Saturday, June 12, 2010

Cambridge ESV Wide Margin

Wide-Margin Bibles are one of the most popular and effective tools for personal Bible study. They allow you to create your own personalized study Bible, inviting you to investigate your own interpretation and experience with the word of God. In essence it is the creation of your own reference tool and doctrinal aid. A wide-margin Bible simply gives you the space to write your own notes around the word of God allowing marking, underlining and highlighting to be augmented by notes, chain references, diagrams, sketches, charts etc.

As a graduation gift to myself, I purchased a Cambridge ESV Wide Margin Bible. This is my first wide-margin Bible and I reasoned that if I was going to meticulously write notes in it, I wanted it to last a lifetime. The edition I purchased features a smyth-sewn binding, art-gilt page edges, two ribbons and a genuine goatskin cover. It was a pricey item but I'm planning for it to last a lifetime and contain an entire book full of interpretational notes etc. Mark Bertrand has written an excellent review of the product. Of course this rationale propagated itself and I thought, "If the Bible is this expensive I really should buy a fine point archival quality pen to write in it," hence my notes are made in an 005 purple Pigma Micron, which is the most heavily reccomended pen for Bible marking and won't bleed through or cause damage over time.

There are plenty of articles on how to use a wide-margin Bible, two that I found helpful were Mark Bertrand's  "Marginal Interest: Why You Need a Wide Margin Bible" and Randy Brown's "How to Use a Wide Margin Bible." Both of these posts are highly recommended reading, but leave me in something of a tight spot as most if not all of the points I could make about the advantages and uses of a Wide-Margin Bible have been eloquently explained. I can only point my readers to these articles and reveal my own study methods with my recently acquired wide-margin.

I mainly use the Wide-Margin for notes on interpretation. I distrust study Bibles to an extent because of the proximity of an interpretation to the Word of God; however, when it comes to my own interpretation, scrawled and jammed into margins with a purple pen, I feel a little more at ease. I've already had to cross a note or two out due to mistakes or unclear thinking, it helps me realize my fallibility. These notes can be altered, crossed out and added to. I plan to go through the entire Bible with my purple pen and then switch colors for another layer of notes, which may include cross-references and word studies.

I'm currently restricting myself to notes on interpretation and tracking the literary argument present in the text. I boil down and paraphrase the verses to illuminate the logic of the teaching, occasionally referencing scripture that's not in the my center column. In college I was taught to "explicate" a text. This method meticulously studies how the meaning of the text is achieved. This means studying the method of the literary elements, discovering how the words are used to structure a point or element. The meaning of the text is illuminated by the author's means of constructing the meaning and revealing it. This method reveals the meaning of God's word by rebuilding the structure and support of that meaning and forces the reader to examine the foundation of the argument and its construction as a means of validating their interpretation.

James 4:6-10 is a passage that God has used to humble me and change me over and over again. I spent more than a year reading it every morning and praying over it as God revealed to me that the subject of the scripture was my own sin and double-mindedness. My notes reflect a piece of my heart for this scripture. Both James 4:6 and James 4:10 are verses referring to humility and God's resistance of the proud. This point in verse six frightens me. If God resists or opposes you then you have no hope. You could not be in more trouble. There is truly no one to help you. You have no divine aid. The context of humility illuminates the entire passage. Submission to God in verse 7 precedes resisting the devil. This humble submission to God's authority opens the avenues of His grace and provides the strength to resist the devil's work and wiles. But even greater than that: Satan flees from the humble. This is a radical truth. Satan flees from those under God's grace and protection; verse 6 tells us that those are the humble. Satan doesn't flee from the strong or powerful, but those who realize their weakness and cry out to God for help, receiving His grace.

You can read my notes on the passage above, which are far from complete but are a starting point for my thoughts and interpretation of the passage. Many times my interpretations are inspired by sermons books etc. and I glean from all over, even occasionally going to my ESV study Bible to find answers to my questions. The practice of placing notes next to the text forces me to interrogate every verse. What does this mean? Do I understand this? How is the writer making their argument? What is their argument? etc. I find that this significantly slows down my reading but gives me an opportunity to inquire of God over many portions of scripture that I let slide past my attention before.

The Cambridge Wide margin also includes a large portion of lined note paper in the back, which I am currently using for outlines when I'm called to speak. I don't really outline what I say, I just keep a list of scripture and brief notes reminding me what the scripture's about. However, this note paper could be used for just about anything.

