Guilty Pleasure?

So your Bible's signatures are sewn together instead of glued, and the cover is calfskin or even goat, and not some unspecified mystery leather or pleather. Is that something to feel guilty about? You paid twice the going rate, even three times. Or four. Would it have been more pious to go for the cheapest edition and donated the extra cash to a good cause? Is there sometimes a little voice in your head saying something like this: "Instead of focusing on the outside so much, maybe you should trying reading what's inside." 

Since I started writing about the physical form of the Good Book several years ago, one of the most intriguing and baffling phenomena I've observed is the guilty pleasure syndrome. People who act on their frustration with corner-cutting, throwaway Bibles by doing some research and spending some extra dollars to get the kind of quality that used to come standard, only to feel guilty about it afterward. Made to feel guilty, many times.

Scroll through the archive of comments and you'll find a few in this vein. I make a point of not deleting them, because they serve as an object lesson. I get e-mails along the same lines, too. Sometimes an outraged citizen of the blogosphere will point out how impious it is to even think about stitches and grain when there are sheaves to be brought in. Sometimes a sympathetic reader will confess to feeling guilty for enjoying his nice Bible, since he spent so much more on it than his friends at church would ever dream of shelling out. (The ones who don't know their $20 gluejobs will fall apart if ever they read them, because, well … they haven't.)

I don't pay much attention, because it's not something that's ever bothered me much. I don't feel guilty for having a quality Bible, or for helping other people find their own. Quite the opposite. I think I'm doing something good, something valuable.

Look, I love evangelicals. I am one, strictly speaking. But if there's one thing I've learned from hard experience, it's that whenever we see people enjoying themselves "too much," we sense an opportunity to pounce. There's something wrong about everything, the key is to find out what. And to be the first one to throw a flag on the play. That joy of denunciation can be so intense, so addictive that it drives out all sense of perspective. If you're wondering, that's the object lesson I was referring to before. Not all zeal is good zeal.

But if you're struggling with this, I'd like to offer a few points to consider.

1. Quality is now a luxury — i.e., it isn't cheap. I've written about this before, but it bears repeating. There's a difference between spending $150 or $200 on a premium Bible and spending $5,000 on a designer handbag. You're not making a statement with those dollars, you're making an investment. The thing that motivated me to learn more about the design and manufacture of Bibles was frustration: I hated how badly the average late twentieth century Bible was made, its vestigial decorative touches about as authentic as the timber on a suburban Tudor facade. I spent a lot of money on bad Bibles before I spent a dime on good ones. If you manage to spend $150 on a Bible you'll use for five, ten, twenty years, you're doing all right. It's like shoes, remember? You can buy cheap ones, but you'll have to buy more and more. Unless you don't wear them, which is how some folks keep their Bibles intact.

2. You're supporting a dying art. That rationale applies to the reader who, in search of a lifetime Bible, finds this site and makes an informed purchase. But what about the person who makes ten or twenty of those informed purchases? Isn't that a Bad Thing? Not if you ask me. People are pretty indifferent to the Bible, generally speaking, which means publishing quality editions is a niche market inside a niche market. The reason I don't have a problem with Bible "collecting" is that people in that line help keep the options alive. It's frustrating to find the Bible you've been looking for all those years, then discover it's out of print. Why is it out of print? Because nobody was buying. So if you ask me, the question really isn't how much you've spent. It's what did you spend it on. If you spent $20 to support the problem, I'm sorry, that doesn't impress me as much as the guy who spent ten times that to support the solution.

3. A gadfly in the ointment. Then there's Matthew 26. If you recall, while Jesus was in the home of Simon the leper, a woman anointed him with expensive perfume. Christ called what she'd done "a beautiful thing," but beauty has always seemed a costly frivolity to the more practical minded. "Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor." Sounds good, right? But in John's gospel we learn that the prime mover behind this objection was Judas, and his motives had more to do with the fact that he held the money bag than any abstract affection he might have for the less fortunate. While I don't want to belittle anyone's Oskar Schindler moment, a realization that a luxury or two forgone could have saved another life, there's something slightly facile about imposing such sanctions on others — especially typing them out on your laptop then sending them via your high speed Internet connection. Sometimes the better path involves more delighting in beauty and less consternation about the sacrifices others ought to be making.

Why am I spending so much time belaboring the point? Because I don't want to spend another moment on it again. My attitude in a nutshell is this. Don't feel guilty for insisting on quality. Don't beat yourself up for supporting the folks who make quality editions. And don't submit to the judgment of people who, whether they realize it or not, seek to bind your conscience to salve their own. 

Instead, delight in the printed Word. Do what you can to introduce others to quality-bound Bibles. And when critics come around, as they inevitably will, remember to be kind. 

55 Comments on “Guilty Pleasure?

  1. You are correct. Buying a quality bible is a good investment. But what about those who own upwards of 5 high quality bibles? Nobody owes me an explanation but right now a child is going to bed hungry somewhere. I’ll let you decide if you need another $100 dollar plus bible.

