In Praise of Single Column Bibles

I am a huge fan of single column Bibles.

There, I said it. Yes, I know I am a Bible design geek and I even laugh at myself about this fact. And I know that most people, upon reading the first sentence of this post would probably react, “And the price of tea in China is…?

But I also have the heart of a pastor, which is another reason why I want to devote this post to this rather obscure subject of double column vs. single column Bibles. As a pastor I want to help people in whatever ways I can to read the Bible more. More pleasurably. More often. And with greater impact. And I truly believe that a single column Bible will in a small way help people experience those things in a greater way.

Like many people, I never paid much attention to the difference between single column vs. double column Bibles, until I came across J. Mark Bertrand’s outstanding blog (Bible Design Blog). Truth be told, I previously preferred double column Bibles, albeit subconsciously. I remember back in college days looking at a friend’s Life Application Study Bible one time and saying to myself, “Something about this Bible doesn’t feel right.” That something was the single column. It didn’t feel right because I had a preconceived notion of what a Bible was supposed to look like, and that was double column. In other words, I was bound by tradition, familiarity.

ESV PSR Bible photograph by J. Mark Bertrand (www.bibledesignblog.com)

If you think about it, single column Bibles really make sense.  After reading the benefits of the single column Bible on Mark’s blog, I found myself ordering a single column ESV Personal Size Reference Bible (pictured above).

After only a few days of reading from my new ESV, I was completely converted to being a single column fan. I find it much easier on the eyes when sitting down to do a lot of reading. My eyes don’t have to work as hard zigzagging down the page. And then it comes to the poetry sections of Scripture, they are laid out in such a way that each unit of thought is one line, which is nearly impossible in a double column Bible. If you sit down with both kinds of Bibles and compare the Proverbs and the Psalms, you will see what I mean.

There is a reason why almost every other book in a bookstore is single column. It is better and easier for reading. Period.

Which begs the question: Why are Bibles double column? Simple answer. The Bible is a big book, with somewhere around a quarter of a million words. If a publisher were to print a Bible using the same thickness of paper as a John Grisham novel, with the same sized print, it would need to be converted to a multi-volume set.

No one wants to carry around two or three thick books! Bible publishers do all they can to give us the Good Book in a reasonably sized package. So they use really thin paper, smaller font, and most importantly (for this discussion), they put two columns in a page. In fact, Thomas Nelson published a cheap, paperback, three column Bible for outreach purposes.

The only disadvantage of the single column Bible is that it requires more pages, which usually results in a thicker Bible. And since thinline Bibles have been all the rage for probably two decades now, Bible publishers are understandably wary of producing thick Bibles. Which means single column Bibles are pretty rare.

For those who offer some single column editions, they try to offset the thickness by using very thin paper and by decreasing the font size, neither of which are measures I prefer. The thin paper results in more ghosting (seeing the print on the other side of the page) and bleedthrough (ink showing through if you mark in your Bible). The smaller font size is not suited for my 40-year-old eyes.

Publishers are more likely to offer the single column setting in a study Bible. Comprehensive study Bibles are expected to be thick anyway, so going with a single column setting is not as problematic. Besides, a single column setting looks attractive when offset by double column study notes at the bottom of the page.

As I have talked with others about this, it is not uncommon for them to come back to me later and say, “Yeah, I see what you mean, single column is much better for reading.”

But the chief problem is single column Bibles are rare. You will have less choices. You may not get the translation you like in the color you prefer. And depending on which translation you use, you may not find a single column offering at all.

My hope is that this little blog post has helped educate you, the consumer, so that you will be one more potential customer who would be interested in purchasing a single column Bible.  The more our tribe increases, the more likely the offerings and choices will increase.

My even greater hope is that your reading this post will result in your trying the single column option out, and that you will actually find your Bible reading a little more pleasurable, which will result in a little more reading, which will result in a little more impact.

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12 thoughts on “In Praise of Single Column Bibles”

  1. My conversion to the single column paragraph format tribe is similar to yours. At first I did not like the single column format but I bought an ESV Study Bible, which uses the single column format, and in no time I was converted.

  2. Absolutely fantastic post Brett. So incredibly insightful. I couldn’t agree with you more!

    I too discovered the benefits and pleasure of reading from a single column Bible about a year ago after reading Bertrand’s blog. You’re right on about reading the poetry sections of the Bible in a single column layout; it is so smooth and ‘opens up’ the text to ‘breath’ like poetry is supposed to be read.

    I completely agree with your comment:

    “I find it much easier on the eyes when sitting down to do a lot of reading. My eyes don’t have to work as hard zigzagging down the page.”

    I enjoyed this post so much, I’ve gone into the following blog posts below on my blog at Kowalker.com that has to do with a single column Bible and inserted a link (in green, so it stands out) back to your post here. You did such a splendid job of educating others on this Bible layout.

    Thanks so much Brett for taking the time to present such a clear and compelling case for this Bible format. Hopefully more and more folks will take the plunge and purchase a Bible in this layout.

    50 Pictures of my ESV Single Column Reference Bible in Black Calfskin

    100 Pictures of my Allan ESV Personal Size Reference Bible in Black Highland Goatskin

    50 Pictures of my ESV Personal Size Reference Bible in TruTone Forest/Tan Trail Design

    100 Pictures of my ESV Study Bible in Black Calfskin

    50 Pictures of my ESV Study Bible in TruTone Natural Brown

  3. Do you really want to know the price of tea in China? Nice blog, I prefer thicker pages myself. When rain leaks through my backpack hits my bible cover and seeps through, those ultrathin pages stick together and tear when separating them. However, I do like the two column bible as long as the second column is another language.

  4. I have the Cambridge Single Column NIV and it is a delight to read and teach from. It doesn’t have any references or other “frills” but the page layout and size of font are great. I know that the NIV is falling out of favor with many but that is what most of my congregation uses. I highly recommend this Bible if you use the NIV. There is a nice review on the Bible Design Blog site.

    I also have the Allan PSR in the ESV and it would be a perfect Bible if the font were larger. I am using ESV for my personal Bible and study. Most of the time I end up using my Allan Readers (double column) simply because of the larger font.

    Once you go single column, you don’t want to go back to double.

  5. Thanks, Erik, for the kind words, and for linking to my post.

    Dwight, you make a great point about thin pages. I agree that a double column is appropriate for a parallel Bible.

    Michael, I am strongly considering getting a copy of the Cambridge Single Column NIV. The NIV may have fallen out of favor with a lot of conservative evangelicals, particularly among the young restless, and reformed crowd, but I think Biblica/Zondervan has taken positive steps lately to show that they are listening to concerns, including bring Bill Mounce on the CBT.

    The ESV is still my teaching/preaching version. But I do most of my Bible reading out of the NIV, using a hardback single column edition my Dad got me back in 1986!

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