Monday, October 24, 2016

ESV Reader's Bible, Six Volume Set (Review)

After many months of anticipation, Crossway has published the six volume set of the Reader's Bible. The ESV Reader's Bible Six Volume set carries with it the air of being the culmination Crossway's succession of single column offerings. Progressing from strength to strength (and correcting weaknesses along the way), Crossway (with LEGO SpA), has seemingly reached the end-point of the single column format and subsequently produced an edition that is complex in its results.

Ever since the (sadly) out of print single column reference ESV, Crossway has progressively fine tuned the format. The SCR, Legacy, and Heritage bibles were all functional precursors to the original Reader's Bible published in 2014.

The 2014 one volume Reader's Bible should need no introduction. Crisp font, suave use of red print titles, chapter numbers and drop caps, the original one volume Reader's Bible was and is a nearly ideal iteration of the English bible. Finally, it seemed, the subtle and engaging formatting options so common in many European languages (such as in the Italian bibles) had made their presence felt in an English edition. Crossway delivered a bible that was exceptional for its usability.

Around the same time, Crossway released its edition of the psalter, essentially reproducing the Reader's Bible format. Approximately a year later, the Reader's Gospels were released. As with the six volume set, the Reader's Gospels was a result of a collaboration with LEGO SpA. It was greeted with a considerably warm reception and as a result the pump was primed for what is arguably Crossway's most anticipated release in some time.

The production values and build of this set is top notch.

The hardcover set comes in a slip case with a subtle cruciform design (truth be told, it looks like a monstrance).

This design is then appropriated into the stamping on the spin.

From top to bottom: six volume cloth bound, TruTone (one volume edition), and cloth bound (one volume edition)

I was actually taken aback by how compact the volumes are. All of the volumes are of the same length as the original Reader's Bible. Although this was to be expected, the pre-release media conveyed the sense that these volumes would be slightly bigger. Perhaps it was just me. Nevertheless, these editions follow in line with the original, roughly the size of any of the Library of America or Everyman's Library editions you may have on your self.

The paper immediately demonstrates its superiority over the original edition. The one volume edition is 30 gsm. The six volume set is made with 80 gsm. The end result is some of the higher opacity on the market. How does this impact things? Well, consider this. The one volume edition was perfectly line matched - an absolute necessity when you get to 30 gsm as the ghosting typically becomes more apparent. By comparison, the six volume edition is not consistently line matched, however, the ghosting is not particularly noticeable.

The font has undergone a change as well in the six volume set. The original edition has a thoroughly readable serif font - crisp, clear, and "modern" in the very best sense. The six volume set uses 12 point Trinite` font. The Trinite` font is quite readable and perhaps more in-line with what you should expect in a novel. As I understand from other sources, the font is supposedly based on the "Renaissance ideal" print. I honestly think it is a bit of a wash compared to the one volume edition - although this could well be as a result of my own lack of refinement.

As with the one volume edition, the binding is sewn (an essential if you want a bible that will last). LEGO has emphasized that a cold glue was used for the adhesion of the book block to the cover, the advantage being that the longer drying time required for the cold glue creates a stronger bond. I will leave it to book binding experts to confirm or deny this technique.

The six volume set has forgone any chapter numbers or the extremely minimum chapter and verse notation in the one volume edition. In its place, summary headings are utilized.

The actual build of these volumes is hard to beat. Granted, we have to distinguish between expected range of premium bibles and the more common one's on the market. These volumes are not meant to compete with a goatskin or calfskin from (insert your favorite publisher here). These are meant to be sturdy, solid, hardbound volumes. I've been looking for some weakness in the construction, and I've yet to identify anything that would be a red flag.

However, as I mentioned above, the results are complex. From a physical design standpoint, these are just about pitch perfect. So what is so complex about the results? Well, there is another perspective to consider.

What follows are honest critiques resulting from nearly exclusive use since the set arrived. They are meant to provide a full consideration of these volumes - especially where most the available reviews seem bowled over by the admittedly admirable build.

The value proposition of these set (even in contradistinction with the one volume edition) is that it facilitates a continuous reading of Scripture by presenting the text in a manner closer to how it would have been encountered in the original manuscripts. Implicit in this proposition are the notions that a) Scripture was read in the early Church in a manner similar to how we would read a continuous text; b) continuous reading was the norm in the early Church; c) references, chapter delineations, and textual variants can be successfully removed form the printed bible with the presence of online tools. In following this value proposition, the six volume set demonstrates the limitations of the formatting.

There is not, to the best of my knowledge, a scholar who would disagree with the proposition that the Scripture readings in the early Church were often much longer than is customary. This said, if you want to argue that it was common for an individual to simply pick up a scroll or codex and start reading, well, you will be pushed on that. The longer, more continuous reading of scripture (unhindered by chapter and verse) wasn't a private exercise, it had a particular context, and that context was liturgical, and oftentimes monastic as well.

The idea that references or textual variants (the basics of having a solid scholarly apparatus in the Bible) can be removed from the text is not so clear cut, from the perspective of someone who has the background to engage in such a reading. In the absence of notation related to nuances in meaning, alternative translation, or variants in the textual tradition, one is necessarily limited in one's appreciation of the breadth of the textual tradition.

Of all the editorial decisions behind the six volume set (and again, this is written after continuous and basically exclusive use since it arrived), the decision to remove any chapter or verse indication is the one I found to be most indicative of the particular use intended for this set. The benefit of the chapter and verse notation in the one volume edition is that it made it so wonderfully usable. Whether we like it or not, the chapter and verse delineation is so well established that it sort of provides a beacon or guidepost during one's reading. One has a rough idea of where one is when one stops or resumes reading and can apply the printed Bible in a variety of contexts: reading, study, preaching, liturgy, prayer, etc.

Now, none of this means that I would discourage someone from getting the six volume set. Its construction may well be a standard going forward. It is built to last and as an aesthetic experience of Scripture I am not sure there is anything else comparable.

You can find the cloth bound six volume set at for a good price.

The top grain edition is exclusive to, and they have a pretty extensive webpage dedicated to it.

Looking to pick up a copy of the one volume ESV Reader's Bible? has them at a great price:

Top Grain



Note: Special thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this set. 

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