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.
THE READING EXPERIENCE
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.
STUDYING WITH THE READER’S BIBLE
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.
TEACHING FROM THE READER’S BIBLE
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.
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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.
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