24 April 2013

The Changing Challenge Of Choosing A Bible

Dear Lissy,

I'm not normally a shopper, but books?  That's another story!  When it's time to shop for a Bible, I love looking through choices and reviews.  Even when it's not time to shop for a Bible I enjoy following Bible design blogs and looking through publisher's catalogs. Books in general and Bibles in particular are going through a transition time right now.  Reading books electronically on e-readers or tablet computers is still brand new, but publishers are being forced to create increasingly cheaper volumes to compete with the price of downloads.

Before I begin, there are two things I'm not including in my letter today:

Choosing a Bible program.  Technology is changing so quickly that anything I write would be obsolete by the time you read it.  Even now the apps are so powerful many people use them exclusively.

Choosing a Bible version.  We have a strong conviction -- not just a preference -- for Bible versions based on the Greek TR.   My purpose today is to help you think through the physical features you want in a Bible.

The Old Challenge:  Find a study Bible with plenty of  cross references, explanatory notes, maps, and helps.  Either invest in a cover that allows you to carry it with you, or buy an index card sized "travel" Bible for your purse or briefbag.
The New Challenge:  Find a plain, well-made Bible that's comfortable to read, carry, and use for outreach.

There isn't a study Bible that has the simplicity and power of a Bible app or program.  But recent research on how our brains connect with paper books vs.e-readers provides a lot of incentive to have a single paper Bible that you use consistently.  This research has proven sound in my personal experience, too.  When you were a toddler I started using a Cambridge Pitt Minion as my travel Bible.  I soon found myself using it exclusively, relying on my Bible program and online resources for study material. A few years later I found bibledesignblog.com and discovered I wasn't the only person on earth who preferred the simplicity and hand feel of a smaller, well-made Bible for my daily driver.  

Assignment:  Go to a library or bookstore and find books in standard Bible sizes.  Read several pages of each, and find a comfortable size.  Choose novels, or cookbooks, or repair manuals -- it's better if the text isn't the Bible for this exercise. I've always been drawn to thin, compact books referred to as pocket or coat pocket editions.  Many ladies in our church carry inch-and-a-half thick Bibles about the size of a folded piece of copier paper. Try a few larger books with larger print -- they may surprise you.

Font and layout
Font type and spacing matter more than size. Most Bible sites allow you to print off a sample page so you can test it at home before purchasing.  Do you prefer serif or sans-serif fonts?  One column or two?  Modern or vintage type? Red-letter?
The inside of the Windsor Text Bible printed by Jongbloed, a premier printing house in the Netherlands.
 Daddy and I  prefer verse-by-verse layout to paragraph, even for reading.  Verse-by-verse style leaves ample room for mini-notations, and allows you to find a reference quickly in church.  Most Bible design gurus prefer paragraph format, which requires wide margins if you want to make annotations. Try both formats before buying.  
 Quality & Durability

My regular reading  Bible feels familiar, like a friend.  I become accustomed to where verses are on the page, and have marks like little nightlights and signposts to help me remember important principles.  I will never recommend buying a cheaply made Bible for regular use. Fortunately some of the best Bibles in the world are made or marketed by non-profits, so they are inexpensive.   
    • Is the binding sewn (library quality)?  I'd search publishers & Bible type rather than trying to tell by looking.  Does the Bible lie flat when open? Is text caught in the gutter?
    • How big is the Bible?  The "sweet spot" for bindings is a mid-sized Bible.  A small Bible isn't flexible and cracks the hinges.  A  large Bible is heavy enough to distort the binding unless special care is taken.  Both flaws are easily fixed by a competent bookbinder for a small fee.
    • Is the paper matte instead of shiny?  Shiny smooth paper glares under a reading light and smears when you use a pencil or highlighter.
    • Does "ghosting" -- font showing through from the back of the page -- make it difficult to read the text?  High quality publishing aligns the type front and back so the only visible ghosting is in white spaces.  (See the picture above)  All Bibles have some show through because paper thick enough to be opaque would make the Bible too big to use.
    • Is the cover supple and flexible genuine leather?  Newer vinyls are every bit as supple as leather, and a great choice.  One of the most common Bible failures occurs where the cover meets the text block inside the cover.  
Broken inner hinge between the cover and text block.
All books -- all Bibles -- have to be maintained and repaired  with heavy use.  My Cambridge Pitt Minion, a substantial investment, needs endpapers and hinges repaired after 7 years (that's about 5,000 uses).   Rebinding costs about the same as a new Bible, but repair is generally about half the cost.  Have your Bible maintenanced before it's falling apart if you're looking to keep it for many years.

