After deciding on a Bible translation, the next factors you’ll probably want to consider when choosing a study Bible are the physical size/format (including the binding), page layout, and font size. We’ll address these one at a time.
Study Bibles come in a variety of sizes, but in general, they tend to be larger than their basic Bible cousins due to the additional page spaces taken up by footnotes, maps, charts, and book introductions. Everyone has different preferences and comfort levels when it comes to the size of Bible they prefer to carry, but in general, a larger size gets you more study helps and a larger font used for the scripture. (More on that in a moment). Purchasing a Bible cover with a handle for easy carrying can eliminate some of the awkwardness of carrying a larger study Bible.
Study Bibles often come with multiple options for the binding. A few come in paperback. Most have a hard cover option. Next is usually bonded leather (multiple leather pieces fashioned together), and finally some may be offered in top grain leather (usually one piece). Currently in 2019, paperbacks are generally in the $25-$30 range, hard covers are $30-$40, bonded leather is $45-$55, and top grain can go for $70-$100. (I’ve generally gone for bonded leather).
Here’s something I found out early on – Bibles that lay flat on a table or on your lap are much more enjoyable use. Having to physically hold the Bible open to read and study makes me much less likely to use it. Paperbacks will not lie flat. Hard covers tend to only lie flat when you’re near the center of the book. Out towards the edges, you tend to have to hold it open. For that reason, I strongly recommend bonded leather (or top grain). The extra $10-$15 for bonded leather will more than pay for itself in avoided aggravation.
Some leather covered study Bibles come with different color options. If you plan to put the Bible in a zippered Bible cover, the color of the Bible probably doesn’t matter a whole lot, so if some colors are less expensive than others, you can go with the cheapest option.
Page Layout and Text Size
While nearly every study Bible places the footnotes in two columns at the bottom of the page, the actual text of scripture can be in either one wider column or two narrower columns. Which you choose really comes down to which style you find more comfortable to read.
Text/font size can vary between study Bibles as well, but generally tends to be a font size of 8 pt. or 9 pt., depending on the publisher and model. Smaller text generally means a smaller physical Bible, and larger text generally means a larger Bible. Many study Bibles have a “large print” option, which is usually a font size of 11 pt., which may not sound like a big difference, but is quite noticeable. Anyone over 40 years old might want to consider a large print option, because while your eyesight may be just fine at the moment, many folks start to have issues as they approach 50 and beyond. Assuming you plan to have, and use, your Bible for many years to come, investing now in a large print study Bible might be a wise thing to do. (Also keep in mind that large print Bibles are generally a bit larger than than regular print due to the larger text filling up more pages).
Lastly, some study Bibles are “red letter” Bibles, meaning the words of Jesus are printed with red ink to make them stand out from the rest of the text. Many folks find this useful, but some honestly don’t care.
In the final installment, I’ll show some comparative examples of study Bible pages, and places to shop for study Bibles.