Frequently Asked Questions

Some questions seem to come up all the time. Here are the answers:

Q. What are you trying to accomplish with Bible Design Blog?

Bible Design Blog exists to share my love of good design and quality binding. I want to spread my passion for reader-friendly Bibles, which means elegant single column layouts, opaque paper, and sewn bindings that open flat. While we live in what are arguably the twilight years of printed books as a mass market commodity, that doesn’t mean the demand for beautifully designed, well produced books will disappear, too. If anything, craftsmanship and quality seem more important to us than ever. If Bible Design Blog helps foster more appreciation for the physical form of the Bible, and books in general, I will be more than satisfied.

Q. I’m buying a new Bible. Any advice?

Buy a single column setting with a sewn binding that opens flat. This will give you a reading experience similar to that of a well-made novel. Try to find a Bible printed on reasonably opaque paper, too. All thin-papered Bibles will suffer from ghosting or show-through — i.e., the words printed on the reverse of the page will show through, giving the impression of a five o’clock shadow — but some are worse than others.

Take your time and do some research. You’ll find lots of reviews on Bible Design Blog, plenty of photographs and user experiences. Decide which edition meets your needs best and shop around for a good price. Be prepared, though: because quality editions are printed in relatively small numbers these days, the prices are high compared to what you would pay for a cheap mass-produced Bible with a glued binding and a polyurethane cover.

Note, too, that spending more doesn’t always get you more. There are quality Bibles with sewn bindings available for as little as $20 in hardcover or synthetic bindings. These may serve you just as well as a more expensive leather-bound edition.

Q. Why do I have to pay so much for a quality Bible?

Books — and therefore Bibles — are more expensive to make well than they used to be, so publishers have responded with a combination of price increases and cost cutting measures — using glued bindings rather than sewn, sourcing lower quality paper, and so on. Since most readers focus on the content of a book — and most books are read only once, at most — they are willing to save money at the expense of quality.

And really, the declining quality of Bibles is only noticed by people who read them often. (I’ll leave you to draw conclusions about the lack of hue and cry.)

Since there’s less demand for traditional quality, the print runs are smaller and end up costing even more. But you have to put this in perspective. Compared to the expense of quality leathergoods — decent welted-sole shoes, for example — even the best Bibles are pretty competitive. Plus, they’ll last you a lifetime.

Of course, there are some folks who are outraged at the thought of having to spend more than $20 on God’s Word. Fortunately, the hardcover and synthetic leather editions available at that price point are better than ever.

Q. I want to have my existing Bible rebound. Any advice?

Check the Rebinding Projects category for an in-depth look at the work various rebinding shops can do, then get in touch with them directly for more information. The quality of work has improved quite a bit since I began Bible Design Blog in 2007, and there are many options to explore. Having said that, it’s important to have realistic expectations. Bookbinding is a hand craft, so your results will depend on the skill of the individual at doing exactly what you desire. I have never had a rebinding project turn out exactly as I imagined it, and that’s not always a bad thing.

Q. What’s the history behind the Bible Design Blog?

The blog combines two passions of mine: book design and the Bible. My first job out of high school was working as a typographer on what was then (mid-1980s) a state-of-the-art Linotype computer. Then the desktop revolution happened and I never looked back. In the early 90s, I decided to design my own edition of the Bible, one that incorporated all the features I could never find anywhere else. Given my experience, I figured it would be easy. I was wrong.

After a few months of frustrating indecision — should I use this font or that one, this page size or that one? — I began to appreciate the challenges involved in creating the “perfect” edition of the Bible. I realized I couldn’t do it alone. Maybe if I wrote about it, getting more people involved, something bigger than me might develop.

I’m an author first and foremost, so I started by posting a few essays to my site jmarkbertrand.com. The response was overwhelming. Thanks to those initial essays, I made some contacts in the industry and struck up friendships with fellow enthusiasts. As a result, my tastes matured. I had a better idea what I was after — and the challenges involved in making it happen.

Bible Design Blog as a dedicated site emerged in September 2007. At the time, I figured there might be a couple dozen people around the world interested in the subject. Turns out there are many more of us than I ever realized!

Q. Where do the Bibles you review come from?

These days, I’m able to request review copies from some publishers, which allows me to cover a lot more ground than I could relying only on my budget. (My wife is grateful.) When I can’t get review copies, I go to the piggy bank and see what I find, but this is becoming a rare occurrence. The reviews I write are not an end in themselves. They provide a springboard to talk about good design. If you’re a publisher and you’d like to send me review copies, check out the Publishers page.