    • And who are we to judge that many posting here, yes, those with five such Bibles, are approaching this as an either/or equation? What omniscience have we that we are able to know they have ignored the poor to purchase the Bible?

      In other times, such craft, skill, and excellence were not considered something the faithful would ridicule, they were considered what the faithful would be aiming for in all their their labors, as a glory and honor to God. It was, after all, He who gave these bookmakers their skills.

  2. “Scroll through the archive of comments and you’ll find a few in this vein. I make a point of not deleting them…”
    Why would deleting them even cross your mind?

  3. I have to agree. Quality Bibles seem tough to come by, especially if your preferences are obscure (ie small size). If I had the money, I’d by a few more copies of the Bible I have right now, just in case I ever need them. They wouldn’t ever go to waste either – I could pass them on to friends or family should I decide I don’t need them.

  4. i think this goes for everything, probably many when they buy a house they want a good quality one and are prepared to pay extra for it to last, if being consistent with such claims as to buy a cheap one and give to the needy one has to apply this to all areas of life, or one would be a hypocrite.
    i am all for giving and think we are commanded to, and i am all for “modesty” in not owning “flashy” things just because its the best and greatest and newest ect, but the bible…
    its Gods word, i want it to last, i bring it everywhere, if my house caught fire its my bible i would snatch on the way out. I have several, i have widemargins and small ones ect, i want my children and grandchildren to be able to pick up my kjv wide margin and read what God revealed to me.
    And buying a wide margin bible for 200 dollars may seem insane to some, but to me it is insane to build a church building for millions of dollars when most people in the world dont even have a bed to sleep in. Yet most have no problem attending such a building for worship or a service.
    Its possible nice bibles can become an idol, we as humans can make an idol of anything, but i fear most of christian “industry” have become more or less like the world as in buy it and throw it, quality sinks and it adds to our consumption society.
    I cherish Gods word and want it to last down the generations if that happends.
    a recommended documentary how we have been fooled in our generation to accept the low quality stuff as a glued binding for 1:29 , sure its good to have as an option,but now its not an option but standard with really low qulaity.
    watch this, and it will make sense to you

  5. I can’t tell you how much I needed to read this today. I have always loved Bibles, in fact just donated a half dozen or more Bibles that I no longer use to a mission agency in Africa where there is an advanced English class for those (natives) preparing for ministry. I have never owned a really good quality Bible such as you review here, but I finally got my husband’s permission to order one, a tan ESV 1 from Allan publishers. He is a pastor and his attitude has always been closer to what you mentioned, that spending so much on a Bible is rather a sinful use of money. Finally, as I pointed out that I have few other hobbies that I spend money on, he agreed to my ordering the Bible. However, I have been struggling with the very guilt feelings you spoke of, because quite frankly I do not personally know one other person who shares this love of quality Bibles which I have. It is just good to read your article and realize that my desire for a quality Bible isn’t something I need to feel so guilty about, as long as I don’t make it an idol. God bless you for your timely message for me. Now I can feel more excited than guilty about my Bible coming this week!

  6. Well written, Mark. Another attitude and assumption that often takes place is that if a person has more than one of a nice thing, then he must certainly be withholding giving to the poor, or his local church, or to World Missions. More often than not, those attitudes are based on envy instead of truth. For a person may very well have the means to own five quality Bibles, and still give generously to the poor, his local church, and World Missions.

  7. Ha…well done sir.
    I would suggest you keep this in your side bar under “must reads”.

  8. Great article. I couldn’t agree more. I am unapologetic about my appreciation for quality, and there is nothing more deserving of a quality presentation than the Word of God.

  9. When I show people my Allan Bible and tell them what its worth, they always ask how I can pay that for a Bible. I then ask them “How much did you pay for your TV?” This seems to be the end of the conversation.

  10. I come to this discussion as an Orthodox Christian – from a tradition in which the Gospel book, bound in a golden cover, is enthroned on the Holy Table, as a visible reminder to all of the spiritual value of what lies within it.
    It amazes me that we can make ourselves feel guilty for having a decently printed and bound Bible (sadly, a rare thing in the modern world) when five hundred years ago our ancestors in the faith had to *listen* to the Word of God simply because it would have been utterly inconceivable for the average person to afford a hand-written Bible, written on calf-skin and bound with leather. If they were literate, they could, at best, read the Bible, the Psalter, the hymns, etc., in large folio volumes kept in the church. An entire flock of sheep was required just to provide the “paper” on which a Bible was written. Even an Allan’s “Long Primer” is a bargain in comparison to the cost of a manuscript Bible.
    (This is not to mention the amount we spend, without a moment’s consideration, on nice food, nice clothes, nice furniture, movies, and so on.)
    Let’s have a litle *more* guilt for the purchase of totally unneccessary worldly luxury items, and a little *less* guilt for buying quality books that will nourish us spiritually for years to come. Let the intrinsic spiritual value of Holy Scripture be evident from the outward quality of the print and binding.
    Ut in omnibus glorificetur Deus.

