Premium materials yet affordable. Beautiful yet subtle. Compact yet readable. Good for reading yet good for referencing. If these phrases describe what you want in a Bible, then this edition of Crossway’s Personal Reference Bible is well-worth considering (henceforth, “PRB”).
Externals: Materials, Binding, Size, etc.
The cover material on this Bible is simply stunning. It is “top-grain leather”, or cowhide, but this might mislead you if you’re like me. Background: I used to have the ESV Single-Column Legacy Bible in “top-grain leather”, and it was a somewhat stiff cover that lacked leather linings that couldn’t come close to competing with other premium Bibles I’ve referenced on this blog. So when the PRB arrived and I first opened the box and beheld, I was caught off guard (in a good way). This clearly represents a new stage in the evolution of Crossway’s “top-grain leather.” Crossway has informed me that this is indeed the case, as their older top grain came from Italy, but they’ve changed to a different supplier, Cromwell, which accounts for the improvement. It is very soft and supple and looks naturally grained. It is an understated and beautiful shade of brown that seems more earth-tone than R. L. Allan’s “chocolate brown.” For me, it is hard to imagine a more suitable color for a Bible! And to “top” off this top-grain leather, it is finally leather-lined!
The binding is sewn, which is to be expected in any nice Bible. It is also an edge-lined as opposed to a paste-off binding (see for here explanation), which is generally considered a higher-quality style. Also, there are no reinforced hinges / tabs on this binding, which, when combined with the flexible leather and edge-lining, allows the PRB to lay flat right out of the box–a fluid cover that bends freely to the user’s wishes. Another perk is the raised bands on the spine, which I personally think every premium Bible should have–they add an elegant and old-world look.
As for size, the PRB is about 5″x7.5″x1.25″–compact, but by no means a pocket Bible. It is thinner than the Cambridge Clarion, though slightly taller. Key word: Portable! However, portable Bibles traditionally tend to be less-readable Bibles. We’ll see if the PRB reinforces this stereotype in the next section on “internals” (spoiler: no, it doesn’t!).
The only complaints I have about the externals is that the two ribbons are a bit thin and there is no yapp (cover overhang) or art-gilt (red-under-gold) on the page edges, which are minor quibbles that other people may not even share!
Internals: Paper, Font, Layout, etc.
Though China is often criticized for lower quality book production, this Bible showcases The Middle Kingdom’s ability to print and bind well. It features 30gsm paper, and the 8 point font is printed using line-matching. So basically, even though the paper is pretty run-of-the-mill in terms of thinness, the ghosting is significantly reduced/mitigated by the line-matching. And even though the Bible is “personal size”, the Lexicon 8 point font size (with 8.75 point leading) is relatively readable, especially compared to something like a Pitt Minion or Compact ESV.
Now we come to the icing on the cake: the PRB’s layout. If you’ve read my other posts, its no secret that I love me a good, single-column Bible! The PRB Bible is no different. In sum, when we read a good story, or pretty much any book besides reference books, we expect a single-column layout. I believe we’re subconsciously affected by a book’s layout, and if you want ease and fluidity in the reading experience, then a single-column layout is your best bet.
(More comparison photos at the end)
While I enjoy Crossway’s new ESV Reader’s Bible (henceforth “RB”) and its removal of all cross-references and verse numbers, I still highly value reference BIbles. And this is due to the familiar principle that Scripture interprets Scripture: If you have difficulty understanding something, first look at the immediate context (i.e. other text surrounding the verse/passage in question). And then look at the broader context of the Bible, for which cross-references are the easiest “first stop.” And the PRB has followed Crossway’s ESV Study Bible and Verse-by-Verse Reference Bible by placing the references on the inside column, near the “gutter.” The reason I like this placement, as opposed to the Clarion, is that it keeps any Scriptural text away from the gutter and thus makes the reading slightly easier.
My only complaints about the internals are that the columns are a bit wider than I’d like for the font size, which means more characters-per-line. In this area, the Clarion and the ESV Reader’s Bible outshine the PRB and the Legacy.
This is one of the best premium ESV Bible offerings I can imagine in the “under $100” category. It outshines the less-than-$100 Heritage in that it opens flatter. It outshines the less-than-$100 top-grain leather Legacy for the same reason, and the cover is so much nicer! It outshines the $100-ish Pitt Minion in that it is cheaper and more readable (and has leather linings, which the Pitt lacks). There’s little doubt that the RB, the Clarion, and the Legacy are all more readable…but each gives up something that the PRB does not (the RB gives up references and leather cover, the Clarion gives up smaller size and smarter reference placement, the Legacy gives up references and the quality of cover…and all of them lack leather linings!). In short, I highly recommend the PRB!
Ideal Uses: “Go anywhere” Bible. Study. Personal Reading.
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.
Side-note: The PRB is a marked improvement on the smaller-font and wider-column Personal Size Reference Bible, or PSR, from years ago: