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

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

JONATHAN EDWARDS’S BLANK BIBLE

by Matthew Everhard

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

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

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

The story of this particular Bible is relentlessly fascinating.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

Sources: 

“The Blank Bible.” Ed. Stephen J. Stein. Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University Online. Works of Jonathan Edwards. Vol. 24. http://edwards.yale.edu/archive. Accessed April 2, 2015.

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

28 Comments on “Jonathan Edwards’s Blank Bible: A Guest Post by Matthew Everhard

  1. More than the fact that I enjoyed reading about the “Blank Bible” is the fact of seeing a new article appear on Bible Design Website. I was beginning to think it had stopped being used. I checked it every day and the same thing day after day. Good to see new content. I love the site. Grace and Peace.

    • I have a edwards bible, when I open it up its written that it was given to edwards from his mother. It also has dates of deaths of family members and place of rest. Not really sure what to do with this bible and where it should go. Do you have any I deals or contacts who I could talk to.

  2. Dear Friends:

    Well….., God’s Word is God’s Word. I myself will not mark in it except for my name address etc. I don’t even highlight write notes or stick tags on it. The primary reason is that God’s Word is complete, and needs no additions from me, second, I marked up very good books during my University days, only to find years later that I did not agree with my original markings, for these reasons, I do not mark my bibles. Moreover, there are prohibitions internal to the bible about adding to or taking away from it. I understand that highlighting, taking notes in the margins and otherwise marking the bible is viewed as a study guide, but I find that such markings are prejudicial to further readings. A later reading of any passage should not be prejudiced, in my mind, by previous markings, highlights, notes, tabs and other “aids” one should be able to have a fresh reading without the prejudice of previous readings. These are my reactions, I’ll not condemn any who mark up their bibles, if there is any judgement for such behavior, I think it would be from the motives of the actions, not from the marking itself. I still believe that God’s Word is wholely sufficient and complete and needs no enhancement more than a concordance, cross references, appendicies about money, customs, time, dictionaries for archaic words, and some good maps. Everything besides these sorts of aids, in my view, prejudice the reading of God’s Word. Cutting out passages one doesn’t like is to me sacrilege.

    • Dear Brother in Christ,
      Seen the realities in our country, the minority Christian population
      living amount the majority Muslims population, the lack of free bibles
      and literatures, to equipping Christian ministries, make impossible
      for Christian to growth spiritually. To broke the gap, and for Guinea
      to be open to the Gospel, I would like for you to please ship a
      containers of bibles, tracts and Christian training materials to help
      equip churches and ministries in Guinea.
      I am hoping to hearing from you soon
      Adrien Koiba.

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  4. With todays technology, one can easily prepare and order an interleaved Bible for himself. We have developed a small script that distributes empty pages in certain configurations over a PDF, which then can be fed into a print-on-demand service, the result could look like

    . In case notes are taken digitally and a freely licensed English Bible text is available, they could be directly typeset into the book by automated typesetting software, so one could keep the printed version updated to, for instance, the corresponding e-book version. If somebody is interested in a “blank Bible” of this kind and needs help with it, feel free to contact me.

    • Dear Friends:

      I’ve seen all sorts of “aids” for study, most are just someone else’ thoughts on what the bibles says. To my way of thinking, a good neutral but thorough cross reference system such as found in the Thompson Chain Reference Bible, or that found in the Westminister which has 200,000 entries or even the Cambridge system, combined with an embedded dictionary for Archaic words, a good concordance, perhaps some tables for time, money, etc and a good set of maps is all that is needed besides the Authorised Translation. These, with a good notebook, and especially the Holy Spirit, are all that is needed to understand God’s Word in my viewpoint. Notes, highlighting etc. belong in a seperate notebook lest they prejudice further readings down the road. My opinion.

      Yours in Christ

      Don Denison

      • Dear Don Denison,

        it’s a different story to have somebody else’s comments in my Bible or having my own in it. The discovery of concepts, pointers to similar passages, hints about where language might trick into a misconception (which is very subjective and much needed at the same time), etc. are things I want keep permanently digitally and/or printed, while other notes need evaluation over and over again. So my blank Bible is for personal use. Additionally I would distinguish between Bibles that primarily are used for reading, and all sorts of study tools, so reading can benefit from study notes and study from general reading. To have the biblical text and notes together makes the result self-contained (you don’t have to carry around two books or switch between applications), but of course both can be kept separate.

        • Dear Friend:

          We have no real controversey here, I, for myself like the bible to be without notes or other aids exceppt tor those like mentioned, cross references, et al. Without having the worn trails I have previously gone down (except in a notebook) on the page, I am able to begin fresh with each reading without having it prejudiced by on the page notes or highlighting. This method works for me, perhaps others or yourself find other methods work best. The important thing is that God’s Word be read, I found on pages notes etc., tend to keep me in the same ruts and made it more difficult for me experience a fresh reading, again my opinion for my use only. Reading of the bible is what’s important, nothing can replace time spent in the Word.

          Yours in Christ

          Don Denison

  5. I’m new to this blog, so I may be missing something, but I was surprised that no one mentioned the Inductive Study Bible as an option. It is essentially the same idea. While perhaps not super fine leather covered, the paper, font size and spacing make it easy to read and take notes in. The result is a Bible so special that I would want to run save it before any other possessions if my house was burning.

  6. well I won a big bible at church. the Adventist sell a big bible that costs a 100 bucks and its a fantastic bible with illustrations and historical dates with areas to write Down notes to study very nice bible

  7. I have a Newberry Single Column with interleaved pages for notes published by Penfold. Beautiful and very thick.

    Unfortunately, Penfold stopped making them in favour of wide margins.

  8. I am new to this blog, (So many blogs – so little time!) and was intrigued to read the detail of “Jonathan Edwards’s Blank Bible”. I had heard of this previously, but of course had never seen any pictures of it .

    But it brought to mind William Gouge the great English Divine and a member of the Westminster Assembly from 1643.
    In 1601 when he began his Fellowship at Cambridge, ‘he had also white or clean paper bound between the leaves of his Bible, on which he wrote such short and energetic interpretations, and observations, on the text …’ (Memoirs of the Westminster Divines – James Reid; Banner of Truth). Unfortunately I have no knowledge of if it survived or not.

    It appears many of us Bible students whether full time or other have had the same idea regarding our Bibles and how we want to use them.

  9. I LOVE the idea of a loose-leaf version of the Bible. Where can I find one in the ESV?

    • Hi Patrick,
      I am at the very beginning of a project to make my own. After searching world-wide to fine one (loose-leaf) that suited my purpose I am attempting one of my own design. If you are interested I could let you know how it progresses.

      • Yes, please!

        Currently, I grab a chapter off the ESV website, paste it into Word, and spend a bunch of time reformatting, so that the words are big enough for me to see well, and so that I have big margins to take notes in.

        I’d be happy to pay for a legitimate PDF version!

  10. I’m a little “behind the times” but quite interested in using the Crossway Interleaved edition debuting late this February as a blank bible. My only hesitancy is the fact that (for me at least) the text of the interleaved keeps the infamous ESV footnotes which disrupt the reading and are extremely redundant. Does anyone else find these standard Crossway minuscule footnotes helpful?
    My question is, what is the possibility of ESV producing a “Reader’s Edition-interleaved journaling Bible?”

    Sharing Mr. Bertrand’s love for the ESV Reader’s Bible, I would find that the interleaved is ALMOST perfect, no footnotes and a slight increase in font would really give the interleaved a pow that no other journaling Bible has to offer.

    Grateful for your comments and interest!

    In Christ,
    Andrew Tretiak

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  14. A most timely article. I have three Bibles so marked up that they would be most difficult for others to read. (My apologies to your more sensitive readers.) I’ve broken the current one into three sections, Old Testament to Psalms, Psalms to the New Testament and the New Testament. I find this arrangement works well making searching and cross referencing easier. This is important because it would allow me to print a page from my Bible on standard 81/2 X 11 page, the Bible I’m working with now is half that size, leaving me ample room for copious notes and rebinding yet each section would still be manageable.

    I’m so excited.
    Thanks for the Jonathan Edwards’s Blank Bible article.

  15. Pingback: An Edwards-Inspired ESV Bible from Crossway – Jonathan Edwards Studies

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