Marginal Interest? Why You Need A Wide-Margin Bible

Widemargin_openIf you’ve been around this site for any length of time — five seconds ought to do it — you know that I’m an opinionated, hair-splitting sort of fellow. For everything I like about a particular edition of the Bible, there are a dozen things I want to change, and I’ll be the first to admit that some of my demands are a little unrealistic. Despite what some people think, the folks who publish Bibles do it out of a sense of vocation. They’re not out to shaft the end user. The generally poor quality of contemporary Bible design and binding has as much to do with economy and the changing face of publishing as anything else.

But you know what? I’m an idealist. My strategy is simple: if we’re all graciously demanding, then the quality and options we see in the market will improve.

As far as I’m concerned, some features ought to be basic in Bible publishing. Text should be paragraphed, set in readable modern type and formatted in a single column. Bindings should be genuine leather, spines sewn, and every Bible should come with at least two ribbons — and they should be wide, too, not the dinky little strings that never lay flat between the pages. Every publisher of every translation should consider it essential to produce at least one edition that meets this criteria. Sadly, most don’t publish any that do.

And that’s why another favored feature of mine is languishing: the wide margin. If publishers aren’t getting their basic editions right, you can’t expect them to invest much effort in something as ‘exotic’ as a well-made wide margin Bible. After all, there isn’t that much demand. Who wants a wide margin Bible?

The wide margin Bible is the thinking man’s Study Bible. Like the Study Bible, it is full of notes, outlines and annotations. Unlike the Study Bible, it doesn’t come with them. Instead, you make the notes yourself. That way, they’re the result of your study, not someone else’s. Don’t get me wrong: I have nothing against store-bought Study Bibles. It’s just that the one you make yourself is better. Sure, it demands more of you, but over time it gives more back.

If the demand for wide margin Bibles has declined, perhaps it’s an indicator that the quality of our study has, too. We don’t need those vast margins because we have nothing to write in them.

I am an enthusiastic supporter of the English Standard Version, but until there’s an ESV wide margin edition, I won’t be able to switch over completely. One day, hopefully not too far in the future, I will sit down with an ESV wide margin on one side and my trusty Cambridge Concord on the other and start the laborious process of transferring notes. Until then, I keep the Cambridge handy. It’s margins are full of annotations — notes reminding me of glosses I discovered in commentaries, outlines I’ve used for teaching studies, and more. Next to various “problem” passages I’ve written down explanations. For example, my notes on Romans 11 include a reminder that in verse 32, when Paul writes “…that he might have mercy upon all,” the word all refers to both Gentile and Jew. It’s a simple point about context, but significant in certain theological conversations.

In the back of the Cambridge Concord wide margin, there is a series of lined pages. Mine are filled with questions and answers from the Westminster Longer Catechism; passages copied from Calvin, Kuyper, Berkouwer, Bavinck and Warfield; a two-page synopsis of John Frame’s arguments for both the deity of Christ and the Trinity from The Doctrine of God, and much more. How many times have you gotten into a discussion only to find yourself unable to recall the flow of a certain line of exegesis? Whenever that happens to me, I research the answers and copy them into the back of my wide margin Bible.

Verse_noteAnother thing you’ll find in the margins of my Cambridge: variant readings from other translations. Whenever I come across an opaque passage and discover that an alternate translation offers more light, I note the reading in the margin beside the verse. This is particularly helpful when teaching.

Obviously, there are trade offs. Wide margin Bibles are, well, wider. And because of those big margins, the page headings are farther in; you don’t want to use a wide margin for your “sword drills.” In my experience, it is even more important to have a good binding on a wide margin than it is on a regular edition. With a supple, flexible binding, the extra bulk of the wide margin is more manageable.

Widemargin_spineAs Cambridge fans will know, just because two Bibles are the same edition in the same binding doesn’t mean they will actually be the same. If you choose a Cambridge wide margin — available only in the KJV and NIV, as far as I know — be sure to shop around and handle the bindings in person. I have three Cambridge wide margins. One of them is bound in spectacular Berkshire leather and is more compact than the other two, which are both identical Concords. I say “identical,” but the fact is they are very different. The one pictured here is quite flexible. I bought it after I’d already shelled out money on the first one only to discover that the calfskin cover was so stiff and sharp that it was impossible to flip through the Bible without reaching inside the cover and holding the paper block separately.

