The R. L. Allan edition of the Holman Christian Standard Bible, available from R. L. Allan direct and from, comes in your choice of three limp Highland goatskin bindings: black (with blue ribbons), brown (with gold ribbons), and crimson (with red ribbons, pictured here).

The book blocks, supplied by Holman, are printed in South Korea. The text setting is a traditional two-column layout with center column references, with a concordance and nicely produced color maps in back.


While I don't know the name of the typeface, it's a style with which I'm familiar: tall, thin and a bit light, like a duster-clad cowboy in a spaghetti western.  


This is the first time I've written about the HCSB, so I want to note a number of quirks of formatting which I found off-putting. In the Introduction, a list of "traditional features found in the Holman CSB" is given, one of which reads: "Nouns and personal pronouns that clearly refer to any person of the Trinity are capitalized." So Jesus doesn't tell his followers "come to me" in Matthew 11:28, but rather "come to Me," and when Peter comes to him in Matthew 18:21, he doesn't come to him, he comes to Him. 

This, of course, is not a tradtional feature of English Bibles, as a quick look at any Bible published prior to, say, the mid-to-late twentieth century will demonstrate. Like red letter editions, capitalizing divine pronouns is one of those pieties of recent origin masquerading as ancient practice. The Chicago Manual of Style recommends against it, as do style guides produced by evangelical publishers (at least, the ones I was able to check). No doubt there will be readers who prefer this sort of formatting, just as they prefer red lettering, under the mistaken impression that it more traditional and pious than the standard form. It isn't.

The HCSB's "special formatting features" include some oddities, too. Quotations from the OT found within the NT are presented not in quoatation marks or italics, but in boldface type. Why, I don't know, but the visual effect can be quite distracting, especially when an OT quotation doubles up with red lettering: 


I'm going to hazard a guess and say this formatting decision was made by a non-designer. You see, an experienced designer would have pointed out that most long quotations in the NT, because they are from the OT, will already be set apart as a block quote. Adding another layer of emphasis creates a visual redudancy, as you can see here:


Had I been in the design chair when this idea came down the line, I would have responded by quoting The Elements of Typographical Style, 3.4.2: "Sparingly used, [boldface] can effectively emphasize numbers or words, such as the headwords, keywords and definition numbers in a dictionary. They can also be used (as they often are) to shout at readers, putting them on edge and driving them away..."

Another feature I would have advised against is the practice of using dark black bullet points to indicate "foreign, geographical, cultural, or ancient words" which are explained in the Bullet Notes in back. It's not the concept I have a problem with, just its execution. Those big black dots are extremely distracting. I'm not sure how important it is in Acts 10, for example, to have a bullet point in front of centurion and another in front of Regiment. (If you look up Regiment, by the way, you're simply referred to the entry for company, where you learn that the unit the centurion -- not the colonel, despire the R-word -- commands is in fact a cohort.)

One last peculiarity. The problem with getting creative in the search for ways to add emphasis is that, like an arms race, the escalation never ends. Several times in Scripture, a line of written text is cited -- the sign attached to Christ's cross, for example, or the inscription Paul cites at Mars Hill. The elegant way of indicating such an instance would be to set the text in letterspaced small caps. But the HCSB is not an elegant layout. It's solution to the problem is characteristically over the top: capitalized boldface type surrounded by a box:

To me, this is akin to jacking up the type size when Paul refers to how large his own handwriting has become, or using script font for words on a scroll. It's simply too literal, and calls an inordinate amount of attention to itself. To sum up, the HCSB is, typographically, a bit of a mess. 

However, there is one shining exception to this condemnation, and such a valuable one in my mind that it very nearly offsets the negatives. The HCSB's special formatting notes include the following: "In dialogue, a new paragraph is used for each new speaker as in most modern publications." This is a big deal. While modern translations have pretty much universally embraced paragraphing (to the delight of readers and the chagrin of proof-texting preachers), they have not embraced the practice fully -- i.e., the paragraphs still tend to bury dialogue instead of breaking it out. Obviously, this is a decision that has to be made at the translation level. If a designer makes the decision, people get bent out of shape. Let me just say, with Holman-style emphasis: TRANSLATION TEAMS, THIS IS AN EXAMPLE TO FOLLOW


Above: If it doesn't look like this, you're not paragraphing enough.

I also appreciate the fact that care was taken with line breaks in poetry to avoid the sort of indescriminate slice-and-dice characteristic of double-column settings of verse. So there's good and bad when it comes to the design of this edition, all of it the result of design choices made at the translation level. This is emphatically not by kind of layout. However, loyal readers of the HCSB will clearly have made peace with these factors. Their question has more to do with this particuarly edition. Is it worth having? Let's find out.

As I remarked in the video, thinline Bibles like this are perhaps the best way to experience the limpness of a natural goatskin, edge-lined binding. Something about a tall, thin book block wrapped in unresistingly soft leather feels so right. 


A note on Highland goatskin, given my use of the word "soft." Occasionally, I'll hear someone remark in shock that their spongy, matte black calfskin cover is much softer than their Highland goatskin from Allan. The confusion is probably my fault. Sometimes it's difficult to find the right vocabulary to express varieties of sensation. These bindings are limp and unresisting, but they are not plush. The leather has a traditional glossy finish -- what I think of as a "hard" finish, though again, the word isn't quite right. They resist wear and marking much better than leather finished with a casual, matte look. Think flexible armor, not baby's bottom or pillowtop mattress.

Because the goatskin is natural-grain, there are variations from cover to cover. Some of my Highland goatskin covers are quite smooth, while others are deeply grained like the one in the photos. I love both, but there's something about the wrinkly covers that really speaks to me. Either way, they're amazingly floppy. You can't hold one without wanting to roll it up:


Not only does this feel good, but it affords interesting opportunities for storage. In the comments to previous posts, we've discusssed whether Bibles with semi-yapp covers should be stood upright on a bookshelf. My answer? Of course not. They should be rolled up and stored like so: 


If you read the HCSB -- particularly if you teach or preach from it -- the R. L. Allan edition is the best copy you could invest in. All the features that make an Allan binding so appealing are here -- the beautiful cover, the leather lining, three thick ribbons, art gilt page edges. The form factor of the book block is particularly well suited to the materials, which means you'll experience the advantages of the limp binding to an extent you never would with a more traditional mid-sized Bible. 

My issues with the typography aside, this is a nice Bible, and certainly a welcome addition for readers of the HCSB who've been hoping for an R. L. Allan's version of their favorite translation.