In my exploration of the world of high quality Bibles, one of the most intriguing finds has been the Bibles produced by Trinitarian Bible Society (TBS). I first came across TBS on evangelicalbible.com, which describes TBS Bibles as “an affordable alternative to Schuyler, Cambridge or Allan.” And, indeed, the Westminster Reference Bible (KJV) is a great alternative to these Bibles, particularly if cost is the major concern.
The Westminster Reference Bible is an extensive reference Bible that is very reasonably priced for a Bible printed and bound by Jongbloead in the Netherlands with a soft and luxurious Meriva calfskin cover.
The Westminster Reference Bible is available in hardback or Meriva calfskin covers. The Bible reviewed here is calfskin and it is a wonderful! It is a paste-off binding, which means it does not have the hinge I’ve talked about in the last few reviews I’ve done. There is a cardboard insert in paste-off bindings. I was told by the folks at TBS that the insert in the Westminster Reference Bible is intentionally stiff in order to keep the entire text visible when the Bible is held in one hand. The stiffness of the cover is not a detraction for me, it is still flexible and I would guess will only become more so with use. I really like the grain and feel of this calfskin. As I was holding this Bible, I kept feeling astonished that you can buy a Bible with this quality cover for this price.
The Westminster Reference Bible is a double-column layout. One of the things that distinguishes it from other double-column Bibles is that there is no line or division between the two columns. A double-column Bible typically has a center column between the two columns of text where the cross references are located. The Westminster Reference Bible has such an extensive collection of references, that the references are placed on either side of the Scriptures (to the left of the left column and to the right of the right column). This makes reading the text easier if one is not needing or wanting to follow the cross references. It also makes tracking the references easier because they are located right next to the relevant verse. (When the references are in the center column, the top half of the column contains references for the left column and the bottom half contains references for the right column.)
In a Bible with the amount of reference material within the pages of the Bible that this Bible has, the layout is going to involve tradeoffs and will unavoidably feel a bit cramped. The Westminster Reference Bible is, in my opinion, the best possible layout with this exhaustive of a reference Bible. It is not nearly as enjoyable to read, however, as a single column reference Bible like the Cambridge Clarion (see my review of the Clarion here) or the Schuyler Quentel, which is double column, but places the references in the footer (see my review of the Quentel here). One realistic change I would like to see would be a paragraph layout, rather than a verse layout.
References, References, References!
Having said all of this, to critique the Westminster Reference Bible’s layout, especially in comparison to a Bible like the Clarion, would be an adventure in missing the point. The Westminster Reference Bible is a reference Bible on steroids. This is one of the places where the Bible really stands out. There are more than 200,000 references. The Bible contains the cross-references from John Brown’s Self-Interpreting Bible (1778) as well as references from the Concord Bible. The margins also include definitions of unfamiliar words and notes from the translators. It is the best Bible you can buy that is not a Study Bible, but as close as you can get without inserting commentary that is independent of the text. This Bible helps you study the Bible by helping you see how passages are connected to each other and inform each other. The Westminster Reference Bible does this exceptionally well.
The Translators to the Reader
One of the highlights of the time I’ve spent researching and learning about Bibles over the past several months has been learning more about the Authorized Version, or King James Version (KJV). In the world of fine Bibles, the KJV is one of the most popular translations. One of the reasons is due to the influence of the KJV on English literature and the English language in general.
The most interesting thing I learned (and one of those things I felt like I should have already known) was that the King James Version has not only a note from the translators to King James, but also a note from the translators addressing the reader. I believe that these notes should always be published as a part of a particular translation, and they almost always are in recent publications. Editions of the KJV, however, often omit these notes. This is unfortunate, as they are particularly important given the insistence by some that the King James Version is the only inspired version of the Bible in English. The notes from the original translators of the KJV themselves refute this argument.
Thankfully, the Westminster Reference Bible includes these notes. To whet your appetite, here is one of the key passages from the note from “The Translators to the Reader”:
“We do not deny, nay, we affirm and avow, that the very meanest translation of the Bible in English, set forth by men of our profession… containeth the very Word of God, nay, is the Word of God.”
The Bible is printed and bound by Jongbloed in the Netherlands, which is currently one of the very best printers in the world. The quality of the printing is consistent throughout the Bible. The binding is sewn, which is consistent with fine Bibles. A sewn binding is more durable and also allows the Bible to open flat at any page, which this Bible does effortlessly. The Bible also has four ribbons (two black and two red).
To my mind, there are two major selling points of the Westminster Reference Bible. First, and foremost is the value. I do not think there is a comparable sewn calfskin Bible of this quality at anywhere close to this price. The Bible retails for $80 and, as of this writing, is available on Amazon.com for $58.06. The second major selling point is the extensive cross-reference system of the Westminster Reference Bible, which contains more references than any of the previous Bibles I’ve reviewed.
I would love to see Bibles of this quality and value available in other translations! If you are looking for a KJV high quality reference Bible at an excellent value, I would highly recommend this Bible.
The folks at Trinitarian Bible Society generously provided this Bible for review. I was not required to give a positive review of this Bible, only an honest one.