My interest in fine Bibles started because a handful of friends, unrelated to each other, wrote about or showed me in person a calfskin or goatskin Bible they had recently bought. The Cambridge Clarion was the first goatskin Bible that came onto my radar. This was fitting, as the Cambridge Clarion is a legend in the world of single-column fine Bibles. (For one example of the initial impression the initial Clarion made, read this post.)
In my first round of research, the Cambridge Clarion was the Bible I was most interested in buying. Before my interest in Bibles developed into a full-blown blog post series, I was leaning towards buying one Bible: the Cambridge Clarion NIV. Of all the Bibles I’ve received over the past month or two, this is the Bible I was the most excited to see in person. The Clarion is available in the following translations: ESV, KJV, NASB, NIV, and NKJV. This review is of the NASB in black goatskin.
As far as size, the Cambridge Clarion is the most unique Bible I’ve seen. It is much more compact than other Bibles I’ve written about here. It is also noticeably thick, given the height and width of the book. The best way to get an idea of what the Cambridge Clarion is like is to image a thick mass market paperback novel, and then add about an inch of width to the page dimensions. If you like the experience of holding and reading a thick paperback book, this Bible is for you.
The popularity of the Cambridge Clarion is largely due to its layout. The single column setting is extremely well done. The font size is 8.75, but reviewers commonly describe the text as feeling like it reads larger than that. I find it to be comfortable and easy to read. The layout is so beautiful that I almost forget that this is not just a reader’s Bible. The Clarion is a reference edition that has extensive cross-references throughout. The ability to put references in the margin, instead of a center column, is my favorite aspect of a single column reference Bible. In the single column layout, the references are less of a distraction in reading, but still available when needed.
The Cambridge Clarion NASB is available in three editions: brown calfskin, black goatskin, and black calf split. The goatskin on my copy is tighter and less grainy than other goatskin Bibles I have. This is my least favorite goatskin of the Bibles I’ve reviewed. Don’t misunderstand me. This is a great leather cover. If this was the only Bible of this kind I had, I would be delighted to own it.
I like the simple elegance of the text on the spine and the lack of text on the front cover. The spine also has faux bands or ribbing. I like the added texture that these give, though I would prefer actual raised bands, like the Cambridge NRSV Reference Edition has. This is an edge-lined Bible, which means it has a hinge. (For a detailed discussion of my frustrations with hinges, and an exceptional hinge, see this post.) I would describe the hinge on the Clarion as slightly above average. It is better than some I’ve seen, but not in the same league as the Cambridge NRSV Reference Edition I reviewed.
I really like the art gilt (red-under gold) page edges on Cambridge Bibles. I’ve seen the red described as salmon. It is lighter. And I think it is gorgeous. The only problem with art gilt pages is that they seem to be the most susceptible to damage. My Clarion already has some damage. And I have no idea how it happened. While I would never damage the gilt intentionally, I’m not overly concerned about it. My goal is to read and use this Bible. Protecting the Bible will always be a secondary priority to reading and using it.
One last minor quibble: My first impression was that there needed to be more room for the text in the gutter (where the pages come together). The more that I read this Bible, the less I notice or think about this. I also realize something has to give with the host of factors that go into designing a Bible. I would certainly not want the font to be any smaller, or the spacing between lines to be any tighter, for example. I have also found that this is significantly offset if you roll one part of the Bible back around the other part. And the limp flexible cover makes this easy to do.
The Cambridge Clarion is one of the most versatile Bibles that is currently available. The elegant design and layout makes reading this Bible quite similar to the multi-volume reader’s editions that are increasing in popularity. However, this is a one-volume Bible that also contains the study aids of references, text notes, and concordance. The compact size of the Bible also means that you can take it anywhere with you, without sacrificing readability. The Clarion packs all of this between the covers of a fine Bible that is elegantly and expertly crafted. The Clarion combines a single column layout with a fine binding in a reference edition that is both portable and readable. I have not seen any other Bible that is this versatile.
If you are seriously considering buying a Cambridge Clarion Bible, you can often find them significantly discounted on amazon and evangelicalbible.com. For example, the black goatskin reviewed here was 47% off list price on amazon.com when this post was published.
Kevin M. Watson is a professor at Candler School of Theology, Emory University. He teaches, writes, and preaches to empower community, discipleship, and stewardship of our heritage. Click here to get future posts emailed to you. Affiliate links used in this post.
Cambridge generously provided a copy of this Bible in exchange for my honest review.