Now that you’ve settled on what kind of Bible you want to get (in terms of price point, translation, and so on), here are attributes of particular Bibles that you ought to consider. These are things that have to do with a Bible’s physical characteristics but not its setting.
Yeah, yeah. Don’t judge a book by its cover. However, it is also true an appealing Bible cover will invite us to delve into the Book. A big part of finishing a daily-reading program is enjoying the feel of the Bible in your hand. If you like picking it up, you will pick it up. Cheap Bibles, by contrast, often have unlovable covers, which means that no one wants to read from them. For instance, I’ve never met a bonded-leather Bible cover that I liked. Bonded leather is cheap, but it’s also stiff and not very durable.
Polyurethane is the other cover material of choice for lower-end Bibles. It’s much softer and more attractive than bonded leather (if you’re going mass-market, go poly), but it melts if you leave it in the sun in your car during the summer, and over time, it starts to flake (I wore out a poly-cover Bible by preaching out of it for five years).
As a result, I tend to prefer Bibles with covers made out of some kind of actual leather (bonded leather isn’t; it’s made out of leather scraps and glue). “Genuine leather” Bible covers are made out of pigskin and can vary in cover quality from awful to wonderful. Don’t, however, give a genuine-leather Bible to your Muslim friend! Any of the more expensive Bible-cover leathers–cowhide, calfskin, and goatskin—will make for beautiful, touchable, durable Bibles. I happen to like cowhide covers, so I bought my current Bible in cowhide.
There are two main kinds of Bible binding: glued and sewn, so named because the pages are attached together with glue and binding thread, respectively. Never, ever, ever buy a glue-bound Bible. You know that Bible you had when you were a kid, and the spine broke, and clumps of pages started falling out? That was a glued Bible. Glued Bibles are cheap, in every sense of the word, and that is both their sole virtue and their downfall.
By contrast, a sewn binding is nearly indestructible. I own my dad’s loved-to-death NASB, and in it, the paper and the cover began to fail before the sewn binding did. Nearly every ESV on the market has a sewn binding; so do Bibles in other translations that come with a lifetime guarantee (only a fool guarantees the durability of a glued Bible). Sewn Bibles also open up better and lie flatter than glued Bibles do. Again, there’s no reason to buy a Bible that isn’t sewn.
The Bible is a big book. The average novel is about 100,000 words long. By contrast, most translations of the Bible contain between 750,000 and 800,000 words. In order to get that much text between two covers, Bible publishers have to make sacrifices, and one of the things that they generally end up sacrificing is perfectly opaque paper. As a result, in most Bibles, the text on the other side of a page will show through to some extent.
Some people aren’t much bothered by this. I’m one of them. Unless the show-through (also called “ghosting”) is truly terrible, I won’t notice.
However, if you are somebody who notices, and it would drive you crazy to read out of a book like that every day, that will limit your options significantly. Generally, the only Bibles that are printed on opaque paper these days are Bibles designed to be written in—wide-margin Bibles, journaling Bibles, and so on. They come with other compromises (like smaller print), but they have very little in the way of show-through.
Note, though, that the current Foundation NASB Side-Column Reference, though it is a wide-margin Bible, is still printed on paper with plenty of ghosting, so it’s not a good choice here. Foundation SCR’s from 15 years ago had some of the best paper ever to appear in a Bible, but it’s since become illegal to produce that paper (something about paper-mill workers getting cancer), so they don’t use that stock anymore.
All of this might seem silly and even unspiritual. “A true disciple of Jesus Christ” some might harrumph, “would read the Bible every day even if the cover were made out of poison-ivy leaves!” Perhaps so, but those of us who are real Christians instead of imaginary Christians have an earthly nature as well as a spiritual nature, and we need to take account of our physical side too.
All of us enjoy using things that are well-made and pleasant to touch and hold. We were created that way. If we can put that love of the beautiful to work in helping us read God’s word, why not use it?