When you begin reading the Bible for the first time, you may get overwhelmed with all the options available. Looking at all the options of Bibles available in a Christian bookstore or online, there is a seemingly endless number of choices: gift Bibles, Bibles for men, women, military Bibles – the list goes on. We will discuss three broad categories of types of Bibles and how they may help deepen your relationship with God.
The first category of Bible types may be called economy or value Bibles. These types of Bibles are the most basic type available and are usually the most affordable ones. There is no biblical text omitted from these types of Bibles, but typically there will be little or no details about the author, date, or original audience of each book. It is common to have some footnotes giving alternate readings or for clarification of certain texts. Because there is a minimal amount of extra content, these Bibles are the least cluttered, allowing the reader to read the Bible without distractions.
The next category can be generally called reference Bibles. These look like the economy Bibles, but they will contain a reference system designed to help the reader see how verses in the Bible relate to each other.
For example, in John 3:16 in the ESV reference Bible, there is a small h next to the word God. From there, the reader can look in the reference section to see references such as Romans 5:8 and Ephesians 2:4 that show all the ways the Bible speaks to God’s love.
A reference system like this is a helpful tool to illustrate the important concept that “scripture interprets scripture” when reading the Bible. If a particular passage or verse is difficult to understand, the references to similar texts often help to make the difficult passage easier to understand.
Another benefit is that reference Bibles can help lead you to parts of the Bible you may not have read. For example, there are many passages in Hebrews showing that Jesus is a superior priest to the earthly high priests established by Moses. A reference Bible will list the specific verses that describe the role of the high priest in Leviticus, a book that many have a hard time reading. Seeing the connection helps to appreciate the importance of Leviticus.
The final category of Bibles we will discuss is study Bibles. This is also generally the broadest type because there are many different types of study Bibles. The general goal of a study Bible is to offer commentary and insight into the Bible through commentary on the text. Most study Bibles also offer book introductions with helpful information about who wrote the book, and when and to whom it was written. Other common features are maps, charts outlining themes and other tools to help understand the text better. Study Bibles can be great tools to help understand God’s Word more clearly without having to invest in an expensive, multi-volume commentary set.
Along the benefits, there are some things to keep in mind when using them. John MacArthur has made the comment with study Bibles to not read them upside down. Study bibles generally have the biblical text on top with commentary on the bottom, so MacArthur’s point is that the biblical text is the more important and inerrant text. The interpretation or notes are less important and could be wrong even if it was written in submission to the Holy Spirit, so we should place more importance on the text on top than on the bottom.
Another thing to note with study Bibles is that the study notes are generally written by multiple contributors with a general editor. Because of this, there will be a bias in the interpretation of the text reflecting their theology, view of God, and the Bible. These Bibles generally include a list of the contributors, so when considering a study Bible, it is important to understand the contributors and the bias they will bring into the notes.
Which To Use?
Which type of Bible is the best to use? The answer is it depends. You cannot know God without reading His word, and each of these types of Bibles can help you learn His word. If your budget allows, it is helpful to have at least one copy of each type of Bible and use the one that helps you best for where you are in your walk with God. When read in humility and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, these all will help you know God better and trust in His grace, love, and mercy.