I am going to begin a series here at A Christian Manifesto called “The Reformed Book Shelf: Essentials.” Here, in addition to my regular articles and reviews, I am going to occasionally feature some of the primary tools that a pastor or Bible student needs for discipleship and ministry. We will look at theology texts, historical works, and other study tools.
So lets start with the basics: A (really good) Bible. Can’t get much more basic than that.
When I say a “really good” Bible, I mean one that will last a lifetime. One that will endure for the course of your whole ministry. One that you can pass on to your children after using for years in the pews, classroom, pulpit, street, or study.
This means among, other things, that you choose a few premium options from the get-go, even if you have to pay more in advance. Trust me, a real leather Bible with a sewn binding will last ten times as long as a cheap cover, glued together.
Here are the key factors in the decision process:
- Translation. I recommend a good, literal translation fit for study, preaching, and teaching. The KJV is great, but if you want a modern translation, I argue strenuously for the ESV as the best available here.
- Format. Will you need a reference Bible? Do you prefer double-column? Single? Wide margin? Study Bible? Although I have a little of everything, I believe a wide-margin Bible is best for those in ministry. It has been called by some “the thinking man’s Bible.” I like that title, and my wide-margin is my g0-to tool for everyday usage. If however, you want a Study Bible, the ESV Study Bible is the most complete Bible on the market.
- Cover materials. Do NOT get a Bible with “bonded leather!” It is the particle board of covers. They fail within years. Opt for real leather. Get one with goatskin, calfskin, or cowhide – even if you have to pay more in advance.
- Binding. Key: do not buy a Bible with a glued spine! Get one with a real Smyth sewn binding. If you don’t know what that means, check out some of the work my boys are doing over at the Bible Exchange on terminology.
For me, all of these factors lead me to one place: Cambridge Bibles. Let me explain.
This Cambridge made goatskin wide-margin is my go-to Bible for almost everything: a wide margin is a “thinking man’s Bible” for a lifetime of collected thoughts and notes, as well as sermon illustrations and textual insights.
Why a Cambridge Bible?
I am a history nut.
My family traces its German lineage back to 1265, and my Church comes from a branch of the Christian family tree that joyfully embraces our heritage, rooting back to the times of the Reformation (1500’s) and beyond.
So yeah, I like old stuff.
The Cambridge Clarion ESV in Brown Calf Split Leather
This is one of the reasons that I met and fell in love with Bibles published by Cambridge. Besides being on the front lines of the world’s highest quality Bibles today, Cambridge also has the distinction of being the world’s oldest continuous Bible producer, having begun in the year 1591. It is a delight to my hands and heart to hold a Bible made by a press house that predates the King James Bible of 1611.
Think about that!
When you purchase a Cambridge Bible today, you receive a small certification that reads as follows,
“Cambridge University Press is the oldest Printer and Publisher in the world. The Press’s first Bible, printed in 1591, was an edition of the Geneva Bible – the translation that crossed to America with the Pilgrim Fathers. This established an unbroken four-hundred year tradition of printing and publishing the Bible” (emphasis added).
When the Authorized Version supplanted the Geneva Bible, the Tyndale, the Bishop’s Bible, and the Coverdale in the early 17th century as the most dominant English translation the world has ever known, Cambridge began producing the time-honored KJV and never looked back. To this day, the Authorized Version has never been out of print at Cambridge. It’s an unbroken chain.
Today, the Bibles being put out by Cambridge are much more advanced than ever, standing among the highest quality in the world. No longer are they printed with movable type on a Gutenberg, but many of the processes are still done by hand. Cambridge commonly swaths their Bibles with gloriously supple leathers: goatskin, calfskin, and the like.
Among the editions being made today, Cambridge has three titans of publishing glory (in my opinion). They are the Pitt Minion, a very small print double-column handheld reference edition; the Clarion, a perfectly formatted single column reference edition, and the Wide Margin, a larger sized Bible with ample space for note-taking with exactly the same pagination and layout as the Pitt Minion (except bigger font).
The purpose of a good wide margin reference Bible like this one is to study actively, with the mind, not lazily and passively.
If you consider purchasing one, there may be a bit of a sticker shock. They commonly cost between $100 and $200 USD. But remember, you are buying European quality, a Reformation-era legacy item, and an enduring heirloom. The leather is gorgeous, the bindings are smyth sewn, and the paper is the best available today. In most Cambridge editions, “line matching” prints the text exactly in line on both sides of the paper to reduce ghosting.
The Cambridge ESV and NASB Pitt Minion in Brown and Black Calf Split Leather.
These Bibles aren’t glued, folks. They aren’t held together by polymers (rubber) or the so-called “bonded leather” (the “particle board” glue-smoosh of Bible covers). And they don’t come on copy machine paper.
Honestly, they are works of art.
If you own a Cambridge Bible, you own a piece of history. You have something to pass down to your heirs. You have a Bible meant to be read, treasured, and passed down to the next generation.
Other Premium Options
In addition to Cambridge, here are a few other high quality Bible manufacturers that are putting out great products today:
1) Schuyler. Although they are undoubtedly the most expensive Bibles on the market, Schuyler is making some extremely premium Bibles. They use the best paper, sewn bindings, and leather covers and liners. Their Quentel line is without peer.
2) R.L. Allan. Out of England (formerly Scotland) R.L. Allan Bibles typically take book blocks printed by other companies (Crossway etc.) and cover them in their luxurious Highland Goatskin. Here’s an article I did on their re-covering of the ESV Study Bible. Amazing!
3). Crossway. The new Heirloom series by Crossway is a big step towards premium quality. In additon to their much more affordable options (like their respectable synthetic TruTone covers), they are now producing Bibles with high quality paper, and full leather covers, including goatskin and calfskin. Check out some of their products here.
Top to Bottom: Cambridge Pitt Minion, Cambridge Clarion, Schuyler Quentel, Cambridge Wide Margin, Crossway ESV Study Bible rebound by Leonard’s Books and Bibles.