ESV Single Column Reference Bible Review

The following is a review of Crossways ESV Single Column Reference Bible (SCRB).

I have this bible in my fleet of Crossway publications and it has quickly become my all time favorite version to use in my daily devotional and study time. I plan on laying out for you here why it is this bible has not only become my favorite, but list a few of its downsides as well. I want to review this bible in  3 separate categories; binding, layout, and size.


Crossway’s black tru-tone series has quickly won me over as their best binding material short of their calfskin versions. The feel of this material is absolutely glorious and has the perfect texture in the palm to keep it from sliding about. Its feel is what I have come to describe as banana peel-like. I have no other way to describe it other than that. The closest other binding I know of you may be familiar with are moleskin notebooks…just a little smoother.

Though Crossway offers tru-tone in other formats and styles, their straight black series is by far the most supple and flexible. Any of their bindings in this cover are the most flexible you can purchase from them. For some reason, perhaps because of different backing material the tru-tone is adhered to, other versions with different colors and styles of tru-tone are not as flexible as the black.

These black tru-tones are what I have come to refer as the “blue collar goatskin”. The look and feel of these bindings rank equal, in my opinion, to that of the ultra high end bible bindings…just ALOT cheaper.

Another great feature of the SCRB is it’s absolute fluidity, i.e., it practically conforms to the hand when held. A simple test I have developed rates bibles in my own collection in this fluidity. Simply pinch a corner, and watch what happens:

It practically bends over on itself. This is usually a trait one usually only finds in supple, high end goatskin bindings.

Another desirable characteristic of the SCRB is its ability to lay open flat with no prodding at all:

Below are some more pictures of its characteristics:

Here’s a close up of the tru-tone:

Unfortunately, this version of the SCRB does not have a sewn binding, it is glued. I handled a few of the other SCRB’s in the bookstore, and it appears they are all glued. Oh well, I suppose.


At first, I thought this version was going to be a bear to read. I mean, after all, every verse is a new line! But boy was I wrong.

I was amazed how easy and comfortable it was to read in this manner. What I found was that as you read and come to the end of a verse, there is a break in the text, forcing the eye to move down to the next verse. What I found was that instead of just reading sentence after sentence after sentence, there was a split second where my mind sort of digested the text that I had just read before my eyes moved onward. Sort of like how a golfer may approach a golf ball on a tee. The verse is laid up on a “tee” where you approach it, your eye takes it in, and there is time to “let the verse in” to your mind before you feel like you have to move onto the second verse. It’s actually quite amazing, especially if you aren’t familiar with this layout. It’s very reader friendly.

Often, when I read my bible, I tend to approach it as sentences to be read, like an ordinary book. However, where the bible is different than, say, Moby Dick, is that each verse is to be savored, mulled over, mediated upon, and digested. This version actually helps in that whole process. Remarkable. The downside to this format is it makes for a pretty thick book (more on that later).

Though it isn’t considered a true wide margin bible, I would say it is….barely. It’s margins are 1 1/8″-       1 1/4″ on the sides, 3/4″-1″ on the top, and 3/4″ on the bottom. Plenty of space for some margin notes.

I think it is also worth saying that the typeset used is very easy on the eyes. The letters on the page are very crisp and distinct making for comfortable reading. If you wear glasses, this may be a great bible for you.

Finally, the obvious advantage of this layout is that it is very easy to find a verse on the page. Though I am no preacher nor pastor, I have a feeling this might be a good investment for those referring to many verses at any given time or the layperson wanting to keep up with Sunday morning preaching.


I felt size needed a separate category because as it stands, the SCRB is the largest bible currently in the Crossway stables measuring in at a whopping 6 1/2″ x 9 1/4″ x 1 3/8″. It’s truly a beast of a book. The only bible larger that that published by Crossway is going to be their new ESV Study Bible and that’s only going to be thicker.

Below are some pictures for comparison. On top is the ESV New Testament, followed by the Personal Size Reference, a moleskin, Thinline, and finally the SCRB.

Here’s the largest and the smallest:


If you’re interested in large bibles that you can interact with (see this post), then the SCRB is your bible. Though the wide margin edition does indeed have larger margins, the type is much smaller and is only available in a double column format (yuck).

On a scale from one to ten, I’m giving this bible an 8 and that’s only because of its massive size. But considering all that it can do, it’s a trade off that is worth it.

If you want a convenient bible, this isn’t your book. But if want a bible you can live in, the SCRB is your bible.

About Matthew Blair

Sinner saved by grace.
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14 Responses to ESV Single Column Reference Bible Review

  1. Chad says:

    Nice review. I like the ESV Single version too. I know its not too popular because of the size and format, but I like that when I am teaching. I praised this edition myself at my blog, but your review is much better.

  2. Rod Summers says:

    Thanks for the review. I have been a user of the NASB for many years that has nearly the same format (references on outside versus inside). My biggest complaint to Lockman Foundation is that it came in verse-by-verse formats only. While I do find that format advantageous for teaching a class, I have also seen where that format can cause many contextual problems as particular verses are stood up for themselves as lessons while disregarding the verses around. Like translations, I think the use of multiple formats informs one better than the exclusive use of one. Keep up the postings!

  3. TheDeeZone says:

    I believe that the Large Print ESV is larger than the one you are referring to. My favorites are the tru-tones with the decorative covers. I have the blue one with the celtic cross. Actually even though it isn’t sown in it has held up pretty well for me. I also have a compact size metal Battle Zone Bible as well.

    One of our best sellers in the store I manage is the black tru-tone with the crown thorns.

    Oh, the ESV study Bible is coming out in October and has a larger font size. Notice several others coming out as well.