A more mysterious tool is the "Index to Notes" section which contains a number of columns with each letter of the alphabet. There doesn't seem to be any specific instructions for the use of these pages; however, one might infer that an alphabetical marking system is used which refers back to this section where notes are written. My plan is to use the sections for topical lists and verse collections (the Z column might be a little spare unless I do a study on Zebulun).

If the truth be told, this is rapidly becoming my most valuable study tool. I have learned more from God by asking "What do I write here? What do I have to say about this scripture? What does this mean?" than from simple reading, classifying etc. The wide-margin gives me room to respond to the text and forces me to respond to almost every word in the Bible, this response inspires trembling at the Word.



  1. It looks like a great Bible. What are the dimensions? Also, why did you choose purple as your ink color of choice? I understand the type of pen doesn't bleed, but does the color matter?

  2. The dimensions are 10.1 x 8.3 x 1.7 inches. The color of the pen is insignificant. But purple is the color of regality and we are kings and priests... but I just like purple and thought it would look nifty.

  3. Thanks for the review. I just bought the hardback version. My problem is I'm going to need to carry it about, but it doesn't come with a box. Any thoughts on where I could get a good slip case?

  4. Hmmm, you've stumped me. I honestly carry mine around without the box. One of the reasons I laid down that much money is I figured it will last through the tribulation, so I put it through the normal everyday Bible abuse. You can get nice leather folios around if you're interested in something a bit high end, but the hardback is still smyth-sewn and should hold up pretty darn well without a case.

  5. Great review. I am very near making the decision to purchase this Bible. I have the Pitt Minion and have found it very useful.

    Thanks for this and your site.

  6. Great review. I am very near making the decision to purchase this Bible. I have the Pitt Minion and have found it very useful.

    Thanks for this and your site.

  7. Authorised VersionistFebruary 26, 2012 at 3:40 AM

    I got this wide-margin style from Cambridge in French Morocco, which is a bit more sturdier, a little stiffer, more old-school "puritan" leather, in my opinion better suited for carrying and abusing, and it's cheaper. I got the KJV translation, so I don't have to worry about the ever changing new translations (NIV, ESV, &c.), and my bible gets never outdated. ;)

    The best bibles of course are from Church Publishers. Since they don't sponsor Mark Bertrand with free copies, invitations to book fairs, &c., he sadly never reports about the fantastic Church bibles in his Bible and Design Blog. Even though many commentators of his fine articles were asking him about Church.

    The latest fine wide-margin bible is the Allan/Oxford KJV Wide-Margin, also in black highland goatskin (while the Dollaro Italian calfskin also looks great, especially with the cardinal red ribbons). My problem with these high class bibles is to ever use them. They are like the Mona Lisa a piece of art. I have the famous Allan Longprimer in Atlantic Blue Calfskin with blue under gold page edges, a treasure! When nobody is at home (wife, kids, pets) I take it out of its box with special clean hands, read it, enjoy it, and before anybody returns, put it back in its case and hide it in the secret place. :)

    Therefore I'll stick with my Cambridge Wide-Margin Frenchie and actually have ordered a second copy (maybe I'll order a third, because certain bible shops are out of French Moroccos, I suspect Cambridge will replace them with their new Wide-Margin Split Calfskins...).

  8. Thanks for the comment. I have reviewed a Local Church Publishers Bible here. The LCBP Notetaker's may be the finest Bible I own.

  9. Thanks for the review - great to see some more pictures of the Bible in question. I have the Pitt Minion version in French Morocco, which is a beautifully crafted Bible but sadly with an extremely small font size (i know that makes me sound very old, but I'm only 33 with great eyesight, honest...).

    I'm seriously considering this particular version, so thank you for taking the time to review it and provide some comments.

    On the note of the King James Bible, I always think that it is essential to remember that we are all dealing with translations of the original Hebrew (and with a degree of debate...Greek) texts, and therefore we have to be careful to not get too prideful on the whole King James thing :) true, the King James (after many revisions) has stood the test of time, but I honestly feel that the ESV will too, because of its literal approach. I appreciate that there are some translations out there that have been written by people who (whether knowingly/deliberately or not) omitted truths on the subject of the Holy Spirit and the place of the Jews as a still-current valuable treasure of God, I honestly believe that God can speak through all translations as long as our hearts are right before Him.

    Anyway, thanks again, really appreciate the article and your effort.

    Kind Regards,


  10. Often "Bible college" refers to institutions that teach programs in many traditional subjects, but do so within a context of Christian religious thought.Bachelor of Theology Online