I wonder if you’ve noticed that over the past few years, our Bibles have gotten a little bit cluttered. Open your Bible and may notice it’s full of notes and footnotes and cross-references and other features. Each of these features is great, yet each one can also detract from the reading experience. Not surprisingly, we are beginning to see a bit of push-back with what are being called “Reader’s Bibles.” Here’s my review of a few of them in Facebook and YouTube formats with a transcript for those who prefer to read.
I wonder if you’ve noticed that over the last few years that something interesting has happened to our English Bibles. If you’ve looked closely, you’ve maybe seen they’ve become a little cluttered. Suddenly added to the Word of God, we’ve got notes and we’ve got footnotes and we’ve got cross-references and all this other material. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I think it’s worth talking about. What we’ve seen over the last few years now, is a bit of a push back against this, in what’s being called a Readers Bible. Today, I want to take a look at a few of the Readers Bibles that are available to us and talk about why that might be helpful for you.
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Today, we’re talking about the state of the English Bible, and how, over the last few years, or decades, some clutter has crept into our Bibles. Many different features have been added. In fact, when we buy a new Bible today, we may go looking for specific features. Now each of these is helpful, and yet each of them has in some way added something to the Word of God. Now I could describe this, it’s probably easier if I just show it to you. Here’s my trusty ESV. This is the Bible I’ve taken all over the world with me, the Bible I preach from. In fact, we’re about to set off again for another preaching trip.
Let me open it up, and I’ll just show you some of what I mean. We’ll open up together to the book of Daniel. So, as we think about some of the things that have been added to our Bibles, well let’s take a look. First, you’ll see that we’ve got two columns of text here. That’s unusual as books go, and yet Bibles are often structured that way. You see at the top, we have page numbers, and off to the side, we have the reference. You see, we have large numbers indicating chapters. We have small numbers indicating verses. We also have italicized numbers in superscript, meant to indicate footnotes. And then, of course, we’ve got some headings as well.
Now, of course, all of this has been added to our Bibles. None of this is the Word of God. It’s all been added to the Word of God in various ways to help us.
Now let’s take a look at another Bible. This is the ESV Study Bible. A giant Bible. You can see this one is pretty beat up. We’ve used it as a family for many years. Let me show you from this how, even more, features have been added to our Bibles. We’ll crack this one open to the book of Isaiah. It’s one of my favorite passages. Isaiah chapter 6.
So here we’re looking at Isaiah chapter 6 and again, let’s look at some of the features we’ve got. We’ve got page numbers at the top. We’ve got our reference off to the side. We’ve got chapter numbers and verse numbers. We’ve got headings. We’ve got our footnotes and we’ve also got a column of cross-references. Then of course, down at the bottom, we’ve got all these notes and even a table of information. Now, all of that is tremendously helpful, and yet it’s noteworthy, as we look, to see that the actual words of God have been minimized. They take up just about one-third of the page. The extra information has filled in even more than the Word of God. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s still something that we ought to consider. It’s still adding something to the Word of God and increasing the features, increasing, we might say, the clutter in the Word of God.
Now, I said that part of the pushback against all of these features that have been added to the Bible is the Readers Bible. Well, here we have the ESV Readers Bible. There are various additions available. This one is hardcover, covered in cloth. A very nice Bible. And what they’ve sort to do, is to remove everything extra. Reduce it, almost right down to the very essence, to simply the Word of God. And in front of me here, I have this other edition, that comes from, over here, the six-volume set. It has the same thing, same features, but just expands it out a little bit, by increasing it to six volumes.
Let’s take a look together, at the reduced feature set in these Bibles. So let’s take a look at these two different volumes, that are an ESV Readers Bible. On the bottom, we have the one-volume version of it. You can see, it’s been reduced all the way down. We have page numbers at the bottom. We have our reference at the top. And we have a chapter number off to the side. And that’s it. That’s all there is to this Bible. Now, you’ll see the pages are thin, so there’s some bleed through, but that’s just using thin paper, in order to fit it all into one volume.
In the second volume, from the six-volume set, you can see it’s a little bit different. We have page numbers down at the bottom. We have the gospel according to John at the top. And then on the other side, we’ve got the most recent heading. And that’s all. There are no chapter numbers in this one. And that’s really it. There’s nothing more to it. You can see the pages are thick. They’re creamy. It’s much higher quality paper, and a much more higher quality binding as well. But you can see, because it’s been stretched over six volumes, it’s a nicer font, a larger font. And then the spacing between the lines is stretched out as well. It’s a very, very nice volume to read. It’s just like reading a book, which is exactly what they were going for.
Also, for a short time, the ESV made available, this six-volume set. I believe it’s out of print. You can still find it, but it’s a little bit difficult to do. You might have to look at eBay or something else. This in the interior, is exactly the same as this. The fonts, the layout, the pages are all the same. But this one is covered in cowhide. It’s a beautiful set and came in this nice walnut box. But apart from that, it really is the same reading experience as this one over here.
Now you might be saying, well none of this does me any good, because I don’t read the ESV, I read the NIV. Well, wouldn’t you know it, they’ve come through with their NIV Readers Bible as well. And then they’ve also come up with this four-volume set, they’re calling the NIV Sola Scriptura Bible. And if you look back to the ESV Readers Bible, you’ll see the layout is very very similar between these and their ESV counterparts. If you read the NIV, you’ll love these volumes as well.
Okay, so why would you want to read one of these Readers Bibles? Well, essentially, the great benefit is that they reduce the Bible back down to its essence. By taking away features, they actually add something, don’t they? They remind us that the Word of God is first, literature. It’s first, a book. And in many ways, it’s meant to be read, just like any other book. You can read it from the beginning to the end as a piece of literature, as a body of literature. Not only that, but you know that those headings and those chapters and those verses, all of those were added by people. Well-meaning people. Perhaps very godly people. And yet, each one of them, in its own way can actually detract from our understanding. It can impose an understanding on us. There really is joy, there really is freedom, in just reading the Bible without any of that stuff, without any of that clutter. Reading it, maybe a little bit closer to how it was meant to be read.
There’s still a place for those other Bibles, still a place for those other features. I use them all the time. But, it might be worth trying. Especially this holiday season. It might be worth trying to read the Bible afresh. Or maybe next year, as you start a new reading plan, why don’t you think about reading it through a Readers Bible. Take away all the other stuff, and just be alone with the Word of God.