  11. When someone spends money on a quality Bible it helps support the craftman who makes the Bible. The Bible says to pay a tithe of our income to the Church. After that we are free to spend our income as the Lord leads. Our God created beauty so what is wrong with making beautiful quality Bibles, or furniture, or whatever. Everything we do should be to the glory of God. Mark…

  12. I also agree with this. People will spend a lot of money for a night out on a normal occurrence which will only last that one time. I want a bible that will last as I pour though it daily and not have to replace it every one to two years due to its poor construction. It you look at it like you say as an investment $100-200 is really not that much at all over the course of 5-10 years.
    Great article!

  13. ALthough I can’t afford any exceptional quality Bible, I can appriciate one mainly when I think of legacy. It used to be that families would have Bibles that had been passed down for generations, and the younger ones can feel the glory of God in preserving their family’s legacy of faith. Also, you could potentially leave notes to the next generation by what you highlight or underline.
    I have to repair my Bibles every so often because the binding was not top-notch, but I am content with what I have.
    We’ve got to guard ourselves from two kinds of hypocrisy: one that insists of an overly oplulant Bible, but another for judging others by their Bible’s quality while we ourselves spend tons of money on our own vein of expensive tastes.

  14. I am a fan of this site, and a lover of the quality Bible. However, I must ask where is the line between quality and luxury? I mean, I own several leather bound sewn binding bibles that I love to use. I am all for quality. But I live on a small missionary budget have not paid more the $60 for any of my bibles. If a person is going to have a luxury item, why not a Bible. But there has to be some point at which we cross from quality to luxury.
    I am honestly asking anyone out there: What distinguishes quality from luxury?

  15. All I can say is this..Allan bibles are the best and if I could buy out their whole stock and give them away I would because its a blessing to own one.

  16. Mark,
    Extremely insightful and I agree with your conclusions. I have no qualms at all about spending top dollar for two or more sets of leather crafted western boots because I know they will last the rest of my life (good stewarship?). For the same reason, why would anyone question the purchase of several well-crafted leather Bibles? Cheaper is not necessarily more godly or more holy. In fact, high quality is expected of us by God in our personal lives. Why would He be opposed to high quality when it comes to His Word?
    I’m glad the first poster wasn’t around when God was ordering the Israelites on what types of material were to be used to build the temple. The temple would never have been built (or it would have fallen down due to bad glue).

  17. Ryan,
    You ask a very good and intriguing question, well worth consideration. It seems to me that luxury is to some extent a subjective term, though. What one person might consider a luxury, another might consider a necessity (air conditioning, for instance – a near necessity here in the Southeast US). For me, luxury would seem to denote *needless* expense.
    One can argue about how needful “highland goatskin” is, but certainly a quality leather binding increases the longevity of a Bible. Then again, the existence of quality editions like the Windsor Text in calf-skin leather from the Trinitarian Bible Society for $30 can lead one to question how reasonable the price is on a $150 Bible.

  18. I for one refuse to feel guilty about owning several “luxury” Bibles. I have two Bibles that I have had custom bound, one is Russell’s Nigerian Goatskin and another is Russell’s Calfskin, I have several hundred dollars invested in each of those Bibles. I have a Cambridge Bible that I spent well over a hundred dollars on and an Oxford Bible that was right at a hundred dollars. I also have another Bible that I am thinking about having rebound in. In addition to those five Bibles I have several other “common” Bibles that I use. Each edition has various srtong and weak points, but I read and use them all at various times and for various reasons.
    I would guess that I have a little over $1000 invested in all of the Bibles I own. I treasure God’s Word and I happen to believe that there is nothing wrong with having it bound in quality leather that is a pleasure to look at and touch.
    If I sit next to a person at church who is using a paperback Bible that they purchased at Wal-Mart for $4.99, I would never dream of suggesting that that person does not value God’s Word highly enough. By the same token I believe that I sould be able to invest in a high quality Bible and not have to endure darts from other Christians who think that they have a right to decide how much is too much to spend on a Bible.

  19. Ryan, that’s a good question. The reason I shy away from the term ‘luxury’ is two-fold. First, the trend with brands these days is to increase the perception of luxury without increasing (or even bothering to maintain) quality. So buying luxury is no guarantee that you’ll get quality. Secondly, when I’ve complained about badly made Bibles to certain people, they’ve answered by saying the kind of edition I’m talking about — sewn signatures, good paper, well-designed, well-chosen and “transparent” binding (i.e., the true materials disclosed) is more of a niche luxury item. As if I was suggesting that to make a Bible that can drive 100k miles or more prior to being scrapped (to use an automotive metaphor) is tantamount to saying every Bible should be a Ferrari.
    I don’t think I can draw a line in the sand and say, “This far and no farther!” It seems futile to me to try and argue why, say, calfskin is not a luxury but goatskin is. Or how nice paper has to get before it’s too nice. I suppose I have a laissez faire attitude, believing that more options are better than fewer, and people know their own minds best. A jewel-encrusted Bible would be very expensive, like Des Esseintes’ jeweled turtle, and to me would make about as much sense. But no sooner are the words out than I recall Benedict’s comment above, reminding me that in some traditions my ‘sensible’ line might seem bizarre and meagre.
    And Benedict, I like the air conditioning analogy. It’s the height of decadence, historically speaking and perhaps geographically speaking too, but I can’t imagine living in the South without it.

