This review originally appeared on Family Ministry Today.
The Bible is a story, a tale of redemption from creation, fall and recreation. There are developing characters , interweaving plot lines, and allusions. Readers are carried along the story page after page, era after era, author after author as as the grand tale of redemption is interwoven throughout the millennium-spanning text of Scripture. This story was meant to be read and told as such–a story. The problem for modern readers comes when they encounter the text of Scripture and are met with artificial brackets and divisions which make the Scripture a scientific specimen to be dissected rather than a story to be absorbed. Wishing to help readers better understand the narrative appeal of Scripture, Crossway has produced the ESV Reader’s Bible. As such, this bible serves a unique purpose for contemporary audiences.
While verses have served the church by providing markers to direct people to the text, they have had an unintended side-effect of stunting the narrative flow of the God’s word. The editors explain:
These structural component serve an important purpose and have become what we expect in every Bible. Yet none of them played a role in the original documents included in the Bible. ANORIGINALNEWTESTAMENTMANUSCRIPTLOOKEDLIKETHIS–virtually no headings, chapter numbers, verse numbers, footnotes, spaces, or punctuation….Each book of Scripture was therefore viewed as a unified whole and often read that way. (ix)
As such, when lectors would read the sacred text in worship, the story of the people of God would be told (and re-told) to those gathered. Just as Ezra read the Law of Moses to the gathered ones of God’s people, the communities of the new covenant would gather to hear entire epistles or portions of the gospel read out loud for their edification. While most inheritors of the Reformation have been called a “people of the book,” today in most evangelical church gatherings it looks and sounds more like a people of a few specific verses. OK, so perhaps its not that desperate, but certainly evangelicals have much to learn when it comes to Scripture reading in the church (see Carl Trueman’s indictment on taking Scripture seriously in evangelical churches, for example). The story of Scripture must once again dominate our churches. To this end, the ESV Reader’s Bible will be an invaluable tool.
While this may not be the Bible of the pastor preaching on a Sunday morning, it most certainly could be the Bible of the lector reading in service. If not that, then it should be a Bible owned by parents who wish to impress the story of God’s word on the hearts of their children, not to mention themselves. The look and feel of the ESV Reader’s Bible is that of a novel (see here for a video summary). It is constructed and shaped like a typical hardback book, but of course, its contents are anything by typical. This detail may seem tertiary, but picking up the ESV Reader’s Bible and sitting down with it feels like you preparing for an afternoon with coffee and your favorite book. Psychologically it is less hindering. Some may complain this style of construction mitigates the special nature of Scripture as THE book, however it actually helps readers more fully engage this book as THE story.
Apart from the unique way in which this Bible is made, the ESV Reader’s Bible reads well in the way it’s intended. The reader will feel as if they are sitting down to read a story rather than completing a spiritual task. Some places within Scripture which were truncated by the imposed verse structures now read much more smoothly. With the opening chapters of Genesis, the early story of God and his people comes alive. The parables of Christ are connected and fluid. Paul’s discourse in the epistles transform into a smooth flow of thought. There are other examples throughout the text where removing the verse numbers–chapter numbers still remain but are relegated to the margins–helps the reader appreciate the narrative flow of the text. For this reason, daily bible reading should feel much more relaxed and perhaps more meaningful. At a $30 (or less) price point for the hardback edition, this Bible is easily one of the best book investments you could make this year. As a tool for personal spiritual growth, the ESV Reader’s Bible will be invaluable. As a centerpiece for family devotions, the ESV Reader’s Bible will aid in helping children understand the great narrative of God’s word for years to come.