The ESV Minister’s Bible – Deluxe Edition (Black Calfskin)

If you've been reading Bible Design Blog long, you know I'm not a big fan of novelty Bibles. I'm old fashioned enough to think that whether you're a fireman, a policeman, a teen, or whatever, the same edition will serve just fine. Quality and function are essential, but the kind of kitschy "features" that seem to emerge from marketing brainstorming sessions leave me cold. 

There's a different, though, between novelty editions and specialty editions. In the past, I've championed more than a few specialized Bibles — for example, wide margin editions in general and specifics like the Daily Reading Bible and The Books of the Bible. The difference between novelty and specialty is that while the former essentially offers a gimmick that sparks an impulse buy, the latter offers unique functionality that's actually of service to a slice of the Bible-reading public.

Take the concept behind Hendrickson's ESV Minister's Bible:


The idea is to package a specially-developed Ministry Resources Guide at the back of the Bible, so that ministers have a quick reference for common tasks they're called upon to perform — weddings and funerals, baptism, counseling, you name it. In some denominations there are official service books to fulfill this role, but for the most part, evangelical ministers are left to their own devices, often relying on resources that won't be ready at hand when needed. So why not take the essentials and bind them side-by-side with the Bible, a resources ministers typically do have handy?


I love the idea, and its execution here illustrates both the benefits of the idea and why it's not more commonly done. Purists will perhaps be aghast at the thought of binding something else under the same cover as the Bible … ignoring the fact that we've incorporated all kinds of helps into the text over time, everything from prefaces, references, and concordances to extra-biblical study notes. Once you get past the initial "Say What?" the concept makes perfect sense. The Bible is a book meant to be read, and also to be used. In the same way that I want to see editions that strip out the excess to provide an optimal reading experience, I'm all in favor of specialized editions that add the necessary helps to perform the tasks of ministry.

As an example, it frustrates me to no end that the only Bible I know of that incorporates the doctrinal standards of my denomination is also a big, bulky Study Bible only available in a translation not used at my church. As a result, I'm always suggesting to people that they undertake a specialty edition binding a broad selection of Reformed standards — the Westminster Standards, the Three Forms of Unity, the Thirty-Nine Articles, and so on — with the text of Scripture. Why don't they do it? Beats me, but I suspect the fear is that such a Bible would be too specialized. 


The ESV Minister's Bible faces a similar challenge in that, if you already have certain preferences in place for how certain rites are to be performed or certain questions answered, the Ministry Resources Guide may or may not correspond. Based on its omission of a form for communion and the inclusion of side-by-side forms for baptism and "infant dedication," I'd say it will prove most helpful to ministers in a Baptist or at least baptistic context. 

On the other hand, the inclusion of a list of "tough questions" along with suggested answers could be a life saver for anyone in ministry. The point is, you can only offer specialized help for a particular group by being willing to sacrifice universal appeal. Personally, I'm grateful somebody out there is willing to make that sacrifice, because we need more tools like this, not fewer


Physically, the Minister's Bible in Black Calfskin bears an uncanny resemblance to the Tyndale Select NLT I reviewed a while back, so much so that I'll go out on a limb and guess they're bound by the same people. (But that's just a guess, don't quote me or anything.) The cover behaves the same, the same grain patterns are there, the same raised bands on the spine, the same border around the cover's edge, and we even see the same rather skimpy ribbons. 

In other words, this edition comes with a very attractive, satisfyingly limp calfskin cover that feels broken in right out of the box. You can literally peel the cover back. And the raised bands on the spine are a nice touch. The binding is sewn.


The grain pattern features long vertical striations reminiscent of buffalo grain. The grain relief is relatively shallow, though, so as you run your fingers over the surface the cover feels smooth — or at least, smoothish. My review copied came direct from Hendrickson, and there's a slight blemish on the front cover, just visible if you examine the photo below, located a bit right of center. Leather's a natural product, after all.


