Bible Review – ESV Reader’s Bible 6-Volume Set

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In previous reviews, I have talked about how much I love reader’s editions of Bibles.  The current review is no exception.

Crossway released a reader’s edition that is certainly not your typical carry-to-church Bible, since it is divided up into multiple books.  But what it sacrifices in terms of portability, it gains in terms of aesthetics and design.  The ESV Reader’s Bible Six-Volume Set is a beautiful edition of the Scriptures that anyone would do well to have in their library.

For all of the strengths of previous reader’s Bibles, they still have the typical setbacks that one-volume Bibles have: thin paper, ghosting of text as a result, a lot of lines per page, etc.  Crossway found a way to remedy some of that by dividing the Bible up into six volumes: Pentateuch, Historical Books, Poetry, Prophets, Gospels & Acts, and Epistles & Revelation.

The six volumes come in a sturdy slipcase to hold them.  This slipcase is not a mere afterthought, but has been beautifully designed as well.  The foiling design on the side is astonishing (and I believe there is meaning in the design, which you can find on the ESV Reader’s Bible Six-Volume Edition website, and there are “blocks” set at the bottom of the case to help prop up the books themselves so that they retain their shape and don’t sag over time.

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Each volume is printed on thicker, traditional book paper.  Because there is no pressure to fit the Bible into one volume, the lines per page have been spaced out, allowing easier flow on the eyes by providing some blank space for the eyes to rest with.  Each volume has a ribbon bookmark for marking where you leave off in reading.  The edition I have is a cloth over board edition, and the binding is a sewn binding.

The text is in a single column format and is set at a 12-point font (the single volume Reader’s Bibles have a 9.5-point font).  Words of Christ are in black text.  There are no chapter numbers or verse numbers anywhere on the page, except for the psalms, which retain their traditional numbering in a red font.  There are occasional section headings in a red font, but they are greatly reduced over most Bibles.  For example, Genesis has 7 headings total and Matthew has 9.  If you compare that to a traditional Bible, you will find that is a great reduction, and these headings serve to help guide the reader with minimal intrusion and disruption to reading.  Each volume does contain an index in the back which provides some guidance as to what page chapters of the independent books of the Bible would start on, if someone needed it for reference, but this edition cannot be used to locate specific verses or even verse ranges.  Of course, that is by design, as this is truly meant to be a Bible for reading, not study.

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The only place that the layout makes it a little more difficult to read, to me, is in the book of Proverbs.  Everything seems to run together a little more there for me, but it may just be because I am used to a traditional layout.  It is certainly not a deal breaker on this set.

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When you compare a volume of the six-volume edition to the one-volume editions, you can see the difference.  Here, I’ve opened to the same passage in Numbers, and you can see the ghosting on the one-volume edition as well as how close the lines are to each other, whereas there is almost no ghosting of text on the six-volume edition, and the spacing is much more pleasing to read for long periods.

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If you are looking for a Bible that can stay at your house and provide long periods of reading of Scripture with minimal interruptions, the six-volume edition of the ESV Bible is perfect for you.  The cloth over board edition retails for $199.99 at Crossway’s site, and I have seen them as low as $100 at other sites.  It is money well spent!

*Note: I received a complimentary copy of this Bible from Crossway in exchange for my honest review.

 

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Book Review (and Comparison) ESV Reader’s Bible Top Grain Leather

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Forgive me for posting so many reviews.  Work has me a little behind, and I have a break right now, so I am trying to get caught up.

I have been very impressed with Bibles designed specifically for reading as opposed to studying lately.  It is nice to be able to sit down and just get lost in the words of Scripture without all of the distractions that come with Bibles designed for reference (as helpful as those features can be).

One edition I have owned for a while is the ESV Reader’s Bible cloth over board edition.  I was thinking of upgrading to a TruTone edition, and when I looked, I noticed that they were releasing a top grain leather edition.  I love good leather Bibles, and Crossway is known for producing some great ones.  I asked about being able to review one, and Crossway generously agreed.

This post is focused on reviewing the top grain leather edition, but it will also have some comparisons to the cloth over board as well.

