Review of the R. L. Allan ESV Single Column Reference Bible (Black Highland Goatskin)


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When I found out that I would be receiving my first R. L. Allan Bible from the U. K., I was ecstatic.  I eagerly awaited its arrival, which, for an international shipment, was very prompt.  R. L. Allan is a Glasgow-based Scottish bindery renowned in the Bible-nerd community.  They don’t print Bibles.  They don’t publish Bibles.  They cover them in fine leather.  But boy, do they ever cover them!  From my limited experience, but also from the more extensive experience of others, nobody else on earth makes Bibles so beautifully as R. L. Allan and Son (which is why you pay more for them).  The Rolls Royces of Bibles, if you will. They offer various bindings of various translations.  

First Impressions

The ESVSCR1 arrived on a sunny November day to the loud greeting of our dog (but it did not wake the children from their afternoon nap, thankfully).  When I opened the package, I have to admit, I was surprised by the sheer size of this Bible.  At 6.5″ x 9.25″ x 1 1/2″, this is quite a large one—perhaps not the easiest for carrying around, but perfect for reading in a comfortable armchair.  This is still much smaller than a typical study Bible, though.  But if I (who love compact sizes) was disappointed with the bulk, this disappointment was quickly eclipsed by the beauty.  photo 1-1 photo 3-3The black highland goatskin on this one is smooth and limp.  The semi-yapp edges of the cover curve nicely around the pages, creating visual appeal and page protection simultaneously (semi-yapp refers to the “overhang” of a leather cover—see picture).  The art-gilt (red under gold) page edges, along with the dark blue trio of ribbon markers, scream elegance.  I will attempt to be systematic in what follows so that you can easily compare this review to other Bibles I’ll review.

Cover and Binding

The single best thing that this Bible has going for it is the binding.  As mentioned, the highland goatskin is beautiful.  Each such cover is as unique as the portion of the animal that was sacrificed for its fabrication!  So mine doesn’t feature the typical fissures and creases that some goatskin may show (and which I happen to like).  But I really can’t complain here!  The Smyth-Sewn binding is made to open flat, which it does very nicely right out of the box.  photo 4-6 photo 2-3The semi-yapp is wonderful (as mentioned), and this binding is certainly made to last the test of time.  Though the text block is printed in China, the Bible is bound in the UK.  No Bible bindings can quite compare to those of R. L. Allan & Sons.  The ESVSCR1 is currently available in black or navy highland goatskin.

Paper

I found the “ghosting” (show through) on this 24lb paper to be more than I would like, and combined with the lack of line matching, this is a definite strike against the SCR.  However, unless you are very conscientious of this sort of thing, it isn’t really that bad.

Format

This Allan-bound edition is identical to Crossway’s SCR text block.  As the title suggests, this is a single-column text setting, to which I say “hear hear!”  However, the verse-by-verse setting leaves something to be desired, in my humble opinion. The Bible is not a collection of disconnected sayings, like Pascal’s Pensees or the pseudepigraphal (and highly dubious) Gospel of Thomas.  Other than certain portions of Scripture (such as parts of Proverbs, for instance), each line is understood only in context of the paragraph, chapter, section, and so forth, of which it is a part.  For me, a paragraph format highlights this reality, while a verse-by-verse format diminishes it.  I understand the value some see in separating verses into separate lines, but I think you lose more than you gain in doing so.  I applaud the single-column setting because it generally makes the Bible feel more like a book that you read, not just one you use to look up random sayings.  But putting the single column in the verse-by-verse format sort of defeats the purpose.  Here is where the Cambridge Clarion’s format is much better, in my opinion, than the SCR.

Note the verse-by-verse format of the Allan (top) next to the paragraph format of the Clarion (bottom).  Also, the art-gilt edges of the Allan are a richer red, as opposed to the more "salmon" color on the Cambridge.  I prefer the Allan's color!
Note the verse-by-verse format of the Allan (top) next to the paragraph format of the Clarion (bottom).  I prefer the Clarion’s format.  Also, the art-gilt edges of the Allan are a richer red, as opposed to the more “salmon” color on the Cambridge. I prefer the Allan’s color!

