Random Research Friday: Custom Study Bible

Random Research Friday is taking a day of the week to explore a concept, product, idea, or anything that peaks my interest.  My goal is to chose a topic I do not have vast experience in and just to learn more.

For the inaugural Random Research Friday, I thought I would explore a topic that I have been thing about for a while.  The concept for a custom study Bible came from my own exploration of how I study.  Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am an avid note taker.  But also I enjoy having multiple resources at my disposal at the time that I am studying.

Now you might think that the art of note taking and having multiple study resources available at one time has already been solved with software.  Load up Logos, Accordance, or Olive Tree on your device of choice and you are good to go.  But for me, the art of taking hand written notes has a vast importance in how I learn.  Highlighting, underlining, circling, and drawing arrows between important points are all necessary for me.  These are things that are cumbersome or unavailable with today’s software.

Idea #1: Custom Designed Bible

So I start by thinking what exactly do I want in a study Bible.  Well an important part of any study is to have multiple translations available.  I would love to be able to place the English Standard Translation and the New Living Translation side-by-side in a two column layout.  In between would be a cross reference system (lets say the already existing ESV system.)  I enjoy my ESV Study Bible for its vast commentary on the Biblical text.  So I would put commentary at the bottom of the page.

For note taking, I would place all the Biblical text on the left hand side of the open Bible.  On the right hand side I would have just blank space for note taking.  I would probably have three-quarters of the blank side as lined paper and the other quarter with no lines for graphs and drawings.

To try and figure out how many pages there will be in this idea I am going to draw from some already existing text.  The two-column ESV cross reference Bible I use normally has around 1340 pages (670 sheets).  If you have one column for ESV and one column for NLT this would essentially double the size to 2640 pages (1340 sheets).  We will make the volumes larger than a normal Bible so we will have extra room to add the study notes to the bottom of the page (meaning no extra pages for commentary.)  Finally if we add one blank page for every page of text, we will double the size again for a total page count of 5280 (or 2640 sheets.)  This is a BIG book!

When I posed this thought on Twitter, I was able to strike up a conversation with David Eyk (@eykd website).  He works for ESV and we were able to go back and forth with ideas.  He mentioned the daunting task of having to typeset a new Bible.  Also dealing with licensing will be a large task to undertake for this project as well.

Idea #2: Handmade Blank Bible

Our conversation moved into alternatives to a “new” Bible.  One would be to create what is called a blank Bible.  A blank Bible is a project where you remove the original binding, cut off the spine, collate in alternating printed text with blank paper, and then rebind the new book using spiral binding.  These are usually homemade creations that take several hours if not days to complete.  The resulting text, depending on which Bible you start with, can end up being 3, 4, or 9 volumes in size.  The downside of this type of study Bible is that on one page you will have the text on the left and blank paper on the right, and then on the next page you will have the blank page on the left and the text on the right.  My OCD would probably not like that.

This idea would eliminate the problems with licensing and typesetting with a custom Bible.  But would require a lot of manual labor constructing the Bible.

David pointed me to an existing “almost there” solution to this type of setup.  Hendrickson Publishers has a ESV Loose-leaf Bible that they sell.  You can purchase it with a binder or only purchase the loose-leaf pages. The only task you would have to do is to 5-hole punch blank paper and collate it in.

Idea #3: Compromise – Professionally Created Blank Bible

So my thoughts were maybe a compromise could be reached between having a handmade blank Bible or a full featured custom created study Bible.  My thoughts are to see if it would be possible to purchase or license digital version of an already existing Bible text and typesetted design.  Such as a PDF version of the ESV Study Bible.  Then pair that with a professionally printed spiral bound book where you can control what appears on each page.  This would allow for the already existing design to be printed on the left side of an open book and the notes to always be on the right side (sorry left-handed writers.)

This would still have the tasks of acquiring licensing and a digital version of the Bible.  But because we are reusing the original design, we only need to insert blank pages into the existing PDF and figure out how to break it into volumes.  A third party printer can then handle all the printing and binding.

The normal ESV Study Bible is 2752 pages (or 1376 sheets).  We double this to include the blank pages and we get a total size of 5504 pages (or 2752 sheets).  Larger than the custom Bible in Idea #1!

What resources online might make this possible:

  • Licensing would have to be acquired from Crossway, the publishers of the ESV.  There is no promise that this type of agreement is even possible.  I have sent an email to them to see if it is possible.  Without this, Idea #1 and Idea #3 are not possible.
  • For professional printing I was able to use to get a rough estimate of how much it would cost to get a custom Bible created.  They require the completed text to be broken up into 300 page (150 sheets) volumes.  For Idea #1, it would take 18 volumes to cover the overall size of a custom Bible.  For Idea #3 it would take 19 volumes to cover its size.  A print run of 100 editions of both Idea #1 and Idea #3 would cost upwards of $200 a piece.

Update – 7/27/2010

I have received an email from Crossway that they currently do not license typesetted Bible designs to individuals (only estiblished publishers.)  Guess if you are going to create Bible, you need to establish yourself as a publisher but also typeset everything.

I also received an email from Hendrickson that they do not have a version of their ESV loose-leaf Bible with printing only on one side.  But they would keep the suggestion in mind for the future.

  • Excellent idea. I have been looking for a note taking Bible or journaling Bible and all of the margins seem way to small to write in. An entire page for notes would be phenomenal. I strongly suggest you pursue the idea with other Bible publishers as I would definitely buy thiws version.

  • Hello Trey,

    I stumbled upon you post after having a similar idea, but more from a business idea. I enjoyed reading your thoughts and quickly realized what a daunting task it would be to create a custom bible publishing company.

    The Lord bless you today. I serve Christ with you. – Doug

  • DougDoug

    Author Reply

    So what was the outcome? Did you get a bible made or whaere did it go from your last post

  • LoganLogan

    Author Reply

    I have been trying to find out how to do the same thing with Idea #1.. however i just wanted the ESV on one page 2 column verse by verse format, and the KJV on the next page same layout..possibly with wide margins..
    I would actually be wiling to format it all in a pdf… and just send it to some company to print..
    Since i think KJV is free copyright, I wonder if David Eyk would be willing to custom print this book if thats all they had to do since i would format in the pdf…?

  • Logan,

    In the discussions with David from ESV, most of the hard work or issues are not really with printing (though that is still a hard job.) The hardest is the typesetting of the Bible pages themselves.

    If you do setup a Bible in PDF format, a quick google search results in several Bible printers that would be able to print the PDF. It sounds like the only licensing you would have to get would be for the ESV text.

    FYI – There is a parallel Bible that has all the versions from the post and your comment. The Essential Evangelical Parallel Bible (Amazon Link: ) has the KJV, ESV, NLT, and The Message. I have no experience with the book, just found it doing a search for parallel Bibles.

    Thanks for the comment! Let me know if you move forward!

  • BillBill

    Author Reply

    I saw a roku channel called electric sheep. This channel had 3 or 4 books you could read using a roku player. I tried to develop a channel that contained a book. My goal was to figure out how to put the KJV bible or a book of the Bible on a roku channel other than in an audio format. I found it was something I could not complete. I did however understand some of the concept behind the electric sheep channel that contained some books to read that gave me the idea.

    I made a New private channel: Bible Tract (25,500).
    (Enter Code PDQUH ) To install this small channel.
    If you could develop a channel for the ROKU that featured the KJV bible I would be interested in knowing how you did it. Thanksl