Why You Need a Wide-Margin Bible

My little study corner
My little study corner

I have an article almost finished, but given that the next couple of entries would appear on Easter and on the last day of Hag Matzah (the Feast of Unleavened Bread), I really didn’t think posting a series called “Judenrein Christianity” was entirely appropriate. So in the meantime, I’d like to hit a subject very dear to my heart: Why every believer needs their own wide-margin Bible. This of course will come as no shock to anyone who looked at the title of this article.

In the Middle Ages, knights carried not just one sword, but a variety of swords and other weapons, each with its own use, such as a mace or battle axe for use against foes with heavy armor, a lance for charging on horseback, a dagger for close-in fighting, and a sword for general use. The diligent Christian or Messianic Jew needs just as wide a selection of his primary weapon, the sword of the Word of God: Study Bibles for quick-reference, thinlines for easy transport, interlinears for deeper study of the languages, and a variety of translations to compare and contrast. But just like a medieval knight, every believer needs that sword that goes everywhere with him, the one that is really and truly his. For serious students, I firmly believe that this should be a wide-margin Bible with his own personal notes.

The Zondervan Wide-Margin NASB has been my personal sword for five years now. Cambridge makes a series of wide-margin Bibles that includes the NASB and the ESV, but unfortunately they insist on making them with two columns, which means that your notes on the inside column are always going to be crunched at best. To my mind, a good wide-margin Bible needs to have just a single column, so that you can always (or nearly always) put the note you’re writing directly next to the relevant verse. 100_1881

In that respect, the layout of the Zondervan is perfect for a wide-margin Bible: The font is relatively large (equivalent to Times New Roman at about 9.5 points) and very easy to read even for my less-than-perfect vision. There’s no need to crowd notes on the inner margin as with a two-column format. Each verse starts on its own line, with verse numbers set in bold to indicate new paragraphs. The result is that most verses have at least an inch or two of waste space, which I often use to write in my own cross-references. Poetry is set into stanzas, which gives you even more space for those passages.

Blank flyleaf on the left used to sketch a map of the Antediluvian world, using the known coastline during the last ice age and other details given in Genesis to pinpoint the Garden of Eden in the Persian Gulf.

There’s an additional half-inch of white-space at the top and bottom of the page which I use for quoting longer passages from various commentaries and other books. The beginning of each book also has about three inches of whitespace around the name of the book, which gives you a fair amount of room to write down introductory notes about the book itself. Since each book begins on a new page, there is additional space at the end of many books, as well as sixteen blank pages left in the back. If you use the right pens and write small, that’s an immense amount of room for notes.

100_1879So, for example, I have the map of the Antediluvian world as best I could reconstruct it in the picture above, and on the right is a timeline I created to show when the various kings and prophets lived. I’ll be honest and admit that this chart was cribbed almost entirely from the ESV Study Bible (another favorite resource I’ll have to review someday), but with a few added details that I personally found interesting.

I have only one nit to pick with this Bible, and that is that it has no cross-references, not even for passages from the Old Testament quoted in the New (which are marked by small caps). I didn’t mind, but if the editors had seen fit to put a set of decent cross-referencing on the inner margins, I would call this the perfect note-taking Bible. As is, just be aware that you’ll be putting in a few hours of looking up and jotting down cross-references up-front.

Those of you who like the KJV would probably enjoy the Note Taker’s Bible (reviewed here). I have to admit that had the bookstore I bought my Zondervan in had this in stock, I would have very likely picked it up instead. I mean, look at the size of those margins:The reason, by the way, that I don’t like the KJV is not primarily the old language, but rather the fact that the KJV translators relied too much on the Latin Vulgate when they had difficulty with the Hebrew. As wonderful as the poetry of the KJV is (and I’ll be the first to admit that I love the ring of the prophetic books in the older English), I need accuracy more than poetry to really study. But for those who love the KJV and want to start keeping your notes in your Bible, you’ll probably find this version to be right up your alley.

4/8/2016 Edit: I’ve recently bought an ESV Wide-Margin Reference Bible. Click here for my initial review and here for my thoughts after spending a day with it.

MJSH BibleSo why aren’t I linking to any Messianic versions? Simply put, because the Messianic movement is so new and so divided that we haven’t produced either yet. I have some hopes for the upcoming Messianic Jewish Shared Heritage Bible, but there are still some translation issues (that I’ll deal with in an open email in the near future) and it only has a basic version so far. Even with my personal quibbles, let them put out a good, solid wide-margin version, and I’ll pick it up and start transferring notes in a heartbeat. In the meantime, I’ll stick with the NASB and ESV–while I love the Complete Jewish Bible as a study resource (particularly when paired with Stern’s Jewish New Testament Commentary), I don’t believe that any paraphrase can ultimately serve the serious student.

