Choosing a Reading Bible (Setting)

Now that we’ve looked at various other characteristics of a reading Bible, let’s consider setting next.  The setting is the arrangement of words on a page, and even though most of us don’t think about setting types and quality a whole lot, setting has a dramatic impact on the way we read and understand our Bibles.


There are two main ways that Bibles are formatted:  verse-by-verse and paragraphed.  In a verse-by-verse Bible, each verse begins a new paragraph, so that each paragraph begins with a verse number, usually full-size compared to the rest of the text.  Bibles like this often look kind of like dictionaries, with each verse representing a separate dictionary entry.

Whether we realize it or not, that form is making a powerful statement about function.  Nobody reads dictionaries; instead, we use them as reference books, looking up whatever word we want to define.  Similarly, a Bible in dictionary format is sending the message that it is for reference, not for reading.  Indeed, they’re more difficult to read.  That new paragraph with every new verse breaks up the flow of the text and makes it harder to follow the author’s argument.

Instead, I generally recommend paragraphed Bibles for daily reading.  These Bibles have paragraphs made up of multiple verses, so that their format looks more like a novel than a dictionary.  Also, they have smaller, superscript verse numbers.  As a result, they read much more smoothly.  There are exceptions, but as a rule, verse-by-verse Bibles are best left for following along with the preacher or Bible-class teacher.  Get a paragraphed Bible for reading.


Many Christians have an emotional attachment to Bibles with the words of Christ printed in red.  I get that; indeed, I used to be one of them.  I can still remember being disappointed with the Bible my dad bought me in 2000 because it didn’t have red lettering.

However, we shouldn’t let emotional attachment interfere with the facts.  Red-letter Bibles don’t make for particularly good reading Bibles.  This is true for two reasons.  First, red ink doesn’t contrast as well with white paper as black ink does.  As a result, red print is harder to read than black print.  The problem is often made worse by poor ink choices on the part of publishers.  I own red-letter Bibles that would be better described as “words of Christ in orange” or “words of Christ in pink”.

Second, red-letter Bibles are more complicated to print.  They’re printed sequentially on two different presses, one set up to print in black and one set up to print in red.  In consequence, if the two presses are misaligned even slightly, the Bibles that come out will have registration problems, where the red words on the page won’t line up with the black words.  I’ve seen this even in premium red-letter Bibles, and it makes reading comprehension harder.

Basically, unless you can’t imagine using a Bible without the words of Christ in red, do your reading out of a black-letter Bible.


As I said earlier, the Bible is a great big book, which means that the only way to make small Bibles is to use small print.  I used to really like small, small-print Bibles, but as my eyes have gotten weaker, I’ve found that it’s simply easier on me to do my readings from Bibles with larger print.  The Bible I use now is in 10.5-point font, which, though not terribly large in any other context, is pretty big for a Bible.  Others with worse eyes may need to turn to giant-print Bibles.  Generally, though, make sure that you’re reading out of a Bible that is comfortable for you to read without having to squint or hold the thing at arm’s length.  Both of those things will kill a Bible-reading resolution faster than Leviticus!


It might not seem like the setting of a Bible ought to make a big difference, and when we’re following along with the preacher in the pew, it doesn’t.  However, using a Bible for reading is a different animal.  Small differences in format can make the difference between getting through a year and not.  If this is something we are determined to do, we need to use the right tool to do it.

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