A Guide to Different Types of Bibles

A helpful tool for selecting a gift Bible—or buying one for yourself

It’s hard to miss the fact that variety among consumer goods has exponentially increased the past two decades. Where we once thought our options abounded with Baskin Robbins’ 31 ice cream flavors years ago, it probably comes as no surprise that the company has expanded their choices over the years and now totals more than 1,300 recipes in their library of flavors.

Of course, the variety we have grown accustomed to doesn’t end with ice-cream preferences. Even the mundane task of shopping for new socks can turn into a time-consuming chore as new varieties of material, form and aesthetics offer the consumer possibilities that weren’t present two decades ago. And while having options isn’t necessarily a negative thing, it does put the buyer into a position to map out the landscape of available options before deciding.

When it comes to purchasing a Bible, whether for yourself or as a gift for someone else, it is helpful to map out the landscape of the different types of Bibles that are available to help you make the most informed decision. For some people, the first step in a Bible-buying decision is starting with the translation (and here is a helpful way of distinguishing between the major English translations). For others, however, the specific type of Bible is of more interest.

To help map out the landscape of the most common types of Bible available for this group, here are some of the most standard categories to become familiar with in making a Bible-buying decision.

TEXT BIBLES

Text Bibles are essentially just what the name implies—Bibles that first and foremost contain the biblical text. Thus, no study notes or devotional content or other ancillary features are usually found within these text editions. There is a lot of variety in this category, especially when it comes to whether cross-references and/or footnotes are added and the way they are added, different trim and font sizes, as well as various cover options, among other things.

For those looking for Bible that mainly consists of the biblical text that doesn’t bulk too much, a Text Bible may be ideal.

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STUDY BIBLES

Study Bibles are distinct from Text Bibles in that they supply study notes and other ancillary features that help the reader to better understand select passages. Because the majority of Bible readers haven’t had the opportunity to undergo formal seminary training or study in the original languages, Study Bibles can be a significant aid to the reader in understanding various facets of the text.

While Study Bibles can differ on the type of hermeneutical aid they are providing for readers (helping readers understand the literary/grammatical, historical/cultural, and theological context, etc.), the unifying theme between them all is seeking to help both new and seasoned readers of Scripture alike better understand the meaning of Scripture.

DEVOTIONAL BIBLES

Devotional Bibles, much like Study Bibles, provide ancillary features that are intended to highlight and provide deeper insight into certain areas of Scripture. While a Devotional Bible doesn’t traditionally have the robust study notes one would find in a Study Bible edition, many people benefit from the devotional-style content that is often provided.

Some of these devotional features might include: book introductions, biblical biographies, devotions that seek to provide additional insight and application of a particular passage of Scripture, helpful charts and timelines, as well as other unique callouts that aid the reader in understanding the meaning of a particular section of Scripture.

Oftentimes Devotional Bibles can be aimed at a particular audience (Women’s Devotional Bible, etc.), while other times they can be more general in nature. For those searching for a Bible with features that lean more in the direction of devotional in nature versus academic, a Devotional Bible is something to consider.

NOTETAKING BIBLE/SCRIPTURE NOTEBOOKS

Another category of Bibles worth mentioning are those designed specifically for recording personal notes and reflections in the text itself. The Notetaking Bible will usually have thicker paper to minimize ink bleeding through to the opposite page, as well as wider margins with notetaking lines as a designated place to record personal reflections.

Scripture Notebooks are the same idea, though usually these are broken up by biblical books (or a combination of smaller biblical books) and have the Scripture on the left-hand page with notetaking lines on the opposite page. For those with a proclivity of jotting down notes/reflections or interacting with the text by underlining/highlighting key phrases or circling key words, then a Bible with these features might be ideal.

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READER’S BIBLE

A Reader’s edition of the Bible is relatively new to the Bible market. You can often find these in a single volume or divided up into a multi-volume collection. The uniqueness of a Reader’s Bible is its singular focus on the text of Scripture, eliminating the other ancillary features that are often inserted with other editions—study notes, devotionals, cross-references, footnotes, and even chapter numbers, verse numbers, and section headings.

This approach seeks to develop, first and foremost, a Bible that is more akin to the way the Bible was originally read—as a series of books and letters without these later chapter/verse additions. Not only that, but also the feel of the text reading more like a book has to do with the single-column format inside of these editions. Most people are familiar with having the text of Scripture in two columns per page, partly on account of preventing the Bible from becoming too bulky and to create room for other ancillary features. For the Reader’s Bible, the single column helps to create the book-like feel in these editions.

Of course, there are a host of other specialty Bibles out there, many of which contain really helpful additional features that equip the student of God’s Word to rightly handle the Word of truth. The reason for the large diversity of Bibles out there is merely reflective of the fact that there is so much to be gained from a lifetime of studying and reflecting on Scripture.

My advice would be to take advantage of the hard work that has been done in creating these unique editions. Read through a study Bible one year, maybe a reader’s edition the next, and so forth. Allow these unique features to expand your understanding of God’s Word, creating a deeper knowledge that flows to greater praise and worship of the main character of Scripture—Jesus.

First published on LifeWayVoices.com. Used by permission.