ESV Reader’s Bible, Six-Volume Set. Wheaton: Crossway, 2016. 3,364 pp. $199.99.
A new year is a fitting time to take stock of your life, to think through where you are, where you want to go, and how you can get there. This is why January is the time of new gym memberships, diets, budgets, and other lifestyle changes. Spiritually, this is why January is also the time of Bible-reading plans, as believers seek to deepen their relationship with God by spending time in his Word. Like other positive lifestyle changes, this is a good thing to do, a necessary practice for believers. There is no book that we need to read more than the Bible.
Unfortunately, good intentions don’t always translate into lasting results. Like many other changes we try and make, our Bible reading plans often lead to a few weeks of regular time in God’s Word. Then, for whatever reason, we start to struggle. Before our Bible reading becomes a holy habit, we’ve given up or turned back to our old ways. If we’re in Christ we know we need to read the Bible consistently, but we don’t. The ESV Reader’s Bible is specially designed to help us focus on Scripture itself so that we stay in the Word. The goal is to offer the reader a cleaner, simpler reading experience, conducive to reading large portions of the Bible at one time.
What makes the Reader’s Bible unique is its format. The English Standard Version is a translation in the tradition of the King James Bible, aiming to be faithful to the original languages and easily understood in contemporary English. In this edition, chapter and verse numbers, footnotes, and most headings are removed, with just a few section headings provided in each book for general guidance. Instead of the standard two columns in six-eight point font, each page is a single column with twelve point font. The pages themselves are much thicker than in most Bibles. The six volumes are divided up naturally, into the Pentateuch, Historical Books, Poetry, Prophets, Gospels and Acts, and Epistles and Revelation, making each volume the size of a typical book. The result is a reading experience much closer to a book, or to the way that Scripture was written in the original manuscripts.
I have to admit that I was skeptical that this Bible could really facilitate a better reading experience, or help you read longer portions in one sitting. After using it as my primary devotional Bible for over a month, I am happy to admit I was wrong. There is a necessary time and place to study Scripture verse by verse or chapter by chapter (something the introduction to this set stresses), but there is also a something to immersing yourself in the storyline of the Bible without the distraction of all the reference points. I often found myself reading more than I intended in one sitting and not wanting to put my Bible down. As a pastor I often struggle to read my Bible without thinking about how I would preach or teach a passage, and this edition also helped me to focus on God and his Word without mentally outlining each passage according to chapter and verse.
Many people will notice the suggested retail price of this set and automatically dismiss it. My response would be to measure the cost of giving up on your Bible reading compared to a version that will help you focus on the Word of God in a new, fresh way. This new year, as you hopefully commit yourself to spend more time with God in his Word, you might find that an edition like this one is exactly what you need.