Have you ever wondered why Bibles are setup the way they are? We pack so much into them that they become unwieldy. You have chapter and verse numbers, section headings, cross-references, and footnotes. If you have a study Bible, the list goes on. What would happen if you stripped the Bible of everything but its text? Would that change how you read it? It probably would. And this is the thought behind a reader’s Bible.
At its core, a reader’s Bible is a Bible freed from all the extraneous stuff so you can read without distraction.
My interest in reader’s Bibles piqued a few months ago. This came after spending the latter half of 2017 using physical Bibles in my daily study, in lieu of my digital resources. I’d rediscovered the joy of reading the Bible simply, without relying on all the extra stuff. Over the years I’ve also enjoyed reading through the Bible in different translations. Taken together, I was eager to read the Bible in a fresh way.
So, for my birthday, I asked my wife to get me the CSB Reader’s Bible. This Bible would allow me to: 1) read through the Bible again, 2) read it in a new and different translation, and 3) do it with a different experience. What would it be like to read the Bible like a book? This is what I wanted to find out.
My wife obliged & that became my introduction to the world of reader’s Bibles.
With that, I want us to look at why you might consider adding a reader’s Bible to your library.
How We Got Chapters & Verses
One of the things that sets a reader’s Bible apart from your typical Bible is the removal of chapter and verse markings. This simple step completely alters the way you view the text of Scripture. But, did you know that these conventions were not always part of the Bible? Yeah, we didn’t always have chapter and verse numbers.
So, before we dive into reader’s Bibles, let’s look at some history. Here’s a brief lesson on how we got our chapter & verse numbers in our modern Bibles.
The process began in the Thirteenth Century (around 1227 AD), when Stephen Langton added chapter divisions to the Latin Vulgate. As one would think, he added them to make the Bible a bit easier to navigate. Almost 150 years later, the Wycliffe English Bible became the first Bible to make use of these chapter divisions when it was published in 1382. Since then, nearly all Bibles have used Langton’s chapter divisions.
Verse numbers came to the Bible two centuries later (around 1447 AD), when a Jewish rabbi by the name of Nathan added them to the Hebrew Old Testament. This worked proved influential in the addition of verse numbers to the New Testament by Robert Estienne, who is better known in history as Stephanus. A century later (1555), he used Nathan’s work to add verse numbers to the fourth edition of his Greek New Testament. Like Langton’s work, Nathan and Stephanus’ verse numbers remain in use today.
The first complete Bible to utilize both the chapter and verse divisions created by these men was the Geneva Bible (1560). And nearly every Bible published since has utilized their work.The Geneva Bible is the first complete modern Bible to utilize both chapter and verse divisions Click To Tweet
But why chapter & verse divisions? They were added as a matter of convenience, to make it easier to find passages of Scripture. At first it was to make it easier for preachers & scholars to find passages. But, with the distribution of the Bible to the masses, people needed an easy way to reference specific portions of Scripture. Chapter and verse numbers made this possible. So, while they are not part of the original text, they are extremely useful and have their place.
Why Use a Reader’s Bible?
If chapter and verse numbers were added for convenience, much like cross-references & footnotes, why take them away?
While the reasons for having such additions are plentiful, so are the reasons to take them away. Let’s look at some of the reasons why you’d want to own a reader’s Bible.
It’s Made for Reading
Simply reading the Bible is one of the best ways I’ve found to learn it. While studying the Bible is great, it soaks in best when you’re reading it with the aim of getting the big picture. When you read this way, you’re reading with the goal of looking at the entire forest, instead of individual trees. For me, the Bible used to appear disjointed. Yet, each time I read through the Bible it makes more sense and I can connect the dots.
The format of a reader’s Bible helps you do just that. Larger print and beautiful typesetting makes it easy to pick up and read. It’s designed to look and be read like a book. Instead of looking at the Bible as nuggets to be mined for inspiration, the presentation makes it easy to sit and read for an extended period, like you would a novel. I’ve found when I read the Bible this way, the story jumps off the page and comes to life.
It Removes Distraction
While a find my ESV Study Bible incredibly helpful when actively studying, that same Bible is a headache when all I want to do is read. The notes, charts, and images all over the place are nothing but a distraction at that point. And don’t get me started on the sections where the notes are so long that I only get a couple lines of actual Bible text. That is beyond frustrating. Even a regular Bible can have these issues because stuff like cross-references & footnotes can get in the way.
A reader’s Bible removes such distractions. With nothing but Bible text on the page, you can read to your heart’s content without anything pulling you away from God’s Word. You don’t have to worry about a single cross-reference or study note; it’s just you and God’s Word.
When all you want to do is read the Bible, this is the experience you’re after.Get a reader's Bible and remove all the distractions Click To Tweet
Less Sound Bite Theology
One of the problems with verse divisions is how easy it is to take things out of context.
Context is king, and a reader’s Bible keeps that front and center. Instead of reading a verse like Matthew 7:1 devoid of its context and telling others “judge not,” you’re more inclined to read the entire section because there’s no verse number saying, “This is a single unit of Scripture.”
Yes, we know how dangerous it can be to take a single verse out of context, but what about keeping sections and chapters within their context? These problems melt away with a reader’s Bible. Why? Because you’re reading the text how it was meant to be read, in larger chunks.
Think about a book like Deuteronomy. That’s a big book, but the people of Israel received that information all at once before entering the Promised Land. This book of the Bible is one long sermon delivered by Moses (and you thought your pastor’s sermons were long). Knowing this, why should we read it differently by breaking it down into chapters and verses?
Focus on the Text
For as much as the Bible is a book to be studied in its detail, it is also meant to be read like a book. The Bible contains multiple genres, many of which are designed to be read from start to finish in a single sitting. Take for instance Paul’s letters. When was the last time you read only one page of a letter from a friend or loved one? No, you read the entire thing together. Likewise, Paul’s letters are meant to be read in their entirety; not a chapter at a time. The same is true with narrative passages like Genesis & Exodus or the Gospels & Acts.
A reader’s Bible removes these artificial barriers that make you unnecessarily pause while reading. A perfect example of this came when I preached through 1 Thessalonians. When Paul talks about the resurrection of believers in 1 These. 4:13-18, it ends with a chapter break. Yet, chapter 5 continues the same line of thought as the previous verses, not something altogether different. I had a hard time reconciling the two passages in my mind until I forced myself to remove those chapter barriers. When I did, the entire section made perfect sense to me.
When you remove artificial barriers, it’s easier to focus on the text and grasp the big picture of the Bible.
Are You Convinced?
Should a reader’s Bible be the only Bible you own? Probably not. But, as a student of God’s Word, it’s a great tool to have in your arsenal. Not only should we study Scripture, but we should take joy in reading it. A reader’s Bible will help you do just that.
My challenge to you is this: head to your local Christian bookstore and give a reader’s Bible a chance. Open it up and read a couple chapters. If you don’t have one nearby, find a PDF sample online and read that. Experience how different Scripture reads when you remove the clutter.
Weekly Study Prompts
This week, meditate and journal on the following passages:
- Monday – Deuteronomy 8-9
- Tuesday – Deuteronomy 30-31
- Wednesday – Deuteronomy 32:48-52; 34
- Thursday – Joshua 1-2
- Friday – Joshua 3-4
- Memory Verses: Joshua 1:8-9; Psalm 1:1-2