The Thompson Chain Reference Bible has been around for over 100 years. There’s a reason that it’s been around that long. The Thompson could be considered a study Bible, a topical Bible, or a reference Bible. I think it is most accurately called a topical reference Bible. To be considered a study Bible, most users would expect it to have commentary. I think that is more accurately called a commentary Bible. I think a better study Bible would be a Bible that gives you the tools you need to study the Scriptures for yourself. With this in mind, the Thompson Chain Reference Bible makes a great study Bible.

Rather than giving commentary, it compares Scripture with Scripture, allowing the Bible to be its own commentary. The Thompson is called ‘influence free’ based on this assessment. However, this is not exactly accurate. The topics themselves are influenced by Charles Thompson’s theology, as well as marginal headings, chapter summaries, and outlines of each book. In most cases, I don’t have any issues with these choices.

The Thompson has many features that I like in a study Bible:

  • Chain references
  • Topical index
  • Better than average concordance
  • Chapter summaries
  • Page summaries
  • Book outlines
  • Character studies
  • Archaeological encyclopedia
  • Red letter
  • Italics for added words
  • Self-pronouncing text
  • Marginal headings (rather than in-text headings)
  • Links to parallel passages
  • Translation notes
  • Sewn binding
  • Blank pages for writing
  • Maps
  • The first chapter and verse that appears on the page is labeled in the top corner of the page
  • Glossary

What makes the Thompson unique among reference Bibles is that the margins contain the topics that are found in the verses with a reference to the next verse in the chain. This is a nice feature because it makes it easier to research topics.

I think one of the Thompson’s most valuable features in the lists of topics in the back. These topics are what’s found in the margins (and many that are not), but in the back you get the complete topic list. For example, in the margin you see the word ‘faith’, the next reference in the chain, and the ‘pilot number’ for ‘faith’. Go to the topic section in the back and go to the pilot number. Here you will find all the verses in the chain. Some chains have all the verses reprinted while others just give the references.

I like turning to the topic section and just start turning pages. Here you will find great devotional, study, teaching, and preaching material. You can even use the material for quick reference in Apologetics. There are many lists on many topics, but there are also lists that you find in other study Bibles that come in handy, such as Harmony of the Gospels, all the titles of God, etc.

The topics are not perfect, nor are they 100% complete. They also tend to follow the words in English. This can cause you to miss verses that are on the same topic but do not use the same word. It can also include a verse that uses the same word even if it’s a different topic. This is usually not the case, but it does happen. Also, not every topic is covered (something I think would be impossible), but of the 8000 topics I’m sure you’ll find enough topics to be useful.

Another of its most valuable features is its concordance. This is a much better concordance than you will find in most Study Bibles. I like being able to find ‘jot’ and ‘tittle’.

The Archaeological Supplement is a nice resource. The information is old, so I’m not sure how trustworthy some of it actually is. Overall I think it’s still good information (Petra is still Petra), and I think it’s a better study Bible with it than without it. I would like to see this expanded as a Bible dictionary.

What is this ‘Kirvella’ stuff? It’s been marketed as ‘the flexibility and softness of calfskin’. I would say this is true, but it doesn’t feel exactly like calfskin. It has its own texture. It’s not as nice as calfskin, but it’s not bad either. It is very flexible, but I don’t like the paper liner. In fact, I don’t like the liner in a ‘genuine leather’ Thompson either. The genuine leather edition is a thicker and stiffer material. I would choose either the genuine leather or the Kirvella. The bonded leather feels good too, but they don’t last as long.

I like that each book starts on a new page. For books that have a lot of space left on the last page you have room to write notes for that book or draw charts, or makes lists, or anything you want to use the space for.

I like that the chapter and verse number at the start of each page appears at the top. This comes in handy when flipping through very quickly.

Even with all of this there are some things I would like to see added:

  • Opaque paper
  • Bolder print
  • Multiple ribbons
  • Calfskin leather with an Allan style binding
  • The last verse in the chain should loop back to the first verse
  • More writing paper in the back

If I could change one thing it would be opaque paper. The ghosting is more than I would like. I like marking in my Bible. I use color pencils to color according to topic. If there is red on one side and blue on the other, both verses look purple. Also, some colors bleed through and it’s distracting to read the verse on the other side of the page. These same colors in other Bibles do not bleed through at all. The Thompson is still good for marking, but a more opaque paper would help. One thing I would like to try is to mark the topics in the margins. This will keep my text clean for reading and still allow me to mark my topics.

My 20 year old Thompson has 18 pages in the back for notes. This one (printed in 2010) has one sheet, making two pages for notes (front and back). I was hoping for 20 pages. The more the better.

In a world of software, tablets, and smart-phones you can easily get better and more complete tools for Bible study, but I still like having a good printed and bound Bible for everyday use and carry. Even with my smart-phone in my pocket I find that I turn to my concordance in my Bible first. Software is good too, but software and printed Bibles are not interchangeable. There’s still a need for good quality Bible with good quality study tools, and the Thompson Chain Reference Bible fits that need nicely. The Thompson is on my list of Bibles I would choose for the ‘one Bible on a deserted island’ question.

The Thompson Chain Reference Bible is great for:

  • Personal devotions
  • Topical study
  • Character study
  • Lesson prep for Sunday school
  • Pastors
  • Teachers
  • Laymen
  • General reading
  • Small group studies
  • Primary carry Bible


To purchase from Christian Book click here:


076145: KJV Thompson Chain-Reference Bible, Brown Kirvella Imitation Leather KJV Thompson Chain-Reference Bible, Brown Kirvella Imitation Leather

By B. B. Kirkbride

076404: KJV Thompson Chain-Reference Bible, Blue Kirvella Imitation Leather KJV Thompson Chain-Reference Bible, Blue Kirvella Imitation Leather

By B. B. Kirkbride

076589: KJV Thompson Chain-Reference Bible, Large Print, Charcoal Black Kirvella Imitation Leather KJV Thompson Chain-Reference Bible, Large Print, Charcoal Black Kirvella Imitation Leather

By B. B. Kirkbride

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