Leaving aside the Ministry Resources Guide, inside we find a familiar-looking ESV text setting. The typography was done by Crossway and, like the Collins text blocks used in Allan's bindings, the printing was done in China. Here's what it looks like inside:



The two column reference layout features readable 9.5 pt type. The actual page size is 9.25 x 6.25, with perhaps a quarter inch of cover overhand. The 1152-page text block is 1.25 inches thick (but note that the number pages stop at 1134. There's a concordance and a nice set of color maps, as well as a presentation page up front. Interestingly, this is a black letter edition, as you can see from the Beatitudes below:




Now forgive me for this, but as I was snapping photos I kept trying to get one that illustrated how limp the cover was … but thanks to my prime lens I had a hard time holding it in one hand and taking the photo with the other. My arms needed to grow a few inches. Then I turned around and noticed the reading lamp my wife had thoughtfully provided. And so the Lamp Shot was born:


As you can see, the cover offers almost not resistance to the weight of the text block. Some people don't like this — not just because it looks so decadent, but because in a larger Bible they feel it makes the book harder to grapple. I lean the other way. Limp covers allow you to fold the side you're not using around, making a large Bible handier than it otherwise would be, a great feature if you tend to hold your Bible in your hand while teaching rather than setting it on a pulpit or lectern. 


And I should correct one thing I said earlier. While the ribbons look similar to the Tyndale Select ones, they aren't as stubby. They do actually overlap the page at the bottom corner, meaning you can use them to open the book to a marked passage. Now that I've grown accustomed to the thick Allan's ribbons, though, it's hard not to miss them when using the more typical thin variety. On the Bible Design Blog Facebook Fan page (linked at right, just click on the icon) replacing ribbons is all the rage. If I were using the Minister's Bible extensively, I'd look into something like that.


Again, the limpness of the cover is gorgeous. As I've mentioned elsewhere, the purpose of the Yoga Shot (below) is to illustrate limpness by showing how the cover responds to weight. A stiff cover will give more of a circular arc, the two sides acting as a sort of bridge, keeping the spine at its apex. With very limp covers, the spine will sag down, giving more of a mouse ears effect as you see here. 


Now what about size comparisons? I paired the Minister's Bible with two editions with comparable text features to see how they stack up in terms of bulk. Of course, only the Minister's Bible also includes the Ministry Resources Guide. First, here's the Minister's Bible stacked with an Allan's Reader's Edition, which has larger 10.3 pt type. As you can see, they're quite similar in height, width, and thickness:



Next, I compared it with the most common size ESV in use, the Classic Reference … in this case the cordovan calfskin edition from Crossway. As you can see, the Minister's Bible is taller and wider, a proportional shift that helps account for its more elegant handling characteristics. It also looks thinner in the photos, but I think the thickness of the cordovan edition's cover has something to do with that.



And what comparison would be complete without an idea of how the Minister's Bible compares to a personal size Filofax (which corresponds roughly to the dimensions of Cambridge's Pitt Minion)?


I'll end with a couple of shots of the Ministry Resources Guide. In my view, the decision to purchase a Minister's Bible comes down to whether you're going to make use of this guide or not. If so, then the bells and whistles ensure that you'll have a pleasant-to-use, quality edition to go along with the guide. If you're not going to use it but want a similar look, you'd probably be better off with one of Crossway's black calfskin editions.



All too often, when publishers do take a risk on a specialized edition, they only make it available in economy bindings. You can't fault the reasoning, but it's certainly a frustrating reality for users who choose the specialty volume, since they have to sacrifice the hallmarks of fine quality they'd like to have alongside the special helps. For that reason alone, I'm thrilled that Hendrickson has chosen to make the Minister's Bible available in such a nice binding. If the Guide sounds useful to you, I'd encourage you to check it out.


In addition to the ESV, Hendrickson offers the Minister's Bible in a variety of translations. I imagine there are variations between them, so you can't treat this review as representative of the whole, but if you're looking for a specialized minister's edition but don't use the ESV, take a look at some of the other options linked below.

28 Comments on “The ESV Minister’s Bible – Deluxe Edition (Black Calfskin)

  1. Mark, good review and not a bad idea for an “all-in-one” bible. I might be tempted had you not already increased my library of Cambridge and Allan bibles. BTW, my wife wants to talk to you… ;=)
    Practically speaking, I have use a generic minister’s handbook and over the years have developed my own special set of “guides” for various occasions but I can see this bible benefiting those who haven’t or perhaps want an “all-in-one” sort of bible. Thanks for the review.

  2. Thoughtful review – thank you.
    It looks like it might be helpful for layfolk also, so we can know what’s going and look/ study things we usually only hear someone else read or say.
    I recently got a copy of the ESV study bible and have been enjoying it.

