I will argue that the Westminster Reference Bible in black calfskin published by the Trinitarian Bible Society (TBS) is the best all-around printed bible that you can buy today in the English language.
I will not be considering digital bibles, or bibles in languages other than English. And by all-around, I will mean all-purpose. The bible should work well in as many contexts as possible. There are specialty bibles that will work better in some contexts; however, I will focus on having a single bible that can do everything: preaching, personal and group study, casual reading, hospital visits, public and family worship.
There are two parts to this evaluation: the translation, and the printed volume itself.
The Westminster Reference Bible uses the Authorized Version, more commonly known as the King James Version (KJV). The KJV was first published in 1611, and has since enjoyed great popularity. It has altered the course of the English language as many of its phrases have entered into common speech.
The Received Text
The KJV was translated from the Reformation-era text of Scripture. Unlike most modern English translations of the Bible, the KJV uses the Received Text, as opposed to the Critical Text as its underlying source. The Received Text is the providentially preserved Word of God, without spot or blemish. This means that the KJV doesn’t need to be updated when textual-critical scholarship decides that new manuscript evidence warrants a change of the wording of the Holy Scriptures. The KJV presents in English what the apostles wrote in Greek. The KJV unashamedly and proudly includes all of the text of Scripture, and doesn’t neglect any of the contested passages, like Mark 16:9-20 or John 7:53-8:11. The KJV as a translation is driven by the ideals of the Reformation.
The KJV employs an interesting strategy when transliterating proper names to English. The Bible was original written in Hebrew (and Aramaic), and Greek, and those languages don’t use the Latin alphabet. Each proper name must be transliterated to an English form. This is common to all translations. Παῦλος becomes Paul. But the way that the KJV goes about it is different. Many proper names are rendered differently in the Old Testament, and the New Testament. For example, the prophet Isaiah is called Isaiah in the Old Testament, but Esaias in the New Testament (e.g. Matthew 3:3). This becomes important in passages like Hebrews 4:8 where Jesus is said to give rest. The KJV uses the word Jesus instead of Joshua as many modern translations do. This shows the reader that the two names are the same, and that the context must determine which person is being spoken of. The KJV gives you the option; modern translations don’t.
Singular and plural personal pronouns
The KJV uses archaic personal pronouns like thou, thee, thine, and ye. This is done in order to signal to the reader whether a singular or a plural form of the verb is being employed in the original languages. Modern English doesn’t have this ability aside from regional colloquialisms like y’all. This enables the reader to obtain a greater understanding of the biblical text.
Void of modern gendered language
The KJV doesn’t suffer from modern inclusive language issues. It doesn’t try to be politically correct. It doesn’t say brothers and sisters where the Greek original says brothers.
The KJV hasn’t changed in centuries, and isn’t going to. This is in stark contrast with modern translations which need to be updated every few years.
Generations of Christians have read the KJV, and memorized passages from it, and we can follow in their footsteps. We don’t need to worry that our bibles will become obsolete with the next update. We can buy a bible, and it can last us a lifetime.
The standard version
The KJV is the only translation which can be considered a standard version. Thousands of churches recite the Lord’s prayer using the words of the KJV despite using a modern translation in preaching.
The text of the KJV is in the public domain in most of the world, and is freely and readily available. The Word of God is precious.
The book itself
Binding and leather
The book itself is smyth-sewn, and bound in black calfskin. The calfskin presents a happy trade-off between quality, price, and comfort. It’s very durable, feels great to the touch, and isn’t very expensive compared to goatskin. It’s only available in black, the only colour that matters.
The cost of producing the Westminster Reference Bible is being subsidized from a large pool of money a generous donor has made available. Thus, one is able to acquire a premium bible without a premium price tag. This shows the integrity of the publisher, and assures us that their primary interest isn’t getting rich.
The Westminster Reference Bible is a reference edition which means that the text of Scripture is surrounded by footnotes, and notes. These notes link various places in the bible together for study purposes. This bible has over 200,000 of such references in its margins. A regular reference or study bible might have about 60,000-80,000 references. These references come from John Brown’s Self-Interpreting Bible. Using the reference system, one can explore what else the bible has to say on what is currently being read.
And yet, despite this wealth of information on each page, the text of Holy Scripture isn’t obscured or hard to read. The helps and reference material only comes into view when one desires.
Despite being a reference edition, it doesn’t undermine the reader’s confidence in the text. The Westminster Reference Bible doesn’t include comments on the quality of the manuscripts used, let alone call any passages into question.