  20. Maybe it’s because God’s word is so available to us in Western culture in the cheapest of forms that this question would even be posed. If you lived in the centuries prior to the 16th, how much would you pay for a Bible to read? How would you protect that Bible and what kind of quality would you have or want? As different versions became available would you buy them in a quality binding or settle for something that might not last very long? How much would a hand copied version by a monk be valued? To question what one might pay for a Bible and then to suggest that a “lesser” version might be more appropriate since the money could be given to a “greater” cause is a hint at being judgmental by assuming that one’s approach to stewardship is better than others (i.e Phariseeism). Physical food or spiritual food- which is more important (Jn. 4)? Would low quality physical food be best for a hungry person? I have over 70 Bibles. I cherish every one of them and use them in a variety of ways. I give many away. I have even given away several Allan’s Bibles to friends and family. They love them and have made comments on the positive aspects of such quality to their own reading and study. On the other hand, one of the best Bible students I know prefers paperback Bibles and loves the challenge of finding another once he has worn one out. To quote Romans 14:4-“Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” May God bless us in the reading of his word, and let each person be convinced in his own mind before Him as to the appropriateness of how we spend what he has provided us. May God bless each one of you as you seek his will by reading it. Thanks, Mark, for posing the question.

  21. I’ve had several bibles, all of which needed rebound within 5 years. A couple of years ago I started using the ESV and bought Crossway’s calfskin, one Heirloom and one thinline. Love them both. Just bought my wife and myself each a Allan HL goatskin crossref. NIV. Love them also. Cheaper bibles just don’t last. If a person can only afford one nice quality bible them decide what you want and save for it. Well worth it in the long run.

  22. This is an interesting discussion. I had come across Mark’s blog in my search for a quality Bible. I had previously used a hardback version of the NIV Study Bible that I had to tape and then re-tape. I was sad to have to find another Bible, and lose all the notes I put in there over the few years I had the Bible, and was so pleased to recently discover Allan Bibles. I also invested in an ESV Wide Margin (calfskin), which has become my primary notetaking Bible. I know that I am fortunate to be able to afford such nice Bibles, and I also refuse to succumb to guilt over buying a nice Bible because as others have said earlier, there are worse areas to feel guilty in spending money and a quality Bible does last a long time. I am also hopeful that my notes and the things I wrote that God revealed to me will be something my kids and grandkids will treasure. This may be funny to say, also, but I have found that I end up spending more time reading because the tactile experience of handling a beautiful Bible is that much more enjoyable. 🙂

  23. Chris hit the nail on the head: how much did your tv cost…or boat…or vacation? ‘Too much’ tends to be defined as ‘more than I would pay’. Perhaps we could flip the issue: If you truly value God’s word, why are you unwilling to spend any of your disposable income on a quality edition but instead are only interested in meeting minimums?
    Keep up the good work, Mark.

  24. I have NEVER felt guilty for buying a high-quality Bible. To me, God’s word “deserves” only the finest materials and craftsmanship. Most people probably spend more money in a month eating out in restaurants…and all they have to show for it is a few extra pounds and inches around the waist. I also like the idea of supporting Bible artisans (especially R.L. Allan’s) so that people can actually find and purchase a high-quality Bible than settle for the mediocrity that characterizes the vast majority of today’s Bible publishers. I’ve got the feeling that many of these companies ‘purposely’ produce cheap Bible that are “intentionally-designed” to fall apart in a year or two. Maybe that’s why the Bible forever remains the #1 best-seller of all time–people have to replace them every year or two. Am I being too cynical? Perhaps. But there’s lots of money to made selling Bibles–most of which comes from producing Bibles that will need to be replaced in a year or two due to shoddy materials and workmanship.
    What I like about Cambridge and R.L. Allan’s is that they design and produce Bibles that, if given reasonable care, will last not only a life-time, but serve as an heirloom to pass down to your children–even to your children’s children. And if you even ‘think’ about passing along your typical mass-produced Bible as an heirloom, well, I wish you the best of luck. For those of you who struggle with guilt feelings for shelling out $100-200 for a quality Bible…well, as they say–“Get over it!” Blessings to all.

  25. At the church I serve, a member donated a lovingly used and cared for Cambridge KJV bound in Syrian Levant Goatskin, full yapp cover, gilded edges, and silk sewn. In other words, it’s the sort of Bible reviewed here and treasured by many of us.
    The inscription indicates that it was a gift from a brother to a sister on Easter in 1899. Who knows what that Bible cost then? But 110 years later after countless other domestic, commercial, and global investments have passed into obsolescence, this Bible remains an example of quality, beauty, and endurance.

