In Search of the Ideal Pocket Bible

Koren Tanakh, Compact Size

Compact Koren Tanakh with a cup of tea and a quarter, for perspective on its size

I’ve been away from the blog for a while, and I’m planning to come back in the coming weeks with a single focus: reviewing and examining pocket Bibles. Sometime in the last few months I think I crossed a line in my mind; before I thought of myself merely as someone who had a lot of Bibles, all of them to use and serve some purpose; now I am beginning to think of myself as a bona-fide collector, and I’ve decided to take that “collectors” impulse into the realm of pocket/compact Bibles.

From top (foreground) to bottom (back): Cambridge Pocket KJV Cameo; NVI Biblia de Bolsillo (Vida); United Bible Societies Greek/English NT (in a smaller size that is no longer available)

There are two big reasons for this: 1) They’re relatively cheap. So, for example, I wanted to have at least one Cambridge KJV, so I was able to find a beautiful leather pocket Cameo on discount–a heckuvalot cheaper than, say, a full price goatskin KJV wide margin.
2) I’ve always been fascinated by books in miniature and curious about the mechanics of what makes them work. As a boy, my favorite ornament on the Christmas tree was a tiny paper back “Bible” (I think it was actually the gospel of John, but it was made to look like a mini-Bible), and I continued to be fascinated by the way in which publishers are able to effectively fit the Bible’s massive anthology into a pocket-sized pamphlet.  And I’ll add another:  3)  I always like to have a Bible with me (I am a Bible scholar, after all), and it’s nice to have a variety to choose from.

Stack on left, top to bottom: Gideon NT; Reina Valera 95; KJV Pocket Cameo; NVI Biblia, Greek/English NT (smaller edition). Row on right, from left to right: Brown ESV "Limited Edition" Compact; HCSB Soldier's Bible and NT (both my dad's); Stone Edition Tanach, boxed set.

Reading from several compact Bibles has been intriguing, and I’m hoping that my reviews can serve two purposes: a) to aid customers in their purchases, so that they can avoid the clunkers and find the gems; a) to perhaps aid publishers, as I make my humble observations concerning what works (and what does not work).

So, for now, I’ll ask for your help: What are some of the best pocket/compact Bibles that you own or know about?  I’d love to know what other Bibliophiles have found.  Any really strong recommendations out there? Or, are there any editions that you’ve found to be real clunkers, not worth considering? Please, do share!


About hjimkeener

Education: B.A.: Moody Bible Institute GCTS: Knox Theological Seminary M.Div.: Pittsburgh Theological Seminary Ph.D.: Baylor University Ministry Experience: I have served as a Youth Minister, Associate Pastor of English Ministry, and a pulpit supply preacher. Teaching Experience: In addition to teaching in various volunteer and professional ministry settings, I have taught as a University Professor (Teaching Fellow; Baylor University) and as a Seminary Professor (El Seminario de la Iglesia Presbiteriana de Bolivia). I have also given lectures and sermons in Spanish.
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20 Responses to In Search of the Ideal Pocket Bible

  1. Sherry Firestone says:

    My favorite pocket Bible is Nelson’s NKJV Pocket Companion. The size is small, but the print is larger than most pocket Bibles.

  2. Matt Morales says:

    I am always in search of a good pocket edition. The Pitt Minion line is a nice “compact” edition but not a true “pocket size”…and hence does not fit in my back pocket.

    I really like the Deluxe Compact ESV, for a full OT/NT…I but it is borderline on thickness and size for my back pockets.

    There are a couple NT/Psalms/Proverbs editions that are executed well: REB NT, HCSB NT (1st ed), Waterproof bibles NT/Ps/Pr (which have not bleed through).

    My requirements in a nutshell: very legible at ~12 inches from my eyes, and actually fit in my back pockets.

  3. hjimkeener says:

    Sherry–I absolutely *love* the Pocket Companion! You should check out my short bit on the Signature Series edition ( Unfortunately, I game mine away to my nephew as a baptism gift, so I couldn’t do a more in depth review. If (*ahem*) Tommy Nelson would happen to send a review copy my way, I would definitely be game for writing a more thorough review.

  4. hjimkeener says:

    Matt–I’m right there with you on a lot of things. My old paperback HCSB NT is pretty beat up from being stuffed in my pocket and being read on treadmills and stationary bikes! I really like the single column–seems we’ve discussed that format once or twice :0). Not seen the REB, though. Is it single column, too?

  5. Matt Morales says:

    Haha the single column discussion seems to always come up 🙂

    The REB is single column. It is a decent NT…although it is only offered in paperback, but used to be offered in a leather type material which would have added to the elegance.

    I am really looking forward to the Allan Compact ESV

  6. Ryan says:

    two questions: what is the isbn on your compact greek/english nt? and your first pic with the tea is the koren pocket tanach, right? what do you think of it? i have often considered getting it, but have not known anyone who has owned it. is it sewn? how is the translation?

