The New ESV Heirloom Single Column Personal Size Bible

by Apr 29, 2020Bible Typography, Culture, Personal6 comments

A story in pictures. Because this new ESV Bible—the ESV Heirloom Single Column Personal Size Bible—needs only a one-word review: exquisite.

Bloggers write words when none are needed, however, because the word-count of the internet is not yet full—so I will oblige with some more words.

The slip case with velvet wrapping up the Bible is exquisite.

The gilt embossing is exquisite.

The goatskin is exquisite. Mmm.

The gilt page edges are exquisite.

The single-column, paragraphed layout is, um, you guessed it.

The Bible stands.

The type (the excellent Lexicon) is exquisite, and the line-matching and bright paper commend it well.

The headings are helpful and elegant. I believe in the value and importance of these ESV headings even more now that I have had to write headings for a commentary project.

The paragraphing and page layout are careful and helpful. They are the exquisite culmination of centuries of tradition combined with the power of computer and mechanical technologies.

There are two black ribbons, exquisite ones.

You’re supposed to read the thing.

But I could also well imagine preaching from it, too. The type seemed surprisingly large (in a good way; it was just right) for such a relatively slender and small volume. And though I rarely keep review copies—I find worthy recipients for them instead—this is one I’m tempted beyond any other to keep, even though I just preached about giving to others… It really is everything I need and want. I don’t need large margins, because I no longer write in my Bible; that’s what Logos is for. I don’t need study notes either, for the same reason. I don’t need cross references cluttering up my page or italics doing the same. I just need straight Bible text, laid out in the most natural way possible, given contemporary conventions. The ESV Heirloom Single Column Personal Size Bible does this, with nearly no flaws.


Flaws, flaws… I’ll look like a shill if I don’t try for some. I could imagine it lying a little flatter; I could imagine the type not straying into the “gutter” in places; I could imagine absolutely perfect line-matching instead of near-perfect line-matching. The gutter “problem” is just the nature of this beast: I’m not sure how it could be avoided without the equal and opposite sin of the text block straying too close to the outer page edge. This does incline me away from using this as a preaching Bible, however. I like to be able to keep the Bible open flat on the pulpit—though if I really had to preach from this Bible, all I’d have to do is pick it up in my hand or sort of force down the side that I need to read. Not bad at all.

It is the nature of a reviewer, a critic as they say, to never quite be satisfied, but with this I am satisfied—given the purposes of this edition, namely that of a lifelong reading companion. It is everything it’s supposed to be. It’s exquisite.

The Bible as Aesthetic and Cultural Object

Let me expatiate a little bit, internet. ’K? I’ve gone on and on about the problems that stem from pitching the linguistic level of the Bible too high. Elizabethan English overdramatises (did you catch that fancy British spelling?) the elegance of the Bible. It makes the Bible sound majestic, sure, but also grandiloquent and a bit disconnected. Portions of the Bible were revealed that way: there is elegant poetry in Scripture, for example. Acrostic Psalms; whole acrostic books (Lamentations); mebbe possible chiasms in places; rhetorical flights… But in general, and in particular with the Koine Greek of the New Testament, God chose to use standard, man-on-the-street Greek only slightly gussied up (except in Luke and Hebrews, I’d say). And in general, I think our Bible translations would do well to try to mimic the social register of the language God chose to inspire.

But these many beautiful ESVs are not overshooting the cultural mark and turning the Bible into, well, an heirloom instead of a readable message of God given to the church. I think they are giving the right kind of honor and respect to the Bible. Goatskin leather says that this book is a lifelong companion. Elegant type says that this book is rooted in history (Trinité, which this edition does not use but has shown up in some ESV Bibles is, in my opinion, a touch too elegant). Typographical conventions that enhance readability (paragraphing, headings, etc.) say that this book can and should be read! Ribbons say that you might have favorite places or might have multiple reading or study sessions going.

I’m not going to be so doctrinaire as to complain about ugly or less “classic”-looking Bibles; they’re the word of God, too. The words are what matter most. But they aren’t all that matters. The Bible as a cultural and aesthetic object matters. Bible typography matters, big time. A pastor friend of mine and I were saying to each other the other day that we couldn’t bear to be stuck with some of the editions we grew up with. Not when we’ve been shown a more exquisite way.

Now, Crossway, pretty well literally the only thing I can think of that you still need to do is produce an edition just like this but with the verse numbers in the margins. I’ll review that one, too, and will never give it away.

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Leave a comment.

  1. Nancy Lohr

    If you decide not to keep it, I can send you my address. I’m just nice like that. 🙂 Good review of elements important to real readers.

    • Mark Ward


      I’ve had several such offers! I’m afraid I do have a recipient for this one that is already sort of half-promised, long story!

      • Nancy Lohr

        Makes sense. I’m sure the recipient will be grateful.

  2. Ethan Strickler

    Seriously!! Maybe you should pray about giving it away. I was just shopping for a copy like this from which to preach. I was considering the pastors Bible and the preachers Bible, and while I still use the NASB for study and large amounts of pre-reading work I’m thinking about preaching from the ESV exclusively. So if you need an address just ask.

  3. GY

    As my eyesight has gotten a bit worse I’ve been looking for a Bible with slightly larger print so I can read it anywhere, yet still portable enough for me to carry everywhere. I wish this edition from Crossway was it; and it would be, except they chose to print it in China. I know lots of Bible publishers do this; my concern isn’t with the quality of the leather or the paper, but the ethics of outsourcing Bible printing (of all things!) to a country where so many atrocities are meted out to (not only) Christian believers. Half my family is from China; I wish other Christians would push back against Crossway (and others), urging them not to do business there.