The (Leather) Gospel, According to John

I’ve had hit-or-miss success in 2016 with Bible memorization. It’s entirely possible I’m being too hard on myself, but I also know I struggle to consistently work at the parts of the Bible I’m trying to memorize this year.

A tool won’t necessarily make me a better memorizer, but thinking it could help, I sprang for the Saddleback Leather Gospel of John Bible portion. You readers of this blog know I like good leather. You know I like pocket notebooks. And of course I like pocket notebooks with leather covers. So why not have a portable Scripture portion covered in leather?

This has actually been a desideratum of mine for some time, so I was really excited to see that Saddleback Leather has just released a set of three books of the Bible (John, Proverbs, and Revelation), each stitched into a leather cover. These are not inserts that can be exchanged–they are permanently stitched to their covers.

Lemme show you.


0_Two Balms
Lip Balm, Life Balm


The book is passport size (think 3.5″ x 5″ Baron Fig Apprentice rather than 3.5″ x 5.5″ Field Notes or Word. Notebooks). This means it’s a great front pocket fit.


1_Pocket View


Here it is, front and back:


Words of the Word on the Rock
Words of the Word on a Rock


3_Back on Rock
Rock on, You Rock on the Rock


Here’s a look at how the uber-tough paper is stitched into the leather:


4_Inside Stitching


5_Outside Stitching


That paper, by the way, is “YUPO synthetic paper: 100% recyclable, waterproof, tree-free, durable, and easily wipes clean.”


7_Inside Stitching Up Close


Bible production is notoriously challenging, and I’m quite sure this piece was no exception. A bummer is that there is virtually no margin to the pages. The font is small, but the lack of white space is the larger issue:


8_Full Page Text


This especially becomes a problem as some pages don’t lay 100% flat:


Crammed margins
Crammed margins


The leather is full grain and wonderful, as with all of Saddleback’s stuff. It smells good, of course. It will last forever. The paper looks just as tough, too. I don’t quite feel like trying to rip it to see if it’s truly tear-free, but it’s the kind of paper you could take on a camping trip and not have to worry.

Surprisingly, given the excellent workmanship on Saddleback products, the leather stitching was a little crooked, even though it’s machine-stitched:


6_Outside Stitching Up Close


6a_Stitching Not Straight


The insides are the NET Bible, which I appreciate as a translation for its rich footnotes. Those are not included here, which is inevitable, since the font is already small to get John to fit in.

There are 30 pages (15 sheets), including–oddly–five blank pages at the end, which means that one less sheet could have been used. (Maybe these are for notes?)

Back to why I got this thing–to memorize. The NET Bible does not lend itself well to memorization. Consider John 1:1-5 in the 1984 NIV:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.

Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

Here it is in the NET Bible:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was fully God. The Word was with God in the beginning. All things were created by him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created. In him was life, and the life was the light of mankind. And the light shines on in the darkness, but the darkness has not mastered it.

I dislike the translation of the generic Greek ανθρωπος as “man” in the 1984 NIV. “Humanity” or “humankind” is better in 2016–even the NET footnote cedes this option, but the text alone just gives you “mankind.” And though the footnote in fuller NET editions explains “the Word was fully God” well, NET has other such turns of phrase that make the version less than ideal for memorization.

There are also no paragraphs in this text. This means the 71-verse John 6 is a single paragraph in the Saddleback Leather Gospel of John. There is a single blank line between chapters, but especially with those five blank pages at the end, could not paragraph separations for greater readability have been employed?

One more minor production quibble: the cover text (“The Book of John”) is ever so slightly left of center, and the branding on the back is a little off-center. These are not really noticeable (like the stitching is), and maybe it’s just that I’ve come to expect near perfection from Saddleback!

I still, however, think it is absolutely awesome that Saddleback is making these things, so even though the NET Bible here isn’t quite the pocket-sized, leather-covered panacea I was seeking for Bible memorization (I know: I have issues), I would still buy this again, even if only to support the effort and have it to keep with me.

I imagine the production of these little books will only improve in time–if you’re going to get one, maybe give it a couple months and see if the next few production runs iron out the quality and layout issues.

(Personally, I’d love to see an easier-to-memorize version available in the future, too, like the NIV or NRSV.)

Saddleback’s site is here, with many wonderful leather things. You can also check out my review of their pen/sunglasses case as well as their leather Bible Cover.

Here is the Gospel of John via Saddleback, as well as a larger set of three books of the Bible, similarly bound.



This was not a review sample–I paid for it, but was fortunate to have received a handsome discount code (as a newsletter subscriber) for the item.

Saddleback’s Leather Bible Cover: The One You’ve Been Waiting For (If It Fits)

Finding classy and well-made Bible covers is surprisingly difficult, even on Amazon. Christian Book Distributors fares a little better. But you still have to wade through some, uh, options.


But what if she wants the eagle cover?
But what if she wants the eagle cover?


NFL Bible Cover
One way to solve the long sermon vs. game-starting-at-1 rivalry



Like a roaring... leopard?
Like a roaring… leopard?


Plain canvas would be just fine. Full grain leather? Even better.




That’s the Leather Bible Cover from Saddleback Leather Company. No, not that Saddleback. This one.

Saddleback’s cover comes in four color options: Tobacco, Dark Coffee Brown, Black, and Chestnut (pictured above).

Here are a few more images, to introduce you:




Open Empty


The Bible slides right in:


Inside Left


Bible Open


That’s the UBS5 Greek New Testament, which, as you can see, is a little short for the cover, but otherwise is a great fit.

