The release date for Volume 1 of the Word on Fire Bible is quickly approaching! Bishop Barron’s initial announcement generated lively discussion here and elsewhere, and several notable Catholic evangelists have featured unboxing videos on YouTube (a few notable examples are Matt Fradd, Fr. Casey Cole of Breaking in the Habit, and Bishop Barron himself).
I’m grateful to Word on Fire for providing me with an advance review copy. I’ve been quietly reading through the text over the past few weeks with the aim of providing an in-depth review based on “living in” this book for an extended period. This first part will cover the physical construction, typesetting, paper quality, etc. In the second part (which I’ll be posting on Saturday) I’ll dive into the reading experience and discuss the commentary and artistic content.
The Bible will be available in three editions: paperback (list price: $29.95), hard cover (list price: $39.95), and leather (list price: $59.95). In my communications with Word on Fire, I learned that they expect to offer promotional pricing for the product launch. Currently, there is a promotional offer for 44% off an “evangelization pack” which includes one leather copy and 4 paperback copies.
I received the leather edition for review, and the leather quality is good for this price point. I would compare it with the “French Morocco” leather bindings from Cambridge University Press. It feels far more natural and substantial than the bonded leather binding on my Oxford Catholic Study Bible NABRE, and I think it’s significantly better than the genuine leather cover on the Oxford Large Print NABRE. On the other hand, this is not premium highland goatskin, so it doesn’t have the softness and supple texture of the highest-end premium bindings. I would rank it slightly below the genuine leather of the New Oxford Annotated Bible 5th edition.
The cover is flexible, and there are raised hubs along the spine to add additional texture. As a first impression, though, this bible might feel surprisingly stiff, due to its impressively thick and opaque paper. This is nothing like tissue-thin bible paper. The paper is so much thicker than a normal bible that the whole text block feels solid and stiff. This is not a drawback at all. It speaks to the quality of this volume. Since they are not attempting to fit the entire Bible in one volume, they have been able to use much nicer paper.
The paper has a semi-glossy finish, which reflects light more than standard matte Bible paper. It’s challenging to take photos of this bible without glare obscuring some of the text, but I haven’t noticed any problems with glare while reading over the past few weeks.
The binding is sewn (the stitching is visible in the gutter of the page in the photo above), and the page edges are gold-gilded. The gilding is very high quality. This is nothing like spray-on gilding. It looks substantial, and the Bible is beautiful sitting on a table reflecting the sunlight.
As shown in the photo above, there is also a single, quarter-inch, double-sided ribbon marker.
The biblical text is set in a single-column format with serif font. There are generous margins on both sides of the text for note taking. All of the commentary is printed in sans-serif font. Short commentary by Bishop Barron is printed in double-column layout, while longer (multi-page) commentary sections are printed in single-column format. Excerpts from the Early Church Fathers or more recent theologians and spiritual writers are printed single-column inside color-coded boxes (tan for Early Church Fathers, and gray for other theologians and spiritual writers). The photo below shows most of these features. The biblical text is on the top left, with a short commentary section by Bishop Barron in double-column format below it. On the right-hand page, there is an excerpt from St. Jerome in the tan box at the top and an excerpt by Bishop Fulton Sheen in the gray box at the bottom.
The margins on either side of the biblical text generally measure at least 1 1/8 inches wide. Here are two photos showing the measurements for the inner and outer margins on one page:
Bishop Barron has long emphasized the importance of beauty in evangelization, and this Bible embraces that focus with its “Via Pulchritudinis” (Way of Beauty) inserts. These two-page inserts are placed throughout the biblical text with short essays on artwork that depicts relevant biblical events and themes. All of the essays are penned by Michael Stevens. The printing quality of the artwork is vivid and clear.
Due to the thickness and quality of the paper, ghosting is almost non-existent.
Size and Shape
This leather edition measures approximately 6 7/8 X 9 5/8 inches. The thickness is about 1.5 inches. During reading, I find myself alternating between keeping the Bible on my desk and holding it in my hands. The size is larger than many personal-size bibles (for example, it is certainly larger than the new Thomas Nelson NRSV-CE Personal Edition), but I don’t find it too large to hold. It’s close to the borderline, but I’ve been appreciating that the size is in a reasonable middle-ground between a reference volume that will always stay on a shelf or desk and a portable volume which would need to sacrifice other features to be small enough.
On the whole, this Bible is excellent for the price. Judging by the complete set of physical features (leather quality, paper quality, gilding, and binding), I think this is the highest-quality Catholic bible on the market now. Since it only includes the gospels, though, it’s difficult to make a fair comparison with other Catholic Bibles, and the price certainly becomes more daunting when considering that several additional volumes will eventually be released. Overall, I think the determining factor for whether it is worth the price will come down to the commentary and artistic features. There is a substantial amount of commentary here. I’ll delve into that in detail on Saturday!