No doubt if Tolstoy had known me, he would have titled his famous short story “How Many Bibles Does A Man Need?” instead of “How Much Land,” but what can I say? I really think that if you’re serious about Bible study, a wide margin edition is an asset.

For more about wide margin Bibles, including a survey of what’s out there, see Rick Mansfield’s “A Survey of Wide Margin Bibles by Version.”

59 Comments on “Marginal Interest? Why You Need A Wide-Margin Bible

  1. I have the Zondervan NIV Wide-Margin Bible and LOVE it. Big 2-inch margins. It only comes in bonded leather, but so far, it has help us pretty well. (I have had it not quite a year.)

  2. Do you know if the binding is sewn, Deeanne? If so, then it should last a while no matter what the cover’s made of.

  3. What writing implements do you use to write in your wide margin bibles? Pencil or pen?

  4. I’ve seen a number of folks recommend the Micron Pigma pens. They are acid free, waterproof, and fade proof. I’m trying one out on another Bible. While there are different sizes, I’ve found that the 005 with a .20mm line width works best for me. My frustration with pencil over the years is that it fades terribly! Not only that, but the lead rubs off on to the page facing the one you write on once the Bible is closed. One has an eraser…one doesn’t, however!

  5. I think I’m going to go with the the pigma micron pens, myself. I bought a few of them the other day. I’ve heard good things about them.

  6. Great review, Jesus. Quick question — I am trying out the Sakura 005, which I love so far. I guess the trick is to let the point do the work instead of doing what we are used to, which is to apply pressure.

  7. This is a helpful conversation.
    I am currently using a mechanical pencil (.07) with a zebra highlighter which is perfect for bibles (zero bleedthrough…w/out as bright of a line). But I have always used pens, and have some concern if pencils do eventually fade.
    These Pigma Micron pens are tempting if they do not bleed through on bible paper (like Allan’s) and do not leave the indents on the other side of the paper (such as pencils).

  8. I tend to always use blue pens (or colors other than black) so when I look at a page in scripture I do not see a sheet of black…helps to seperate notes from scripture.

  9. PDS, the 005 is quite a fine line and so it doesn’t mark quite as dark but you don’t need to apply quite as much pressure to get the pen to write. Another thing I forgot to mention is that the pigment doesn’t clog so you will have not clogging issues to deal with.
    Although the pigment doesn’t bleed you still can see it from the other side of the page. Start off with the finest point and work your up, especially in your good Bibles. Thus far I have used them in my Deluxe Heirloom and the In Touch Ministries NASB from Lockman with nary a problem while using the 05 for underlining and the 005 for notes.

  10. Bought 5 different colors of the pigma Micron in different colors. So far I am the most pleased with the brown with a 01 tip (which seems to work well for underlining and writing), which does not show through the thin paper on my thinline ESV. The blue, red, and green were a little bright and could be seen on the reverse page. The black is also nice, but I like using a different color than the actual text.

  11. What is the tip on the 01? Sounds like you are pleased? I’ve been impressed.

  12. Anyone…where is the best place to find a BLUE 005? I’m having trouble locating it.

  13. I am not a big fan of the blue because it pretty light (kinda turqouise), not a dark blue. Brown is my favorite on bible pages so far.

  14. The brown looks almost like a reddish brown on the page, so it stands out but is more subtle than other colors (black obviously blends in the most). My problem lately is my eyes are “very ADD” and get distracted when reading with a bunch of florescent highlighted text, so I have gone to just underlining and making notes on the side.

