Every time I attempt to sit down and read God’s Word, there is one enemy that I always find myself battling: his name is Noise. You have probably met him. Noise is one of the most powerful opponents to healthy, worshipful Bible reading. Some days on my commute I listen to my audio Bible, but the incoming notifications take my mind off of the text. Some days I read from one of my study Bibles, and I end up on theological rabbit trails, which are well-intentioned but still getting my eyes off of the only infallible Word. Even on the days that I come to my desk in the early morning, with a simple personal-size Bible free of notes, I find my distracted heart prone to wonder, as I’m constantly evaluating what I’m reading numerically with chapters and verses, seeing cross-references. There is literally, and figuratively, no space for me to commune with God in my Bible time, because my Bible is often full of Noise.
Others, such as Glenn Paauw and Andy Naselli, have written on Bible clutter, and I think there is much to what they have to say. I have always assumed that chapter and verse numbers and other margin-filling features were simply aids to our understanding and assimilating Biblical text into our hearts. But maybe while they are good for reference and in preaching scenarios, what if our devotional life, our understanding of Scripture as a story, could be helped by reducing Noise’s presence in our time with God’s Word?
There is something to God’s Word being presented as a clear, self-attesting, undistracted, and beautiful revelation that, when found, stirs our sense of worship unlike anything else. This is what Bible reading should be all about, after all – not the mere transmission of information, but the transformation of our heart, the reorienting of our loves.
It is with this charge in mind that I hope to make the case for Crossway’s newest masterpiece, the 6-volume ESV Reader’s Bible. This project, according to their team, “stems from the conviction that the Bible is of immeasurable value and should, therefore, be treasured—and read in the most seamless way possible.” Below I will highlight some of the key features of this set, and I hope to address a few of the prominent critiques against it.
The first thing one notices about the ESV Reader’s Bible set is the sheer beauty it carries. Crossway has always been a proponent of putting forth materials that look excellent, but this set is perhaps the epitome of that conviction. Because the Bible is the greatest work of all and reflects the glory of God, so they hope to mirror God’s beauty by offering a beautiful set of books. Every detail has been considered in the aesthetics of this set. Each book has smyth-sewn binding, a suave slipcase to house the volumes neatly, and two wonderful cover options (cloth-over-board or cowhide leather). Ornate gold lettering marks the spines of the books, presenting a very regal visual. The inside is also beautiful, with easily readable typeface and a warm paper color and sturdy paper material. There is a certain reverence I have when I come to these books that have been prepared with great care. It helps direct my attention to the beauty of God’s Word.
Perhaps the most obvious feature of the set is the fact that it emphasizes simplicity. The whole goal of the Reader’s Bible is to clear out the noise that often clutters God’s Word to maximize the reading experience of it. There are margins of at least 1” on every side of the text throughout the volumes, providing adequate “space.” No chapter or verse numbers are present in the text, but for those who just need them, a helpful chapter index with page numbers is offered at the end of each volume. The text is delivered over 6 volumes, sorting Scripture canonically into 6 themes: Pentateuch, Historical Books, Poetry, Prophets, Gospels & Acts, Epistles & Revelation. In each volume, we see major sub-themes that break up the text apart from chapter divisions. For example, “A Call to Holiness” is one section in the Pentateuch, actually spanning Leviticus 17-23. This more sky-level view of the Scriptures really helps us read the words of God as telling one grand story. It’s like watching a play and dividing it into acts instead of scenes.
One of the most compelling features of this set for me has been the ability to simply absorb the text. Prior to getting this set, I really didn’t expect to see much of a shift in how I consumed and digested the Word. But as I’ve used this set, I see that there really is a difference in how I am actually intaking the words of Scripture. When I read it with reverence, and it is more simple than complex, I am much more likely to absorb it, to steep myself in it, rather than cutting myself off with a usual “You have already read 3 chapters today, that’s ‘enough’” mindset. Glenn Paauw says that we need to become “dwellers in the book, not just people who access information superficially.” I love this concept, and I have found it easier to do this with a Reader’s Bible, particularly this set. Its very design and concept make me want to naturally meditate on the text, wrestle with it, to know the story through and through.
Some Common Objections Addressed
Of course, when a publisher releases the Bible divided into six books for a price of $199.99 (price of the cloth set), one could expect some hesitation and pushback.
A common objection has been that the price is simply too much. Why make the Bible less financially accessible for some? I get the sentiment. But Crossway’s intention is for us to “put our money where our mouth is,” in a sense. If we truly do value the Word of God above all things, our book budget should reflect that. Am I crimping on God’s actual Word, while at the same time dishing out heavily for other non-Bible books? To buy this set is not to fall for deceptive marketing and packaging, but to value the Word of God as something to be absorbed, read with simplicity, and with a recognition of the beauty and value of God’s Word. For some, it will be a financial investment, but one that will ultimately become a treasure, even perhaps an heirloom.
Another objection I have heard is that the set is just not practical. Because of its size and its division over six volumes, it loses its ability to be mobile, one of the best features of God’s Word! But I think the ESV Reader’s Bible is best served as our go-to for devotional time with God, in the quiet of our home, or at our desk, and therefore mobility shouldn’t be much of a concern in this area. Mine sits on my home desk, and I plan to keep it there to use it as my primary morning or evening time with God’s Word. Of course, I won’t bring this set to church on Sunday mornings, but then again that was never Crossway’s intended purpose for it.
It is my belief that the six-volume edition of the ESV Reader’s Bible will stir your affections for the glory and worship of God by reading His Word. Many of us desire a faith that emphasizes beauty the way men like the great preacher Jonathan Edwards did; let us use this wonderful resource as an aid in our reverence and appreciation of God’s beautiful and holy Word. From design to vision, I think Crossway’s work with this project will benefit Christians of every kind. Pastors will be reminded that God’s Word is not a textbook. Laypeople will be reminded that God’s Word is something to delight in. Mostly, we will be reminded that God deserves reverence, excellence, and requires of us a simple but dwelling faith. Let us draw from the deep wells of Scripture with this powerful tool.