Publishers of Bibles face two conundrums: How can they make an ancient book—impenetrable to many modern readers—accessible and appealing? And how can they sell people a book they already own, often in several iterations? The just-released “State of the Bible 2020” report shows 77% of American households own at least one Bible. What will motivate them to buy another?

The answer to the first question is to make the Bible available in a wide variety of formats and translations, offering something for every taste and reading level. Some prefer the easy reading of modern translations like the New International Version and the simplified New Living Translation, while others favor the venerable King James Version for the poetry of its language.

The answer to the second question, publishers hope, is customized Bibles for specific market niches: women, men, young adults, mothers, fathers, even athletes and sports fans.

The “State of the Bible 2020” report shows a significant decrease in Bible reading. Only 9% of adults surveyed said they read the Bible daily, down from 14% in 2019. Andy McLean, publisher of Holman Bibles, says the recent decline is largely due to the Covid-19 shutdown of churches. “The lack of regular reading of scripture in community impacts people’s reading on the individual level,” he notes. “If the local church or small group that someone was actively engaged with is no longer meeting for regular Bible study and discussion, then that person may be less inclined to maintain their regular routine of scripture reading and study. Another factor may be that many people feel less equipped to understand and navigate the scriptures alone. Helping individuals read, understand, and internalize the message of the Bible is key.”

Study Bibles—which include commentary and other aids to that understanding—are designed to meet that need. Among Holman’s new Bible products is a line overseen by general editor Tony Evans, whose full Bible commentary was installed in the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., earlier this year. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary, in Holman’s proprietary Christian Standard Bible translation, was published in 2019 and sold more than 70,000 copies in the first six months. The Tony Evans Study Bible, also released last year, sold more than 80,000 copies in its first six months; Holman is extending the line in October 2020 with an edition of the study Bible that has a new cover design. Study notes and other ancillary resources, used for both women’s and men’s individual and group Bible study, have been adapted by Evans, senior pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, from his sermons, teachings, and other writings.

Reaching back to the origins of Christianity, Holman’s CSB Ancient Faith Study Bible—which received the 2020 Evangelical Christian Publishers Association Book of the Year Award in the Bible category—has study notes and commentary from the writings of the early church fathers of the second, third, and fourth centuries.

Reaching the niches

Exemplifying the niche-audience approach is the CSB Men of Character Study Bible (Holman, Mar. 2021), which leads men through scripture by exploring the lives of men in the Bible. More than 60 articles accompany the text, along with life principles, application questions, and verses to memorize. An integrated multimedia system with more than 100 video teachings is accessible on smartphones via QR codes. The FCA E3 Discipleship Bible (Holman, Sept. 2021), based on the E3 (engage, equip, empower) discipleship method created by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, might also appeal to men, as well as to athletes and sports fans.

Tyndale publishes a range of Bibles in the modern, simplified New Living Translation. Jim Jewell, publisher of Tyndale Bibles, says, “ ‘The State of the Bible’ survey included both encouraging and disappointing results. What we have seen at Tyndale is an increase year-over-year in the demand for both print Bibles and online scriptural content. That’s not surprising to us because people historically have sought out God’s word during trying times.”

Tyndale’s NLT Thrive Devotional Bible for Women (Feb. 2021) is among the many specialty Bibles aimed at women; it features commentary and study guides from author and speaker Sheri Rose Shepherd. Each day’s reading contains a key scripture, a “love letter” from God, a reflection by Shepherd, callouts of “treasured truths,” and a prayer. Likewise, Crossway’s Women’s Study Bible (Aug.) in the English Standard Version translation includes study helps and devotional content accompanied by artwork from Dana Tanamachi.

Philip Nation, publisher of Thomas Nelson Bibles, says Nelson is making some changes to adjust to current trends. “After a few months of national lockdown in the United States, we saw a significant return of Bible purchasing,” Nation notes. “But the latest results from the ‘State of the Bible’ report show there is a growing distance between Bible purchasing and Bible reading. Year over year, our culture’s Bible engagement has fallen. With our newest editions, we hope to encourage more Bible engagement.”

One Nelson Bible has a social activism component women might find particularly compelling. “Most women—more than 61% globally—do not have access to Bible study materials or a Bible study community,” says Angela Perritt, founder of Love God Greatly, which has a network of translators who create Bibles based on the New English Translation in 30 languages and distributes them free to women worldwide. The Love God Greatly Bible, edited by Perritt and Melissa Fuller (Nelson, Oct.), includes testimonies from women around the world, more than 150 devotional readings, reading plans, maps, questions for reflection, and journaling space.

Aimed at another niche—younger readers—The NLT Streetlights New Testament (Tyndale, Apr. 2021) links to audio and video resources and is designed to appeal to young people in urban culture. An issue-focused offering is The One Year Pray for Life Bible (Tyndale, Nov.), which lays out a program of daily readings for those who want to pray to protect life.

Enhancing accessibility

Technology can provide another way into the Bible, with apps that help readers dig more deeply into scripture and access background material. Tyndale developed the Filament Bible app—it scans page numbers of Filament-enabled Bibles without the use of QR codes or an interruptive sequence of lines or dots. Once a page number is scanned, the reader has access to study notes, profiles of biblical figures, devotionals, themed articles, interactive maps, and videos. In September, Tyndale will release 36 new Filament-compatible Bibles; another 36 are coming in January.

Other September releases include a selection of Thinline Reference editions in the New Living Translation and the King James Version, with and without indexing, and available in standard and large print editions. The NLT Personal Size Giant Print Bible, Filament Enabled Edition (Tyndale, Jan. 2021) improves accessibility with easy-reading text and a clean layout in an easy-to-carry size (5.4 in. x 8.5 in.). Also coming is the new Tyndale KJV Personal Size Giant Print Bible, Filament-Enabled Edition (Jan. 2021).

