ESV Reader’s Bible: Some Notes on Daily Use


Since my review of the ESV Reader’s Bible, I’ve been using it on a daily basis while traveling and teaching at Worldview Academy. Even though the Reader’s Bible is positioned as a specialized edition, I decided to use it as my go-to Bible in order to see how this reader-optimized format works not just for the main task of deep reading, but also for teaching and study. These are my preliminary observations.


I’m always charmed by people’s first reaction to the Reader’s Bible. Here’s what I do: without explanation, I hand it to friends and say, “Take a look at this.” They flip through a couple of pages, pause … and then a grin breaks out. “This is great,” they say. “Wow.” I showed it to a book designer, and she couldn’t get past how beautiful the layout was. A longtime literature teacher just couldn’t stop smiling. The difference a few changes to formatting makes is surprising. Compared to most Bibles, the Reader’s Bible is very different — but compared to most books you read, it’s not different at all.

This Bible was made for reading, and that’s what it does best. The single column, paragraphed text flows without distractions, and I find myself being sucked into the narrative, reading more than I intended every time I dip into the Bible. One criticism I’ve heard is that retaining the chapter divisions was a mistake. I don’t agree. While it’s true the chapter divisions can be awkward (as in 1 Samuel 4, pictured above), they serve a useful purpose in breaking up the text. Without them reading the Bible would be a little to close to reading a Jose Saramago novel. More important, they make it possible for me to use the Reader’s Bible while people around me are using other editions. If Crossway had taken a less conservative approach and attempted to re-order the breaks (not a bad idea in and of itself), this would be more difficult.


Where the Reader’s Bible should not fare well is study. The reader-friendly format makes it harder to find specific verses or to look up particular passages. I’ve been surprised, though, how much less difficult these things are than I imagined. Thanks to the chapter and verse ranges on the top of each page, it’s simple to orient yourself in the Reader’s Bible. Once you have the right page, finding your passage is simply a matter of scanning content, as you would with any book.

I’m reluctant to advance any great claims here, but based on my own experience, I think scanning for content might be a superior method than the old way, scanning for numbers. Scanning for content is slower, sure, and in a speed competition I’d want the numbers in place. Yet scanning for content seems to speak to a different part of my brain. I find myself thinking in terms of where the ideas are, and what their order is — things you never need a mental map of when you’re scanning for numbers. In other words, the more I study with the Reader’s Bible, the better my conceptual and spatial understanding of what I’m reading seems to get. Not having the numbers forces a different way of interacting, and it’s a difference for the better.


For a month now I’ve been teaching from the Reader’s Bible, which means I’ve been using it while speaking to audiences who are following along in different editions. The biggest adjustment I’ve had to make is in the way I refer to passages. Instead of citing verse numbers, I find myself referring more to paragraphs — and for context I tend to read more of the text aloud. Once or twice I’ve regretted not being able to cite a particular verse. Still, I think the format has imposed better habits on me. I can’t flit from verse to verse so quickly, linking a phrase here and a phrase there. Instead, I stick with the text more, the way I would if I were explicating a novel.

Since I’m accustomed to paragraphed text, I haven’t experienced the difficulty some teachers have in not being able to find their place in the text after looking up. Scanning for content rather than numbers has probably helped with this, too. I’ve gotten better at remembering where on the page certain passages are located. Because I have to remember the form of words, my mind compensates accordingly.

* * *

These are preliminary thoughts, and I’d be interested in hearing about the experiences of other readers giving the ESV Reader’s Bible a try. Please share them in the comments so other readers can benefit.


The ESV Reader’s Bible has generated a lot of excitement, not least among our friends at They are selling every edition of the ESV Reader’s Bible, including the hardcover shown here, for 50% off of retail. If you order using one of the links below, some credit accrues to Bible Design Blog as well, so you’re helping yourself and the blog at the same time.

ESV Reader’s Bible: Hardcover Edition

ESV Reader’s Bible: Walnut TruTone Edition

ESV Reader’s Bible: Black TruTone Edition


You can also register for the giveaway for a chance to receive a free copy of the hardcover ESV Reader’s Bible. All you have to do is send an e-mail to

28 Comments on “ESV Reader’s Bible: Some Notes on Daily Use

  1. Pingback: ESV Reader’s Bible 50% Off at WTS Books

  2. Let me add that is the best place to purchase ESV’s anyway. They consistently price all of their Crossway ESV’s at 50 percent off of list. No other online Bible retailer will go that low, whether they’re selling the ESV or another translation. I would assume that is pretty much selling ESV’s at cost, and they make the ESV the cheapest translation to purchase.

  3. Pingback: ESV Reader’s Bible Promo Video and Special | God in the Wasteland

  4. Great notes Mark. I’ve been using mine for about a week now and plan on teaching from it this week as well (if not the Psalms I also picked up). I also have noticed the benefit of slowing down again to scan content/themes, rather than just numbers and so end up reading a chapter, section or paragraph for a fuller context.

    When I was in college and first learning to really study the Bible, my mentor would have us read a book he typed out (we did Philippians) with no verse of chapter breaks. And keep reading until we could separate the themes and flow of thought for ourselves. When I first looked at the Readers Bible it reminded me of the same experience.

    For me teaching from it would not present a problem as I tend to stay in one passage and really no it well on the page. I can type out other passages to be read or mark well if I plan to turn to it.