As opposed to the Cambridge Clarion reference Bible, the SCR places its 80,000+ cross-references on the inner margins (i.e. “in the gutters”) as opposed to the outer margins.  Aesthetically, this doesn’t look as pretty as the Clarion version, but it is more practical as it moves the biblical text away from the gutter, thus making it more readable.  And as long as we’re on the topic of readability, the SCR features a 10 point font and a 7/8” margin, leaving plenty of white space and room for notes.

Size comparison of larger ESVSCR and the Cambridge Clarion
Size comparison of larger ESVSCR and the Cambridge Clarion

Other Features

-Words of Christ in black

-14,500 entry concordance

Ideal Use

I see this Bible being very useful in several different contexts.  One who frequently teaches or preaches from the Bible may find the verse-by-verse format and large font especially helpful.  In a paragraph Bible and/or smaller font size Bible, it is not as easy to find your place or pick up where you left off when you look down.  But this format solves such a dilemma remarkably.  Someone with poor eyesight may like it for the same general reason.  Finally, people just have different preferences.  Though I don’t prefer the verse-by-verse format, others who are neither preachers or visually-challenged might feel the opposite.

Bottom line:  Allan Bibles are incredible.  Though I wouldn’t choose the ESVSCR for myself, they have plenty of other options that I would choose in a heartbeat as my “all-around use” Bible (such as the ESV1 or the ESVNC1). Choose your translation and specific edition at either EvangelicalBible.com or Bibles-Direct.com (or frequently on eBay).  If you can justify the cost, I can guarantee you will not find a much finer copy of God’s Word.  And this is coming from someone who has handled both Crossway’s and Cambridge’s finest goatskin Bibles from Allan, Cambridge, Crossway, and Schuyler.

And lest we get lost in leather-bound English-Bible luxury, please remember to pray for translations in the remaining 1,859 Bible-less languages in our world. Click here to see my heart on the matter and to even support the work of Bible translation.

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4 thoughts on “Review of the R. L. Allan ESV Single Column Reference Bible (Black Highland Goatskin)

  1. Excellent review. I also prefer to read from a paragraph Bible, but I would challenge somewhat your statement (challenge may be too strong of a word): “Other than certain portions of Scripture (such as parts of Proverbs, for instance), each line is understood only in context of the paragraph, chapter, section, and so forth, of which it is a part. For me, a paragraph format highlights this reality, while a verse-by-verse format diminishes it.” I agree that in our language we think on those terms but the reality is that the original autographs were not likely to have been in paragraph form since the ancient manuscripts were not. Therefore any Bible that has paragraphs could actually sway our interpretation through the location of the paragraph breaks. Not a major hermeneutical concern, but is one small advantage in having a verse-by-verse format rather than paragraph.

    1. Brett, thanks for the comments. You make a good point about the ancient manuscripts. In my understanding, they ran everything together in their manuscripts (with no paragraph breaks) for the sake of conservation… writing materials were a commodity and they didn’t want to leave too much “white space”, thereby requiring more papyrus (or whatever) and more cost. So the reason for such a format wasn’t philosophical but pragmatic. Our Bibles can be wrong in their paragraph (and even sentence) division, but there are syntactical and discourse markers in the Greek and Hebrew that help keep us from too many of these mistakes. That said, its still important to recognize that those divisions come from human analysis and not from the mind of God himself, and your point is well-taken. But here’s another thought: At least in extant manuscripts, they didn’t even have divisions between words (it ALL ran together). However, this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t divide the words in our copies of the Bible to make the meaning more apparent. But isn’t that our same goal when we introduce paragraph divisions too– making the meaning and flow more apparent? With that in mind, I think a verse-by-verse Bible (or format on our Bible software) is great for personal study, so that we can make those decisions based on our own analysis rather than completely relying on other peoples’ thoughts. But for personal reading, I think paragraph format is ideal (and I know, Brett, that I’m preaching to the choir : )

    1. It’s 2007, unless they’ve updated it since mine was printed. Not a lot of differences between the te”wo, though. You could email bibles-direct.com or evangelicalbible.com to find out for sure.

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