  15. Yep, I don’t do any highlighting. I box in words…or underline…and makes notes on the side. Question is whether I will mark in my new Allan ESV Tan edition! 🙂

  16. When I get my Tan ESV I will use the brown micron pigma pen…they will match.

  17. I bought a set of six Pigma Micron pens with a very fine tip. So far I am quite pleased with them. The fine point allows me to write very small and avoid a cluttered look in my Bible. I will underline a text and then make notes in the margin next to that text. Because I have six colors in this set I came up with a color coded system for my notes:
    Brown – Historical notes and notes on the text
    Green – Notes on science & creation
    Blue – Notes on prophecy & End Times issues
    Black – Notes on theology, the spirit realm & notes on the notes in my study Bible
    Purple – Notes on God, Jesus & The Holy Spirit
    Red – Notes on sin and slavation

  18. Here’s a few thoughts if your find yourself wanting to get into the marking text frenzy but find yourself hesitant to put pen to (expensively bound) paper. Alternatively, you may be putting off getting the benefits of study directly on text because you’re waiting on the publication of a new edition that (like me and the Wide Margin ESV from Cambridge).
    1) Consider buying a less expensive hardbound version of the text setting that your enjoy for use as a practice tool. It’s cheaper and you can develop a marking system as you go. A good deal of the benefit of being able to mark on the page is the heuristic value of the process, but the notes that come after that initial observation process are usually more helpful in the long run.
    2) Along the same lines (but even cheaper), a large-print text Bible (like a pew Bible) can give you some inexpensive pages with a little room to mark through before you start in with marking a more expensive edition.
    3) Consider making your own loose-leaf edition or adapting yourself to an exisiting loose-leaf edition as an intermediate step. Many Bible software programs allow you to export text to word processing programs; plus, you can find electronic text of some versions online, too. You can pick a nice weight paper to print on and go at it with regular old cheap highlighters and pens.
    4) Check out Crayola twistable pencils for highlighting:
    Cheap. No bleedthrough. Scads of colors. No sharpening needed. You can give the ones you don’t like to your kids.
    Anyway, just some thoughts. Don’t sit on the sidelines on this one. Wide margins make study a lot of fun. Find a way to get some text you can live with and have at it.
    -Tod Twist

  19. I have found that the Zebra Zebrite Highlighter works best for me. I use the Fluorescent yellow, it has a medium and a fine line marker.

  20. Hey guys,
    Did it ever strike you guys that the margin on a wide-margin bible does not mean that something has to be written on it? IMHO it is better to just leave it blank. Like a beautiful modern artwork or painting mounted with equal spaces on all sides on a frame, the wide margin has aesthetic values. Think about it.

  21. Hey guys, my company has just produced the most beautiful bible binding in the world. As a sample, we will soon be shipping out NASB & the ESV (wide margin, classic, pitt minion lookalike, red & black edition, paragraph format, semi-yapp and limited thumb-indexed edition-unique in that the thumb index labels are printed on the pages itself – a first in the world) and the bindings will be most exotic – Deluxe Rabbit Skins WITH FURS and New Zealand Sheepskin WITH FURS. A very limited edition of the Deluxe Sealskin will only be available sometime in mid-2009. These superior editions of the NASB & ESV will only be available online mid-October 2008 (in time for Christmas). Complete information will be available on the first week of August 2008. These world most exotic bibles are manufactured in Seoul, South Korea with technical collaboration from Scotland. More information will be available shortly.

  22. Oh…. I forgot. Besides the 2 fur editions, we are definitely preparing a very limited edition nicknamed ‘The Cowboy’ (thick tanned cowhide with no linings at all!)by the third quarter of 2009. This will be the most durable bible of all time – though they will cost more than US$1,200 each. Again, more information will be available shortly.

  23. Who’s going to pay $1,200 for a bible? Do you know how many poor people you can feed with that kind of money?

  24. Steve, most readers here seem to regularly be spending $120 for Bibles, over and over again. I’m sure most of the rest of the world thinks that is insane and also wonder how many poor could be fed with that money!
    If it truly is the world’s most durable Bible then $1200 would be cheaper than what most visitors here spend, considering it seems most are upgrading or replacing every five years, whereas this same Bible could be passed down two generations. With all the savings they could be feeding the poor.
    Really, $1,200 seems too cheap for the most valuable thing we can own; the very words of God, the only thing that can save your life and gives it any value.
    (I wont be buying this, but I am experimenting with designing my own Bible; if I logged my hours I probably would be spending a lot more than $1,200!)

