I’ve gotta say, this has been an incredibly productive and fruitful year so far, at least as far as my Bible reading goes. I’m currently three-quarters through Exodus, which keeps me on track for completing a full reading of the Bible by the end of the year.1 Doing this is really important to me, not because I’m obsessive about reading plans, but because as I came to the end of last year, I realized just how low my tank had become.
As part of this recommitment to taking better care of myself spiritually, I’ve reincorporated journaling into my private reading. This allows me to engage with the text in a different way, to capture items of prayer and (more than a few) ideas for things to write about here. I used to do this all the time as a new Christian, usually using journals and notebooks.2 But over time, I got out of the habit. So, I thought I’d start doing it again—this time with a fancy schmancy new journaling Bible.
I went with the HCSB notetaking Bible as I started the year. But a couple weeks ago, I was given the opportunity to look at a few different ones from Crossway.Today, I’m going to be sharing my thoughts on four Bibles—what I like, what I’m not keen on, and which I believe you should consider. Here’s the line-up:
- The HCSB Notetaking Bible
- The ESV Single Column Journaling Bible
- The ESV Journaling Bible, Interleaved Edition
- The ESV Journaling Bible, Writer’s Edition
Let’s see how they compare, shall we?
As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been using this one in my daily Bible reading, and it’s been great from a few perspectives, particularly with ease of reading. I love the ESV, and it’s a wonderful Bible, but let’s be honest: it can be a bit clunky, at times. The HCSB is much easier to read, while maintaining a commitment to accuracy with the translation, though it does lose some of the wordplay that I do appreciate about the ESV.
From a usability standpoint, this Bible is great. It’s surprisingly portable3, light and has a decent column width for writing (roughly two inches). The single column layout for the text also keeps the page from feeling too cluttered, which is also handy.
Although some people find the space provided in the notes column to be a little small in these sorts of Bibles, I find it quite comfortable to use. It’s got just enough space for me to be able to get my thoughts out (though more isn’t a bad thing). And for those who care about such things, the paper has a nice feel to it. It’s a bit heavier than your standard Bible stock, so it’s rare when you find a bit of ink bleeding through onto the opposite side of the page.
The one not-a-real-complaint I have about this one is the font it’s set in. The vast majority of people wouldn’t care about such a thing (heck, I only care because I’m a former graphic designer). While it’s easy enough to read (though a touch smaller than I’d like), it’s boxier and almost a bit utilitarian in feel.
This one is very similar to the HCSB in most respects, being equally as portable and user-friendly. The only significant differences I’ve found (positive and negative) are pretty minor.
The first positive has to do with the typesetting, which is much more elegant than the HCSB. Whomever Crossway had work on this should get a gold star. The second positive has to do with the cover. The version I looked at has a really nice leather-like cover that isn’t quite as rigid as the HCSB’s. This allows the book to lay a little flatter (though neither do so perfectly).
That said, for those who’ve got concerns about columns and line height, this is one area where the HCSB wins out. The columns are about about an eighth of an inch narrower compared to the HCSB, and you can feel that narrowness when you look at it. For a guy who suffers from a severe case of left-handed dude writing, this matters. A lot. I need to feel like I’ve got enough space to work, and this one doesn’t quite offer that.
However, my wife doesn’t have this problem, and immediately claimed this one as her own upon its arrival. But then, she has crazy tiny (though quite lovely) writing…
The Writer’s Edition was the one I was most disappointed in. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot to like about it. The fonts are lovely. It’s designed in the style of a really nice notebook, and has the note-taking area at the bottom of the page, rather than in a column along the side. For those who love the two-column Bible reading experience, this is a huge plus.
That said, my first reaction to this Bible was that it feels narrow, almost cramped, and doesn’t sit nicely on a table. While the positioning of the notes area is nice, I don’t find it leaves you without a lot of space to write. As a leftie, even holding a pen over the area felt strange (I don’t enjoy the feeling of having my hand already off the page when I’m writing). Although some might feel differently, I’d probably give this one a pass.
Finally, there’s the ESV Interleaved Edition. This Bible is a beast, easily weighing as much as your ESV Study Bible. But there’s a good reason for that: modelled after Jonathan Edwards’ Bible, this one provides you with a full blank page between every printed page of text, giving you the maximum space for taking notes, writing personal reflections and prayers, or (if you’re the type that does this) making pretty pictures.
I love love love the interleaved style. It is absolutely brilliant and allows a user to write a lot. It’s the Bible for serious thought, serious art, or just seriously large writing.
Writing in it (which I did—or more correctly, I did on a piece of paper I placed inside it) is easy enough and the size of the book did not create any major problems (this is important again, because leftie). The paper weight is also the heaviest of all the Bibles I’ve highlighted today, meaning you’re going to have the least issues with ink bleeding through.
My only real complaint is it’s not terribly portable. Because of its size, you probably don’t want to be hauling this one to church every week and taking notes in it (though you could if you’re looking to incorporate a workout into your worship). It really is for personal use only. But even having said this, the Interleaved Edition is basically the answer to most every major concern people have about these sorts of Bibles.
So, what do I recommend?
These are all really, really nice Bibles, so choosing one to recommend probably isn’t going to happen. The only one I wouldn’t recommend, as I’ve said above, is the ESV Writer’s Edition. It’s definitely the least appealing of all of them from my perspective. For the majority of Bible readers who want to take notes during their personal study and write down sermon notes, the HCSB Notetaking Bible and the ESV Single Column Journaling Bible are probably the best options, and I would recommend them in a heartbeat. For those looking for the most space possible, the ESV Interleaved Edition is a dream come true—though do yourself a favor and splurge on a really nice leather one. Trust me, you won’t regret it.