  3. Years from now, we will be asking ourselves, “Where were you when the Lamp Shot was born?” πŸ™‚ My only regret was that I missed the birth of the Yoga Shot.

  4. On a more serious note, I ran into the genuine leather version of this Bible late last year. I really liked it; but right now I’m ministering in Spanish churches, so it’s not very useful at the moment.
    There’s a similar Bible in Spanish (in both RVR1960 and NVI), and I actually like it better in that they place the helps between the Old and New Testaments, rather than in the back. To me it feels easier if you’re holding the Bible during a wedding or funeral, for example. It’s also more of a thinline style, which for me feels much handier for overall ministry use. The problem is that it only comes in imitation leather (the bad kind, not the True Tone). I was planning on having it rebound by, who I used before with very good results. But I checked with Zondervan, the publisher, to ask whether it was sewn or glued; and they told me it was glued. πŸ™ So, I’m out of luck for now, unless anyone out there knows of a Spanish minister’s Bible comparable to the high end English editions.
    Oh, when will I find the “Marcos Beltran” who will lead me to the promised land of high quality Spanish Bibles??

  5. Just BTW and FWIW, I bought a goatskin covered Hendriksen Minister’s Edition of the NKJV because it’s the ONLY way that version can be obtained in a “non-red-letter” edition! (I hate red letter editions! Nelson, Cambridge… ALL of them in the NKJV are red-letter editions!)
    I don’t need or use the ministerial helps, but the paper quality is quite good, the type size is adequately large, and the cover is supple and leather lined to boot.
    The Hendriksen Goatskin Minister’s Edition binding is NOT up to the quality of the Allan goatskin bindings, but it’s better than the Cambridge bindings available for the NKJV (Pitt Minion and wide margin) and FAR better than anything from Nelson (whose bindings are well beneath mediocre, sad to say).
    In the ESV, OTOH, unless you really do need the ministerial helps, I’d recommend getting an Allan ESV1, since it’s black letter, and the bindings are the best that can be had.

  6. To Fernando Villegas,
    I just had a pocket reference bible, that was glued, rebound in very nice red Nigerian goatskin and it is beautiful. It was done by a well known binder living in Daytona Beach, Florida. His name is Paul Sawyer, and you can find his website if you google it. He did my bible in less than a week, and the grain and softness is gorgeous. The deal though with a glued binding, is that it takes a lot of work for him to sew it, so the price is a bit more, than say Leatherbibles, but not by much at all. However, the workmanship is worth every penny. I plan to use him again when I recover from my most recent bible purchasing escapade.

  7. I recently bought the NASB Hendrickson Minister’s and it is a welcome addition to my very modest bible collection. The paper is very opaque for such a slim bible – it is some of the nicest bible paper I’ve come across. Another great feature in this bible, for me, is four pages of key bible promises and the ministry resources guide which contains an intersting section on the christian life. Although it is not my primary NASB, the portability is great! The layout and font styles make the reading experience a true pleasure.

  8. I bought this Bible in calfskin a few months ago and like it pretty well, but I found that I don’t really use many of the helps it has, so I plan on using the lined pages in my Cambridge WM to do essentially the same thing…only more useful for me.

  9. To Doug,
    Thanks for the tip. I’ve heard of Paul Sawyer; in fact, his link is on this website. His work looks very nice, but I’m not sure how much I’d like the silk liners he uses. Either way, my focus right now is finding a text block that I like that is 1) sewed, not glued, and 2) black letter. Guess I just have to keep looking for now.

  10. Paul Sawyer used matching red leather lining, not silk. I know he uses it occasionally, but not on mine. It looks beautiful.

  11. Mark,
    Where does this Bible fall on the denominational scale? Does it include any doctrinal standards at all? You mentioned that it would be most useful to Baptistic types. Would you actually recommend it to an elder or associate pastor in a URC/OPC/PCA church?

  12. David — I don’t think the Ministry Guide has a particular denominational identity, but as I said in the review I’m guessing it’s going to be most helpful to ministers in a broadly evangelical without a lot of denominational guidance. For the confessional Reformed denoms, where forms already exist for things like baptism, communion, the reception of new members, etc., that aspect of the Guide would not be of much use. The general info might be, though, depending on the minister’s training. There aren’t any doctrinal standards included. (As far as I know, the Sprit of the Reformation SB is the only one that has standards inside.)

