Do you ever feel intimidated or distracted when reading the Bible? All the verse and chapter breaks, footnotes and study notes, margins, colors, and cross-references?
Or maybe you’ve wondered why reading the Bible can’t be as simple as reading a novel and just enjoying the story? Well, maybe you need a Reader’s Bible.
But what is a Reader’s Bible, and why should you have one? In this Crossway ESV Reader’s Bible review I go over the ins and outs, advantages and disadvantages of seamless, distraction-free scripture reading. What should you expect from it, and what should you be willing to go without?
Short Version: To Buy or Not?
In short I would say that if you read the Bible even on a semi-regular basis then I would recommend having a Reader’s Bible available to you at home. Even if you are a layman and don’t consider yourself to be a Bible scholar or a daily devoted reader, having a Bible like this on hand can be useful.
Here’s why: when we pick up a good novel, we expect the story to pull us in and capture us. We want to be taken to where the story is taking place. We want to feel what the character’s feel. We want to have an experience that is fulfilling and also deeply personal.
Yet sometimes when we read the Bible we get caught up in the academia of it like a student reading a textbook. Okay, how many chapters and verses should I read? Which of those is a good stopping place? And what do all these footnotes and tiny numbers mean? And some of us who feel compelled to read every word on the page end up leaving the Word of God to focus instead on study notes. Bleh.
Listen, I love study Bibles. I think you should pick up a copy of the ESV Study Bible and learn the theological, cultural, and historical depth of the Bible. Maybe even dive into old testament law.
Learning the Word needs to happen in your head. But absorbing the Word needs to happen in your heart, and sometimes getting lost in the scriptures with no distractions is the best way to do that.
Why specifically the English Standard Version? As one of the favorite versions of various acclaimed preachers, theologians, and Bible scholars throughout the world, the ESV version gives us an “essentially literal” translation of the most authoritative original manuscripts without compromising on the thoughts, themes, and literary styles behind such a word-for-word translation.
CrossWay’s ESV Reader’s Bible
Crossway is the publisher of the ESV version of the Bible, and they certainly know how to market their Bibles and cater to their customers. I’ve got to say that every ESV Bible I own is beautiful, reverent, sturdy, and very easy to use. Their Reader’s Bibles are no different.
The ESV Reader’s Bible flows like you might expect a novel to. The only page breaks are from book to book, and the only script other than the text of the scriptures is in a soothing and unobtrusively red print. The only text you will see in the margins are the occasional marks for chapter numbers.
The top of each page has the name of the book as well as chapter and verse numbers that act as guide words in a dictionary or encyclopedia so that you can still find your place even with the lack of in-line verse numbers. The bottom of each page has no references, notes, citations, or alternative manuscript wording. Only the page number.
The front and back of the Bible contains no fluff, either. There is no index, glossary, concordance, Bible dictionary, or diagrams. In front of the Bible there is a short preface from the publisher about the reader’s Bible. In the back there are a few basic maps that you might expect to find in any other Bible, but nothing complicated.
I consider the ESV reader’s Bible to be the opposite of the ESV Study Bible. The study Bible is packed with features, notes, history, timelines, diagrams, maps, and the like. The reader’s Bible is intentionally made to be simple and free-flowing. If I am studying theology and doctrine I will pack up my study Bible to class. When I want God to speak to me softly while I am still sleepy first thing in the morning, the reader’s Bible is the best choice for me. Scripture should lead us to an intimate relationship with God.
Appearance Isn’t Everything, But if it Were…
We all know that the fanciness of a Bible is the least important part of it. It’s the words inside that matter, right? That’s why it’s acceptable in the modern church to walk in with your phone and pull up the Bible app.
Yet there is something about a beautiful Bible that is respectful, reverent, and telling of just how important and valuable that book is. When you have a wonderfully ornate Bible on your desk with dignified and respectable bindings, to me you are saying that you really value the Word.
And if that book looks and feels so enticing that it makes you want to pick it up and start reading, you’ve got a wonderful treasure on your hands that can really nurture a relationship with Christ. So while a Bible’s appearance might not be the most important part of it, you can’t tell me it doesn’t matter at all.
The CrossWay ESV Reader’s Bible has a durable and and appealing hardcover cloth-over-board binding and comes in a decorative protective box made of hard cardboard that demands attention. Oh yeah, and two built-in bookmarks. When it’s shelved I want to pull it out, and when it’s on my desk I want to read it. When I read it, I want to share that experience with others.
The Few Downsides
Every Bible has its pros and cons, which is why most avid Bible readers have multiple Bibles in their home. Crossway’s single-volume ESV reader’s Bible does have a few flaws. For me, none of those flaws are big enough for me not to use it. However, they might be an annoyance for some readers who are particular when it comes to their reading experience.
One of the potential issues of this reading Bible for some people might be readability. In order to make this Bible the size of a novel and still fit all canonical books of scripture, the pages must be thin and the text must be small. For a 25-year-old kid like myself with 20/20 vision this is not an issue. But if you wear reading glasses or have trouble reading small text close up, you might have trouble with this Bible.
Every regular Bible has thin pages. We call this “rice paper” and it’s super thin because the Bible is so long that it can’t be printed in one regular-sized book with regular paper. Unfortunately the pages on this reader’s Bible are so thin that the ink bleeds through the light pages!
Most of the time this isn’t a big deal because the dark text still stands out. Even for me, though, this is an annoyance sometimes because through the blank space at the end of a paragraph I can see backwards lettering from the adjacent pages! With a keen eye and a good reading light, however, it’s really not that big of a deal.
There are not a lot of Bibles I would say are a must-have staple for a reader’s collection. The ESV Reader’s Bible, though, is one of those. In fact, if I were to choose two Bibles for any given person to buy right now, I would choose this reader’s Bible and the ESV Study Bible.
I love scholarly study Bibles, they’re the best! And I love having all kinds of reference tools at my fingertips to get all the background information on a chapter or verse I can find. Sometimes, though, I need to unplug from the high of stuffing a bunch of knowledge in my brain and just FEEL the Word of God in my heart.
A reader’s Bible gives me a chance to see the Bible as a story that pierces my being and not just a scripture to be studied. It gives me a chance to lose myself in the “otherness” of God and His ways. And that’s why it’s such an invaluable piece in my library.
Thanks for reading my Crossway’s ESV reader’s Bible review. Have you ever used a reading Bible? What are your thoughts on Crossway’s ESV Reader’s Bible? Do margin notes and annotations distract you? Comment below and let me know what you think!