  26. I would love to pay more for a good quality bible, but I can’t find one I like.
    I *love* the feel of the Renaissance Leather covers from Zondervan, and I want an NIV Study Bible. But the Renaissance Leather is only available in the Premium (it weighs 4 lbs!) and Compact (font is tiny!). I just want the normal 6″x9″ NIV Study Bible with a soft leather cover.
    Any suggestions?

  27. If I might make an observation. It seems, from what I have seen anyway, that inferior quality bibles are really a phenomenon of maybe the last half of the twentieth century. I’ve purchased several bibles from ebay and various sources and without exception they seem to be superior to anything but the best of todays bibles. In times past it appears that folks, because they could only afford one bible, bought the best bible that they could and made it last. Another thing I believe is that there is no pride in the bookbinding profession (Allan’s and Cambridge being the exception in bible binding). Mass-production and glued bindings have numbed the masses only to have us feel guilty when we pay for something that is made with pride and quality. Because of its daily and constant use, a bible has to be crafted with higher standards. It becomes a companion, if you will, and a high quality bible will be with us for years. To end with people spend millions on vices and fast food and lattes and even bottled water and I for one do not feel the least bit guilty spending a couple hundred dollars on a quality edition of God’s Word.

  28. I agree, considering the price we pay for unnecessary things like 2000-dollar televisions, computers and such (that become obsolete often within months after purchase), laying down a comparably small sum of money for something that will not go out of date is a good investment. A person can get a good quality Bible for 200 dollars or less. I know that if I had saved the money I’ve spent on pricey coffee drinks, I would have enough to buy an Allan Bible.

  29. This website has been invaluable in helping me to wade through the sea of cheap bindings and understand when I am buying a quality product. I would much rather spend $60-$100 new (or $40-$80 used) on a binding that will last and feels good to read.
    And yet, the Bible is not the only “Christian” book I read. I was reading through a book recently (which will be left unnamed) on God’s will and was so frustrated wrestling with the stiffness of the glued binding that I wanted to put it down all together. It’s not that I’m now fussy about my bindings. I think before I would have had less stamina for reading and not known why. Now I know why.
    The point of this comment is to offer a suggestion. Perhaps, in the future Mark, you could review other books in the Christian tradition that have quality bindings so that we can wade through the 21389721837213 editions of Pilgrim’s Progress, Augustine’s Confessions, etc. (I offer these examples, I know there are plenty of other books from a number of Christian traditions). I know you’ve reviewed psalters before – perhaps other kinds of classic Christian books could be reviewed?
    I know for myself, I’ve been picking up more classics in sewn/leather bindings. A sewn hardback of Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, a Collins edition of Pilgrim’s Progress, bound in pigskin in Italy. These are so much more readable than the average paperback/glued hardback on my shelf.

  30. If it’s guilty pleasures you’re after then….I have now listed a veritable plethora of rare and unusual NIVs on Ebay, including the Cambridge Leather Lined Celebration Text Bible, a Hodder and Stoughton Russet Calfskin Thompson Chain Reference, some R.L.Allan’s Bold Print Reference Bibles in Black and Brown Kidskin, a Hodder and Stoughton Pocket NIV Textbible in Black Calfskin and a Zip and the NIV Study Bible in Black Goatskin. Check out my items for sale on:-
    If you want to e-mail me and make an offer on any of them then please do through my Ebay shop…I am very open and friendly and want these to go to a good home!

  31. Great article and great comments. I’ve visited this site only a few times and found myself desiring to have my favorite Bible’s rebound . . . but then I wondered about spending that much money. The analogy for air conditioning was excellent and also the comment about the Television set, vacation etc.
    Helpful points were made. All I have to do now is decide if I am going to send some Bibles’ off for rebinding, or buy a high quality version outright.