  13. i haven’t heard of many that list specific ministry helps in the back (although what a good idea), although northwestern publishing house does put out what’s called a “pastor’s companion” with all sorts of handy little rites (baptism, committal, plus plenty of prayers, etc.) almost identical size to a pitt minion and very sturdily bound in hardcover. i’d recommend it to anyone who didn’t mind carrying two books. i have a pitt minion that i take on hospital visits etc and this will go well in the hand with it.

  14. I own both the Hendrickson ESV Minister’s Deluxe Bible ($119) and the cheaper Crossway ESV Wide Margin Reference in TruTone ($38). Despite some differences in structure, there is a similar feel to both Bibles. Both the Deluxe calfskin and TruTone covers look alike and are very supple, the bindings are nearly identical, the layouts are both dual column center reference, and the paper thickness is comparable. Yet, despite the added features of the Hendrickson (eg. Minister’s Guide and extra ribbon), I must admit it suffers in comparison to the Crossway in some key areas.
    Printed in China, my Hendrickson has several text smears whereas my American printed Crossway text is crisp throughout. The Hendrickson paper is not quite as bright white, and although ghosting is not a problem in either edition, I’d have to give the Crossway a slight edge in opacity. The Hendrickson font size is larger (9.5) because the Crossway is a Wide Margin (8.8), but the Hendrickson font is a bit narrower and doesn’t scan as easily to me as the Crossway. Both have color maps but, again, the Crossway maps look a bit more professional.
    Differences aside, the Crossway Wide Margin is a comparable product for a considerably cheaper price. Mark’s review above sums it up: “[T]he decision to purchase a Minister’s Bible comes down to whether you’re going to make use of this guide or not. If so, then the bells and whistles ensure that you’ll have a pleasant-to-use, quality edition to go along with the guide. If you’re not going to use it but want a similar look, you’d probably be better off with one of Crossway’s black calfskin editions.”

  15. @Todd —
    I had the Crossway WM in TruTone, and found the ghosting terrible, even though I’m not generally bothered by that sort of thing. Worse, EVERY pen I tried to write with — even the vaunted Microns and my favorites, Copic Multiliners — bled through. For a WM edition that is ostensibly meant to be written in, that’s a fatal flaw. Maybe I just got a bad one, but I found it nearly impossible to use it for its intended purpose.
    I don’t want to put anyone off the Crossway WM, because I’m all in favor of saving money whenever possible. I’m glad you’re happy with yours. πŸ˜‰

  16. I have the KJV Hendrickson Minister’s Bible in Regular genuine leather. Although the cover is quite siff, I can say as an indepedent Minister, the helps in this Bible make up for that incovenience. If you are a marrying, burying, baptizing preacher of the Gospel, this specialty edition will prove to be an invaluable resource. You will be ready for whatever situation you are called to react to.
    I will be upgrading to the premium leather soon thanks to your review and Photos.

  17. Just an update. I recieved the KJV Minister’s Deluxe edition in “Genuine Morocco” yesterday. I am sad to say that I am very disapointed. So much so that it is on it’s way back to the provider. The cover is stiff and resistant. The paper is wavy, not only on the ends, but also when it is open. The binding is shoddy in appearance and glue is visible in several places. I wasn’t expecting Allan’s quality, but from the product description and extra cost, I was expecting a better end result. My regular version is older and the paper and overall binding quality are by far superior to this. I am happy to say that my origanal will soon be on it’s way to Leonard’s to be rebound in chocolate brown goatskin. Thanks for the blog and advice.

  18. Does this Bible have extra ruled pages or at least a notable amount of blank pages in the front and back? I was thinking of getting a NKJV version in genuine leather.

  19. Is the KJV Ministers Bible in same type of formatting as the ESV in the pictures above? Looking at getting it for a ordination at our church.

  20. Does this same Bible come with the words of Christ in Red/ Red Letter Edition?

  21. Can you please contact me , I would like to purchase this Bible, but need to know if the words of Christ are in Red.

  22. Mark,

    Do you know where we can purchase a copy of this Bible? I looked on Hendrickson’s website and it is not for sale. I even checked ebay and amazon – seems like they have a hardcover? version for around 80 or so and then the “leather” version (I assume calfskin) is over 350. Let me know if you have any thoughts. Thanks!

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