Print-only Bibles this fall include The NLT Daily Reader’s Bible (Tyndale, Nov.), which presents daily readings, not in canonical order but thematically. Each day’s reading includes three passages—one selected from the “Stories of the Bible,” another from the “Teachings of the Bible,” and a third from the “Wisdom of the Bible.” The thematic approach is designed to help readers understand how the genres of scripture fit together.

Zondervan publishes Bibles in the New International Version: the NIV Study Bible, Fully Revised Edition (Zondervan, Sept.) is set in Zondervan’s trademarked NIV Comfort Print typeface, with thousands of new or revised notes and articles combined with hundreds of four-color maps, charts, photos, and illustrations.

Friendlier formats can also help entice readers. Crossway’s ESV Panorama New Testament (Feb. 2021) has a large trim size and extra space between lines, allowing readers to see long sections of the biblical text on every two-page spread. For those in ministry, the ESV Preaching Bible, Verse-by-Verse Edition (Crossway, Jan. 2021) builds upon the foundational work of the ESV Preaching Bible, with a new verse-by-verse format.

Translations for all

This year Barbour Publishing has new study Bibles in the beloved King James Version, including The KJV Study Bible: Atlas Edition (Aug.), with 56 pages of maps and eight pages of timelines, with nearly 6,500 contemporary notes for greater understanding of the KJV. It also comes in a large-print edition with a clothlike cover in a variety of designs. And Barbour’s Personal Reflections KJV Bible (Dec.), originally published in 2016, has a new cover and format.

A new line of Catholic Reader’s Bibles in the Challoner-Rheims translation will be published by Sophia Institute Press in August. The first two volumes, The Four Gospels and Acts and The Epistles and Revelation are presented without verse numbers, section headings, or translation footnotes, for easier reading. For simple navigation, a verse range is included at the top of each page. Other features include single-column text, readable type, and a booklike format.

Publishers also seek to increase the Bible’s appeal with refreshed cover designs, as well as interior art and illustrations. For its NLT Art of Life Holy Bible: A Visual Celebration (Feb. 2021), Tyndale partnered with the design and typography company 2K Denmark; the Bible features 450 original hand-drawn illustrations in three categories: biblical flowers, plants, and trees; animals; and “portraits” of 150 of the most important people. Captions connect the illustrations to passages in the Bible, and wide margins provide space for journaling and artwork by readers.

Storybook Bibles for children are legion, but in September, Group Publishing is releasing what it calls “the first-of-its-kind story Bible for adults.” Eyewitness: The Visual Bible Experience, by Jeff White, is a 256-page, coffee-table book with more than 120 original works of art by 16 artists from around the world illustrating 39 Bible stories and scripture passages.

“Research has shown that most people don’t read the Bible much, if at all,” says White, who wrote an illustrated story Bible for children in 2017 called Friends with God Story Bible: Why God Loves People Like Me (Group). “Many adults admit that the Bible feels intimidating. They aren’t sure how to read the Bible, how to understand it, or even where to start with it. Eyewitness is an effort to change that.”

The book presents most of the major stories in the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, with roughly half from the Old Testament and half from the New Testament, each rewritten from a first-person perspective. About one-third of the stories are told through female characters.

Group publisher Thom Schultz believes the art will draw a lot of people to the book. “We recruited artists from 13 countries on four continents [among them Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Italy, Poland, Russia, Spain, Turkey, and the U.K.] to be a part of this project,” he says. “We wanted to present the Bible with images that readers have never seen before—something original, compelling, and even a bit unexpected.”

Other art-enhanced Bibles include Crossway’s ESV Single Column Journaling Bible, Artist Series (Mar. 2021), a collection of limited-edition journaling Bibles, each with commissioned cover artwork designed by a Christian artist. Holman’s CSB Holy Land Illustrated Study Bible (June 2021) features 100 images, maps, and illustrations to provide cultural context and related information.

Beloved teachers

Bibles linked to star pastors and teachers continue to proliferate and can grow an author’s franchise. One of the most successful of these pastor-authors is Max Lucado; in January, Nelson expanded his franchise with an updated version of the Lucado Encouraging Word Bible. In July, Zondervan published a Bible with former president Jimmy Carter. The Simple Faith Bible: Following Jesus into a Life of Peace (NRSV) includes Carter’s commentary, book introductions, essays, inspirational quotes, and prayers based on his years of Sunday school teaching, public service, and humanitarian projects. With a foreword by Jonathan Reckford, international CEO of Habitat for Humanity, this Bible offers more than 600 application-oriented notes, articles, reflections, and prayers.

Kregel’s Spanish division partnered with its English division to produce A Woman After God’s Own Heart Bible in 2018, based on the teachings of Elizabeth George, author of A Woman After God’s Own Heart (more than one million copies sold) and Breaking the Worry Habit Forever; her 65-plus books have combined sales of more than 11 million copies. Kregel has now partnered with her to produce A Young Woman After God’s Own Heart Bible for ages 16 and up (English edition in the NLT, out now; Spanish edition in the RVR1960, Mar. 2021).

Kregel publishers Tito Mantilla and Catherine DeVries say the partnership maximizes the impact of the Bibles in both languages, while spreading development costs between the two divisions. “We believe in the message of Elizabeth George,” Mantilla says. “And we wanted to bring these Bibles to market without much of a lag time between language editions.”

DeVries adds, “Developing a Bible is difficult, but our combined efforts made each edition that much better. We hope that hundreds of thousands of lives will be inspired and encouraged as a result, especially at this time of uncertainty and confusion with the Covid-19 pandemic and civil unrest.”