  32. Here’s an idea for those who might want to do a bit of persuading to those who are critical of purchasing more costly bindings (or maybe if you’re one of those people yourself–I know that I’ve certainly been critical of fine bindings at points).
    You can share (or experience for yourself) well-bound used Bibles.
    You can sometimes find moderately used Bibles with quality bindings at used bookstores. They won’t be perfect: they’ll usually have writing here and there; they might be an earlier edition than is current; they’ll probably show a bit of wear. What they can do is give an unconvinced reader the chance to experience a quality binding at a modest price. Now that I’ve experienced using better bindings, I find that I’m reading the Bible more because I can take the Good Book to more spots and comfortably hold and read it. Table, armchair, bed–it all works well.
    A couple of examples …
    (1) I found a moderately used Oxford KJV Long Primer for less than $9 (with sales tax!) a few weeks ago. It looks like it might be from the ’70s–I’m not sure. It’s a joy to read. It sits open quite well in my hand and I don’t need a table to use it. Mark was right about the text setting, too. The previous owner had annotated the first 10 chapter of Genesis fairly heavily, but the rest of the book is clean except for a few marks. It even has that “cyclopedic concordance,” which is sort of nifty.
    (2) I had found an old 1978 edition of the NIV a long time ago that was single-column and had a leather binding. It cost me $20 at the time. It’s not a top rung binding, but it’s sewn and it has a relatively flexible leather cover. The text setting is really pretty nice, too–a lot like the single column that Cambridge is publishing several editions of now. I hadn’t used it much right after I got it because I found out that it was a superseded edition and the drift of my seminary studies made a more word-for-word translation more relevant at the time (read: “I needed a boost on my Greek homework”). I’ve recently picked it up again and just started reading it. It’s great for all of the reasons that I like the first example that I mentioned. And I’m reading the Bible more because the reading experience is just more pleasant.
    So here’s the bottom line for me: I’m not going back to cheaper bindings unless I have to. Using the better bindings is just that much more conducive to me actually reading the Bible. If you find the cost of better bindings to be too high, don’t forget that good usable Bibles do surface on the used market at a fraction of the price of new leather bindings.
    You’ll have a Bible to read while you’re saving for a new one, too.

  33. Is it possible there’s just a little bit of a false dichotomy here? Maybe it’s possible to have quality at a price that’s less likely to arouse guilt.
    I just received the following sewn, calfskin leather Bible from Local Church Bible Publishers for $55. It feels fantastic, and it’s very flexible. The amount of space for note taking is very nice. The Bible and my Micron pens both arrived on the same day 🙂
    I would really like Mark to review this Bible or other ones from the publisher. I think it might hold it’s own with Cambridge and R.L. Allan. Regardless of that, I’m extremely pleased with it. Only time will tell if it’s constructed as well, and lasts as long, as another commenter has proposed in his youtube video, but my initial impression is very positive. (I’m not associated with the publisher)

  34. I first ran across this site while looking for information on Cambridge’s ESV Pitt Minion. I’ve mentioned Ol’ Blue, my ESV Compact Thinline, in comments before, and while she was still usable, I thought I might look into replacing her with something more sturdy.
    I’ve since learned a great deal about quality binding, leather, and even text layout that I’d never even considered before. It’s a fascinating subject. I’ve even spoken with Leonard’s about rebinding my hardcover ESB Study Bible … and I’d never even heard of rebinding a month ago!
    Over the last few days, though, I’ve come to realize something. Ol’ Blue is a “cheap” book; she has a TruTone cover with a huge Celtic cross, the gilt is cheap and fragile, and the binding is glued. There is only one ribbon, and the double-column font is extremely small. Still, she’s held up to years of back-pocket treatment with no structural damage at all, and like a baseball glove, she looks better after some hard use.
    So, though it will doubtless shock and appall many here, I think I’d rather keep her than buy a new Cambridge. Though she violates every principle of design that Mark’s put forth here, the simple fact is that this cheap little thing ($15, I think) is a QUALITY Bible. She may not have been designed to last — and I certainly haven’t gone out of my way to keep her pristine — but she’s turned out to be dang near indestructible.
    I’m certainly not throwing out the option of “upgrading” later, but for now I realize I couldn’t be happier with what I have. Sometimes you don’t have to spend a lot of money for quality.
    And yes, I call my pocket Bible “she’. Old sailor’s habits die hard. 😉

  35. I agree. It does feel like having 1. A couple quality Bibles and 2. Having many Bibles of multiple translations is, if not wasteful, perhaps overdone. However the quality Bibles that I do have I feel more comfortable carrying with me as I know that they can take the mild abuse I put them through. I have two genuine leather (sorry, not sure whether calfskin, goatskin, or what kind) that I feel quite good about their ability to stand up to wear and tear. I believe they will be with me for years longer than my hardback or bonded Bibles.
    As to the multiple versions, I can compare and see what I might be missing in my understanding of a verse in one translation through another. Sometimes the NASB conveys the message more clearly and other times the NKJV.

  36. Aside from making a good investment and so forth.. Collecting nice quality Bibles is simply a hobby. To call it anything else in a negative light is more often than not, legalism. The only time I think it is ever necessary to point out something like collecting Bibles as wrong, is when it has clearly become an idol — the Bible itself is now worshipped and not the God of the Bible — that’s when it becomes a problem. Signs of it becoming an idol are when you find yourself sinning to get it, or sinning because you didn’t get it. In the meantime, grab one, let it melt over your hand backwards and breath in the smell of fresh paper and calfskin leather!