  7. hjimkeener says:

    Ryan: The funny thing is, the smaller Greek/English NT has the *exact* same ISBN as the larger edition (3438054086)–*and* they don’t make it in this size anymore. I saw it twice (in a library in seminary and in the Graduate Chair’s office in grad school), copied down the ISBN both times, and was frustrated to find out that it was the same ISBN as the larger edition! Here’s how I tracked one down: I e-mailed every third party vendor selling one on Amazon and asked for the dimensions of their copy. You might have some luck that way, if you really want one.

  8. hjimkeener says:

    Ryan (again), Regarding the Koren Tanakh: I doubt I’ll have time to do a full review of this one, but here are the bullet-points: 1) It is smythe-sewn and seems sturdy overall; 2) The Hebrew is readable for how compact it is, but there are some other issues you may find difficult to read (i.e., the chapter/verse divisions are marked by Hebrew letters instead of numbers, and the extra maps and materials in the back are blurry and almost completely illegible); 3) The binding on my edition is completely falling apart near the seam connecting the text block to the cover. Although this is common with smythe-sewn bindings, my Artscroll Tanach is specially reinforced and has fared much better.

  9. Ryan says:

    to answer your original question, the jps compact hebrew-english tanakh comes to mind as a poorly executed compact. putting both the hebrew and english on one page is so cramped as to make it almost useless.
    as far as compacts i like, for me thinness is more important than footprint size when i am considering portability, so the pitt is my go-to compact.

  10. hjimkeener says:

    Ryan–You’re welcom. And thanks for your input as well
    I had a JPS compact Tanakh that I used for a good bit, and I agree that it’s pretty poorly executed–although I may have different gripes. I can handle the two-column format, especially if it saves space (I mean, any Hebrew and English Tanakh is going to be pretty thick), but I can’t handle the aweful glued binding that falls apart almost immediately! Horrible! The Artscroll Stone Edition is leagues better.

  11. Zac Livesay says:

    I don’t know if you are a fan of the NIV translation, but the NIV thinline Bibles are pretty amazing. It is very readable, with good paper quality and imitation leather. It’s pretty small, and fits in the pockets of my jackets (or into my sweatpants pockets, although grudgingly.) I’m a college student, so the portability of this Bible helps.

    I also recently picked up an ESV compact Bible. It is even smaller than my NIV, although it doesn’t seem to lay flat as well (the NIV is pretty loose, I love it!) although I’m hoping this Bible will break in over time.

    • hjimkeener says:

      Thanks for the input, Zac! I’ve looked over the Zondervan thinline compact in the store, and it does look pretty good. It has a sewn binding, which I think is important, although some publishers think that they can get away with a glued binding for a pocket edition.
      Some years back I owned a similar NIV by Holman that was also pretty nice, and even smaller yet.
      On the high end of the spectrum, you can get a NIV PItt Minion, and Cambridge also publishes a very nice looking NIV Compact Reference, reviewed by Mark Bertrand here. I think that one is really hard to find in the USA, though.

      • Zac Livesay says:

        You’re quite welcome 😀
        And I’ve never heard of/seen the PItt Minion. I really didn’t look too much into compact Bibles until I was searching for a “companion” Bible last year though. My NIV Life Application Study Bible, although very very useful, isn’t exactly easy to carry around 😛

        I think the winner, as far as how compact a Bible can be, is an ESV Bible a guy had this summer on a mission trip I was on. Honestly, it was so small I couldn’t believe it was the full Bible. I’ve seen copies of the new testament that take up more space than that thing… Unfortunately, I have no idea where to find it, or what it’s called haha.

      • hjimkeener says:

        Zac–it could be the Deluxe Compact I recently reviewed here, or it could be the slightly smaller “special edition” that is popping up in Christian bookstores of every kind and can be purchased at CBD . The deluxe compact is better, imo; it’s not much larger but the font is noticably larger. The smaller one is much cheaper, though. It also has a sewn binding, so it will hold up and opens fairly flat.

      • Zac Livesay says:

        Well, I think that’s one mystery solved. Although the box my Bible came in simply says “compact Bible,” I think I have the special edition. I have the exact same Celtic cross design that that Bible you linked has 😀 I’m hoping the trutone breaks in soon enough, it would be awesome to have this thing lay as flat as I want it to. The Bible lays flat when you’re in the middle of it, but when you’re back towards Acts or beyond, it almost wants to close itself. Have you reviewed the special edition? And if so, how long was it, if ever, before it really laid flat?

  12. Pingback: Something Borrowed, Something Blue: Two Rare Coronation Bibles | For His Lovingkindness is Everlasting.

  13. Pingback: Fine-Tuning a Modern Classic: The New Black (Imitation Leather) ESV Pitt Minion | For His Lovingkindness is Everlasting.

  14. Daniel says:

    Best one for me was a 1995 pocket NASB: dimensions 4.5 x 3 x 1. But mine is worn out and it’s out of print… 😦

  15. hjimkeener says:

    Thanks for sharing, Daniel. I’ve not seen that one. Well, for a mere $92.50, you can pick up a used copy on Amazon! :0)
    What do you think makes that one special?

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