When I heard about this concept, I knew I had to see it for myself. I am a writer, and a major part of my Bible reading is interacting with the text through underlining, highlighting, and note-taking. The problem is that I never have quite enough space in the margins for all I want to say. Even with the blank lined pages in the back of a Cambridge Wide Margin or my Allan ESV, I could always use a bit more. And forget iPads and the Cloud–give me paper! What if an answer to this dilemma was found hundreds of years ago, and introduced largely through America’s greatest theologian? Allow me to introduce Jonathan Edwards’ famous “Blank Bible”. Matthew Everhard explains:
The Blank Bible is entirely unusual in construction: it is really two books in one. It consists of a large 9.5 X 7.5 inch blank writing notebook, nearly three inches in girth, into which an entire miniature King James Version of the Bible has been meticulously stitched.
He recorded over 5,000 entries in this Bible in the form of notes on the biblical text. I think he was on to something, and lucky for all of us, so did Crossway, who modeled their new Interleaved Journaling Bible (here on, IJB) on Edwards’ “Blank Bible”. See the introduction:
Lets start with the text setting. As for the pages containing text, we find a traditional, double column setting– just the text and no cross-references. This is a blank slate, ready for you to shape into a tool optimized for your own use. The dark, crisp font leaps off the creamy paper. Maybe it’s just me, but Crossway seems to have fonts mastered, as even their “cheap-o” options get it right. Because there are no center cross-references, these columns are on the wide end of the double-column spectrum, which makes reading easy.
The font is a 7.5, which is unfortunate from a readability standpoint. However, most people with young eyes or glasses will do fine with it, and an increase in font size would make this big book even bigger (see below for size considerations), so this smallish font is a necessary compromise to achieve the overall result. And lets face it: 7.5 isn’t that small. The average thinline Bible is only .5pt larger at an 8.
Here is the IJB font compared to some other ESVs:
The IJB is a note-takers dream, but for more reasons than just the obvious (i.e. the interleaved pages). The outside column on the text pages is quite generous, allowing the user to make ample notes there as well. Personally, I would use those margins for outlining the text and recording my own cross-references. But the obvious standout feature of this edition, and its namesake, are the interleaved pages. For every page of biblical text, you have a blank sheet on the right or left (alternating). This means that we can fill a whole blank page of notes for each page of Scripture! Granted, this still isn’t enough for all situations, and that’s where journals, notebooks, and e-documents come into play. But it is certainly more than any other edition of the Bible affords.
The only criticism I have for this format is outweighed by my praise. But it’s worth noting anyway. For some pages of biblical text, you won’t want to take a whole page of notes. But for some pages of biblical text, you will most certainly want more than a single blank page. This layout more or less demands that your notes correspond to the opposing page. This is where the blank lined pages in the back of an Allan or Cambridge WM shine–you can allot as much or as little as you want to as many or as few verses as you want. For example, I may want to take 5 pages of notes on Genesis 1, but perhaps only one paragraph of notes on Leviticus 2. I might devote a whole page to Romans 8:32, and next to nothing on Romans 16. But the IJB, in its common-sense usage, does not allow for that. This is perhaps a criticism of the limitations of the paper medium in general, in a world of technology and its mysterious Cloud. But for all its limitations, I will never move beyond paper and print, and if you’re reading this, I suspect you feel the same.
Time out. If you expect to fill an entire blank sheet, front and back, the ghosts of show-through need to be kept at bay. So what is Crossway’s solution? They have employed a beautiful, creamy, 50gsm paper!!! I have never heard of such thick paper, except in the ESV Reader’s Gospels. Most Bibles range from 25-35gsm. As with any paper, there will still be some show through on the IJB, but this is about as good as it gets– a writer’s Bible, for sure.
So how might you utilize this Bible? I can think of three uses off the cuff:
- Your own, customizable study Bible, including your own cross-references (perhaps in the margins).
- A preaching / teaching Bible filled with your own sermon or lesson outlines…this would make an excellent archive for quick reference too.
- Personal responses and prayers prompted by the text.
How would you use it? Please chime in via the comments below!
You might be wondering, “How thick might this Bible be, with its double page count (due to all the blank pages) and double-weight paper?” Answer: thick. Think ESV Study Bible thick. 2.5″ thick. This caught me off guard, though in retrospect I don’t know why–what exactly did I expect?! To keep it thinner, you’d have to eliminate everything that makes this distinctive–either the thick paper or the interleaved pages…and that would make no sense at all. Just know that having a customizable study Bible like this means study Bible size. For readers, it sits in the lap and on the desk nicely, so the weight isn’t a major obstacle. For preachers, it wouldn’t be easy to carry around the stage, but if you have a pulpit to help bear the load, the IJB would do the job dandily.
I love this natural brown cowhide leather. It has a rugged, cowboy and indian look to it (sorry if thats not PC). It’s incredibly soft and has very interesting pattern and grain qualities. One caution is that this leather scuffs quite easily. It won’t fall apart because of this, and the scuffing arguably adds to the rugged quality, but its something to be aware of. This edition features a flap and a leather strap, complete with instructions on how to affix the strap. All of this adds to the rugged, attractive, durable, “toss in your backpack” quality of the IJB (although its size might mitigate tossing it in your backpack!).
The IJB sports thick paper liners and paste-down end pages of the same material for the binding. I would love to see this in a leather-lined edition, but perhaps this girth in a leather-lined edition would lead to overly excessive floppiness.
Finally, and perhaps obviously, the IJB features a Smyth-sewn binding and opens nearly flat, beginning to end. This will only improve with use. The page edges are not gilded in gold or silver, but left blank–adding to the rugged effect. There is also a small slot to store your note-taking pen, for which I would recommend a Pigma Micron #5 (.2mm), available here.
I have never seen anything like the Interleaved Journaling Bible. If you’re like me, and you can’t seem to find enough space for notes in your Bible, and you can live with its bulk and smallish font, the IJB is a dream Bible. I am ever impressed with the ingenuity of Crossway’s design team. Someday I hope to get to Crossway and ask them how they come up with their ideas! Not only is the concept of an interleaved Bible genius, but Crossway’s execution in the natural leather binding is superb.
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.