Monday, June 23, 2014

Put That Digital Device Away! Crossway is Making Bibles Better Than Ever: A Review of the "ESV Personal Reference Bible"

The ESV Personal Reference Bible features line-matching technology.
While more and more folks are pulling out their smart phones or tablet devices during church, Crossway is quietly perfecting the art of the written page.

The current generation of Bibles from Crossway are intentionally designed to help believers rediscover the aesthetic beauty of holding and reading well-made books. Among the features of Crossway's new Bible lineup is a technology called "line-matching" which helps ensure that ghosting (that annoying see-through in Bibles' thin pages) is minimized.

Line-matching uses digital printing technology to ensure that--as much as possible--the Biblical text is printed exactly in line on both sides of the page, thereby making the page look whiter and cleaner. At the same time, Crossway is also using better and better paper too, toeing a difficult line between the thinness and opacity required for printing Bibles with thousands of pages.

In this review, I will be looking at a great example of this generation of affordable Bibles from Crossway: the ESV Personal Reference Bible. This is an ergonomic, hand-size Bible which ought to justifiably displace that distracting digital device that so many are using today.
The ESV Personal Reference Bible (top) with ESV Wide Margin (below)

Review: The Personal Reference Bible (Trutone, Mahogany, Emblem Design)

In this review, I will look at several of the main features of the ESV Personal Reference Bible (hereafter, PRB) including: format, cover, binding, paper, and features. I will not be doing much with the translation, because I have already argued in other places of the ESV's excellence. That will be assumed already in this review.

The ESV Personal Reference Bible is comparable to the Cambridge Clarion
The PRB is a very delightful size and the "form factor" is just right for tucking in one's briefcase or purse and toting along to church. The text block measures at 5 X 7.4 inches, and when open, fits perfectly in the hand. The font size of 8pt. is very stark considering its portable size. The PRB comes in a single-column format making it eminently readable, especially in poetic sections, which are not rudely cut off as so often occurs in double-column settings. The PRB has the standard 80,000 cross-references which seems to be pretty across-the-board in Crossway's reference Bibles. These references are placed in the center near the gutter and do not detract the eye from reading smoothly across the whole page.

All of this means that the PRB is a much more financially responsible version than more pricey high-end competitors such as the ESV Cambridge Clarion. In fact, if you have been Jonesin' for a Clarion, but cannot force yourself to spring for their pricey high-quality covers ($136 for the calf-skin or $150 and up for the goatskin), you might consider the PRB a cheaper, but trusty and reliable alternative.

Of course, you won't get a goatskin with this $15 PRB either, and that brings me to...

The Cover
The version that I am reviewing is the Trutone in deep mahogany with an emblem design. This Bible also comes in calfskin, (Crossway calls it "top grain leather") but that is going to jump the price to about $110. Since I am writing today for the common man or woman in the pews, I am not sure that a high price cover is even necessary.

I have owned several of Crossway's Trutone covers before on my ESV's and they have all lasted well. These synthetic covers look good and feel real-ish to the hand. I wonder if some people even realize that they are not leather? The truth is that both goatskin and calfskin really are much more aesthetically pleasing. (Trust me, I just had a Bible recovered from Leonard's!). But if the purpose of the cover is to protect the contents and attract the eye then the Trutone will not disappoint.
Many will love the mahogany emblem design; I prefer plain, natural looks.

As far as I know, Trutone is a synthetic material made from some durable and flexible polymer. Honestly, I haven't done the research to know for sure what they are made of. What I can tell you is that they are getting better and better all the time.

They are much more like real leather in both look and feel than earlier generations, which tended to peel and flake under severe duress (such as sunlight and aging).

The mahogany color of this version is beautiful. Personally, I really wish they would have left off the emblem (rose pattern) from the cover, but I can tell you that my wife and twelve-year-old daughter both oowed and aawed when they saw it, so perhaps it is a male/female thing. Personally, I like my Bible covers to be dark, manly, and natural. Thankfully, the emblem is not embossed with any coloration and disappears in darker lit rooms below the deep, rich color. Several other cover varieties are currently available as well.

Most readers are not even aware that their Bibles are bound in vastly different ways. They are. It makes a huge difference.

