Reader-Friendly NLT: The Schuyler Caxton and the Tyndale Select Reference Edition

I am doing something today I don’t think I’ve ever done before at Bible Design Blog: reviewing two editions side-by-side. But then, it’s a unique situation. Two beautiful renderings of the same impressive design, both printed and bound by Jongbloed in the Netherlands.

The Tyndale Select in black goatskin (top) and the Schuyler Caxton in dark purple goatskin.

The Tyndale Select in black goatskin (top) and the Schuyler Caxton in dark purple goatskin.

Tyndale refers to this text setting as the NLT Select Reference Edition, while Schuyler offers it under the Caxton name. Both editions are printed and bound in the Netherlands by Jongbloed, and at first glance appear quite similar. The Caxton, however, features several grace notes that make it the more luxurious of the two — in particular the leather lining, upgraded ribbons, and wider range of cover colors. (As far as I can tell, the Select is printed on the same 28 gsm Indopaque paper as the Caxton.) If you prefer the Select’s more minimalist cover aesthetic, though, you can choose not only between black and brown, but also goatskin and calfskin covers.

For all the details on the Schuyler Caxton, visit the product page at And for the scoop on the Tyndale Select, check out their beautiful web presentation.


For Schuyler, the Caxton represents both continuity and improvement. The consistent quality that has made Schuyler a market leader in the high-end Bible market is readily apparent here. In this sense, the Caxton is a ‘boring’ release — in the best possible way. You get exactly what you’ve come to expect from Schuyler’s line. At the same time, the leather lining marks a step forward for Schuyler, much nicer than the shiny synthetic liner in the Select’s cover (which is comparable to what we have seen in Cambridge editions from Jongbloed). More importantly, while this is not the first single-column setting from Schuyler, I believe it is the best.

The Select marks an even bigger advance for Tyndale, which dropped the former Select line (reviewed here) some time back. It’s great to see them returning to the high-quality market — and doing so in partnership with Jongbloed, too. Crossway entered this field awhile back, working with Jongbloed to bring us the excellent Heirloom line. Tyndale’s move ensures that readers of the NLT will enjoy Bibles of comparable design and quality.

Since both editions use the same text setting, let me cover the interior design first. In a nutshell, the Select/Caxton offers a reader-friendly reference edition in the spirit of Cambridge’s Clarion and Crossway’s Personal Reference. The similarities are striking, especially comparing the Clarion. The same typeface is used, Lexicon, which a lot of designers I’ve spoken with consider the ideal when it comes to Bible typography. The cross reference system looks similar, with boldface chapter and verse headings in the outer margin and references underneath. Textual notes are placed at the bottom of the text column.


The Caxton (center) features a reader-friendly reference layout similar to the Cambridge Clarion (right), but with proportions more akin to the Crossway Legacy (left). It occupies an interesting middle ground.

Comparing the Select/Caxton to the Clarion, however, you notice some differences. The chapter headings are set in bold italics instead of the Clarion’s plain italics. The page header is in all-caps, like the Clarion, but the spacing between letters is looser, which gives a more elegant impression (and is in keeping with the generally whiter, more spacious page).

The biggest difference has to do with page proportions and the resulting impact on the proportions of the text column. The Clarion page measures 5” x 7”, a classic footprint for books intended for hand-held reading. On that page, the text column is 3.5” wide and 6” tall, which creates a wide, page-filling impression. The Select/Caxton, however, is a larger book. The type size has been bumped from 7.5 pt. to 8.75 pt, and so the page is enlarged to accommodate, measuring 5.25” x 8.25” — comparable in width to the Clarion but a full 1.25” taller. The taller page allows a taller text column: the Select/Caxton’s single text column is 3.625” wide and 7” tall. In other words, while it’s only 0.125” wider than the Clarion, the Select/Caxton’s column is a full 1” taller than the Clarion’s.

Reader-friendly editions compared: The Clarion (top) is smaller than the Select and the Caxton (center), which occupy a middle space between it and the Heirloom Legacy (bottom).

Reader-friendly editions compared: The Clarion (top) is smaller than the Select and the Caxton (center), which occupy a middle space between it and the Heirloom Legacy (bottom).

