Home > Scripture > The Quest for the Perfect Bible

The Quest for the Perfect Bible

Last night before I went to bed I spent an hour or so looking through the CBD catalog at Bibles. I dreamt all night about finding the perfect Bible. CBD has, I don’t know, seven to ten pages of Bibles in their catalog, so there’s a lot to look through. I was disappointed that I did not see one original language Bible. I guess there was one interlinear Bible, but that one is based on the centuries-out-of-date scholarship of the textus receptus.

I seem to get a new Bible about every three years. I am on a quest for the perfect Bible, which of course changes from season to season in my life. I started with the RSV I was given at confirmation. Then when I became a Christian, a friend of mine showed me the Student Bible, put together by Philip Yancey. I don’t know what it is about the Student Bible, but there’s something about it that says, “The Bible is cool. Read me.” There really are not a lot of extras, and the ‘helps’ are not amazingly helpful, but there is something about it’s layout that makes me, even now, think, “Wow, what a great Bible.” For all the options out there, this one is still the best to give to a new believer.

Unfortunately my student Bible was only paperback, and it quickly became dogeared and beat-up. Time for hard cover. My parents took me to the bookstore to buy me a Bible for my birthday, and I picked out some generic study bible in the NIV. (For what I was looking for, I should have graduated to the NIV Study Bible, but I didn’t know better yet.)

It was, I think, a year or two later that I asked my pastor what translation he preferred. He highly recommended the NASB. A few months later I bought my first NASB, the most literal translation available. This time I graduated to bonded leather. Though there were no book introductions or study notes, but I discovered the use of the side column references. I used them all the time to find parallel passages in the synoptic gospels, OT references, similarly themed verses, etc. The mini-concordance in the back was also quite extensive. Between the concordance and the references, I could usually find just about any verse that would come up.

The only thing that bothered me about the NASB was the stupid idea of the translators to refer to God with the pronouns Thee and Thou. But this really bothered me. Imagine my delight when, in 1995, the translators released an updated version with the Thees and Thous gone! I immediately bought a new one, this time in genuine leather. Do you know the difference between bonded and genuine leather? By this point I sure did. Unlike genuine leather, bonded leather is strips of leather glued on to a cardboard back. If you use it with any regularity, the glue will begin to come loose and the leather will start to fray, especially at the corners. Genuine leather is much nicer.

Once I started to learn the original languages, though, English bibles were no longer as exciting. My most recent Bible is built of two Bibles: an interlinear Greek/English (with UBS4/NA27 text) and parallel NRSV; and the Jewish Publication Society’s (JPS) Hebrew-English Tanakh (Old Testament). I put grocery-bag book covers on them (just like high school textbooks) and taped them together, creating a complete Bible. What a cool idea, I thought.

But in practice I am very frustrated with this solution. First, it doesn’t sit open like a single book. Whichever I have open sits awkwardly on top of the other book. I could deal with this, but a much bigger frustration is that I have no cross references or mini concordance. I didn’t realize how often I use them until I no longer had them. Now I am absolutely lost whenever I get to the point of, “Oh shoot, what’s that one verse?” Or reading through Matthew, I read a passage and I want to remind myself quickly whether the passage has a parallel in Mark. So I end up keeping my old NASB open next to me as I read, which entirely defeats the purpose.

Eventually I hope to graduate to a straight Hebrew/Greek Bible (which does include cross-references, though no mini-concordance). But even then I’m not sure how happy I’ll be with it. I could do away with the Greek/English interlinear, but I will also lose my ability to read through, say, the gospel of Mark in a single sitting. Plus, I use my Bible too much “on the fly,” and I don’t think I’ll ever be at the place where I can interpret on the spot for whomever I’m talking to.

Maybe I just have to use a computer Bible on laptop or handheld as my primary Bible. Something about that just seems wrong, though. I still want my primary Bible to be printed on real, physical paper.

My perfect Bible for this stage in my life would have: (1)Greek/Hebrew, (2)Parallel English translation; (3)Cross-references. It would also be great if it had (4)a mini concordance (in English, I suppose), and (5)still fit in my bag. I suppose I’m living in a dream world, but I’m not quite willing to admit defeat yet. I would love any advice from anyone else who has gone through a similar struggle.

What is your Bible story? How many Bibles have you gone through in your life? Why did you switch from one to another? Drop me a comment. I would love to hear.
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Categories: Scripture
  1. J. K. Jones
    October 27, 2007 at 9:35 am

    You might be interested in The Literary Study Bible in the ESV. I picked up a copy a few weeks ago, and have read several books. I intend to read the whole thing through. It’s a fresh approach, stressing the literary techniques and the way the stories are told. I plan to get genuine leather binding of this Bible at some point so it will fold open easily.
    I have read through two study Bibles (The New Geneva Study Bible in NKJV, and The NIV Study Bible). I have several others as references (The Life Application Study Bible in NIV, The Thompson Chain Reference Bible in NIV, The Concordia Study Bible in NIV, and The Harper Study Bible in RSV). I have found all of them to be helpful in one sense or another.

  2. Jake
    October 27, 2007 at 2:02 pm

    I love my New Geneva Study Bible in NKJV. It’s a big honkin’ thing, but I love the footnotes, cross references, and mini-concordance.

  3. Ryan Jones
    October 31, 2007 at 2:39 pm

    J.K. and Jake,

    Thanks for the comments.

    For the record, I have and use many other bibles than I listed. These were just my ‘main’ Bibles. My main frustration is that ‘original language’ and ‘study bible’ (in the sense of the New Geneva or Life Application Bibles) seem to be mutually exclusive. 😦

  4. Rev. Jeff A.
    December 9, 2007 at 12:00 am

    I am in the same situation.

    I currently have a Thompson Chain, NASB, but I find myself with the same dilemmas as there is downfalls to this study Bible. I have been having a hard time finding the “last” bible I will need and I am just not finding it. I found a review of the RYRIE STUDY BIBLE that is interesting and I will look into it more.
    I currently own the Open Bible, KJV Study Bible, Hebrew-Greek Study Bible, Nelson Study Bible, Life Application Study Bible, and the Thompson-Chain (KJV & NASB). I am growing weary of trying to find a bible with the items I like in a bible. Perhaps it would contain good book introductions, through outlines, verse cross-references, etc…
    It would be nice to have the book outlines of the Open Bible, references and information from the Thompson-Chain, verse references of KJV Study Bible and pieces of other bibles I would like all thrown together. Of course, this is not possible so I continue to use my Thompson and just glue in pages of notes.

    Shesh, it seems like there is just not a bible I can keep. It seems I find something good about another bible, transfer all my notes over after purchasing it, and then I find something I don’t like and find it in another bible. The process starts all over.

    I feel your pain. I think what I might do, I purchase a nice wide margin NASB bible hard back. Then, since I use Logos software, just print off what I want to add to the Bible and have it rebound with the additions. Perhaps that will do.

    I am curious as to what you find.
    -Rev. Jeff

  5. Abraham
    July 10, 2008 at 4:15 am

    I need abible for church

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