“Go big or go home.” If that phrase isn’t already carved in marble above the entrance at EvangelicalBible.com, home of the new Schuyler imprint of high-quality Bibles, then it should be. These folks don’t seem to know how to do anything halfway. It hasn’t been that long since the release of the first Schuyler, a deluxe ESV available with and without historical creeds and confessions in back. Since then they’ve brought out a fine single-column NKJV and are now introducing their own edition of the Trinitarian Bible Society’s recent Westminster Reference Bible. That’s a lot of work in a short period of time, and the Schuyler line shows no sign of letting up. More projects are in the pipeline. The new edition, called the Schuyler Classic Reference KJV, sticks the same formula that has characterized the earlier editions: interesting text settings printed on good paper and luxuriously bound in the Netherlands by Jongbloed. There’s at least one first here, though: this is the first of the Schuyler Bibles to feature a leather lining. The quality is comparable to the editions R. L. Allan has commissioned from Jongbloed, which is to say: superb.
The Classic Reference KJV is available with your choice of four covers: Mahogany Antique Cantara Goatskin, Black Cantara Goatskin, Navy Blue Goatskin, and Firebrick Red Goatskin. Frankly, I think Schuyler has dialed the colors in nicely. Judging from the photos online, every shade looks good, making the choice of just one rather agonizing. When asked which one I’d like to review, I decided to throw a curve ball and go for Navy Blue rather than the Firebrick Red you might have expected from me. (Flipping through recent Bible Design Blog posts you might get the impression that publishers have stopped making black leather Bibles and that brown and red are the new norm. The fact is, I tend to request colors I think will photograph well and show off the details. Basic black gets short shrift as a result.)
As you’ll see in the photos, the Navy Blue edition gets it right ... mostly. This shade of blue is very attractive, the blue page edges look elegant, and the four ribbons (two navy, two silver) add class. The gilding on my copy has a couple of spots, though, visible especially when the Bible is opened. That’s not a deal-breaker for me, but at this price point I imagine a lot of people are going to expect a perfect edge.
More significant to me is the fact that the inside cover is black. That’s a pet peeve of mine going way, way back. If a tan Bible shouldn’t have a black lining, a navy blue one definitely shouldn’t. Aesthetically, you can choose to match the outer cover or complement it, but black simply clashes.
If you can overlook these little faults, though, the Schuyler Classic Reference KJV is a thing of beauty, a quality book from the ground up.
How about the insides? The Westminster Reference Bible was specially commissioned by the Trinitarian Bible Society. The most notable thing about the layout is that, instead of a center column reference system, it features an older-style design presenting the text in two narrow central columns with the references on either side. This feels very Old School, as in sixteenth/seventeenth century (see Geneva Bible layout). The advantage is that you don’t have to pick through the reference column to figure out which column of text the notes go with. The trade-off is that the text columns are even narrower than they would be in a standard two-column setting. In keeping with the antique vibe, the text is broken up verse-by-verse. Rather than bringing the look of their new KJV into the twenty-first century, in some ways TBS took it back in time. The modern font cuts against that trend, however, as does one of the Bible’s most interesting features: marginal notes flagging words whose meaning has shifted since the Jacobean era.
Actually, the notes attempt to clear up several types of ambiguity, as the example in the photos below suggests. Some instances reflect shifts in meaning, such as the note informing modern readers that one’s “conversation” in the KJV is actually one’s behavior, whereas in contemporary use it means “speech.” I’ve heard sermons based on a misunderstanding of this very word, so I find such notes quite helpful. Other instances seem to define words the editors think modern readers won’t be familiar with. For example, the note in the photograph gives an alternate definition of “vexed”: troubled. The fact is, the meaning of the word hasn’t changed over time, nor has the word fallen out of use entirely––I had a professor in grad school who was always talking about “vexed questions.” However, it’s become rare enough that the editors must have thought a vocab lesson was in order. They’re probably right.
In addition to these definitions, the preface includes a grammatical explanation of all the thees and thous, all the words ending with -eth such as seemeth and becometh. Good stuff for anyone attempting to come to grips with the real meaning of this early seventeenth century translation.
It won’t surprise you to know that I wish the Westminster Reference Bible had followed through on this project of accessibility when it came to the layout. Still, I’m grateful for what they did, and for their inclusion of the KJV’s original “Translators to the Reader” preface, a fine antidote to a lot of the nonsense that floats around the KJV today.
If you’re looking for a more readable KJV, there are better options, certainly, such as Cambridge’s Clarion or New Paragraph Bible settings. But the Westminster Reference Bible offers an interesting, idiosyncratic take on the Authorized Version, something of a throwback but also rather forward-looking in its notes. Now that it’s received the Schuyler treatment, an appreciative audience can’t be far behind. The Schuyler Classic Reference KJV is available at EvangelicalBible.com.
What I Like
High quality book block printed by Jongbloed Limp, leather-lined goatskin binding Good 32 gsm paper
What I Don’t Like
Reference-optimized setting with especially narrow columns (but see above for my qualifications)