  25. Sorry brother you can spin it all you want but you know it’s unchristlike to spend that kinda money on a bible when you can get a perfectly good quality (not luxury) bible that will last you a lifetime for $100 – $200. Don’t worry about what I think but don’t kid yourself either.

  26. Dear Brother Steve,
    You are not “wrong” per se in what you said. But I would choose to believe that the brothers in Christ here who have such love for God’s Word – cannot be living a life not bearing fruits for the Kingdom of God – like giving generously to the poor & the needy. After all, there is nothing to boast since it is God who has given us the ability & the resources & the desire to do good.
    But since this is the place to celebrate how we can honor and enjoy God’s Word in another dimension – why not?
    I praise God for those skilled craftsmen in Allan & Cambridge. And I praise the LORD for all the goats & calfs too!

  27. It’s an interesting question / debate that we probably all spin in our particular favour at some time or another.
    Australia seems to be suffering from more than one kind of drought & I’m thankful that this blog was the catalyst for breaking the drought in my earnest quest for a “quality” bible which I do now consider a “luxury” but not in a negative sense. It’s hard to find let alone afford a “quality” bible IN THE Christian BOOKSTORES here in Australia.
    Though I enjoy collecting & comparing the majority of translations the question remains – “When is enough enough?”
    I think that at least part of the answer lies in the fact that I find myself longing to pick up one of these treasures just to enjoy & soak up the Word of God. I’ve a new found love for it & I try to encourage others not only to help the poor but to buy a quality Bible for themselves having learned firsthand of the joys & benefits it brings.
    Having said that – I took “Dreamers” comments with a ‘grain of salt’!

  28. When I get my Tan ESV I will use the brown micron pigma pen…they will match.

  29. Today I finally received the long awaited Cambridge ESV Wide Margin, Black Goatskin, black letter. It may be the finest Cambridge I have ever seen and held. Upon my initial look, there is a great Bertrand influence upon this edition and it is meant for notetakers. To say the least, my expectations were exceeded (and I have anticipated this as my “perfect” Bible!). I’m sure many of you will have comments, but here’s what I noticed on a quick scan:
    – most flexible cover on a Cambridge I have seen (comparable to recent Allan’s ESV1 but feels more flexible since it’s a larger size);
    – inside liners are a glossy leather and SEWN (??) underneath the outside covers (it sure looks like it’s sewn);
    – text has been more centered all the way around than other recent WM editions by Cambridge (but inside margin is more narrow than outside);
    – 32 pages of lined note pages (lines are blue and double columned on each page);
    – a multi-page section called “INDEX TO NOTES” that precedes the lined note pages (pages are contain alphabetized A-Z blank areas to record subjects of notes…never seen this before);
    – text is exact page-for-page match to Pitt Minion version;
    – 15 color maps with index (like Pitt Minion);
    – concordance more extensive than Pitt Minion;
    – Typeset in US (7.9 pt on 8.2 pt Lexicon No. 1);
    – Printed and bound in the Netherlands; and
    – Two black ribbon markers.
    Folks, this is a superb Bible!! Thanks Mark. Thanks Cambridge.

  30. Is it really leather lined? Also, what do you think about the photos on evangelical bible. Some photos show the text looking a little on the light side. Is that just their photos or is it really light like that. And what do you think about the size. Does it seem like something you would take to Sunday school or Bible study so that you have your notes with you?

  31. Robert- It is really leather lined and very nicely done. It’s constructed differently than other Cambridges. I would put the lightness/darkness of the text in the middle. It’s not as dark as say the Allan’s NIV Bold Reference but is not as light as portions of the ESV Personal Reference. It doesn’t come across as dark as the Pitt Minion version but some of that perception may be the clarity in a bigger font. It seems to be very consistent, too. The size is better than other Cambridge WMs I have seen. It seems to be thinner than recent editions. I have one of the older Cambridge NIV WMs and it is comparable to that. Having used a WM for years, the size is fine with me.

