ESV Reader’s Bible, Six-Volume Set
Arthur J. Fox
ESV Reader’s Bible, Six-Volume Set, English Standard Version (ESV 2001), Six-Volumes Permanent Text Edition. Wheaton: Crossway, 2016, $199 cloth, $499 cowhide.
This is not a review of the Bible but of a magnificent edition of the Bible. Crossway has taken us back centuries to enable us to read the Bible, albeit in English, as it was read long ago. According to scholars, the chapter divisions we are accustomed to were developed by Stephen Langton, an Archbishop of Canterbury who published around AD 1227. The Wycliffe English Bible of 1382 was the first Bible to use this chapter pattern. Since then, nearly all Bible translations have used Langton’s chapter divisions. The Hebrew Old Testament was divided into verses by a Jewish rabbi by the name of Nathan in AD 1448. Robert Stephanus was the first to divide the New Testament into standard numbered verses in 1555. He also used Nathan’s verse divisions for the Old Testament. When the Geneva Bible adopted Stephanus’s divisions, it began a pattern followed to this day.
But there is a problem. Many Christians are unaware that the chapter divisions are not inspired. One unintended result is that inspired thoughts are divided mid-thought in many places. Read Romans chapters 10–11 and you will find that Paul had one fluid thought from 10:1–11:12, and perhaps beyond that. But many believers reading a chapter a day will miss the whole thought and think he is saying two unrelated things in the two chapters. Examples of this could be multiplied many times over in both testaments. The result is a poverty of theological and devotional thinking because readers will read only part of an argument or narrative in one sitting.
Now comes the ESV Reader’s Bible. Using the English Standard Version text, it is made up of six well constructed and beautifully bound volumes (Pentateuch, Historical Books, Poetry, Prophets, Gospels and Acts, Epistles and Revelation) that simply present the text of Scripture without chapter or verses marked out, and with minimal section headings to indicate the flow of a book of Scripture. The reader is thus reading the Bible as he or she would any other book, and, because there is just the text without division, may well get caught up in the story of redemption and the fullness of redemptive history along with the application of it. Imagine getting lost in the drama of Jeremiah’s prophecy or the story of Esther and wanting to read just a bit more in order to know how it ends. One is then reading Scripture, if I may say so, the way it was designed to be read! Yes, you will need to use your normal Bible to follow a Bible study or a sermon, or for detailed study. But such studies will be enhanced if you know the full context of the portion being studied.
It is such a simple concept and yet how profound! The whole set is available in well constructed cloth covered volumes (the less expensive choice) and in a leather bound set (more expensive), and are least expensive when purchased from someone other than the publisher. The paper is sturdy and much thicker than those of most Bibles, so the pages will not tear so easily. Crossway has done a craftsman-like job with this publication. Many Christian book sellers are already discounting them. Either way it is worth the investment to give more undistracted attention to God’s Word.
Now here is its value for a minister or teacher of the Word: When working through a book of Scripture, either for a sermon or Bible study series, it is very important to get the “big picture” or flow of the book. This allows the preacher to see the author’s plan and locate the individual stories and ideas in their proper context. That big picture is better seen if you read the book in one sitting and even better if you are not distracted by chapters and verses. The ESV Reader’s Bible is ideal for this purpose.
Arthur J. Fox is a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and a member of the Presbytery of Central Pennsylvania. Ordained Servant Online, December 2016.