In recent years, we’ve seen a trend toward the development of “Reader’s Bibles.” These Bibles, either in one-volume or multi-volume format, present the biblical text in its original, simplified form—without footnotes, study notes, verses, or chapter numbers.
A decade ago, The Books of the Bible presented the NIV text this way (and also rearranged the order of the biblical books). A few years later, Bibliotheca became one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns in history by imagining a beautifully-bound 4-volume set based on an updated edition of the American Standard Version. A beautifully-designed one-volume ESV Reader’s Bible followed, and then a six-volume set for readers who wanted thicker paper. I’ve enjoyed being part of the development team for the CSB Reader’s Bible (details below).
I’m thrilled to see the trend toward Reader’s Bibles. Here are three reasons why.
1. Reader’s Bibles help us encounter the Bible as literature.
The Bible is not an encyclopedia of spiritual knowledge. It is not primarily a treasure trove of moral and spiritual wisdom, even if many Americans see it that way. Neither is the Bible a systematic textbook of theological facts.
The Bible is a collection of divinely inspired books, spanning several genres of literature: historical narratives, poetry, parables, proverbs, apocalyptic imagery, prophecies, letters, and biographies. Though there are 66 books, there is one overarching Story, with Jesus Christ at the center.
2. Reader’s Bibles help us read more with less distraction.
I love study Bibles. I rely on the helps, the articles, and the notes that explain the context for passages. Christians have long appreciated cross-references, which make it easy to find parts of Scripture that may be related to the passage you are reading. Study Bibles aid in our biblical understanding.
Yet there can be a downside to study Bibles. All of the additional facts and information can lead us to see the Bible as a puzzle to be figured out or a collection of data that needs to be synthesized. Instead, we need to be immersed in the Bible to the point that we can read large portions of the Bible without distraction.
Not only did the earliest Bibles not have study materials; they also didn’t have verses and chapter numbers. Now, I certainly don’t want to beat up the monks who gave us the verses and chapters. That invention has helped us find our way through this massive Book. And even though we might quibble with some of their decisions on chapter breaks, there’s no question these helps help.
Still, when I read ancient books like Augustine’s Confessions, and I consider how steeped in Scripture it is, I am in awe that the church fathers knew so much of the Bible and could quote so much from memory when there were no chapters or verses available to them during that time. Surely there is something to be said for reading large swaths of Scripture again and again until this Book transforms our minds and hearts. And surely we are served well in our reading when there are as few distractions as possible.
3. Reader’s Bibles present the Bible in the elegance it deserves.
Beautiful books ought to be presented with beauty. As we move into a digital age when it is easier than ever to access the biblical text, we see publishers putting an emphasis on the beauty of presentation in print. The Bible is the most beautiful, powerful Book ever written. It deserves a presentation worthy of its elegance.
On that note, here’s some background on the just-released Reader’s Bible in the CSB. I’ve been passionate about this project for more than a year now, because this is the way I love to read the Bible. I love to sit at my desk every morning, or out on my patio in the evening, and just read and read, without interruption. The sparseness of features in a Reader’s Bible helps me see the flow of thought in the mind of the biblical writers.
- The CSB Reader’s Bible is single-column, with a subtle use of two-color that would draw the reader to the biblical text.
- To make it easy to find your place in the Bible, we included a small book and chapter in blue at the bottom of each page.
- We presented the text ragged-edge, instead of justified, in order increase the ease of reading.
- We looked for the brightest, and hardest-to-see-through Bible paper we could find.
- The font is Bible Serif, increased to 10-point, with breathing room in the margins beside the text. (See pictures below.)
If you’ve not experienced the Bible in this way, I encourage you to check out the different Reader’s Bibles available. Let’s immerse ourselves in this great Book, and trust God to change us inside and out.