Paul charged the church in Thessalonica to “have this letter read to all the brothers and sisters” (1 Thess 5:27, NIV). When was the last time your church read one of Paul’s letters in full during a worship service? He expected his letters to be read and taught in this way, but we’ve grown accustomed to dealing with only a few verses at a time.
Now I’m not saying it’s wrong to read or teach the Bible a few verses at a time. But I would suggest this practice shapes us to think of the Bible only a few verses at a time. And we should at least be aware this is not the only (nor perhaps the best) way to read.
Which is why the recent flood of reader’s Bibles is such a delightful turn of events. I recently received a review copy of the NIV Reader’s Bible from Zondervan in exchange for an honest review. How does it hold up?
What It Does Well
As with other reader’s Bibles, the NIV Reader’s Bible gets most of the man-made clutter off the page. There are no verse numbers, cross-references, study notes, or section headings. Chapter numbers are moved out of the text block and into the margin, in a discreet light blue font.
The text presents in a single column, just like the novels and books of poetry we’re used to reading. Scenes with dialogue give a new paragraph to each character that speaks, just like the other narratives we read in our day. This is quite welcome.
Line breaks are placed carefully, being sensitive to the literary flow of the text. This Bible’s editors laudably show no special concern for traditional chapter divisions. They put the line breaks where the text warrants them. For example, in reading Judges, we get a solid block of text from Judges 1:1 all the way to Judges 2:5. Along the way, we wave to an unobtrusive little “2” in the margin that marks the coming and going of Judges 2:1. But we don’t stop to make the acquaintance of that little 2. We drive right by it until we park where the text itself parks, at Judges 2:5. Then we calmly sip our tea, take a breath, and move to the next phase of the story, beginning with Judges 2:6. But we don’t really know it’s verse 6; all we know is that the next round of literary glory awaits us.
What Could Be Better
Unfortunately, a few features substantially distract the eager reader.
- The margins are too small. With 1/2″ margins all around, the page simply looks like it has too many words on it. There is no buffer, no rest for the eye. When I try to read this Bible for more than a few minutes, I just can’t do it without my eyes bugging out. And I usually have to use my finger to keep my place on the page.
- End notes. I do not understand why there are end notes in this Bible. The end note markers either tease or annoy, depending on the reader’s mindset. But either way, they distract from the simplicity of reading. The notes themselves are placed at the end of each Bible book, creating a feeling that you haven’t really read the book unless you’ve spent the time flipping pages back and forth to read them all.
- The book is fat and sharp. It has a shorter page height and a wider page width than some other reader’s Bibles. This both adds to the feel of too many words on a page and increases the page count, making the physical book quite fat. In addition, the corners of the spine are sharp, giving the book a distinct rectangular look when sitting on the table. Most books we read have rounded corners to the spine. The fatness and sharpness combine to make this book difficult to hold for extended periods of time. (In its favor, the book lays very flat on a table. But how often do you lose yourself in a book you’re reading on a table?)
The NIV is a great translation for extended reading. But unfortunately, the NIV Reader’s Bible does more to distract from the reading experience than to encourage it. This one’s not for me.
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