  37. Thank You! One frustration I have been dealing with lately, is that I have not been a Christian for long, however, I want a bible that will last me for many years. I want a bible that will not fall apart but become part of my journey. About a year or two ago, I went on a big bible hunting journey. I found one that I loved, but after purchasing it, the quality was lacking. I knew that this bible would not last long. I ended up purchasing another one, and again, I know it will fall apart in a few years of regular use. I keep reading your blog and searching the internet for the “perfect” bible. I haven’t found that one just yet but some come close. I want something that will last me over the years where when I highlight and take notes, those thoughts and the journey stays with me. I almost have it narrowed down to the “one” bible for my every day use to carry with me every place I go. The other cheap bibles? Well… they serve their purpose. I have those to cross reference things but don’t use those every day, except in certain bible studies. I like to be able to cross reference text and some of the study bibles have great notes. With that said, the one I write in and highlight I don’t want all of that. I want my life and my journey to be the “study notes” over the years. Thank you for your blog. It has helped me narrow down the choices greatly.

  38. Mark,
    I can’t tell you how much I enjoy this site and how much it has helped me in searching for a well made, well laid-out, functional bible. Yes, the Bible is perfect, but pick up a cheap, red-lettered, tiny-fonted, thin papered version, and try to read that without getting a head ache! It is wonderful that people care enough about scripture to make sure nothing detracts or distracts from it. I am a young preacher currently on the hunt and transitioning towards the esv, and your articles have been immensely helpful. As to those posting against quality bindings. If you feel guilty, don’t buy one. I enjoyed the point the fellow made about the ointment Judas said could have been sold. The same thing goes for the tunic that was taken from the Lord in John 19. It was “woven from the top in one piece. They said therefore among themselves, ‘Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be.” Should the Lord have felt guilty about owning something good enough to gamble over? I hope not! Should we feel guilty about something good? I hope not again. Remember, “In the beginning was the word…and the word became flesh.” I hope everyone treasures and uses the word as they should.
    Anybody who has read your reviews can tell something right away, especially when you talk about small bibles, and even more when you’re talking about Pitt Minions (You can tell which way I’m leaning). You talk about them “springing open.” You are a reader first and foremost. Anyone can tell that. A good binding is just that, good. But “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” I appreciate your help, insight, pictures, and reviews. They have helped me to become a better bible-nerd and I am not ashamed. It is the power of salvation. Thank you again.

  39. I really enjoyed this post. I’ve been collecting Bibles for a while now, and couldn’t say how many hundreds I’ve spent. Some of them I bought because I just really liked them, and others I’ve bought because they’re unique (antique or unusual – megillot scrolls for example).
    I guess what I wanted to say, was this: I’ve heard, at least a few times, when Christians make a fuss about people owning expensive/multiple Bibles, as if it’s some kind of crime. But the fact of the matter is this – LOTS of people collect *something*. If I wasn’t collecting Bibles, I might just as easily be collecting something else, equally costly. So why do we focus in on Bibles, as if every Christian should be restricted to a single paperback edition?

  40. I do think that it can become sin and materialistic. You had mentioned that if you were not collecting Bible then you would be collecting somthing else just as costly. Well just because it is a Bible does that mean that it is ok to spend so much on it? I think that it is sin to buy more and more Bibles that a person will not use, that is being a poor steward with your money. I am not saying that you have to give all of your disposible income to missions, I am saying that there is ALWAYS somthing else that would be benefit your family or your self if you purchased it, or if you simply, heres an idea, saved it. I had that problem, I first bought a goatskin Cambridge that I thought I was going to use forever, then I thought I needed a calfskin, then the wide margign, then this text block, then this color, then this copy with thicker ribbons, then this readers edition, and all the while I am not reading any of them. I would be radical and say that anyone collecting anything just to collect is materialism and a waste of money. It is just like clothes and shoes and cars etc., the Bible is the Word of God, inerrant and inspired, but obsessing over the physical book and its leather, and buying more and wanting the newest latest leather and color or format is materialism. What by definition does it mean to covet and be materialistic? Look it up and you will be suprised. I think Christians should live more simply, I think that we are commanded to, the more stuff you have the more it owns you (excuse the Fight Club like quote), and the more your conscience is flayed by trying to condone spending hundreds every month for somthing you simply do not need. One well made Bible is truly enough, it simply is, unless you have various translation for study as a pastor or theologian. John Piper has three tattered Crossway ESV. He could be a millionare but by all acoounts he lives very simply. Sin is subtle, for real think about it before you drop 200 for the light blue RL Allan.

  41. Terse, thank you for the thoughtful post. There is truth in what you are saying. If it feels like a sin to you, you must not do it. Either way, we must be sure to examine our hearts and motives in anything we do. Personally, I think that it’s a waste of money to buy large screen HDTVs when I have a perfectly good cathode ray tube television. I wouldn’t say it’s a sin though.

  42. Thanks John S. I would agree that to purchase one Cambridge, or Allan or other higher end Bible IS a good investment. But to collect them based on the leather, color, style?- only to have them sit on a shelf as furniture and decore(I have seen this), I believe is sin. We must not be light on what constitutes sin. It shows how we as people have become “consumers” when we would treat the Word as a collectible- it is not, it is the ever living voice, breath of God. What is materialism if not that? What is buying things you do not need called? I am not trying to be some asectic, self righteous hypocrite, I truly think that people who “collect” the Word of God need to analyze thier thought process in doing it. I know a man, for real, who buys a lot of high end Bibles- later his car was reposessed. Now I am not saying that he took his car payment money and went and bought a Bible, but that outcome is what he is sowing. Too many today fall into this trap of buying things they do not need. We as Beleivers need to break that cycle. What say you?