If you'd like a longer lasting Bible, try one of the British publishers or a small American publisher.  RL Allan makes luxury Bibles, and Cambridge and Oxford generally make high quality, sewn Bibles. Read reviews carefully since even a change in printing location can change quality.   Trinitarian Bible Society distributes KJV Cambridge Bibles under their own brand name for about half the cost.  LCBP in America makes a solid quality Bible at a reasonable price.
 Reference Features

This is purely personal preference, but keep in mind even humongous Bibles can't fit all the reference material you want.   I like to have my Bible open to the passage I'm studying, and use my Bible program for study features.  

  • My ideal Bible is text only.  I mark, annotate, cross-reference, and chain. I decided that more extensive notes and quotes would go in my computer program.
  • Dad prefers wide margins so he can keep sermons, quotes, and illustrations in with the text.  
  • Children usually like a few basic cross references, definitions, and helps.  Kirkbride publishing makes the Answer Bible that's ideal.  All three of you used this simplified version of the Thompson Chain during elementary and junior high school.  Trinitarian Bible society carries a line of affordable Cambridge Bibles for children and teens, and LCBP has several economical choices as well.

I like using the same Bible at church as I do at home.  I believe there's a connection we develop with physical books that allows us to navigate quickly and remember more.  Because of that, I want a Bible that slides into my bag easily, and is comfortable to hold through a 45 minute sermon.  I want to curl up by the stove with that same Bible on a chilly winter morning.  I want to be able to teach, comfort, counsel, or witness without freezing up because I can't remember a reference.  I also keep my paper Bible open on my desk for study, relying on the computer for helps, not text.

With all of these considerations, what would I recommend?
Thinline:   The Trinitarian Bible Society's Windsor Bible (text only) or Classic Bible (center column reference)are available for as little as $10, the premium calfskin bindings are around $45.  When I have to replace my Cambridge Pitt Minion, I'll be looking into the Windsor.  The Pitt Minion is one of the darlings of Bible design geeks, but the TBS Bible's quality (made by Cambridge), price, and larger font make them a better value. 
The Windsor Text, a high quality British Bible, is a great value at $45. 

Personal or Large SizeLocal Church Bible Publisher's Mid-Size Wide Margin or Notetaker's bible.  These quality Bibles start at $8 for Vinyl bound and go up to $55 for the Executive series in full leather. They are made in Wisconsin and regularly outperform heavyweights like R.L. Allan and Cambridge at a fraction of the price.  The Hand-Sized Bibles are 5-1/2 x 8-1/2 and the mid sized are closer to 8 x 10".  Both are over an inch and a half thick.

Dad prefers the traditional wide margin, but this notetaker's is the bestseller at LCBP.
 I hope you have fun choosing a Bible design you'll love and read daily. While this may seem silly, a comfortable Bible gets used.   It doesn't matter if you like an eight pound study Bible, an app on a tablet, or a trim little text-only Bible if you're regularly in the Word.  
Lovin' you,

Linked up at Raising Homemakers, WFMWWomen Living Well,
Cornerstone confessions

1 comment:

  1. Great post -- I learned something even though I've been carrying a bible my whole life! My Bible was on sale and though I wouldn't mind a higher quality, I am loathe to trade in my worn, dog-eared Bible with all of my study notes, taken over years of study. I hope someday my children leaf through this Bible and have some inkling of how much their mom loved the Author!