As a result, the Select/Caxton sits prettily between the Clarion and another beloved single-column text setting, the Crossway Legacy. I mean that literally. This text setting looks like the fruit of a conversation that went something like this: “What if we took the text setting of the Clarion and gave it the proportions of the Legacy, minus the huge margins?” The Heirloom Legacy, in case you’re wondering, has a text column that measures 4” wide and 6.5” tall.

Another significant difference has to do with the line spacing, what typographers call ‘leading’ since in the old days of metal type, spacing between lines was achieved by inserting plugs of lead. Making allowance for my middle-aged eyes, I estimate the leading of the Clarion to be about 9.5 pt., while the larger Legacy has roughly 11 pt. leading. When I apply my scale to the Select/Caxton, though, I get something along the lines of 11.5 pt., which gives each line a bit more air to breathe. This can aid both readability and your ability to keep your place on the page, since lines spaced more generously are harder for the eye to mix up.

To be honest, I find the difference in type size between the Clarion and the Select/Caxton fairly negligible. I knew from the stats which one was larger, and confirmed this by measuring, yet eyeballing the two side-by-side I can’t really tell much difference. That is not the case with the leading, however. The extra line-spacing has a curious effect. At times the Clarion’s type appears as large or larger to my eyes, but the Select/Caxton’s lines are easier to skim over. I am not sure which page I prefer, frankly, and I cannot guarantee you would experience the same effect. It goes to show how significant even the smallest changes can be to the way we process words on the page.

The Caxton (left) compared to the Allan NLT1 (right).

The Caxton (left) compared to the Allan NLT1 (right).

Comparing the Select/Caxton to another high-end NLT, the R. L. Allan NLT1 (reviewed here), illustrates two very different approaches to readability. The Allan features Tyndale’s Premium Slimline Reference book block, a two-column text setting that packs larger individual words onto a considerably larger page. Even setting aside the Select/Caxton’s superior paper quality, I would argue that the Select/Caxton, by virtue of its spacious one-column text setting is both more readable and more suitable to general use.

Both the Select (top) and the Caxton (middle) improve the reading experience over the Allan NLT1 (bottom) -- but that big, floppy green cover is still amazing.

Both the Select (top) and the Caxton (middle) improve the reading experience over the Allan NLT1 (bottom) — but that big, floppy green cover is still amazing.

One last detail I want to point out is that, thanks to the New Living Translation’s more fluent use of dialogue tags, the translation benefits particularly well from a single column layout. As the passage below from Acts 22 illustrates, despite the slight anachronism that comes from retaining dialogue tags at the beginning of speech instead of in the middle or end of the line, which is much more common in English today, the NLT is formatted in a way that will scan smoothly for readers, with minimal confusion about who’s saying what. This isn’t always true in more literal translations, where retaining the antique grammatical form of the dialogue tags prevents new speakers from being indicated by the start of a new paragraph.

Here you can admire both the way the single column setting shows off the NLT's fluent formatting of dialogue and the way the generous line-spacing makes reading easier.

Here you can admire both the way the single column setting shows off the NLT’s fluent formatting of dialogue and the way the generous line-spacing makes reading easier.

The print impression in both Bibles — at least, both of my review copies — was nice and dark, consistent from page to page. Line-matching seemed very consistent, too. Occasionally I found what appeared to be mis-matches, but in fact this was the result of other pages showing through underneath (a harder metric to control). Jongbloed did an excellent job with the printing on these editions.

Now that we’ve looked inside and considered what the Select and the Caxton have in common, I want to explore their differences more, which have mainly to do with the binding. My review copy of the Schuyler Caxton is bound in limp natural grain goatskin, in a shade of dark purple that I imagine resembles the shade of a Roman emperor’s toga. Byzantine emperors were said to have been “born to the purple,” and many quite literally were, their mothers having given birth in a palace chamber lined in porphyry.

I wish the Schuyler logo (bottom) were scaled down to match the proportions of the Cambridge one (above). Where logo size is concerned, less is more.

I wish the Schuyler logo (bottom) were scaled down to match the proportions of the Cambridge one (above). Where logo size is concerned, less is more.

