Good advice should stand the test of time. After reviewing the suggestions on my “Christmas Guide to Buying a Bible” from 2012, I’m delighted to find that, three years on, I stand behind every recommendation. Compared to the options available a decade ago, we are now spoiled for choices when it comes to quality editions of the Bible. True, the vast majority of what’s out there is still designed without insight, printed indifferently, and bound in a cheap imitation of bygone craftsmanship. But there are a growing number of Bibles worth owning and giving. This list is intended to supplement the earlier one rather than replace it. I will repeat one suggestion—because it’s even better than I realized—and add some options that did not exist three years ago.
The perennial choice for gift-giving: The Cambridge Clarion
I led my 2012 list with the Clarion, and I want to begin by repeating that suggestion. If you don’t know what to get someone, get them a Clarion. Published by Cambridge, the world’s oldest continuous publisher of the Bible, and printed and bound in the Netherlands by Jongbloed, responsible for a number of the best editions in print today, the Clarion is a handy, reader-friendly reference Bible available in a wide variety of translations. Other editions might outshine the Clarion on particular points—thicker paper, larger type—yet none beat the overall balance of its features. The single column text setting is beautifully proportioned, the text surprisingly readable for its size. The volume is thick, but still comfortable in the hand, and the Clarion lays flat when you open it. Over the years, as I’ve picked up newer Bibles, my Clarion has gone on the shelf time and again. It always comes back down, though. In fact, I have a Clarion open on my desk right now.
For the traditionalist who saved the life of your only child: The R. L. Allan Longprimer Sovereign KJV
Luxury Bibles aren’t cheap. They’re manufactured in small quantities, so they do not benefit from the same economies of scale that keep the mass market editions in the big box stores so affordable. The quality is much higher, too. But if you want to give a generous gift, one that will be treasured for years to come, I recommend the R. L. Allan Longprimer Sovereign Reference Bible. It’s about as traditional as Bibles get: the classic Authorized Version set in an old-style Oxford double column, verse-by-verse layout. R. L. Allan is a venerable purveyor of high-end Bibles famous for its limp, Old World semi-yapp goatskin bindings, a once-popular style rarely offered anymore. The firm changed hands recently, relocating from Glasgow to London, without skipping a beat. The Oxford Longprimer has been the flagship Allan edition for years, and the Sovereign is the flagship of flagships: enlarged by 10%, printed on higher spec 38 gsm paper, and lavishly bound in black, brown, and blue goatskin. If you can wait until January, there’s even a limited edition in mustard yellow calfskin for a small premium.
For the hip contemporary who saved the life of your only child: The Schuyler Caxton NLT
Not every life-saver is a traditionalist. If you want to give an unforgettable gift to a hip contemporary, the Schuyler Caxton NLT offers a nice blend of luxury and contemporary readability. Like the Clarion, it’s a reader-friendly single column reference edition. Also like the Clarion, it is printed and bound in the Netherlands by Jongbloed. It’s larger, though, and a bit more luxe, featuring thicker paper and an exquisite leather-lined goatskin cover. The Caxton shares its book block with the Tyndale Select NLT, which is another fine option if you prefer more minimalist styling. I’ve written about both editions at Bible Design Blog.
The way things are designed shapes their use, and for centuries we have designed Bibles as if they were dictionaries, intended not so much for reading as for looking things up. Even the reader-friendly editions I’ve mentioned so far preserve enough reference tools—chapter and verse numbers, cross-references—to do jack-of-all-trade duty. What happens, though, when you strip away all the apparatus that has accumulated over the years and offer readers nothing but the text? The results, I have to say, are glorious. Each of these editions from Crossway—or all three—make beautiful gifts for readers. I use the hardcover Reader’s Bible constantly, and keep the limp leather-bound Psalms on my lectern for ready reference. The Reader’s Gospels, the latest addition, present the four gospels in large, readable type. Flipping through them is like turning the pages of a novel. Both the Reader’s Bible and Reader’s Gospels come in slipcases, and The Psalms arrive in a nice clamshell box. They’re affordable, too, which makes them ideal not just for the Bible readers in your life, but for anyone you’d like to see reading the Bible.
For the curious: The Jesus Story
The Jesus Story blends the gospel narratives into a single story, tastefully designed and illustrated with Gustave Doré’s famous prints. The table of contents and running headers orient the reader chronologically, from Christ’s birth through four years of ministry to his crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. Smaller than the Reader’s Gospels, The Jesus Story makes for a compact, aesthetically pleasing introduction to the life of Christ. An optional solid walnut sleeve is available, too, making this a lovely gift edition.
For artists, skeptics, and moralists: Revealed: A Storybook Bible for Grown-ups
Ned Bustard has offered succor to Christian artists by editing the It Was Good series of essay collections from Square Halo Books, and now he’s channeled his passion for art into a storybook Bible for grown-ups. I recommend it for the artists, skeptics, and moralists in your life—the artists because they’ll enjoy it, the skeptics and moralists because they’ll benefit from the challenge. Revealed takes a warts-and-all approach to the Bible, illuminating the difficult passages we sometimes want to forget, shaking the moralist’s idea of Scripture as a safe inspirational guidebook and in the same breath contradicting the skeptic’s belief that Bible cannot comprehend the truth about the world in all its messiness. Revealed will be available for purchase from Hearts & Minds Books on December 18, just in the nick of time.
J. Mark Bertrand is the author of several novels, including the 2012 Christy Award finalist Pattern of Wounds. He writes about Bible design and binding at BibleDesignBlog.com.
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