from diverse backgrounds read, study, and love the Bible, the more we come to respect one other and acknowledge the family we have as the beloved children of our one Creator God.

© 2016, Mary Harwell Sayler


  1. I would like to add one thing: Page numbers on the upper outside corner of each page. If I am looking for a particular page number, I have to lay several of my Bibles open flat to find that number.

  2. Each edition has different page numbers, depending on the features included, but the chapter and verse remain the same, and, yes, it's nice when they're clearly visible. Thanks.

  3. It should feel good to hold,with a soft flexible cover!

    1. Amen! That's why I love premium leather covers. One of my favorites is split calfskin.

    2. Except for maybe 3, you are looking for the Schuyler Quentel series Bible. Check out evangelicalbible.com. I own the NKJV version which just came out and it's wonderful!

    3. I find good translators' notes to be invaluable, even more so than cross references. Often one cannot even find them in study Bibles, to say nothing of a simple reference Bible.

  4. Totally agree, GZimmy. Thanks for mentioning that. The NET Bible online has that important feature, which you can get in a print copy too. My review has more info http://www.biblereviewer.blogspot.com/2015/08/the-net-bible.html that might help.

  5. Thanks for the info, Frank and Lela.

  6. I love thr calfskin leather and smyth sewn binding of my wide margin NASB In Touch version. But was a little upset that translators notes and cross references were dropped from that edition. Nice big font, dark black ink and a thicker bible paper for note taking was all good design choices.

    I also have A Spirit of the reformation study bible NIV by zondervan that has single column bible text and it makes reading the Bible easier for me if im reading big chunks or devotional reading too as its more like a novel that way.

    I bought my wife a pink Message remix by Navpress and was impressed by its construction and printing. Sewn binding, readable font, good paper, inexpensive and the synthetic cover, sewn binding will last a very long time. I view the Message as a paraphrase but my wife has trouble with reading comprehension even the NIV is hard for her sometimes so I thought the Message would. serve her well to get her feet wet a little.

    I got a KJV transetto bible published by cambridge and are like a flipbook both pages open like a book the you turn it sideways and both pages combine for one single column text with verse numbers in green and the bible in nice sized font bold black ink. Its printed by jongblood a dutch company that make many premium bibles. It was to celebrate 400 year anniversary of the KJV. For under 20 bucks its nice.

    I love all the color used in my HCSB Study Bible and my 2011 Niv study bible. The HCSB is so heavy and big i dont read it in bed or take it to church because its heavy. The Niv is compact so it gets lugged around more.

    Im really impressed with all these new fullcolor top quality study bibles these days. And also with all the quality calfskin, goatskin, higher end bibles being made today. Cambridge, lewis bible bindery, allens, and local church publishers and foundation that publishes NASB are putting out great bibles. I saw a NLT bible by Tyndale at church and it was premium to sayr the least. They call them Tyndale selects. Reminds me of a couple Nelson signature series Kjv and nkjv i bough a decade ago in brown and black calfskin.

  7. I forgot to mention i recently got a brown compact NET Bible for 6 dollars off bible.org. Nice size font, acid free paper, a sewn binding, and a soft buttery feel to the synthetic leather like cover all added up to a Bible that will last awhile. On the website it talks about creating them to last over 100 years and they just might have accomplished that. I think 6 dollars is the on sale price but since they have less than 100 copies left im pretty sure the sale is till they are all gone. Now im considering getting the hardcover study edition with all the notes. Since the compact reader edition only has 6 thousand of the 69 thousand translators notes.