The color compares favorably with the Cambridge Prayer Book & Bible bound in purple calf split leather. Like the Cambridge, the Caxton’s lining is black, and you know how unhappy black liners inside a color cover make me. My objection to the practice is rooted in the fact that black has been the default option for so long. To me, a color cover with a black lining just screams that no one was paying attention to the details. Having said that, in this instance I happen to know for a fact that someone was paying attention to the details. Early in the process, the folks at Schuyler queried me about what color lining to use with a purple cover. The available options were limited, and as much as it pained me, black was indeed the most complementary of the choices. The others would have made for jarring combinations. All this to say, I’m not deducting points for the black lining in this instance — not that I keep track of points to begin with! — but I don’t want anyone to think I’ve made peace with the thought of black linings in non-black covers. I haven’t, and I never will.

Whether my photos capture this or not, I must say that the purple cover and the purple ribbons make a painfully elegant combination. This is high church through and through. The red-under-gold page gilding and the gilt line around the inside cover are standard on Schuyler editions (also present on the Select), but something about the purple-on-purple combination elevates the look, each shade bringing out the richness of the other.

The purple ribbons look great with the dark purple goatskin cover. Good luck getting one of the happy few owners to part with one, though.

The purple ribbons look great with the dark purple goatskin cover. Good luck getting one of the happy few owners to part with one, though.

The bad news is, the purple Caxtons are all gone, sold out during the pre-order phase, and there won’t be more of them for months. Mourn if you want, but there are some beautiful color combinations available. Personally, I would suggest either the dark green or the antique marble brown. Or the blue. (Like I said, there are options.)

One tweak I would love to make to the Schuyler’s aesthetic is the scale of the printing on the book’s spine. It’s simply too large. The ‘HOLY BIBLE’ and ‘NEW LIVING TRANSLATION’ are borderline for me, but I would reduce them at least ten percent. This would make the spine less crowded and give a more refined impression.

The logo at the bottom could be reduced considerably more. Graphic designers often complain about the perennial client request to “make my logo bigger,” and for good reason. You want attention and you think the best way to get it is to yell. The design equivalent of a raised voice is the big logo. The reason designers buck is not just that oversized logos result in an unbalanced overall look; it’s because yelling doesn’t really have the effect the yeller thinks it does. Things that are balanced, in scale, in proportion, communicate a level of assurance that look-at-me enlargement never does. Over time, Schuyler’s cover decoration has grown more sophisticated. Bringing the elements into proportion on the spine should be the next big step.

The leather lining of the Caxton (left) is not only nicer, it seems to eliminate the squeek of synthetics.

The leather lining of the Caxton (left) is not only nicer, it seems to eliminate the squeek of synthetics.

Inside the cover, the story is all about the leather lining. While it may create a subtle improvement in feel, the gain I noticed most actually had to do with sound. One of the gripes I’ve heard from readers is that some high-end Bibles, when you handle them, make a squeaking sound. With the synthetic liner on the Select, I get a little bit of that — but I haven’t heard it once with the Caxton. Admittedly, comparing two individual copies falls short of a definitive test, but I’m going to tentatively agree with folks who’ve traced the sound back to the synthetic liners.

The Jongbloed hinge has been a concern of mine for awhile, and the Caxton review copy was sent along with a note to the effect that, while the problem hadn’t been eliminated, the in-house team at Schuyler felt that the hinges on the Caxton weren’t as stiff as past editions have been, resulting in a Bible more apt to open flat. Imagine my disappointment when I opened my Caxton and found it would not lay flat. The good news is, the disappointment has abated. Let me explain.

Out of the box, it wasn't a pretty sight: the Jongbloed hinge strikes again.

Out of the box, it wasn’t a pretty sight: the Jongbloed hinge strikes again.

Out of the box, the Caxton did not feel any different to me than past Jongbloed Bibles, and I can confirm that the hinge is still there, and it is still stiff. What I found, however, was that with just a little bit of use, my Caxton was opening pretty much flat. Maybe the leather lining helped? Having two bindings of the same book block in hand presented a rare opportunity. I decided to see if the application of brute force would make the Select open flat the way the Caxton was. After bending the cover back and struggling with the hinge in ways I really wouldn’t recommend, I found that yes, the Select would open fairly flat, too. While these Jongbloed editions might not open as flat as, say, an Allan right out of the box, this seems to confirm that things get better with a bit of use.

