Friday, December 28, 2018

The ESV Illuminated Bible: Art Journaling Edition {Book Review}

In God, whose word I praise,
in the Lord, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
What can man do to me?

Psalm 56:10-11, ESV

This is the Bible with the dust jacket on; the actual cover and binding are identical to the dust jacket.

Opening my complimentary review copy of Crossway’s ESV Illuminated Bible: Art Journaling Edition felt like Christmas had come early. Quite simply, it is one of my favorite things acquired in 2018.

Visually, this Bible may be the most beautiful book in my library; certainly it is in the top 3 or 4. The copy provided to me is the green hardcover edition. It also comes in a navy cloth-over-board and a burgundy imitation leather. (In locating purchase links for the end of the post, I also discovered there is a newly released genuine leather version available.) All have gilt illumination on the binding and page edges. The cream paper is more restful to the eyes than bright white and thick enough that the show-through from my fine-point gel pen is less than in my other Bibles. Pencil and colored pencil write very smoothly on it too. The font is small (9 point) but clear. It is the same typeface and size as that of my ESV Study Bible. As with the other Crossway Bibles, the binding is smyth-sewn, which enables it to lie flat when open and is more durable than other methods.

The most unusual and stunning visual feature is the illumination in golden ink, done by Dana Tanamachi. There are beautiful, full-page illustrations for the title page of each book which would be suitable for framing in their own right. Each is unique and illustrates one or more of the themes and motifs of the book in question. A few pages at the back summarize the concepts included in each title page. In addition, there are full-page illustrations of single verses scattered throughout and marginal illuminations of key words or phrases.

Marginal illustration

The Biblical text is single-column, well-suited to reading large chunks of text at a time. The 2” margins are wide enough for writing out prayers, adding one’s own artistic meditations, or making inductive study notations such as chapter and paragraph titles or lists (e.g., Precept study style). There are no cross-references or concordance, but this is not designed as that kind of study Bible. I am as big a cross-reference nerd as the next person (okay, maybe bigger), but I am not missing them as much as I expected. Really, those are interpretive, not inspired, so it does me good to make do without them and add my own as the Holy Spirit connects passages to each other in my reading. For Crossway to incorporate cross-references in a future edition would mean a bigger volume, thinner paper, or narrower margins. Any of those options would detract from the volume as it stands.

This is not a compact travel Bible. It weighs in at almost 3.5 pounds, less than my ESV Study Bible but almost a pound more than my primary Bible of the last 10 years. It is a substantial, well-made piece that has the makings of a family heirloom, especially when personal notes have filled the margins.

All in all, this Bible is a treat to read and to write in; it begs to be opened and lingered in. The illuminations invite me to pause to meditate on the words. The sheer beauty of this Bible renews my wonder that such a thing as God’s revealed written Word exists and that I can own my own copies (plural!!) to read for myself. The latter factor has not been the case for three-quarters of Christian history, and men died for their commitment to put the Scriptures in the hands of laypeople in our own languages. Too often I forget that and take it for granted. This edition reminds me what a treasure God’s Word is, and I heartily recommend it to those looking for a new Bible or prayer journal for 2019. May the Lord bless your reading of His Word, from whatever format.

Here is my Amazon affiliate link, which will yield a small commission to me for purchases made through it:

Here are non-affiliate links to other online retailers:

Genuine leather edition: (Affiliate link)

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