Crossway is now using Smyth-sewn bindings on almost all of their Bibles, if not the entire lineup. This is the best possible strategy for binding paper together; far better than "perfect bindings" which merely glue stacks of loose sheets together. In Smyth-sewn bindings, the signatures (groups of 16, 32, or 64 pages) are folded, sewn together, and then stitched together as a solitary unit. For this reason, they hold together well and last much longer.

A good binding will do two things. (1) It will assure that your Bible does not fall apart in clumps as aging, glued books inevitably do and (2) it will allow the Bible to open flat, flex naturally, and stay open without snapping shut like a bear trap.

I am sure that all pastors and Bible students have struggled with a Bible that wants to snap shut every time one moves his hands to type or take a note. Not here.
The ESV Personal Reference Bible (top) perfectly portable!

While the PRB did not open completely flat to Genesis 1:1 out of the box (a litmus test for excellent bindings), it did do rather well by opening flat to Deuteronomy. Not bad.

After pressing the binding open and flat with my hand every 50 pages or so (as one ought to do with a new book), the binding greatly improved in flexibility after just one day.

One small complaint that I would have here in this version is in regard to the inner lining (the material used to attach the text block to the cover material). In the PRB, it is merely composed of a thicker paper, almost like very thin cardboard or something. Other Crossway products are a bit better, using a glossy and more durable material which is water-resistant.

Time will tell if this -thickpaper lining will be the Achilles heel of this particular Bible. I could foresee the liner being a possible location in which hard and rugged use causes a rip or tear. Then again, I keep reminding myself this Bible can be owned for only $15.

The paper used in the PRB is good. The line-matching makes it appear great. I will confess that it is not nearly as good as that used in the ESV Single-Column Legacy which is the best Bible paper I have ever seen and held in my own hands. Ghosting is minimal, and print quality (evenness of the darkness and clarity of the text) is very good. In some Bibles, the super-thin paper nearly ruins a great version. Not here. Solid work, Crossway.

But why not use the Legacy paper in all of your Bibles?

The pages are gilded with gold edging finishing the look. Some of my Bibles have flaked and scratched considerably along the edges. I don't think that is something that can be improved, though. The page ends tend to receive a tremendous beating when a Bible is used for years, being the physical location of much finger shifting, grabbing, and turning.
The ESV Personal Reference Bible (R) vs. Wide Margin (L) size comparison

If you love this Bible as much as I do, it won't be because of its features. It doesn't have many. No one is going to mistake this little gem for the ESV Study Bible!

More likely, it's simplicity, readability, and portable size will be the endearing features for you as they are for me.

The PRB does have a rather nice concordance, and a beautiful matching ribbon. (Two would have been better). The gutter-side references are convenient and pleasing to the eye. A presentation page will mark the date and occasion of the receipt of this Bible, and I do think that at the price of between $15 and $22 this will make a great gift Bible or travel Bible. It may even become the everyday Bible for some folks who don't like to tote a brick like my ESV Study Bible around town!

Overall, the hand-held portable size and readable font will make sure the PRB is treasured for many years by the owner. With nice publications like this coming out from Crossway, I can't imagine why anyone would want to use their phone in church anymore!

--Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida. He is the author of Hold Fast the Faith: A Devotional Commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith and several other books. Matthew frequently does reviews of theological works, Bibles, and other Christian publications. 

1 comment:

  1. Great review. I'm not sure whether you'll see this comment on such an old article, but I've been wanting this Bible ever since I first came across a screenshot of the very nice page layout.

    My concern with the TruTone version is the paper lining, which you mentioned was a concern of yours, and I'd like to know how that turned out for you. I bought a TruTone ESV Classic Reference Bible a couple of years ago, and within a year of purchase the paper lining had become creased all around and torn some on the edges.

    Because of this, I've been mostly sticking with my leather-bound NASB, which has the much more durable vinyl lining. I don't know why you can't seem to be able to get TruTone with vinyl, and the only site I've found that has the Personal Reference Bible in genuine leather (not calfskin or goat skin - too expensive) in its catalogue has had it listed as "out of stock" every time I've checked.