A closer look reveals consummate stitching:


Stitching Close-up


Back Right Close-up


The closure mechanism is easy to get used to, and even allows you to slide a pencil or pen inside:


Closure Close-up


The Chestnut color is deep and rich. The leather is sturdy! So much so when it first arrived that I didn’t believe it would soften over time, but it has. It lays flat with no issue, as a result. You just have to make sure you handle the Bible cover (and enclosed Bible) rather than build a shrine to it on your shelf-of-leather. (Uh, no, I don’t have one of those.)

It looks, feels, and smells delicious. No complaints at all on the appearance, construction, design, and feel of the thing. Top-notch.

Let’s talk about fit.

A dictum of reviewing is that you review a book (or piece of gear) on its own merits, in accordance with its aim. It would be unfair, for example, to lambast a print book for not being as keyword searchable as its electronic counterpart. Print never claims to give you search results with a single click. (Not YET.)

So, to be fair, the cover’s product page says:

Buy this cover AND THEN go buy a Bible to fit

And it gives you the dimensions of the (opened) cover: 12 ½” W x 9 ½” H.

However, I think it’s fair to ask: how many people buy a leather Bible cover before buying a Bible? Usually you realize that a certain Bible has become your mainstay: through 52-week sermon series on Romans (chapters 1 and 2), through holidays and family reunions, through major life events, through years of semi-failed reading plans… and then you go get a cover worthy of the Bible.

Saddleback currently offers just this size, so you’re limited in your options. This cover is nowhere near big enough to work for the kind of Bible many folks would want to put into a leather cover: a Study Bible.

However, user reviews indicate this beautiful cover is good for slimline Bibles (ESV, NIV, NKJV). And the product page is clear along these lines, so you just have to be sure you know what you’re getting.

The Greek New Testament above is the best fit I found among my Bibles. I was disappointed that my not-that-big Greek-English New Testament didn’t fit:


Bible too big
Bible too big


Before I laid eyes on the cover, I had dreams of my Septuagint fitting in, but…


No Fit_LXX


Even the portable paperback edition of N.T. Wright’s Kingdom translation didn’t go in:


No Fit_NTW


I got really excited that my since-discontinued TNIV Bible (which I’m pretty sure is “slimline”) would be the last Bible I’d put in the cover:


No Fit_TNIV1


But it was not to be:


No Fit_TNIV2


In fact, this was a real downside to the cover–this Bible and a small hardbound notebook both got bent in my efforts to wedge them in. I didn’t push too hard, but you really have to be sure your Bible is small enough for this thing to work. Again–the product page is clear here, but one might wish not to have so many misses in matching beloved Bible to beautiful cover.

This Greek-English edition of the Apostolic Fathers is a nice fit:




And don’t forget about books! That’s actually another good option, if maybe a little superfluous:


Fit_Devotions on HB


I wish I had more to contribute to what needs to be a running list somewhere on the Saddleback Website of “Bibles that fit this cover.” My Greek New Testament has a happy home now–and smells really good. I hope Saddleback will consider expanding its sizing options.

In the meantime, if the fit is right, it’s hard to imagine a nicer cover. Saddleback uses the best leather, and their workmanship is excellent. People who buy from them tend to buy more than one item over the course of a lifetime.

Saddleback’s site is here, with a ton of products that will make you want to “go leather or go home” (I hope I’m not giving anyone any Bible cover phrasing ideas). You can also check out my review of their pen/sunglasses case. The Leather Bible Cover (reasonable retail price of $49) is here.



Many thanks to the awesome people at Saddleback Leather for sending the Bible cover review! I’m really grateful they sent it, and I would have been embarrassed had anybody seen me rip into the UPS package the way I did when it arrived… though that did not influence the objectivity of the review.

Saddleback Pen Case: Leather of the Year

As much as I like a good app for writing, I’ve become even more enamored lately of good paper, pens, and related writing gear.

You don’t know this, because I haven’t finished and posted the review, but I’ve been using some sweet fountain pens from Kaweco in Germany. Where shall I put these newfound friends?

In this lovely case from Saddleback Leather, of course:


1_Case with Pencil


It’s technically a “Soft Sunglass/Pen Case,” but it’s way too cool for me to not use for holding writing utensils, which I use every day. (I think one of the kids ran off with my last $5 pair of sunglasses.)

I’ve only reviewed a little bit of leather at Words on the Word, but the case is easily the most beautiful piece I’ve seen or held. Here’s what it looks like stocked:


2_Case Open


It can easily fit three good-sized pens and three pencils, and still close comfortably.

The (removable) tie closure is awesome, too–you can wrap it around and thread it through the hole, or just wrap it around a few times to keep the case closed.

Here’s the view from the back:


3_Case Back


And a look inside:


4_Case Inside


The Saddleback logo on the front is subtle and classy, certainly not a kind of branding that will bother the user.

And these folk live and breathe quality craftsmanship. Here’s a close-up of the stitching:


5_Case Stitching


The case could easily fit in your back pocket, or go into the pouch of a messenger bag. It looks great right next to a notebook or journal, too.

I’ve been accused of smelling books before (but only because I smell every single new book I get). But this case I smell and softly press against my cheek to keep me warm and happy. It might be my favorite single piece of gear I’ve reviewed so far.


*      *      *      *      *      *


Saddleback was also kind to set me up with some cord wraps, an item I honestly thought was cool but superfluous… until I started using them every day to wrap my actually-long-enough iPhone charger cord:


Leather Clasp


There is a 100-year warrantee on these bad boys. Here’s the image from Saddleback of the three sizes you’d get in a set of three:

Cord Wrap Set

I’m using them for charging cords of three different sizes at the moment.

Saddleback’s site is here, with a ton of products that will make you want to convert to an all-leather lifestyle. You can purchase the above pen/sunglasses case here, and the cord wraps here.



Many thanks to the wonderful people at Saddleback Leather for the case and cords for review! I’m really grateful they sent them, though that did not influence the objectivity of the review.