Better and better: With use and abuse, both the Caxton (back) and the Select (front) opened pretty much flat.

Better and better: With use and abuse, both the Caxton (back) and the Select (front) opened pretty much flat. Perfect? No. But a big improvement.

Having said this, I should note that the new Heirloom Omega ESV, also printed and bound by Jongbloed, does open flat right out of the box — at least, my copy did. It, too, has a hinge, but a shallower one. I will be writing about this edition in the future.

Crossway's Heirloom Omega (front), also printed by Jongbloed, opens flat out of the box thanks to a shallower hinge. The Caxton is in the background.

Crossway’s Heirloom Omega (front), also printed by Jongbloed, opens flat out of the box thanks to a shallower hinge. The Caxton is in the background.

The impressive thing about the Tyndale Select is how favorably it compares to the Caxton. “Of course it does,” you’re thinking. “It’s the same book block printed by the same printer and bound by the same binder.” True enough. But Jongbloed can do a wide range of work at a variety of quality levels. The work they do for Allan, for example, is higher spec than standard Jongbloed-printed Cambridge Bibles. And when a major publisher releases a luxe edition, the details do not always live up to the hype.

The black goatskin Select (top) compares favorably with its rival.

The black goatskin Select (top) compares favorably with its rival.

That isn’t the case here, however. Tyndale has created a beautiful website to promote the Select, and this Bible deserves it. This is a well-made, elegant edition suited to deep reading, teaching, and study, the kind of Bible you could settle down with for the long term. While I have only seen the black goatskin option, based on my experience of Crossway’s similar Heirloom line, I feel fairly confident in recommending both the goat and calf editions, based on your preference. The Select features an excellent text setting in a variety of fine cover options.

Everything I’ve said so far about the Caxton’s quality applies equally to the Select, with two exceptions. The liner is synthetic rather than leather, and the two ribbons you get with the Select aren’t nearly as nice as the Caxton’s three. These factors do make the Caxton the more usable of the two, if we’re thinking of lifetime Bibles here.

Two ribbons and art-gild page edges.

Two ribbons and art-gild page edges.

The Select might have one advantage, though. The aesthetic of the cover may be more to your taste. Stacking the printing at the top of the spine gives the cover a clean, modern look. While I prefer the classic feel of the Schuyler, my graphic designer wife gives the Select her thumbs up. I suppose the fact that the choice might come down to which spine you like the look of best illustrates how successful Tyndale’s return to the high-end market has turned out.

I have turned to the New Living Translation for years as a back-up when working with more literal translations like the ESV, typically relying on an old hardback from the time of the original release. Despite my appreciation, I have never used the NLT as much as I might because the editions I’ve owned just aren’t designed the way I’d like. I thought that might change with the Allan NLT1, but despite my adoration for that big, floppy cover, I could never warm to the text setting itself.

Suddenly I find myself spoiled for choices: the Caxton in its beautiful array of colors, now with leather linings, and the Select in black and brown and the choice of goatskin or calf. The text setting, obviously, is what makes this Bible such an attractive option — but having it available in so many different color and binding options sure doesn’t hurt. NLT fans should be rejoicing about now. They’ve never had it so good.

Every translation with any kind of following deserves a reader-friendly reference edition like this, a single column setting with nice proportions that can serve today’s Bible reader as an all-around staple. There should be a NASB just like this, and an NIV and an NRSV. Insert whatever your favorite translation happens to be. If the NLT is your go-to, I can’t think of a single reason why you wouldn’t want a Caxton or a Select — or both — on your shelf. Not just on your shelf, either, but in your hands, and in the hands of your friends, your congregation, your Bible study partners. As far as the NLT goes, this is the text setting to have, and it’s available in a range of options that makes it simple to find the perfect edition for you.

If you love the NLT, it doesn't get any better than this.

If you love the NLT, it doesn’t get any better than this.