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The inside of both editions is the same (except for possibly the text editions; the cloth over board I have is the 2011 edition, while the leather is the 2016): 9.5 font, two ribbon bookmarks, single column text, smyth-sewn binding, maps in the back, words of Christ in black text, and so on.  There are no translation notes included giving alternate readings, original Greek and Hebrew, etc.  The verse numbers have all been removed and placed in a red font at the top of each page, giving a verse range for the page.  Chapter titles are still included, and are placed in a red font in the margin where each chapter starts, except for the Psalms, where the psalm number is in red font at the beginning of each psalm.  The titles of each book are also included in the same red font.  All of this serves to try to make the text itself stand out, which is the focus of a reader’s edition, and it works very well.

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The top grain leather edition comes in a clam-shell box, whereas the cloth over board edition comes in a permanent slipcase.  The edges of the top grain edition are traditional rounded edges like most Bibles have, and the pages are gold gilded.  The cloth over board edition has no gilding and the pages are right-angle corners like normal books.  One other selling point for the top grain leather edition is that it has a lifetime guarantee on it, and Crossway goes above and beyond in honoring that guarantee (I know from personal experience). The spine of the top grain leather edition has raised bands on it, which give it a nice texture.  The corners of the inside of the cover are also folded over the inside cover rather than having the cover glued down on top of the leather.

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The cover is very flexible and soft, which is a nice feel.  You can roll it up on itself and it will immediately fall right back into its original shape.  It truly has a nice feel to it.

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Most leather Bibles that I have seen have something of a “hinge” that attaches the cover to the text block itself.  This hinge is the one part of the top grain leather edition that could cause some people pause in purchasing this copy.

If you are holding the Bibles in your hands to read, there is not really an issue with it opening well.  If, however, you like to lay your Bible flat on a table to read, the hinge of the top grain leather edition sort of works against you.  When I tried laying the Bible open, I could not get it to remain open easily until I turned toward the middle to end of Exodus, and starting at about Titus or Hebrews, it keeps trying to close at the end.  The cloth over board edition, however, opened completely flat from the very first few pages (the Preface and Introduction), and lays flat all the way to the end of Revelation.  It is possible that with enough use, the hinge will loosen up on the top grain leather edition, allowing it to lay flat from beginning to end.  As I have read other Bible reviews in the past, however, there has been some caution about forcing the hinge to open, as it could break the bond between the hinge and the text block itself.  This may or may not be an issue to you.  Again, if you hold the Bible in your hands when you read, it won’t matter if it lays flat or not.  But if you do like to have your Bible lay open without having to hold it, it is something to consider before you purchase.

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All told, you really cannot go wrong with any edition of the Reader’s Bible from Crossway.  If you like leather Bibles, and cost is not a problem (the top grain leather edition retails at $109.99), then the top grain edition is a great purchase.  If you want your Bible to lay flat, and like the feel of older books, the cloth over board edition may be for you; it is also cheaper at $29.99.  There is also a TruTone edition, though it may be getting more difficult to find, and it retails at $44.99.

I would encourage everyone to try to get a Reader’s Bible of some sort, as it really does help restore the text into a readable format that helps grasp the text in its original context without the divisions that hinder our understanding of Scripture many times.

*Note: I received a complimentary copy of this Bible from Crossway in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review – “Saving the Bible from Ourselves” by Glenn R. Paauw

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Mark Twain has been quoted as saying “A classic is a book that everybody praises and nobody reads.”  It seems that this is true for the Bible in many cases as well.  Someone has said the Bible is the “most owned, least read book in history.”  Sadly, this is the case among Christians too.

One of the reasons many fail to read the Bible is that it seems too daunting.  It is one volume made up of 66 separate books (by the Protestant count).  These books span several hundred years of history, and were written to a time and people far different from ours.  Glenn Paauw, in his book Saving the Bible from Ourselves, suggests that there are other issues as well, problems that we have introduced ourselves.  But don’t fear, he proposes solutions throughout.