100_1887Of course, what I wish I could find is the New Covenant equivalent to the Artscroll Tanakh. As you can see, Artscroll puts the English on the left and the Hebrew on the right and includes nice wide margins (though not, I think, actually intending us to write in them). Why on earth don’t Christians care as much about having the Greek as Jews do about having the Hebrew? Oh, you can find Greek New Testaments–but not with a translation paired with it. You can’t blame the publishers, not when the demand for even basic wide-margin Bibles is so low. 100_1891In the meantime, I’ve got my wide-margin, and my Nook carries both Hebrew and Greek versions as well as the ESV Study Bible. If I can just find some good lexicons, I’ll never be without the resources on-hand to do a bit of study no matter where I am.

Okay, so I’ve gone all over the map on this post talking about various Bibles, but I’ve not actually answered the question: Why do you need a wide-margin Bible? Here are my top five reasons:

  1.  While a good study Bible is worth its weight in gold, a good study Bible can also lull you into believing that the notes and commentary it provides are always right, killing your initiative to dig in deeper yourself. A good wide-margin Bible, on the other hand, invites you to continually dig deeper.
  2. All of us have favourite books or sections that we tend to return to again and again. Blank pages in a wide-margin Bible have a way of calling to you and getting you to study areas that you never have before.
  3. Writing things down, and being forced to carefully pick and choose what and how to write them down due to space constraints, actually improves your ability to remember those details later on.
  4. As useful as the Internet is for finding various odd facts, you don’t want to be dependent on it for all of your Bible study. A storm (or EMP) could knock out the power–and do you really want to lack access to your Bible and everything you’ve learned about it in the middle of an emergency?
  5. Much like a long-kept journal, there’s a way in which a wide-margin with all of its notes ceases to be just a book and becomes an extension of who you are. Because (barring the use of correction tape) the notes you put there are there forever, you can actually see your personal growth in the Scriptures over time, how questions you once had were answered, how your theology has evolved, and so on.

And of course, there’s always my unofficial reason #6. When you’ve had the same wide-margin for several years and you open it up in a discussion and other people see this:


Well, let’s just say that it gives you a sense of accomplishment and might just provoke them to jealousy enough to want to dig into their own Bibles as well.



12 Replies to “Why You Need a Wide-Margin Bible”

    1. It looks sewn to me, but I’ve seen Amazon reviews complaining about poor binding, so I could be mistaken on that point. I’ve never had a problem with loose pages, but I also make a point of keeping my Bible in a well-fitted leather cover. I’ve had mine for quite a few years, so it’s possible that the quality of the binding has changed as well.


  1. I have always struggled with “marking” my Bible. As a collector, owning about 110 Bibles, I have experimented with, and longed to mark a bible like shown above. But, for whatever reason, I feel I am defacing Gods word. Have you ever come across someone with this aversion? Any suggestions how to overcome it?


    1. HI Jeremy. I used to write in every Bible. I don’t anymore. Now I just write in Bibles that were made for writing. If you write in a Bible that was made for writing it has a different feel than just writing in everything. That might be a way to help you in writing on your Bibles. Get one that was intended for writing.


      1. That’s a good point, Jeremy. I like to keep a good, quality “Family” Bible around that isn’t marked up, and I have some older Bibles–both Jewish and Christian–that I’ve inherited that I would never dream of taking a highlighter to. Like I said in the intro, different Bibles are like different weapons, each one with its own particular purpose.


    2. Do you have any study Bibles in your collection? Instead of thinking of it as defacing God’s Word, think of it as writing your own study Bible. Remember, it’s not the ink on the page that is sacred, but the meaning of the Word. Every note, mark, and highlight that you put into your Bible is a part of the process of going beyond reading the Bible and instead making it a part of you.


      1. Well said and I couldn’t agree more. With this train of thought, you do yourself a disservice not have at least one Bible that you mark in and make your own study Bible.


      2. I am grateful for your reply, & Randy’s as well. I do own many study bibles. I have decided to get a journaling, or a wide margin. I hope one day to get the 400 LCBP Note takers Bible. I am excited to begin this new adventure of studying the Scriptures!! For my first experiment should I get a wide margin or a journal style?


  2. My advice is to go ahead and pick one out that will last: Once you start putting in your notes, you’re not going to want to change Bibles and have to recopy your most important notes for a long time. If you can write small, the ESV Journaling Bible isn’t bad at all (there’s even enough room on the inside margin to put some cross-references), but it’s more designed for journaling, as in putting in thoughts and prayers, than for serious note-taking.


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