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Bible Rebinding: A Guest Post by Matthew Everhard

A topic of perennial interest at Bible Design Blog has been bookbinding. My own efforts to learn the craft have led to relatively dismal results, though they’ve taught me a great deal about how books are made, and how difficult it can be to make them well. Recently Matthew Everhard took up the challenge, and after seeing some of his early results I reached out to see if he would share his story with us. Fair warning: if you linger over the pictures and follow the links, you may find yourself skinning the neighbor’s couch and trying your hand at a little recreational binding! — JMB


by Matthew Everhard

There is no book called The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Bible Rebinding, but if such a volume is ever to be written, I have a feeling that I may inadvertently be its protagonist.

Let me tell you my story.

I got into Bible collecting as a hobby a couple of years ago, due largely to this very blog. Searching for a new ESV, I came across Mark’s reviews of the (then) new Legacy Heirloom edition by Crossway. I fell in love with the photography as well as Mark’s writing, and began breaking the Tenth Commandment regularly—a sin that I have repented of many times.



A KJV, 1902 Red Letter Art Edition, Self-Pronouncing Sunday School Teacher’s Combination Bible is my test subject here. It has double-columns, center references, and was essentially the nineteenth century “ESV Study Bible” of its time.

Mark’s site, of course, led me to other great editions by Cambridge, Schuyler and the like, including my Wide Margin ESV, which has now become my mainstay. With great paper, goatskin leather, a flexible binding and a gorgeous overall appearance, my Cambridge Bible became the love of my life. (Next to my wife, I should state clearly).

As many of you collectors already know, this is an expensive hobby. Very expensive. As a local church pastor, my income steam is sufficient, but not extravagant. That led me to the idea of Bible rebinding. If you could buy a Bible (cheap) and then cloak it with a goatskin cover, what is there to lose?


I removed the old musty leather, added new end pages, strengthened the spine by adding a new mesh mull, and prepped this baby for a new jacket.


Rebinding, of course, can be an excellent way to turn any regular Bible into a super-Bible. My friend Matt Bassford wrote an article about how to get one done in calfskin for as little as $75. But even then, if you start picking up the fancy options, a good rebind can easily set you back triple digits.

So then I had an idea. As Dr. Suess once said, “a terrible … awful idea.” I’ll begin rebinding Bibles myself! After all, how hard could it be?

The tools are simple enough, sure: a razor blade, some Aileen’s tacky glue, a carpenter’s square, a cutting mat to preserve the kitchen table, and a $12 leather skiving knife that I bought from Asia. This dangerous implement is complete with really cool characters that I believe are loosely translated: “Warning: white guy with a sharp blade!”


“Skiving” means thinning the leather, especially near the corners that must fold neatly and dutifully. This is easily the hardest and most labor intensive part. (Above left, the process. Above right, the end result.)

What about the leather, you ask? Quality leather is the sine qua non of a good rebind. Thankfully, there are a number of great places to order high quality leather, such as eBay or Springfield Leather. The key here is to get a good calfskin or goatskin leather, somewhere in the neighborhood of 1-2 ounces in thickness. Anything more than that will be too thick to fold well, and you will have to use that skiving knife a lot more than you want to. A good uncut, pre-dyed goatskin will run you about $30 – $40, so try not to mess up a lot. (On that ominous note, see more below.)

I am cheap. If I didn’t mention that before, now would be a good time to bring that up. I wanted yards and yards of free leather to use for practice so I could afford to make the predictable beginner’s mistakes. And I found that leather—in my neighbor’s trash one night.

When my block-buddy recently threw away his huge, two-piece soft leather couch, I knew I’d struck gold. My wife Kelly and I brought the couch home—with my friend’s permission, of course—and skinned that thing like a domestic beast bred just for its supple hide.

As a result, I now own dozens and dozens of square feet of rich, red-brown leather that has been worn to a soft comfortable state.




Above left: My wife Kelly has become our corner master. (I don’t have the patience). This takes skill, practice, and an artist’s eye.

With a total investment still under $50, I was ready to begin with one more stop: the church lost and found. There, we have several dozen Bibles that have been missing their owners for many months. I checked through the pile and found a few old beaters that didn’t have any identifying marks, annoying name stamps on the cover, or personal items inside. In fact, I chose some of the ones that really did need repair, so that in the happenstance that the owner reappeared, they would thank me for the work.

