I’m a reader, and I love the Bible. So I was thrilled when I saw Crossway’s announcement for the new ESV Reader’s Bible last summer. I knew I had to get one in time for my annual Bible read-through to begin on January 1. I’m glad I did, because the Reader’s Bible lived up to my expectations.
Some folks don’t realize how much stuff on the pages of their Bibles isn’t part of the inspired text. Of course, there are obvious mechanisms like page numbers and reference headings that aid navigation. But there are also section headings, footnotes, cross-references, chapter numbers, and verse numbers. Sometimes, there’s also commentary at the bottom of the page.
In addition, we don’t realize how typography (the page layout of the text) impacts the way we read the text. Does each page have one column of text or two? Is the text broken into paragraphs, or does each verse start a new line? How large is the font? Is poetry divided into stanzas, or does it run on and on without a break? Is the poetry set apart with indented lines, or is it printed in a block of text just like prose?
The ESV Reader’s Bible cuts out most of the extraneous conventions and gets most of the typography just right. The result is a Bible that—though it looks just like any other book we read in this generation—doesn’t look very Bible-like to most Bible readers, and thus represents a significant risk on the publisher’s part. Will people buy a Bible that doesn’t look like the Bible they grew up with? Will sales be enough to cover the investment? We should celebrate Crossway’s courage for pushing this venture as far as they did.
After reading the entire book in about 5 weeks’ time, here are my impressions.
- Reading the Bible was more fun than usual. I usually enjoy the Scripture. I always enjoy my annual saturation in it. But honestly, some of the sheer fun wears off by the end, and I push forward more because I believe in the vision for a quick read than because I’m having fun in the process. But this time, I simply couldn’t put it down because it didn’t feel like reading “the Bible”; it felt like reading a good book. And I love reading good books.
- I read the entire Bible more quickly than usual—partly because I combined actual reading with listening to an audio version, but also partly because the page layout gave me permission to keep going. In fact the page teased me. It taunted me, suggesting that more plot tension, climax, and resolution lay just around the corner. Without all those huge chapter numbers, verse numbers, and section headings interrupting me and giving me a feeling of arrival, I felt like I could keep reading another section; no—another section; no—another section.
- The context stood out much more than some of the content. I would pass over some of my favorite verses like an angel of death at midnight, almost forgetting they were there, because I had gotten swept into the bigger picture of the author’s rhetoric. For example, 1 Corinthians 13 came and went before I realized what had happened. I wasn’t so focused on hitting “the love chapter”; I was far more conscious of the clarion call to unity within the church, which is more the point, I think.
- Using this Bible in discussion groups is a little funky. When I want to observe something, the best help I can give others is, “Look at the sentence in the third paragraph, somewhere around verse 16.” Honestly, though, I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. How great would it be if we all stopped thinking of the Bible as a collection of 31,102 separate sayings (verses), and instead thought of it as a collection of 66 short books?
This edition, of course, is not perfect.
- The paper is way too thin, so the back-side ink shows through and the pages are difficult to turn. However, I’m not sure how else they could have fit 1825 pages into a single volume. This page formatting holds fewer words per page than typical Bible typesetting, and something has to give to manage the physical thickness.
- For some reason, Crossway decided to keep chapter numbers in the margins. It’s nice that they moved them away from the text block, and that they altered the color. But, as Mark Ward said in his review, “It feels like Crossway made it about five minutes from the summit of Mt. Everest and then decided that was good enough.” I imagine they thought it would be not just difficult but impossible to navigate through the tome without them, but the reference headings at the top of the page would have been just fine.
- For another strange reason, they decided to keep the suggestive “He,” “She,” and “Others” headings in the Song of Solomon. I wish they had trusted us with the plain text and allowed us to wrestle through exactly who was speaking when.
I commend this Bible to you. I’m a proud owner of the imitation leather, TrueTone edition. But as soon as I finish composing this review, I plan to order a copy of the cloth over board (hardback) edition to serve as my new markup Bible. I’m eager to begin a new season of study with a fresh text, independent of the usual conventions that
clog assist study.
Disclaimer: The Amazon and Westminster links are affiliate links, so if you click them and buy stuff you’ll help to pay for my new markup copy of the ESV Reader’s Bible.