  4. Mark A. says:

    I got my mitts on the premium calfskin SCRB in March ’07 and have never looked back! As a teaching pastor at my church, I’ve had many folks come up to me after a session and ask about my copy. Without fail, they walk back to the bookstore and buy one for themselves.

    My experience has been that advantages represented by the wide columns and the ease of verse location far outweigh the drawback of possibly reading out of context (due to lack of paragraphical layout). I read the book front-to-back in a couple months and never felt the layout was cumbersome or awkward.

    Granted, different strokes for different folks, but for my dime, the SCRB is IT!

  5. Kyle says:

    I agree with Mark A. I have been teaching from the premium calfskin SCRB since Feb. 08. I like being able to locate a verse or passage quickly. I also use this Bible in my devotional time so it gets a lot of my discoveries in the margins and around the text. This is another thing I like about this layout. There is often room to write between the text. This works great for alternate readings or Greek words. Also, you’ve got to use the right pens (preferably Pigma Micron). This makes all the difference while writing notes.

    My only beef with it (which is just gonna be inherent with the format) is the size. It is a little large for hospital visits, graveside services, visitation, and such. Many would prefer something a bit smaller for these purposes. For some it could be a little awkward carrying it around or having to hold it open while teaching for extended periods of time if no stand/podium is present. It can get a little heavy. When my Allan’s ESV1 arrives, the Allan’s may take up the primary teaching role and become my weapon of choice in other areas as well. I’ll have to wait and see. But, I’ll still make my notes in the SCRB during my devotions and use it as a ready reference.

  6. Brent says:

    I also love the ESV Single Column Reference. It is so nice on the eyes for study. I would like Crossway to make another one just like this, but in single column paragraphs, rather than verse by verse. But I hand it to Crossway for giving ESV users a lot of edition options. Keep up the good work here.

  7. petermlopez says:

    Great review. I am debating whether to get the Personal Size Reference or the SCRB. I think you helped me make my decision. I prefer smaller Bibles for reading, so I don’t think I need the ESVSB (which I am going to get) and the SCRB both if I also get the PSRB. Thanks.

    I hope you don’t mind, I linked to your blog from mine.

  8. jdchitty says:

    I find intriguing the combination of the single column format with the traditional one-verse-per-line layout. Although you say the format helps you digest the thought in each verse as you move on to the next verse, I still hesitate to spend money on it due to the potential for isolating the individual verses from their contexts in personal reading, while I can see how it would prove a helpful tool in public preaching or teaching.

    Also, while the TruTone material does feel nice, I’m curious to see how durable it remains over time. Give me a good, old-fashioned genuine leather cover any day. However, for me, when it comes to study Bibles, I’m a hardcover guy.

    I’m liking what I see in your blog, and have added you to my blogroll.

  9. David Dewey (in the UK) says:

    I do not have a SCRB and don’t like the idea of new verse = new line. However, one of the Bibles I use most is the tru-tone (Forest Trail design) personal size reference (PSR) Bible. It handles extremely well and is single column too, with the references on the inside. At 7.5 x 5.5 inches, it is much smaller than the SCRB. Apparently, the black tru-tone PSR ESV is sewn.

    I have also been trying the new Cambridge Pitt Minion ESVs, available now in the UK and in the US next month. I have put pics and description on Mark Bertrand’s Bible Design blog. The tru-tone lays completely flat because it is sewn, but the colours – burgundy and tan – are rather brash. The dark brown calskin is superb and even has red under the gold edges, giving the page edges a real lustre. Not cheap and only in double column, but ultra portable (7 x 5 inches by under an inch thick). Highly recommended.

  10. dogbarber says:

    Thank you everyone for your positive comments towards my review of the SCRB.

    I notice that many say they do not like it because it encourages the reader to not read verses in their surrounding context.

    I think it bears saying that reading verses in their surrounding context is sort of Bible Reading 101…it’s a given….at least to me. I agree wholeheartedly with those comments stating such and the reader of the SCRB needs to be aware of that possible pitful and read accordingly.

  11. mashmouth says:

    Great Post!!!
    I frankly love this version, and it is my favorite by far. My edition is calfskin, and while I thought maybe it was a tad expensive when I bought it (sight unseen), I never looked back upon its arrival.

    Dogbarber, well said about Bible Reading 101… Context, context, context.

    For everyone who is concerned with someone making a cult out of single verses, if one looks very closely at the pics above, there will be found little paragraph symbols that give clue to the reader. I find these intuitive to use.

  12. Knight says:

    Great review.

    I have this same edition myself and though I enjoy it I have but two complaints:

    1. The paper should be thicker (or more opaque)

    The amount of ghosting you can see from the previous page with the test itself is more than I would care to see. The notes I add are even worse. (and I use a Pigma Micron pen which does not bleed)

    2. The binding should be sewn.

    Maybe I’ve been spending too much time around blogs like Mark Bertrand’s ( but I have come to appreciate a sewn binding in a bible and don’t think I’ll be settling for less in future purchases.

  13. Thank you so much for this very helpful review Matthew. It has helped me decide on whether to purchase this bible over the many other options out there.

    The sample at also sold me on it by being able to clearly experience the margins, verse by verse format and cross reference entries.

    The verse by verse, single column layout and the calfskin cover (obviously) are the biggest selling points for me. Your review was so honest, straight-forward and clear. It was extremely helpful.

    By the way, there isn’t a red-letter version is there? I didn’t see one anywhere online.

    Thank you!

  14. Pingback: A New Old Standby: The ESV (Deluxe) Compact | For His Lovingkindness is Everlasting.

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