The smartest move that I made was contacting a true master before beginning. Although there are many professionals that do Bible rebinding (Leonard’s Books, AA Leather and others come to mind), I contacted a young artisan from California who does beautiful work—right out of the shed near his home. I’ve written about Diego Caloca here, and you really should check out his stunning work. Diego kindly send me the 40-step pictorial procedure that he uses, and I was glad to follow his lead without reinventing the wheel. He’s made himself available to give me tips and pointers when necessary, and I appreciate the help greatly.


Above left: After a few hack-jobs, we figured out the profound spine ribs by trial and error. Above right: We chose a “liner over cover” style here, and put the liner’s leather on upside down to leave the soft, suede side visible and tangible to the fingers.

One rainy Florida evening, my wife and I set out together to become Bible rebinders. We made our first cuts, and laid our first glue line. Let me tell you that it is much harder than it looks. If there is one rule of Bible rebinding that you should be aware of before you begin, it is this:

There are more ways to make mistakes than there are to succeed.

Believe me, we have made every error one can possibly make. (I think.) We have cut too much off and we have left too much on. We have cut too jagged and too straight. We have made our yapps too short, and we have even made one that looks like some kind of alien creature. We have gotten glue on the gilded page edges, and not enough glue on the liners. If there is a way to ruin a Bible, I’ve done it. I’d show you the pictures, but I’m afraid you’d unfriend me on Facebook.


Believe it or not, I stole this headband from a cheap, glued commentary on my study shelf. It came off easily, and went back on just as smoothly.




Overall, this Bible looks pretty good. There are still several mistakes, but the overall presentation isn’t bad. What do you think?

Logically, I suppose, if we keep learning and making those rookie mistakes, we will eventually improve enough to the point where we can be content with our work. As husband and wife, we have spent several good, quality evenings together rebinding Bibles, which is always better than watching reruns of The Carbanaro Effect

Will we ever be professional Bible rebinders like Leonard’s or master artisans like Diego? Probably not. But we do hope to improve just enough to show off a few good looking Bibles at our church’s craft show this fall.

And one day, perhaps I can even author The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Bible Rebinding.

* * *

Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville Florida. He is the author of Hold Fast the Faith: A Devotional Commentary on the Westminster Confession of 1647 and a few other shorter books. You can read more by Matthew at

“The Case Against Reference Bibles” at Relay

With apologies to Baron Munchausen, I have learned from experience that a modicum of hyperbole can be most efficacious. This explains why my feature for the latest edition of Relay, the new online magazine of Worldview Academy, makes the case for reader-friendly Bibles by making the case against reference editions.

Relay: “The Case Against Reference Bibles”

No, I haven’t gone (entirely) crazy … I just hope to get people’s attention by calling into question one of those truths we tend to hold self-evident: namely, that the accretion of ‘helps’ in your typical printed Bible are actually, well, helpful.

I took up this theme in my recent interview with The Bible Exchange, too.

“A help is something that assists you in solving a problem you can’t resolve on your own. The goal of help is to fill a gap until you develop the strength to fill it yourself without help. This is why a good teacher, in classroom discussion, doesn’t just give students the answers. Struggling with the problem is one way you learn. So ideally you would know your Bible well enough to find specific passages without help. Because you don’t, there are cross references, concordances, chapter and verse numbers, even thumb indexes if you can’t recollection the order of the books. If these things were just helps, you would rely on them less over time. That’s not what happens. Most of us find, when they are taken away, that we can’t do without them. That’s the definition of a crutch.”

Crazy talk? Maybe. But I find myself questioning more and more whether the helps are really helping. Over the years, I’ve tended to remain on the conservative end of the reader-friendly design spectrum. The section headings are useful, I’d argue. Surely we need the verse numbers. Lose the chapter breaks? Unthinkable. Yet my tendency recently has been to ask just how much I really need even the most basic helps. Even when I find I do need them, I wonder whether I should. Especially then, in fact.

Whatever your view, it makes for an interesting thought experiment. Check out the article and the whole of that interview question and tell me what you think.