Q. How do you choose which Bibles to review?

I’m drawn to editions that demonstrate quality production and innovative design. By quality I mean what some people mistakenly label luxury: sewn bindings, limp covers, good paper. There’s no science to the selection process, only passion. I give priority to Bibles I think my audience will appreciate, and those I think the publishing community can learn from. I don’t review everything that’s sent to me — but I’m happy to receive the suggestions.

Most of my reviews are positive, because I choose editions that highlight good choices. Occasionally I have to address bad choices alongside them, and very occasionally I will showcase an edition that is poor in most every regard. This is rare, however, because the energy required is better invested in promoting the good.

Q. Do you sell Bibles?

I’m a writer, not a retailer. If you want to buy something you’ve seen on the site, there is usually a link in the review that will help you out. Also, Google is your friend.

Q. If I send you my address, will you give me one of those nice Bibles?

I’m sorry to have to say it, but no. Charity begins at home, as they say, so when I give Bibles away, the recipients tend to be people I know.

Q. I bought a Bible you reviewed, but I don’t like it. What should I do?

First off, my apologies. I didn’t mean to steer you wrong. There are some things I like that you won’t, and some things that might bother you that don’t bother me. While the vast majority of people who follow my advice have reported satisfaction, not everyone does. My advice is always that you provide feedback to publishers and sellers directly. Give them an opportunity to make you happy.

Q. Can I send you photos of my Bible?

Absolutely. Send them via e-mail to jmb@jmarkbertrand.com. The best photos are taken in natural sunlight with a solid, contrasting background. Bibles are tricky to photograph, especially black ones, but if you avoid using the flash and take pains to focus, you should get good results.

If you send me photos, I assume you are happy for me to share them. Most photos I receive do not end up on the blog, so don’t send them expecting that they will. Some of my longest correspondences with online friends began when they sent me photos. I love to get them. But most of the pictures I post here are taken by me.

Q. What’s your favorite edition of the Bible? What’s your favorite translation?

When it comes to translations, I subscribe to St. Augustine’s advice. He said the way to understand the Bible if you don’t read the original languages is to compare translations. Some people lament the proliferation of translations in English these days, but I see it as a blessing.

As a practical matter, I typically refer to the English Standard Version when writing and teaching. It’s the translation my church uses. I like the fact that it’s on the literal side and appreciate its location in the Authorized Version tradition. Still, no translation is perfect, so I make use of both literal and dynamic versions, everything from the NRSV to the REB.

Since the purpose of the Bible Design Blog is design and binding, I don’t get into translation debates here. If you’re interested in discussing translation issues, there are many great places to do it where the writers are much better equipped than I am to enlighten.

Q. Isn’t it frivolous to talk about the design of Bibles instead of the content?

Let me turn that around. With so many English translations of the Bible in print, and so much substantial agreement between them, is it frivolous to discuss the instances where they differ? Answer: Not if translation is your passion. The same is true for design. It’s not the most urgent issue in the world, but that’s just fine. I wouldn’t enjoy conversation very much if we were only permitted to shout.

And consider this: while design might seem invisible, it has a major impact on the way readers experience the text. I discovered this firsthand by reformatting the text of the KJV for college-age students. When the words looked right, they were much easier to understand than before. Good design can enhance a good translation, and improve a poor one.

Q. Do you read the comments? Do you moderate them?

I read every comment that’s made to the blog, but I confess I read some more closely than others. (Don’t we all?) If you have a question for me and you’d really like an answer, your best bet is to e-mail me. I may miss the question if it’s embedded in the comments. But please know that I do keep track of the conversation and enjoy all the feedback.

The comments on the blog are not moderated. I can’t vouch for the accuracy of all the information you’ll find there, or police all the personalities. If you think I’m an idiot and you say so in the comments, your remarks won’t mysteriously disappear. If anything, I’ll share them with my wife, who will commiserate with you. But please, be kind to one another.

Q. I sent you an e-mail and never heard back. What gives?

Unfortunately, the site generates such a volume of e-mail that I’m no longer able to respond to each one. I do what I can. I tell myself that one day I’ll catch up again. To increase your chances, it’s a good idea to take a look at what’s already on the site. If you write to ask my opinion of an edition I’ve already reviewed, please see the published remarks. If you write to ask a question I’ve already answered on the site, either in a post or in the FAQ, please use the search feature first.

— JMB