Even R.L. Allan’s flagship Longprimer has comments that say that a certain reading isn’t supported by the oldest manuscripts.
Verse by verse
The modern trend is to present the text of Scripture in a single-column, paragraphed setting. The Westminster Reference Bible is a verse-by-verse, double-column edition. This means that the volume can be smaller because the two columns are more space efficient. And just like the reference system, it encourages bible study because it puts the verse number front and center.
It may be argued that verse-by-verse double-column bibles are hard to read. Yes, I’d say it’s more challenging than reading a novel. However, slower reading leads greater comprehension.
In addition to its extensive reference system, it also has obsure words explained inline. Since the Westminster Reference Bible uses the text of the KJV, some of the words used won’t be easily understood by the modern reader. To aid reading, the bible includes short explanations of these difficult words right on the page. This includes both archaic words, and so-called false friends (e.g. conversation used to have the sense of today’s behaviour).
Unlike modern editions of the bible, the Westminster Reference Bible doesn’t use headings through the text. Instead, it uses chapter summaries. The reader can quickly gain an overview of each chapter when locating a passage. Moreover, these summaries are original to the KJV, and as such are full of Reformed theology. This perhaps most obvious in the Psalms, e.g. the summary of Psalm 110 reads:
- A prediction of the kingdom, 4. priesthood, 5. triumphs, 7. and sufferings of Christ.
Or, the Song of Solomon, chapter 1:
- The church’s love unto Christ
Chapter summaries are arguably more useful than headings in the text. If nothing else, they don’t introduce uninspired breaks in the text.
Pauline authorship of Hebrews
The Westminster Reference Bible proudly and rightly announces that the author of the book of Hebrews is none other than the Apostle Paul.
Unlike many modern-day editions of the KJV, the Westminster Reference Bible is a black-letter edition. This means that all of the words of the Holy Bible are in black in contrast with red-letter editions which render the words of Christ in red. Reformed theology argues that all scripture is given by inspiration of God (2 Tim 3:16), and should therefore be red. And red is of course hard to read.
The KJV translators felt that certain words not present in the original had to be added in order to translate a passage better. These words they marked in italics. The Westminster Reference Bible respects their wishes, and prints these words in italics. It has been shown that these are somewhat arbitrary and inconsistent, and one shouldn’t rely on them too much; however, they are still useful in reminding the reader that translating a text from one language to another isn’t an exact science, and a one-to-one correspondence isn’t always achievable.
No quotation marks
Modern bibles introduce un-inspired quotation marks into the text to indicate when a person starts speaking. The problem is that sometimes these decisions are wrong, and affect doctrine in negative ways. An example of this can be found in Acts 19. The Westminster Reference Bible omits these quotation marks just like the original text, allowing the diligent student of the Scriptures to advance without distractions.
Epistle to the reader
The printed volume includes the KJV translators’ Epistle to the reader where they explain their motivations. Sadly, it is common today to exclude this wonderful letter from printed editions. This epistle argues against the modern concept called KJV Onlyism.
If this is to be the best all-around bible, a reading plan is a must. It keeps the serious student of the word of God on grounded, and on track. No external tools are necessary. It would make the perfect desert island bible.
Unlike R.L. Allan’s Longprimer, the Westminster Reference Bible doesn’t pander to 1950s aesthetics, and it uses a modern digital font. This makes the page crisp and clean.
High view of Scripture
The publisher’s high view of Scripture can be seen in their including three separate pages with quotes from the Bible which highlight the Bible’s purity, and excellence. Not one, but three: Psalm 119:18, Psalm 19:7-11, and 2 Timothy 3:16-17
Explanation of thees and thous
The front matter in the book provides a helpful explanation of how the archaic personal pronouns work.
This bible is called the Westminster Reference Bible: it’s built on the ideals of the English reformation of the 17th century. The Westminster Reference Bible is as Reformed as the Westminster Confession of Faith.
Another example is that the title page of the Old Testament reads The Old Testament of Jesus Christ. And as mentioned above, many of the Old Testament chapter summaries mention Christ or the church. The whole bible is about him, and the Westminster Reference Bible reminds you of it every now and then.
If you want a premium bible for not-much money, a reformed bible with high standards, a pure text, and a great set of study features, look no further than the Westminster Reference Bible.
This article was first published on October 30, 2020. As you can see, there are no comments. I invite you to email me with your comments, criticisms, and other suggestions. Even better, write your own article as a response. Blogging is awesome.