There were two things that initially captured my imagination as I entered the strange and fascinating world of blogs aiming for the perfect Bible: goatskin covers and single-column layout. I had never owned, or as far as I know, even touched a Bible with a goatskin cover. I wanted to experience goatskin for myself. Second, and more important, I was intrigued by the insistence that a single-column format was a magical experience.
The combination of a high-quality leather cover and a single-column format may illustrate just how much and how quickly things have changed in Bible publishing. Ten years ago, I am not sure that there were any Bibles that checked these two boxes. Today there are a host of goatskin single-column Bibles. One of the most popular and acclaimed is the subject of todays’ review: Crossway’s Heirloom Single Column Legacy Bible (ESV).
The bloggers were right. Goatskin Bible covers are amazing. The cover of this particular Bible is wonderful. The grain is pronounced, giving additional grip when you hold the Bible at an angle while reading. It is also soft and extremely flexible. The cover has a full leather lining as well, which adds to the quality and the suppleness of the cover (there are no boards between the two pieces of leather, which is what makes some leather covers quite a bit more stiff). I had read so much about goatskin Bibles, I was worried that my expectations were going to be impossible to meet. But this cover somehow exceeded my expectations. I have found myself carrying this Bible around the house for no real reason. I also like the simplicity of the cover, which is free from any text or impression on the front or back cover. I like the raised bands on the spine. The one thing I would change would be the amount of text. The spine has “ESV,” the ESV logo, and “English Standard Version,” which is unnecessarily repetitive and makes the spine feel busier than necessary.
If I was worried that I had set the bar too high on how much I would like a Bible covered in goatskin, I was actually skeptical about whether a single-column layout would make all that much of a difference to me. The argument is that the Bible is meant to be read, so it should be published in a format that is meant to be read, as is every other book. My skepticism was not with the argument itself. I actually cannot imagine reading a novel in a double-column layout. I was skeptical of the need for a single-column layout simply because I have always read the Bible in a double-column layout. And it had never seemed like an obstacle to regularly reading Scripture. So how much of an improvement it could possibly be?
At first, the single-column layout did not seem to be the revolution that it was made out to be. However, I am finding that the more I read this Bible, the more I like it. I was reading through Isaiah and switched back to a double-column Bible after reading for thirty minutes. After reading a few chapters, I found myself really wanting to switch back to my Heirloom Single Column Legacy. If your goal is to read significant portions of the Bible in single sittings, I suspect that you will have more success using a single column format. I also found myself wondering if new Christians would have more success reading the entire Bible if the first Bible they read was a single-column Bible.
One thing happened as a result of reading this Bible that really surprised. I was initially deeply skeptical of multi-volume reader’s Bibles. The more I read this Bible the more I began to want to get my hands on a multi-volume “Reader’s Bible.” Crossway has published a six-volume set that has been highly regarded by Bible Design Blog author J. Mark Bertrand, among others. Zondervan also has a four-volume set in the NIV. One of the highlights of my exploration of fine Bibles has been the amount of time I’ve spent simply reading through the Bible. And yet the physical experience of reading the Bible is not like the experience of reading any other book, mostly because of the thinness of the paper. All that to say I have been surprised by how fascinated I have become by what it would be like to read through the Bible as I would read through any book, in nicely made cloth bound sewn books with thick pages. As strange as this may sound, I think the sense of scale in making progress with thicker pages and multiple volumes, would actually be motivating and keep me engaged in reading through the entire Bible in a much shorter time than has been typical.
Beyond the single-column layout, I really liked the rest of the layout and design choices made in the Heirloom Legacy. The section headings (that are not part of the original manuscripts) are in the margins, which made them easier to ignore in extended reading sessions. I also appreciate the paragraph layout in this setting, as opposed to a verse by verse layout, which is harder to read and obscures the different literary genres of the Bible (historical narrative and prose are less clearly distinct from poetry). Overall, the design of the page layout is exceptional.
Aside from the cover and the excellent layout, one of my favorite things about this Bible is its thickness. The Bible measures 9 7/8 x 6 1/2 x 1 1/2 inches. It seems perfect to me. It is not a thinline Bible, but it does not have quite the bulk that the Schuyler Quentel does. (For a comparison, see my previous review of the Schuyler Quentel). I’m learning that there are always tradeoffs in the world of Bible publishing. While I love the brightness of the Heirloom’s pages, they are a bit thin and ghosting (the ability to see text on the opposite side of the page) is more pronounced than it was with the thicker Quentel. I find that I prefer the slightly thinner Bible, all things considered.
Because of the desire to have a clean and reader friendly layout, the Heirloom Single Column Legacy Bible does not have cross references in the text. I think this makes sense, given what this Bible is designed to offer. This would be a draw back for me if I were considering this as my “one and only” Bible. The other argument, of course, is that cross references are much less important in the internet age due to the ease of searching Bible Study tools online. The Bible does include a concordance and maps, which is a nice compromise as neither impact the reading experience at all. This Bible also comes with four ribbons to help you mark various passages. I like the color variation in these ribbons, but they are a bit thinner and seem cheaper than those on the Schuyler Quentel. To be honest, though, when I’m shopping for a new Bible, ribbons aren’t really much of a factor in my decision.
Excellent Execution Makes for a Great Reading Experience
I think the main decision that faces someone considering the Heirloom Single Column Legacy Bible is whether one wants to read the ESV. The ESV has not been my preferred translation. It is the most popular translation among those who care about well-made Bibles, with the possible exception of the KJV. This is largely due to the exceptional support that Crossway provides for this Bible. The popularity of the ESV in fine editions has also led to a wider range of options by Cambridge, Allan, and Schuyler. Even with the wide range of options available for the ESV, the Heirloom Single Column Legacy would be one of my first choices for an ESV Bible. This Bible provides an excellent reading experience in a physical book that is exceptionally made and delightful to hold.
This Bible is available for $155 through evangelicalbible.com (it retails for $275). It is available through a variety of distributors in black and brown goatskin. You can also buy the Bible in green, ocean blue, or purple goatskin exclusively through evangelicalbible.com.
Crossway generously provided this Bible for review. I was not required to give a positive review of this Bible, only an honest one.