I recently splurged. I shelled out the $300 dollars for Crossways new deluxe six volume leather-bound reader’s edition of the ESV. I actually pre-ordered it and while I was waiting for it, I read numerous rave reviews of it that really whet my appetite. And somewhere along the way it occurred to me that none of those reviews came from anyone who plunked down their own hard earned money for the set, and I thought it might be worthwhile to add something that is missing from the conversation, a paying customer’s review of the ESV Reader’s Edition Set.
Now before we get started, we need to say a little something about the “paying” part of paying customer. There is no way around it, this set is expensive, it is a luxury and no one, including me, needs it. This set is being sold exclusively through evangelicalbible.com. If you can’t afford it, please don’t buy it. $300 is a lot of money for me, so it was a dear purchase, I accessed some savings and splurged. If you have to dip into your monthly budget or use credit, I would heartily recommend saving, or forgoing the purchase entirely. A thoroughly serviceable and beneficial “reader’s edition” of the ESV is available from Amazon for around $20 if you really want the benefit of having a reader’s edition.
With that said, the key questions are just what is a “reader’s edition” and what if any are the benefits? Simply put a reader’s edition of the Bible is one with no versification, that is, there are no chapter or verse divisions. Many, even most, Christians (not to mention non-Christians) have never seen the Word of God presented this way; we are so used to the chapter and verse divisions that it seems foreign to us. But this is actually the way that God’s Word was revealed, chapter and verse divisions were added centuries later.
And they were added for a purpose, to help in locating passages for study and cross reference; they were never meant to be interpretive helps. Although most of us know this, we are so used to the verse divisions, that they do functionally impact our interpretation of Scripture. A key example of this is Ephesians 1:4-5. Did God choose us to be blameless in love or in love were we predestined for adoption? Some translations and presumably those that teach from those translations lean heavily on versification when answering that question.
While that is a dramatic, easily observable example it is not the easily observable examples that are the real issue. In my mind, it is the subtle effect the versification can have on our understanding and approach to scripture. As I started to use my reader’s edition I noticed this in how the genealogies in Genesis seemed more integral to the narrative, rather than just a block of verse to get through (or worse still, and let’s be honest we’ve all done it, skip over).
And it is not just the genealogies in Old Testament narrative. Every Monday and Friday I do a full read through of the book I am preaching, currently Ephesians. And since receiving the ESV Reader’s Edition set I have done at least one of those read throughs in the reader’s edition, and to be frank, it is much easier to view Ephesians as a unified letter to a church (which it is) rather than a “book” of the bible, of which I have memorized a practical outline as well as key verses when read in a reader’s edition.
Now I am not saying that versification is wrong or even unhelpful, in fact it is good and very helpful, and I am enormously thankful for it. I preach from and do my study in a “normal” Bible with chapter and verse divisions. And I can’t imagine ever doing anything else.
A reader’s editions isn’t better, but it is different. And sometimes different is helpful. I have been doing my devotional reading in the reader’s edition and I have been reading more, because I am following the contour of the text rather than it’s common divisions, and I have been more impacted by the story aspect of the story of God’s people as revealed in the Pentateuch. And those are both good things.
That is true for all reader’s editions, but what about this set? Let’s be honest, this set has a dual purpose. It is a reader’s edition of the ESV but it is also and was designed to be a beautiful object, and it excels in this. This set is made up of six beautifully bound volumes nestled in a beautifully made hardwood slip cover, complete with dovetail corners.
Functionally this set spends most of its life as décor in my study, and as an object d’art it is beautiful. I enjoy seeing it when I look up from my work to think. It sits on top of a bookshelf between a set of carved wooden Hebrew alphabet blocks and a small print of a trout taking a fly emblazoned with an Isaac Walton quote. It is something to look at while I think, and that is valuable to me.
In the hand the individual volumes are exquisite. The soft leather which covers the binding is very pleasing to the touch. The high quality, off white, pages coupled with the large clear font make reading these volumes very easy on the eyes. Overall these volumes remind me of the leather bound deluxe editions of the classics that used to be available by subscription back in the 60’s and 70’s.
It may sound odd, but this sets reminds me of a fly rod I once had. When I lived in the mountain west fly fishing was a large part of my life. I was single, living in the mountains, and during the summer I spent time on the water at least four days a week (during the winter it was more like 1.5 since there was so little after work daylight). And I had several serious fly rods. My favorite was a custom 5 wt built on Loomis blanks. It was a high performance rod (it still is, I just don’t own it anymore). But the reason it was my favorite was because it was beautiful. The reel seat was burled walnut with silver plated hardware. The line guides were also silver plated, and the lower guides had semi-precious low friction inserts. And in my hand as the Colorado sunset and the red light glinted off the deep blue blank and the line guides I appreciated not only the performance of that rod, I enjoyed its beauty too.
I get a similar feeling with this set. The true beauty of course is in the Word of God. The different perspective a reader’s edition provides is welcome. And the craftsmanship and beauty of this set make using it a unique joy. If you are in the market for an extravagant (at least to me and my church planter’s budget) work of art and craftsmanship, I can think of few things I would recommend more highly than the word of God bound in a work of the bookbinder’s art.