  32. I checked with Baker Publishing; they say the lining is imitation leather, same as their recent NKJV and NASB editions.

  33. That’s what I thought too. So “glossy leather” = “imitation leather” 😉

  34. Thanks for clarifying. It burst my leather bubble…but thanks. 🙂

  35. On the other hand, what I’ve understood is that the imitation leather they use is much better than the standard non-leather liners that you see on many leather bibles.
    How’s the paper thickness? Does it stand up well to writing? You have written in it already haven’t you?! 😉

  36. Sorry, Rod! I would have liked it to be real leather lining too! I have a Cambridge Presentation Reference edition with real leather linings and it is superb. But the paper used in the wide margin Bibles is more suited for note-takers, isn’t it?

  37. Rod, do you happen to have any Allan Bibles to compare it to? I’m still undecided between the Cambridge ESV wide margin and the Allan Breviere Clarendon. ESV is actually my main translation, but I’m still very much attracted to learning the KJV. I would like to hear if you had any comparison thoughts between the new Cambridge ESV and the Allan Bibles.

  38. I have two Allen ESVs and the Allen NIV Bold Reference. A few comparisons using an Allen ESV1BR and the Cambridge WM ESV:
    – I think the cover on the Cambridge is slightly more flexible than the Allen ESV1BR;
    – the inside cover of the Allen is leather;
    – the Cambridge inside cover is sewn into the outer cover while the Allen’s is glued;
    – the print in the Allen’s is slightly larger and darker;
    – both are red under gold;
    – both are black letter;
    – I think the paper in the Cambridge is ever so slightly heavier;
    – this particular Allen’s has three ribbons vs. two on the Cambridge;
    – the quality of the ribbons is better on the Allen’s; and
    – of course the Cambridge has LOTS of writing space.
    Is there something else you would like me to compare?

  39. At first I thought the Cambridge ESV Pitt Minion had better layout of text, but when it came down to readability, I found that my eye had more difficulty on focusing on a line of text and then often time I would find myself reading the same line twice because my eye found it difficult to go to the next line when they are so closely space together. However, it is incredible easy for my eye to read across each line of text in the Allan ESV. I think it has something to do with the Allan ESV larger type size, narrower column width and larger line spacing. It’s almost as if the eye can effortless focus on each line of text and find the next line. But with my Pitt minion the type size is smaller and the line spacing is tighter so it’s a quite a bit more difficult to read than the Allan ESV. How’s the Cambridge Wide Margin compared to the ESV in this respect?

  40. Robert- I think the same holds true for the Wide Margin. There is less space between lines of text and it is a little harder to follow than the Allan’s ESV. A friend of mine glanced at a page in the wide margin and cried, “Agghhh! This text seems to all run together.” I also have an older version of a Cambridge NIV Wide Margin and there is more line spacing with a different font. It does seem to make a difference in readability.

  41. Thanks so much for all the above. It is very interesting as I have just purchased a NASB wide margin Bible which I adore. I was only using a normal ballpoint pen as I was unaware that these other pens were available and would be better. I will have to rush out and buy one before I do too much more marking.
    Thanks again

  42. Your post on “why you need a wide margin Bible” has been very helpful, I never realized how useful a wide margin Bible could be. Yesterday I received my first wide margin Bible, its a In touch Ministers NASB with a black Calfskin cover. To be honest I’m very nervous about writing notes in this Bible, even though it says on the box that the pages are bleed proof.
    Has anyone tried using erasable pens in their Bible or would that be a bad idea?

  43. the in touch nasb wont show any bleed-through using pens for notes because it’s a coated paper. i don’t know why more publishers of wide-margin editions don’t follow suit.

