Friday, June 27, 2014

The Joys and Possibilities of Open Space: A Review of the ESV Wide Margin Reference Bible by Crossway

ESV Wide Margin Reference Bible
When I opened the box containing the new ESV Wide Margin Reference Bible, I was awestruck by all that clean, wide-open space. Broad one-inch margins surround the text of Scripture in all directions like a snowy meadow. That vast landscape surrounding my favorite Bible translation prompted three nearly simultaneous thoughts:

What possibilities! 

What an opportunity! 

What in the world am I going to write in those margins? 

Before I provide a technical analysis below of the beautiful setting of the ESV Wide Margin Reference Bible (hereafter: WMRB), let me dream for a few moments about what can be done with an edition of the Scriptures that is set up for copious note taking.
ESV Wide Margin Reference Bible: Brown Trutone Cover

Obviously, the wide margin design is purposefully geared towards those who want to actively record thoughts, observations, and otherwise interact with the text before them. Some of my first ideas were obvious. I could use it for sermon outlines! But then again, I'm more of a full manuscript preacher. Certainly one could use a Bible like the WMRB to take notes during church. But since I'm a pastor, I don't sit in the pews but a few times a year.

So I dreamed bigger. Here are a few of my best thoughts and brainstorms so far...

1. Personalized, One-of-a-Kind, Study Bible. Since I am in a doctoral program at Reformed Theological Seminary, I could use a Bible like the WMRB as my everyday Bible for the course of study in which I am engaged. As a doctoral student, I have the privilege of studying under some of the best scholars in the world. Since I am still early on in the degree and my dissertation reading is still dawning, why not use this Bible as the indelible chalkboard on which my mind is shaped for the next three to four years? I think anyone entering a formal course of Biblical or theological study should consider having a Bible expressly devoted to his accumulated knowledge. I wish I had done that much earlier in my formal studies.
Wide Margin Reference next to ESV Personal Reference Bible

2. Mission Trip Bible-Journal. When this idea struck me, I sorely regretted that I didn't have a Bible like the WMRB back in 1999 when I spent six months in the jungles of Equatorial Guinea in Africa. I could have used it as a veritable prayer journal to amplify my devotions, record names, and intercessions for those people groups I came to love. It could have become a verbal image gallery of my memories of living and serving in the third world.

3. Family Heirloom. As a father of three, I am in the stage of my life where I am thinking about legacy. How do I pass on my accumulated knowledge, my moral compass, and my doctrinal convictions to my children? I could use a Bible like this to record my learning experiences right next to the texts of Scripture that God impresses on my heart. Prayers for each of my children written in the margins could become like a living commentary of their Christian heritage. Again, if I had started earlier, what a treasure I could have written into those margins! New moms and dads should consider this early on.

4. I could take this Bible to Israel next year for our trip to the Holy Land. Imagine having an edition of the text like this just to record thoughts and ponderings about the land in which Jesus lived, taught, died, and ultimately rose. As I travel from city to city next March--from the Galilean hills to Jerusalem itself and finally to Mount Calvary--I could take as many notes about the hills, seas, rivers, landscape, horizons, and sunsets as my little hand could scrawl. If I could draw (I can't!) there's room for sketch making. What a valuable treasure it would be for the rest of my life to look back on my firsthand descriptions of a journey to the topography in which the drama of redemptive history unfolded.

What do you think? How would you use a wide margin edition? Add your ideas in the comment section below!


Technical Review
ESV Wide Margin Reference Bible: Brown Trutone

As with the last Bible I reviewed from Crossway, the WMRB is truly a magnificent production. The paper used is quite nice, but unfortunately, not as stunning as the ESV Single Column Legacy. I've never seen anything like that before or since. Nevertheless, it does not feel cheap like gift paper. It's crisp. It has some substance to it.

The line matching technology now used regularly by Crossway, and present in the WMRB, makes that annoying "ghosting" effect minimal. By placing the text on both sides of the page exactly in line (as much as possible) the effect is very noticeable: a cleaner, whiter appearance. Very little show-through. If you've never owned a Bible with line matching before, you probably don't know what you are missing. If you have, you'll never go back to mismatched line printing again!

The binding is Smyth-sewn in the WMRB, meaning that this edition will not fall apart in clumps, since it is not held together by glue. It signatures are sewn together with thread making this Bible durable under modest to high stress such as packing and unpacking regularly. This will ensure that a Bible like the WMRB has longevity--especially if it is going to be toted around the world or passed on as I suggested above. I was particularly impressed with the limpness and flexibility of the binding right out of the box. Open flat to Genesis 1:1 out of the box? Check! It won't take long to break this puppy in. It already came ready to use.
ESV Wide Margin Reference: limp and limber out of the box. 

The two column format is pretty standard, but with one variation--the reference notes are placed on the bottom of the right column instead of the inner or outer margin. I will have to get used to that. I do like two column setups. For some reason, I can remember where passages are in the Bible better than in single column editions. I think that is because the brain has more "locations" in which to store the text I am trying to recall. Interestingly, science is now confirming that we do learn better with 3-D spatial materials such as books rather than 2-D screens.

The cover I received is the brown Trutone. Honestly, it's gorgeous. Some folks are high quality leather only people. I understand the goatskin obsession. I have some of those. But I must say this is one of the best Trutones I've seen. It looks rich, dark, and feels sturdy. It has some moxy to it, in a good way. I doubt this cover is going to flake or fall apart anytime soon. At 9.25 X 6.5 this is a large Bible.

I love the fact that Crossway resisted the urge to stamp some kind of logo or design on the cover as they do so many other editions. I think it looks manly this way. Like it has some bravado. The stitching around the edges is enough to make the financially responsible Trutone "imitation leather" stand up without shame next to a high quality Bible cover.

Now that I mention quality leather, this actually might be an edition that you would want to pop for the high quality lid.

--Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church. He is an avid reader of the Puritans, a big fan of Jonathan Edwards, and the author of Hold Fast the Faith: A Devotional Commentary on the Westminster Confession of 1647. 

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