In Part One we looked at the Bible as one of the most significant gifts you can give someone, and why it’s important to get the selection right. Today we want to help simplify the process of choosing features they might appreciate and use. Normally we might ask the translation question first, but we thought we’d do things differently just this one time.
Well over 95% of the Bibles sold today are complete editions consisting of the 66 books in the Protestant canon of the Old and New Testaments (or if you prefer First and Second Testaments, or Former and Current Testaments) or the 66 plus a varying number of additional books used in the Orthodox or Roman Catholic churches called the Apocrypha or Deuterocanonical books. In other words, if you’re looking for a New Testament only, beyond a handful of presentation Bibles for babies and children you’ll find a limited selection, and if you’re looking for an Old Testament only, well, good luck.
By the way, not every Bible containing these extra books is a Catholic Bible because in order to be considered one, it would need a sort of kosher seal on the copyright page known as an imprimatur. You can also purchase those books separately — the original KJV contained them — unlike the case with trying to buy an Old Testament by itself.
You will find many Gospels of John however. This is rather strange because John is an argument for the divinity of Christ, but increasingly, that type of persuasion doesn’t work with postmoderns. You would expect more of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) to be produced now, but alas, we’re getting quite off-topic!
A Bible without any additional features is called a text Bible, and if there are some cross-references listing recommended related verses either in a center-column, at the bottom, or at the end of verses, then it’s a text reference or reference Bible. Free of bells and whistles, these are usually the best-priced and most popular. You can save even more by buying into the volume print runs of pew Bibles, now sometimes called church Bibles. These hardcover editions are quite durable. However, my advice would be to avoid what are called gift-and-award Bibles, because by using cheaper (and therefore thicker) paper, they are forced to use a very, very small type font. Generally, an award Bible is something churches give out to kids or visitors they’re not sure they’re ever going to see again. If they know the child, usually they go for something nicer.
Some of the most popular text Bibles often use the trade-style Thinline or Slimline. Introduced originally with more of the women’s market in mind, their style is also useful for pastors on hospital visits, youth workers at a campfire, and anyone else who doesn’t want to carry around a larger book. Also available are compact Bibles, but here you need to watch the print size, though Zondervan has a rather awesome NIV Compact Giant Print Bible that is a must-see if you’re shopping.
This is probably a good place to pause and mention print size. What Thomas Nelson calls Giant Print on their NKJV editions is really everybody else’s Large Print. This is another instance where you are better off buying in person rather than online. Also, just because a Bible advertises that it used 13-point type, that doesn’t tell you what the leading (spacing between lines of type) is, you need to see that for yourself. And if someone is looking for larger print, you should avoid comparing poetic and prophetic sections (which often use much more white space) to narrative sections which are more normally paragraphed.
Red-letter Bibles are by far the most common, but this is not an exact science. Did Jesus say the verse we know as John 3:16 or was that John’s commentary? Some people are divided on this issue. Does it mean those verses are more important? Isn’t all scripture inspired? Also appearing more frequently — perhaps sparked by The Message Bible — are editions stripped of verse numbers.
Bindings vary in quality and cost along a spectrum beginning with paperback, then hardcover, then vinyl, then imitation leather, then bonded leather, and then fine or genuine leathers (including Moroccan, calfskin, etc.) Technically, many of the two-tone or duo-tone Bibles popular now are only imitation leather, but the quality and artistry of those covers has advanced to where you might pay more for those than some bonded leathers.
Bibles which have been thumb indexed may be produced by the publisher and have a separate ISBN (i.e. stock number) or may be done by a bookstore or distributor as an after-market add-on. (Remember when Sears Automotive sold after-market air-conditioning for cars?) You can also decide later to add Bible tabs but this is a process akin to watch repair or untangling coat hangers and is best done by the very patient (i.e. wives, mothers and girlfriends.) While you’re buying your tabs, you might as well go nuts and buy some extra ribbon markers.
Parallel Bibles are text editions containing more than one edition, usually side-by-side on the page. Full Bibles are usually 2-translation or 4-translation, but Hendrickson has a nice 8-translation New Testament in hardcover which I really like, but don’t own. (Yet. I’ll send them a copy of this!) There are some very interesting combinations available that blend different translation styles (see part three of this article). There are also a specialized form of parallels called interlinear which weave the original Greek and Hebrew language texts (and often other features) on the same lines as the English translation used as a base.
Devotional Bibles are really two books in one. They contain a year’s worth of devotionals usually for a target audience such as men, women, people in a recovery program, teens, etc. You can expect at least 310 devos (often the weekend reading is combined) or 366, but you’ll pay less than if you bought the two items individually.
Study Bibles contain supplementary notes. Sometimes the same notes are made available in a variety of translations; so the Life Application Bible has NIV, NLT, NKJV editions. I sometimes tell people that the NIV Study Bible takes us back into Bible times where as the Life Application brings the Bible into our times. That’s a bit simplistic, but helps you see there are different approaches to what type of things get annotated, not to mention different uses of charts, diagrams, the inclusion of longer articles, and even what gets defined as a study edition to begin with. As with devotional editions, there are now a wide variety of study editions produced just for kids and teens.
Certain study Bibles are also tied into the teaching ministry of different pastors, TV preachers, authors and ministries. Sometimes these are sold in bookstores and sometimes they are only available through the ministry organization concerned. Presumably, the notes are derived from the individual’s other notes or study guides, but sometimes it just means that the person named on the cover merely vetted the creation of a special study edition. You never know for sure.
I am not a huge fan of the One Year Bible genre (a Tyndale Publishing trademark, if I’m not mistaken) as they can’t be taken to church or small group given the re-ordering of the material. The same is also true of chronological Bibles which often harmonize concurrent passages such as Kings and Chronicles or the gospels; you wouldn’t want these to be someone’s first (or second) Bible. As Yoda might say, ‘Mixed all everything up is.’ On the other hand, Tyndale keeps producing these at an alarming rate so maybe they know something I don’t. I think their appeal tends to be regional, and I don’t live in that region.
Confused? I hope this is more helpful than bewildering. Even as you read this, executives are sitting in board rooms dreaming up new Bible editions for 2015. There are no limits to the imagination. In The People’s Bible, Zondervan did a turnabout on the red-letter concept, and using data from BibleGateway.com, they put frequently sought-after verses in larger type, with a total of about six font sizes. With The Voice translation, you get a delightful dramatic reading of the entire Bible.
Speaking of drama, Bibles on CD usually come in dramatized readings (sometimes complete with a celebrity cast of readers, not to mention sound effects and often a musical score) and straight narrative readings. We end this discussion where we began, because while you can get New Testament-only audio Bibles, you’ll find getting an Old Testament fairly impossible; so make that initial purchase carefully.
Part Three: Navigating the various translations.