  43. I’ve found that I save by purchasing higher quality products up front most of the time rather than buying multiple “cheap” products. You don’t necessarily have to break the bank either. This site led me to the trinitarian bible society “windsor text”, which I absolutely love. It is a real leather bible for $35! That’s excellent. And I even got mine at a good discount, because it was on their shelf very slightly used as a display.
    I’ve seen people (myself included) who purchase something for its apparent value, but ultimately purchase a second or third item when the first fails in some way or doesn’t live up to their expectations. If they had spent twice or even three times the amount up front they would not only have saved the trouble of multiple purchases, but usually had a better “quality” item to enjoy/use.
    Value is not always what it first seems. As stated in the article, if you really do read your bible all the time and carry it around, I think most of the cheaper bibles would be falling apart. I have a standard crossway esv compact which I actually don’t read much, and although the binding is fine, I’m amazed the pages are already yellowing. I store it with other books that aren’t yellowing, and we don’t smoke or have any sunlight in the apartment (really, it’s pretty sad how few windows we have). My windsor is right next to it nice and white (bible paper white anyway). Anyhow, I’ll stop before this requires it’s own binding. 🙂

  44. I would just like to add, that I did previously use my compact esv exclusively. I find it is a good bible “for the price”. I was attracted to it originally because of the typography actually. I’ve had it for years, but I’m just surprised to find the pages yellowing at all. Has anyone else seen this issue? Perhaps it is common with thin bible paper?

  45. @Sean, yes I too have bibles whose paper is yellowing at greater rates than others. Paper varies a lot in quality and it’s usually not advertised WHAT paper is being used in a given volume. (Crossway is actually to be commended in this area.)
    I’d guess the yellowing is due to high acidity in the final paper product. The goal I believe is to buffer the paper mixture to get an ideal ph=7 end product. Short-cuts, lack of experience, etc. can lead to something less than ideal. I suspect the problem is worse from new off-shore manufacturers than old established European and American paper producers. As with a lot of consumer products, the Chinese manufacturers are still learning a lot of the fine points.

  46. I suppose if buying a quality Bible is wrong when there are cheaper options out there, we all should be attending service in uncarpeted churches, as well as standing in service- why waste the money on carpets, pews, or seats?
    While we’re at it, how many have cars when bikes or walking would do? Why buy a $200,000 house when a $20,000 shack (or a homeless shelter) will do.
    I knew a believer up in Fairbanks, Alaska who was homeless. By choice.
    I’m right there with you. Some folks really like pointing the finger. Problem is, four more point back.

  47. I’m wondering if anyone has thought about how much they would pay for someone to transcribe every letter of the Bible by hand. How much would that be worth to you? Just a perspective to think about…

  48. I am a skilled trades construction worker whose experience with leather work boots reflects the value of quality.
    After using many types the Value of the high end $200 boots that last 3 times medium grade ones is there. This and they put less wear on you. Same goes for mediocre leather Bibles. Better a $200 15 year Bible than a 3 year $75 one. The joy of the craftsmanship and feel is just a bonus.

  49. Welcome p.steven! We comment here about paper-making, printing, binding, and casing and would welcome the views of a leather-worker. What high-end bibles do you own or are familiar with? Who has the best hides and the best tanning? Any advice for people considering an expensive re-bind? Any other comments, besides “you get what you pay for”?

  50. This is my first visit to your website. I found it while searching the Internet for a quality Bible. I am heartbroken because my cheap glued Bible, that I bought without knowing it was cheap, is falling apart. I’ very spent so many hours reading it. I’ve written so many notes and highlighted lots of verses. If I am going to have to purchase another Bible I want one that will last. I don’t want have to go through this upset again. I need a quality and reliable copy of the Word to study so I can be a witness and because I have a lot to learn…. A lot……. Why should a soldier feel guilty about arming themselves with a quality sword? Looking forward to using your website to assist me in finding a Bible that will last.

  51. I have been reading your blog for several months now, reading current and archived posts. While I have purchased what I could consider good bibles with sewn bindings and genuine leather covers, which got me about 15 years of use before they really began showing their age. I have purchased and am waiting for my Schuyler Quentel ESV in Brick Red to be delivered on Thursday, and I cannot wait. $220 seemed a lot for this bible, but on the other hand getting a copy of a good bible with a leather cover for $80 is a bit of a jump for me. But if the quality is as good as you and others testify, then I know I will be pleased. And the 11pt font will be a help for my aging eyes… God bless you for your wonder blog, you obviously have put a lot of thought and effort into it. I do not feel guilty for my purchase, but blessed, and I do donate to Bible for China to help get the word out to others who have no copy at all.

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