According to Paauw, one of the biggest problems with our Bible reading is that we have complicated the Bible over time.  It started with the addition of chapter numbers.  Then verse numbers came along.  The decision was then made to separate each verse out into its own paragraph. To save space and for ease of printing, the text was then separated into two columns.  Along the way various notes were added (textual variations, study helps, cross references) and then section headings were put in to make things easier to find.  In some cases, when all is said and done a page may have more study helps and notes than it does the actual text of Scripture.  Needless to say, all of these additions that were intended to help may have actually done more harm than good.  While they were meant to help, they ended up making the text itself harder to read and follow.  We took a book that was meant to be read and turned it into a reference book.

There were benefits to some of these decisions.  Chapter and verse numbers make it easy to reference information.  But, as Paauw points out, it also makes it so much easier to take verses out of context and make them say whatever we want.  I think of a boxer I heard about one time who had Philippians 4:13 emblazoned on his robe.  I’m relatively certain that when Paul wrote “I can do all things through him who strengthens me,” he didn’t have in mind knocking an opponent unconscious in a boxing match.  But without context, who’s to say?

In the book, Paauw calls for a return to actually reading the Bible.  Not just reading a verse or two every day or jumping around and reading various portions out of context, but to slow, determined, deep reading of the text itself.  Reading whole books at one time (or over only a few readings), reading books in order for flow (there is a definite plot to Genesis through Judges, for example), and remembering that we are reading a story that must hang together.  While Paauw is not the first or the only author to call for this kind of reading (I think of James Gray, for example, among many others), he does a great job of presenting an ideal type of Bible reading.

The main way Paauw does this is by calling for a return to seven aspects of Bible reading we need to recover: Elegance (in design), Feasting (reading large portions in order), History (remember the Bible was written for us, but not to us), Story-Turned-Drama (there is a narrative, and we are part of it), Creation (the Bible was written to show how God is working to redeem and restore all of His original creation), Community (the Bible is not merely a book we read by ourselves for independent life change; it is a book we read together to grow as a community called by God), and Beauty (paying attention to the flow and writing of the authors themselves). (Taken from p.213 and summarized from ideas throughout.)  There is no question that reading the Bible in this way would be revolutionary (and I don’t use that word all too often) for our growth and understanding of God’s plan and our place in it as His people.

Anyone who is familiar with N.T. Wright (especially) and Dallas Willard (in part) will sense certain similarities of ideas that they write about throughout this book.  That is really the only possible weakness I saw.  In an effort to restore a communal mindset to salvation, that it is not merely about individual salvation from sin and Hell, but that it is about creating a community of people who follow the Messiah and help inaugurate God’s plan of redemption for all of creation, I feel that Paauw occasionally overlooks the individual aspect that is there, as well.  To me, it is not either/or, but both/and.  It seems that authors tend to overemphasize one or the other.  To be fair, the individual aspect has been emphasized so much that we probably do need a correction the other way, but if we aren’t careful, the communal will be overemphasized to the opposite extreme over time.  We need both in tension.

There are parts of the book that people, such as myself, who have been raised in churches with a heavy emphasis on individual salvation from sin and its consequences will struggle through (but in a good way, I think).  For example, on pp. 138-139, Paauw gives an overview of Creation/Fall/Redemption/Restoration that is very standard.  I read it a few times while wondering what was wrong with it.  As I kept in mind Paauw’s overall argument, I started to see what he was getting at, but we are truly so taken by the common explanation that it is hard to see past it to anything else.  This issue does not detract from the main impact of the book, however, and the main idea is still a much-needed insight.

One of the Bible’s Paauw mentions as an elegant Bible is Biblica’s Books of the Bible edition of the NIV, as Paauw had a hand in its development.  I do have to say that Biblica had it right in redividing the text based on actual breaks in thought and intention, and while Crossway has been doing a lot in their “Reader’s” editions, I hope they may consider it in the next release of their 6-volume set.

Overall, if you are looking for a book to help you understand where we may have gone wrong in our Bible reading and what we can do to correct it, I highly recommend Saving the Bible from Ourselves.

*I edited the original review.  When I first wrote it, I mentioned the one-sided aspect of mentioning only the Biblica reader edition as being a negative.  Mr. Paauw very graciously explained in a comment on my Amazon review that he only mentioned that one as others, such as Crossway’s, had not been published at the time he wrote his manuscript.  I apologize for any confusion.

*Note: I received a complimentary copy of the book from InterVarsity Press in exchange for my honest review.