Jonathan Edwards’s Blank Bible: A Guest Post by Matthew Everhard

Back in February when I shared Randy Brown’s excellent “Why You Need More than One Bible,” I mentioned my desire to bring you more features by talented writers who’ve been influenced by Bible Design Blog. The latest installment is from Matthew Everhard, and it covers a subject of perennial interest to Bible enthusiasts: Jonathan Edwards’s famous ‘Blank Bible.’ Matthew has been doing quite a bit of work on Edwards as part of his D. Min. program at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, so I am especially grateful that he took time out from his scholarship to write this piece for us! — JMB 


by Matthew Everhard

Two famous men in Colonial-American history owned Bibles that had literally been cut to pieces and then stitched back together again.

The first, was Thomas Jefferson – more concerned with morality than divinity – who famously edited out the miraculous and the supernatural from Scripture. Hardly an orthodox Christian by any definition, Jefferson simply cut away the portions that he did not like.

The other man was the famous New England Puritan, Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), considered by some to be the greatest scholar that America has ever produced. Edwards’s own rebound Bible had an entirely more sacred purpose – he took copious notes on nearly every major section of Scripture.

The story of this particular Bible is relentlessly fascinating.


Dubbed by most (including Edwards himself) as the “Blank Bible,” the official title of the manuscript is technically “Miscellaneous Observations on Holy Scripture,” and can be found today in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University. There, you can see it yourself – possibly handle it even – provided of course that the curator is in a good mood, and that you lick the orange Cheetos powder off your fingers before touching it.

The Blank Bible is entirely unusual in construction: it is really two books in one. It consists of a large 9.5 X 7.5 inch blank writing notebook, nearly three inches in girth, into which an entire miniature King James Version of the Bible has been meticulously stitched. Bound in brown leather over board (Mark Bertrand might call it “British Tan”), the book literally looks like one larger volume ate a smaller one for dinner.



Picture something the size of an ESV Study Bible, but fatter at the top than the bottom. From the side view, it looks like a python trying to squeeze down a meal.

The smaller book, a 1653 King James Bible, printed in London by the “Company of Stationers” is a miniscule, double-column AV with both side and center column references, along with some study notes provided by the publisher to boot.


Someone (not Edwards) who was very skilled in bookbinding took apart both original books, first removing their signatures and cutting apart the individual sheets, and then splicing together the larger blank pages with the smaller text of the KJV. Finally, the boundary sewed the newer, larger work together as an irregularly shaped monolith.

Kind of makes me wonder if Leonard’s had anything to do with this. Naaw…

Apparently the Blank Bible came into Edwards’s possession through family: it bears the name and handwritten signature of his brother-in-law, Benjamin Pierpont, and is dated by the same in his own script in 1728. A young candidate for ministry, Pierpont never actually ended up being ordained unfortunately. Apparently, he came into some controversy with the local clergymen having acted “apishly” around the young ladies, and was dubbed unfit for public ministry. Sadly, he died sometime thereafter.

Clearly interested in owning the unique book himself – no others like it exist – Edwards obtained possession of the Blank Bible sometime around 1730, probably through the mediation of Sarah his wife. Whether Benjamin could see that his ministry career was going nowhere and gave it to Edwards himself before he died, or whether it came to Edwards as part of the deceased’s estate is unknown. However it came into Edwards’s possession, it had already collected around 70 of Benjamin’s own thoughts and comments on Scripture. No matter. All the New Hampshire Puritan would do is add another 5,506 entries or so over the next thirty years.



The Bible itself is still in remarkably good condition. Its high traffic wear is from daily use, not at all from neglect or abuse. One theory holds that the current cover is itself yet another rebind. The fact that the signatures appear to have been tightened up against the inner columns, resulting in a smaller gutter, suggests that it was used so much by Edwards that the minister again took it to a professional, who cinched the signatures even tighter, added a newer cover and sewed it up again for a third time. A note in the flyleaf from Edwards himself dating the book to 1748 (almost twenty years after he received it) may support that theory.

In terms of its contents, the Blank Bible contains a treasure trove of information for Jonathan Edwards scholars to devour. As a matter of fact, some people are surprised to know that there are thousands of pages of Edwards’s materials that have still never been published. This volume, too, has only recently come into publication thanks to scholar Stephen J. Stein who meticulously transcribed Edwards’s nearly indecipherable handwriting into the 24th Volume of the complete Yale edition Works of Jonathan Edwards (2006).

