Are you convinced that you should consider using a markup Bible? Such a Bible is an ideal way to begin studying God’s word, as it gives you space to underline, circle, highlight, or write directly on the text of Scripture. A markup Bible frees you from the pressure to preserve the book you’re using and allows you to focus on God’s words.
Using a markup Bible may be as easy as taking one of your current Bibles (or some printouts from Bible Gateway) and applying ink to paper. For most people, there is no need to make another purchase.
But maybe you don’t have an extra Bible you’re able or willing to set aside for this purpose. This post is for people who are considering buying something new.
What a Markup Bible Should Not Be
In what follows you’ll find several qualities I value in a markup Bible. Allow me one negative suggestion first. Your markup Bible should not be a study Bible.
Judging by the supply, Christians in the U.S. love study Bibles. I think there is a place for a study Bible, but if you aren’t careful, using such a Bible can hamstring your personal study of the Scriptures (as Jen Wilkin so ably argued). So if you’re buying a markup Bible, don’t buy a study Bible. This will help you guard against the presumption that comes from trusting experts to interpret God’s word for you.
What a Markup Bible Need Not Be
Your markup Bible will get a lot of use—that’s the point!—so it will get messy. It will bear the signs of love. This means you won’t miss the genuine leather, the fancy page edges, or the gold-stamped monogram. While you don’t need to snap up the cheapest Bible you can find, you can safely steer away from the high-end Bible market.
Think of it this way. Your child loves to play outside, and you want him appropriately dressed. The clothes he wears will get stained, muddied, and utterly worn through. Will you shop for his play jeans at Target or Ralph Lauren?
What a Markup Bible Should Be
Of the dozens of features to consider, only a few top my list for a good markup Bible.
- translation — A good translation is vital when studying the Bible closely and paying careful attention to words. Try to choose a Bible version that has a word-for-word translation philosophy.1 Here are a few reliable Bible translations that I recommend for close study: New American Standard Bible (NASB), English Standard Version (ESV), and New King James Version (NKJV).
margins — In addition to underlining, circling, and drawing lines between words (these help me observe the text), I frequently write little interpretive questions in the margins of my markup Bible. What does that mean? Why did he write that? Why did he do/say that? So what?
For most Bibles, margin width is an afterthought. But some newer Bibles are made with oversized margins. These may be advertised as “Journaling Bibles” (see below), but those margins offer generous space for marking and annotating the text.
- font size — Since a markup Bible is a tool for study and doesn’t need to slide into a purse or a pocket, be sure to buy a Bible with a readable font size. Thinline and pocket-sized Bibles are convenient and popular, but the font size sometimes makes me feel like Isaac in his latter days (Gen 27:1). Make sure you can see the words on the page comfortably so that you can interact with them.
While you might consider other features like cross-references or the color of the words of Jesus, searching for a good translation with a decent font size and generous margins should start you down the path to buying a useful markup Bible.
A Few Recommendations
Without further ado, here are some Bibles you may want to consider as you make a markup Bible purchase. (Prices listed were accurate on Feb 6, 2015 and may change. Unless noted, links direct you to Amazon.com.)
- NASB Note-Taker’s Bible — Hard cover, 8-point font, wide margins for notes. It’s selling for $25.81 right now. (Buy it at Christianbook.com for $24.99.) You can also find a NKJV version at Amazon ($25.36) or CB ($24.99).
- ESV Journaling Bible — This has a hard cover, 7.5-point font, ruled margins for notes, and an elastic strap (like a Moleskine journal), selling for $28.79. (Buy it at CB for $23.99 or at WTS for $22.79.)
- ESV Single Column Journaling Bible — This is a variation on the previous item where the text of Scripture is set in a single column instead of the traditional two columns per page. It’s $30.98 at Amazon, $24.99 at CB, and $23.99 at WTS.
- ESV Wide Margin Reference Bible — This has an imitation leather cover, 9-point font, and margins on the outside and center. (The previous three items just have wide margins on the outside of the pages, not near the binding.) It’s $40.44 at Amazon, $39.99 at CB, and $35.99 at WTS.
- ESV Single Column Legacy Bible — This 9-point text is set in a single column with nice margins on the outside and bottom of the page. It comes in several (imitation leather) cover designs and colors. (I’m linking to the burgundy cover, which is the cheapest.) It’s $35.98 at Amazon, $29.99 at CB, and $29.99 at WTS.
- Pew Bibles — Let’s mix it up for the final suggestions. None of these pew Bibles have wide margins. However, they’re significantly cheaper than the previous items and they have the Large Print option available. These are all hardcover.
- ESV Value Pew Bible — 8-point font, $10.64 at Amazon, $7.99 at CB, and $7.19 at WTS
- ESV Pew & Worship Bible — 9-point font, contains some responsive readings, $11.83 at Amazon, $9.99 at CB, and $9.59 at WTS (Buy the large-print version—12-point font—for $18.96 at Amazon, $15.99 at CB, or $14.99 at WTS.)
- NASB Pew Bible — 8-point font, $7.99 at Amazon, $7.49 at CB (Buy the large-print version—10-point font—for $11.66 at Amazon or $10.99 at CB.)
- NKJV Pew Bible — I cannot find the font size for this, even on the manufacturer’s page! It’s $10.67 at Amazon and $9.99 at CB. (The large-print version of this Bible is called “Giant Print,” and you can buy it for $13.37 at Amazon or $11.99 at CB.)
- The other major translation philosophy is thought-for-thought, and you can see most translations listed on the spectrum between the two here. You can also go here (scroll down) to find a translation comparison chart and to see some verses in many different translations. ↩
Disclaimer: The Amazon and WTS links in this post are affiliate links, meaning that if you buy something after clicking through our link, we get a small percentage of the purchase price. It’s an easy and helpful way to support the site!