“16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” — II Timothy 3:16-17 (ESV)
Not quite sure how to categorize this post. It is part review of a specific Bible translation, but mostly review of a particular format. (Well, two of them, in fact.) Of course, this is a very subjective “review”, based on my personal needs and preferences. But, hopefully it will be somewhat instructive and helpful to you, as well.
As some of you may recall, I ended one of my January posts by saying that I had ordered my first English Standard Version (ESV) Bible. (I ordered a couple more versions, too, which I might write about at some point.) When it comes to “essentially literal” translations, I still like the New American Standard Bible (NASB) (1995 update) for accuracy’s sake, but it isn’t perfect and can be a little clunky here and there. I liked what I had been hearing/reading about the ESV, so I finally decided to pick one up for myself.
Rather than get a big ol’ study Bible or something like that, I opted for something a bit more simple. The format of the ESV Reader’s Bible is supposed to encourage one to read bigger chunks of the Bible at a time, because there are less “distractions”. I liked that idea. The single-column paragraph format for the text was intriguing, and it is supposed to encourage the feeling of it being “like reading a novel”. (Note: This is for pleasure reading, not study.) It has chapter numbers but no verse numbers, and it also lacks any section headings, cross-references, or footnotes of any kind. (Note: Most ESV’s come with these things, and the study notes are supposed to be quite good.) No images or sidebars, either. There are four standard maps in the back in gray & tan. For what it’s worth, the book titles and chapter numbers are in red, which was different and a welcome bit of color. I got the cloth hardcover edition, which is fairly dull looking, but it’s sturdy and relatively cheap — under $20 on sale at CBD.com. It came with a couple nice ribbons, too.
First, the translation: Simply put, I like it. I like it a lot. It maintains that “formal” feel of the “essentially literal” translations, but it manages to be more accurate in a few places and to smooth out some of the more awkward wordings of other “formal” translations (e.g., NASB) in other places, so that the text flows a little better. That said, I wouldn’t call it “standard English”, and there is still room for improvement. But, generally speaking, the exegetical and (for what it is trying to accomplish) stylistic decisions are quite good. If you are a fan of either the NRSV (for style, not necessarily the gender-inclusiveness or other questionable choices) or NASB, you’ll probably like the ESV. If you are a KJV or NKJV devotee, you might like it, too, since the ESV claims to be in the tradition of the KJV. However, if you strongly prefer the Textus Receptus or Majority Text over the eclectic source-text, then some verses and word-choices might be sticking points.
Here are three examples where the ESV has improved on the NASB:
NASB — 5 Furthermore, men are afraid of a high place and of terrors on the road; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags himself along, and the caperberry is ineffective. For man goes to his eternal home while mourners go about in the street.
ESV — 5 they are afraid also of what is high, and terrors are in the way; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along, and desire fails, because man is going to his eternal home, and the mourners go about the streets—
NASB — 43 The next day He purposed to go into Galilee, and He found Philip. And Jesus said to him, “Follow Me.”
ESV — 43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.”
II Corinthians 11:3
NASB — 3 But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.
ESV — 3 But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.
Now, the format of the Reader’s Bible: I have long preferred the paragraph-style over single-verse, but I am growing quite fond of single-column, too. Since it was supposed to be like reading a regular book, I had pictured a typical hardcover novel, maybe 9.25″ x 6.5″. I should have double-checked the dimensions in the description, because it is actually 8″ x 5.5″. (Slightly more in the slipcase.) Not a major issue. The paper is thinner than I would have liked, so it can sometimes be hard to separate and tends to crinkle. The 9-pt. text is lined up well, thereby minimizing ghosting. Still, if the dimensions were what I had expected, Crossway could have gone with slightly thicker paper and kept the total thickness at or less than the current 1.5″.
Despite the benefit of “less distractions”, I found that I really missed the usual verse numbers (especially when comparing with another translation), footnotes, and even occasional section headings. I had to force myself to not keep going to another Bible to compare or see if there was a note of some sort, particularly on strange or strangely-worded verses. Would have liked a couple more maps, too.
I read through Genesis, jumped over to Job, then back to Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, before getting another ESV that better suits my needs. This time, I got the “Single Column Heritage Bible” in TruTone (i.e., imitation leather), brown/burgundy with band design. I got it for about the same price, but at the moment it is on sale at CBD for $7.99! It seems to be pretty well made, though I’m no expert on that stuff, and I love the look of it (including gold gilt pages). Ironically, the dimensions are slightly smaller than the Reader’s Bible, but I don’t mind. I’m not sure, but I think the paper is about the same thickness, or maybe just a tad thicker. However, there are slightly fewer overall pages in the Heritage (1809) than in the Reader’s (1856). I think this is because the textblock in the Heritage is actually wider than in the Reader’s. (The outer margin is still about 3/8″, so it doesn’t look cramped.) The inner margin on both editions is about 1/2″, and they both have sewn spines and lay nicely flat (except maybe for the first & last couple books), so there is no trouble with trying to read in a cramped “gutter”.
The Heritage Bible has the same size font, and everything is still lined up well. It’s a great relief to finally have verse numbers in my ESV, let me tell ya! The footnotes are minimal but mostly good enough for “pleasure reading”. It comes with only one ribbon, but it has eight maps — not brightly colored, but they have shades of green, blue, and brown.
Overall, I like the ESV translation and, now that I got a format that is less plain-Jane (yet still not too busy with “distracting” extras), I am enjoying reading it more. (Not that Deuteronomy is all that thrilling. Looking forward to Joshua and Judges, though.) The ESV Heritage Bible may not be a thinline/slimline, but it is compact enough to keep in one’s car and/or comfortably carry to church or Bible study. (Unless, of course, you like to lug around a full Study Bible, and I totally understand that.) I recommend it!
P.S. Anyone in the market for a slightly used ESV Reader’s Bible…?