This is a good news/bad news deal for eager readers, though. The bad news is that if anyone wants to actually read the thoughts of Edwards on various texts throughout the Bible in the published volume of the Yale Edition, they will have to fork over $225.00 claims to do so.

Hmm. Might as well buy a Quentel at that price.

The good news is that the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University has graciously hosted the entire volume digitally, published for free on the internet, alongside a host of other Edwards manuscripts, sermons, and treatises.

For some, this unique book will create a desire to replicate a Blank Bible of their own. For those who are interested in creating their own ‘Miscellaneous Observations on Scripture,’ there are options. It may not be feasible to do what Edwards’s Bible managed to do – merge two existing volumes into one. But it may be possible to attempt what Edwards did in spirit at least. Today, high quality Bible publishers have given us a number of options for those who want to work closely with the sacred text: just like a Puritan!

First, consider a wide margin edition. I have written about the glory of these editions elsewhere as has Mark. While you may not be able to pour 5,506 entries into the space just over an inch wide on either margin, at least you won’t have to dip your quill into the ink to write every third letter either.

Second, Crossway is making some really cool journaling Bible options now too. Their new single column journaling Bible improves on the previous edition, now by reducing the text of Scripture down to one column instead of two columns. In this way, confusion between which column of Scripture you are referring to in the lined margin space is eliminated.

If neither of these options work for you, it is still possible to acquire loose-leaf editions of several major Bible translations. Although you’ll never get that sweet leather smell, a three ring binder will give you the ability to add notes as your collection of “Miscellanies” grows.

So, go make a “Blank Bible” like Jonathan Edwards! Just don’t edit out the parts you don’t like as did Thomas Jefferson and become “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”

* * *

Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville Florida. He is the author of Hold Fast the Faith: A Devotional Commentary on the Westminster Confession of 1647 and a few other shorter books. You can read more by Matthew at A devoted fan of Bible Design Blog, Matthew has a growing collection of goatskin Bibles thanks to Mark’s informative work. 


“The Blank Bible.” Ed. Stephen J. Stein. Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University Online. Works of Jonathan Edwards. Vol. 24. Accessed April 2, 2015.

All pictures courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

“Peer into the private life of the man behind the Bible Design Blog phenomenon”: My Interview with The Bible Exchange

When you graduate from creative writing school, along with your diploma you receive a poetic license, a picture ID card that gives you the freedom to speak with unearned authority on whatever subject catches your fancy. I’ve used mine extensively over the years. (This is a true story: a publisher once told me I didn’t have the right kind of degree to have have written the book I’d just written. “Au contraire,” I said, sporting my sophistication. I have the kind that lets me pontificate on every subject under the sun.)

If you harbor any doubts about this predilection for pontificating — though if you’ve read this far, it’s hard to imagine you do — check out the interview I did over the weekend for the Bible Exchange. They asked a lot of good questions about Bibles, and threw in some curve balls covering everything from desert islands to future fiction to favorite color. And I swung at every pitch, naturally.

Here’s the link: The Bible Exchange: “17 Questions with J. Mark Bertrand”

I’d like to thank Paul Tanca and Bobby Hanson for making it possible, and Matthew Everhard and Randy Brown for helping out. Also, special thanks to everyone who suggested questions! There were some great ones in the mix that got me thinking.

The Perfect Format

The Effect of Reader-Friendly Design Choices

Monday, February 23, 2015

“I’ve read what you said about Bibles being designed like dictionaries,” writes Bradford Taliaferro. “Now that I have this Bible — I get it! Reading the Bible doesn’t…

Why Bible Typography Matters

Friday, February 6, 2015

Here’s a treat for a Friday afternoon: check out Mark Ward, Jr.’s video “Why Bible Typography Matters”! Mark shares our concern for good design, and has put together a…

Are reader-friendly Bibles just marketing hype?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

I’d like to highlight a comment from earlier today, because Steve Atherton’s experience with the ESV Reader’s Bible echoes my own: “I have had a few days now…

Bibliotheca, the ESV Reader’s Bible, and the Future of Printed Bibles

Monday, July 7, 2014

The release of the ESV Reader’s Bible and the launch of Bibliotheca have made the past couple of weeks rather exciting for those of us eager for well-designed,…