    I’m thinking this would be great in an Omega version or a Leonard’s hardback rebind like your Clarion.

  5. I looked at the hard cover version at a local bookstore. While I am impressed with the Reader’s Bible it appeared to have quite a bit of ghosting. Was hoping for a little more opaque paper.

  6. I agree there is too much ghosting. If reading is the aim ghosting is an unnecessary distraction.

    • When Bibles are designed for reading, do publishers really still need to cram the whole Bible into one physical book. Why not break it up? Have three or four different volumes. Then they can use better paper and we won’t have to worry about ghosting. Since we’re optimizing for the specific task of reading sequentially from beginning to end of a particular book there isn’t as much of a need to worry about portability. When someone wants be access to the whole Bible on-the-go, when at church or a study group for example, they can take a traditional Bible or use an electronic device. But if they want deep, immersive reading, they can just take the volume they’re currently reading. Just like a normal book.

      For example, I have a three-volume edition of The Lord of the Rings, and I have a one-volume edition. I almost always read from the three-volume edition since the books are nicer and not as unwieldy. This doesn’t limit my reading enjoyment in any way, because I begin at the beginning and go on until I come to the end, then stop. So why not have Bibles that work the same way?

      • Take a look at I’ve ordered this set as well as a set for my parents who introduced me to the Word and can’t wait to see it.

  7. When I first started reading my Reader’s ESV, it felt like driving in the dark and not being able to see the lines on the road. But I got used to it quickly and I love it. You definitely have to pay more attention to the flow of thought when searching for something (a feature, not a bug!). On the flip side, when I’m reading, the flow of though comes through more clearly because my mind isn’t slicing and dicing the text into dozens of verses. I feel like I can read faster and retain the information better. Perhaps best of all, I seem to naturally keep reading further. The chapter breaks aren’t too noticeable. Instead of feeling like I’ve come to a stopping point, my eyes naturally move right on into the next chapter. I feel like I’m much more likely to stop when I come to a major thought shift, rather than a big number.

    I definitely agree that the paper’s too thin. There’s some ghosting, but it is so trivial compared to the great reading experience this Bible provides on all other counts. Don’t let that keep you away, especially for such a good price!

  8. You say that you like the chapter breaks because they allow you to use the Reader’s Bible while people around you are using other editions. But don’t the chapter and verse ranges in the header allow you to do the same thing? If this Bible had employed an alternate, more content-based and consistently-employed set of breaks, and if that made this Bible a little harder to use in a group setting, would that really be a ding against it? (And I’m not convinced it really would be more difficult to use for group reading, unless you’re jumping around a lot in the text, which isn’t the kind of reading a reader’s Bible is meant for). The philosophy behind a reader’s edition is that it should provide the most optimized and effective layout for reading and comprehending large amounts of text. In a number of instances, I don’t see the chapter breaks as we currently have them really helping in that task.

    • Z,
      I agree with you in principle about the mode of division. I assume the reason Crossway didn’t go with content based divisions is that someone would have to decide where those new divisions would be. And inevitably the blog-sphere would get busy pointing out all their blunders. Critics (myself included) are never satisfied.

  9. Unfortunately, wts doesn’t seem to ship outside the US and Canada. Very frustrating!

  10. For those who are desirous of a reader’s Bible with no chapter numbers, a crowd-funded campaign for the development of a four-volume set on standard book paper is on the Kickstarter website right now by searching “BIBLIOTHECA” (available by limited pre-order only, and may not be available for purchase after late July), or by following this link:

    • The Bibliotheca project looks really cool. I’m glad to see how quickly and overwhelmingly he exceeded his goal (having raised over $50,000 in just two days), and I think this speaks to the fact that there continues to be a high unmet demand for well-designed, well-crafted editions of the Bible. I hope this emboldens other people to undertake similar projects so we can see a proliferation of high quality, readable volumes with different styles and translations.

  11. I saw this in a store in my travels and went home and ordered it. It is gorgeous.
    I really thought that the omission of footnotes would bother me, but some how when I saw it in person, I realized how advantageous it could be to read without any real interruptions. Plus, I could always add tiny notes along the side of my own if I wanted to. I do think that Bibles that have footnotes could be well situated in the actual text in brackets, because I have seen it done in The Living Bible in the Kwikscan Bible and thought it was awesome…no interruption to find the corresponding footnotes, but it is all there at the same place in reading. I do believe footnotes that are made in the formulation of a translation are vital to the text, but in this ESV case, the whole purpose of the reader’s in my opinion and for me is to read without the distractions. It is a really great idea to get complete overviews of the Bible Books, etc. Wonderful. And I thought I would say for anyone considering the purchase, it is a very nice edition. The one I saw in the store had a great roundness to the binding–it was not a flat Bible whatsoever or a box looking Bible. It was truly lovely. Two book markers. Size was just super. God bless you all.

  12. Pingback: “We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Verse Numbers!” | Jimmy Tidmore

  13. I love just about everything from this bible. My only issue with it, as with most bibles, is the thickness of the paper. I really dislike how thin it is.

  14. Pingback: Readers and hearers | The Common Bookshelf

  15. Can you tell me what versions or translations this Bible comes in? From the sample I read it does not appear to be a modern language translation. Does it come in more than one?

  16. Pingback: Verse and Chapter References in the Bible | Matt Brown

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