  44. I just bought my first WM, an ESV from Crossway. Yes, it’s glued, it’s TruTone, and the margins aren’t as wide as a Cambridge, but LifeWay had it on sale for $25, so I figured I’d get one to try it out. if it turns out that I really use the margins, then there may be a Cambridge on my Christmas list …
    And I really appreciate the comments on pens. I’ve tried every pen I own, including a set of Sharpie pens guaranteed not to bleed through regular paper, and of course they all do. I’m off to try and find some Pigma Microns tomorrow. Thanks, everybody!

  45. I used to use a .5mm pencil to underline and make marginal notes but I noticed in my original ca. 2003 ESV Classic Reference that they started to fade and also that the pages were indented where there was writing or underlining. I just recently changed to a Cambridge ESV wide margin, hardbound and am using a Pigma Micron 005 in brown. There is minimal ghosting and any underling stands out nicely, not too obvious but there. The underlining is not visible from the other side of the page.

  46. I have the Nelson NKJV Wide Margin Bible. I received it as a birthday gift for my first good Bible back in 1994. The margin is less wide at the top.It’s black genuine bonded leather. It’s copyrighted 1994. It has black ink all the way through, has the commonly used (at least from what I’ve seen in other KJV and NKJV Bibles)book introductions, Harmony of the gospels, a concordance and maps.

  47. I am looking for a true WM, preferably in NASB. Here are the preferred specs:
    1. Each verse on a new line,
    2. At least 10 to 10.5 point text,
    3. Black lettered text,
    4. Cross references toward the gutter side of the page,
    5. Bible notes at the bottom ,
    6. Bible dimensions being a 7 x 9 1/2 x 2 (or thereabout),
    7. No bleed through pages, possible 24lb paper india paper,
    8. Smyth Sewn or Side Stitch Sewn,
    9. Each book starts new page,
    10. Genuine leather (or better).
    Is there such a product? If so, where do I get it?

  48. I agree with this. If you’ve got a email I would love to share some photos of what both my Wide Margin and Pitt Minion NASB Bibles look like. Though I wish that Cambride would also make a NORMAL sized Bible, basically the same as the Wide Margin with out the wide margins.

  49. If you are looking for a wide margin KJV and are afraid of spending the money on something that you might be afraid to mark-up (which is me) – you can go to the Trinitarian Bible Society and order a Wide Margin Concord in Hardback for $40. It is only available online to Canadian customers but when I contacted them by phone I was able to order one from the US. It appears to be essentially the same as a black letter Cambridge Wide Margin Concord (They use Cambridge University Press) – only a much more affordable, and in my opinion, more work-friendly edition. I just didn’t want all of the gilding and fancy leather for what for my personal study and family devotions – but I didn’t want to be as utilitarian as to have a loose-leaf bible in a three-ring binder. It’s still nice to have a well-designed book with sewn pages, even an economical one in hardcover.

  50. Thanks, Brian, I’ve noticed before that TBS has different products for different countries. At their new website:
    you can toggle the country code at the top and compare what’s available in different regions. The economically-priced Canadian zippered Pitt looks good too!

  51. I know this has been said on some other threads but in reference to an inexpensive addition for taking notes, Local Church Bible Publishers makes some beautiful editions (KJV only) that are at a minimum, genuine leather or calfskin depending on what you buy and they are all in the $40 to $60 window. This about a 1/3 of true market price from what I have been able to tell but it is a ministry for them and if so inclined you can add an additional love offering if you feel compelled but you are not required to. I would check it out if you would like leatherbound at a hardback price. They do have wide margin as well. All bindings are sewn. Just purchased my first last week and frankly am impressed at what you get for the money. I will certainly be getting more in some various styles. Waiting on my Allen to arrive to compare but I have two Cambridge Bibles already and the quality is right up there.
    Hope this helps, God bless.

  52. I’m looking for a good preaching Bible that has wider margins for notes, but not bulky in size. I like the Cambridge, but it’s too cumbersome. Any ideas?

  53. @A Scott: What about the single-column ESV Legacy? It seems less cumbersome to me than the almost-square Cambridge. But granted you trade off a little writable white space for that. As a bonus, I think the text is more readable than the Cambridge.
    Or did you want KJV only?

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