Book Review

ESV Reader’s Bible

Charles K. Telfer
Thursday, March 1st 2018
Mar/Apr 2018

The Bible is a text of unparalleled power—its narrative line is breathtaking, its scope vast. Much of it is drama, and even those sections that are not (e.g., the lengthy poems and letters) were originally intended to be read at a single sitting. So why do many of us stop after a page or two? We don’t read letters that way, let alone short stories or novels.

Crossway suggests that part of our problem is the layout of our modern Bibles—the text is presented in multiple columns like a dictionary and dotted with numbers (which designate verses), more numbers (or letters) identifying the existence of cross references, and translation notes or footnotes. Then come the analytical tools: side columns that point us to related passages, alternative translations tucked away in a corner, and scholarly commentary. Our constipated pace may stem partly from the encyclopedia we confront on every page.

Crossway is to be commended for the careful attention invested into their ESV Reader’s Bible. “It looks just like a book,” was my twenty-something son’s first comment when he opened it. No footnotes, no section headings, no numbers—just the beautifully presented text itself. This edition gives you access to an experience closer to that of the original readers.

Most of us affirm media theorist Marshall McLuhan’s insight that the medium is the message, but have we considered the format in which the Bible comes to us? The history of the book is an increasingly popular academic topic with many ramifications, but you don’t need to be a scholar or an aesthetically minded hipster to realize that presentation matters. What does the formatting and even the craftsmanship of the book say about the contents?

While Crossway is not the only publisher seeking to produce a more attractive, more readable edition, they have achieved their singular goal of developing a book for “extended Bible reading that focuses on the overarching narrative.” The ESV Reader’s Bible is available in various formats for various budgets: you can purchase a single-volume edition in hardcover for under $20 at Their video presentation for the six-volume set (due out in September 2018, with special paper from Sweden) is an invitation to covet, especially the top-grain Italian leather edition with its gorgeous Amish handcrafted walnut case—though its sticker price of $499.99 (or in slipcase through for around $120 hardcover or $50 for softcover, both of which are available now) may mean you may need to wait for your tax refund check.

The verses on each page are noted at the top, and there are chapter numbers in the margin, but you will probably not want to carry the ESV Reader’s Bible with you to church. Pastors and teachers will find it difficult to cite verses. The only back materials are four nicely done maps, and readers lack the tools for the close analysis of words and of references. This edition is not meant to compete with BibleWorks software.

It has the visual appeal of a nicely bound novel and is intended for a more fluid reading experience. Due in part to the quality of the ESV, and certainly because of the power of the apostle, Paul’s letters came alive to me in a fresh way with this edition. It is always stimulating to read Scripture in a new translation or a different language (especially in Hebrew or Greek, if you can swing it), but to read Scripture in another format can also add to the impact.

The ESV Reader’s Bible will sweep you up into the romance of God’s redemption. As you take up these words that have the potential to become your heart’s joyful delight (Jer. 15:16), you will read with less distraction, with more leisure, and in larger portions. You will find yourself listening to a story, losing yourself in a letter, and in short, reading a book.

Charles K. Telfer is professor of biblical languages at Westminster Seminary California in Escondido.

Thursday, March 1st 2018

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

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