How Do You Choose a Bible?

Howard Hendricks  and William Hendricks
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The most important tool you need to get into God’s Word for yourself is a study Bible. If you don’t have one, get one. It will be well worth the investment.

There are many excellent Bibles around. Some are even called “study Bibles,” such as the Ryrie Study Bible. When I started out as a Christian, someone gave me a Scofield Reference Bible—the one, in fact, with the little statement on the flyleaf that I mentioned in the first chapter: “This book will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from this book.”

Features to Consider

However, when I talk about a study Bible, I’m thinking of a Bible that has these ideal characteristics:

Large Print

Convenience is the byword of our culture. For Bibles that means small print since small print produces small Bibles that are easier to carry. But small print can be nearly impossible to study. It not only strains the eye, but it makes it difficult to write in and around the text. Choose an edition with print large enough to read and mark easily.

Wide Margins

If you can find one with them. That way you’ll have plenty of room to record your observations and insights.

“The most important tool you need to get into God’s Word for yourself is a study Bible.”

No Subheadings

This is minor, but an ideal study Bible would have chapter and verse indications but no editorialized headings for paragraphs and sections such as “The Lord’s Prayer” and “The Great Commission.” Such headings can be useful to locate material in the text, but they tend to bias the reader. (Most Bibles have these, though, so it may be difficult to find one without them.)


They can be helpful for comparing Scripture with Scripture.

Paper Quality and Binding

If you study Scripture the way I suggest in this book, you’re going to give your Bible a real workout. You’ll be flipping from passage to passage, writing in the margins, using the maps in the back, and moving back and forth between the Bible and secondary sources. So you need an edition that will stand up to serious use. That means high-quality paper and a binding that won’t let go of the cover. Ask someone at a bookstore who knows about book manufacturing to explain what sort of workmanship has gone into the Bible you are considering.

A Concordance in the Back

A concordance is a list of the words in the text, with references for where to find them. A brief concordance in the back of your Bible can be quite handy.


For serious Bible study, you need an atlas, which I’ll also describe later. But a few maps in the back of your study Bible can be helpful for quick reference. It’s always crucial to consider where the events in Scripture take place.

Other Considerations

Make sure you get a complete Bible, one with both Old and New Testaments. If you use just a New Testament, you won’t be able to go back and look at the Old Testament passages that shed light on the New. You’ll also be tempted to become a “one-testament” Christian. Remember, both testaments are the Word of God. Both are inspired. All sixty-six books are profitable (2 Timothy 3:16). In Hebrews 4:12, the writer calls Scripture a two-edged sword. But some people try to work with a little pocket testament, which sort of reduces the sword of the Spirit to a penknife.

Of course you probably will want to work from English translations, unless you happen to know Greek or Hebrew. There are dozens available. They all have strengths and weaknesses and serve different purposes. For a good portion of my life, I’ve used the New American Standard Bible (NASB). It is one of the most accurate, though a bit wooden at times. But it is very helpful.

Some other contemporary translations are the New International Version (NIV), the New King James (NKJV), and the New Living Translation (NLT). Those are actual translations, as opposed to paraphrases such as the Good News Bible, Phillips’s New Testament in Modern English, or The Message. Whatever translation you choose, make sure you get a good study Bible, as described above.

And finally, don’t hesitate to write in it. People say to me, “I don’t want to mess it up.” Well, I say mess it up, if that’s what you call it. Write all over the thing. You ought to be going through a Bible every two or three years, if you are diligent in your study. Then you can get another one. It’s wonderful to be able to look back at old Bibles and see the progress you’ve made in your spiritual life.

For Further Reading:

Living by the Book

by Howard Hendricks and William Hendricks

For every person who draws strength and direction from the Bible, there are many more who struggle with it. Some call it a long book with fine...

book cover for Living by the Book