“We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Verse Numbers!”

I admit that statement is not entirely true, but there is some truth to it with regard to what is best for a pure Bible reading experience. And I am not saying that we should take all the Bibles we have on our shelves and replace them with Bibles like the new ESV Reader’s Bible, because truth be told, studying the Bible without chapter and verse numbers becomes much more difficult. But did you know that it wasn’t until sometime around 1550 that the chapter and verse divisions we find in our Bibles today were established? Actually, the chapter divisions were established a few hundred years before this time, but it wasn’t until the Geneva Bible was first published in the early 1560s that we had an English Bible with chapter and verse divisions. And no one can deny the benefits of being able to reference and find a very specific portion of Scripture by simply saying words like “John 3:16.”

But following on the heels of printed chapter and verse numbers were our cross reference systems and their corresponding superscripting placed right inside the words of Scripture. These cross reference systems obviously require space (normally in the margins, or in between two columns of biblical text, or in the page footer) to list the cross referenced passages using their chapter and verse numbers. And please don’t get me wrong, the benefits of systems such as these are great. As I said earlier, it sure is easier to study the Bible and make use of biblical commentaries with the addition of this type of reference system in place. But one has to wonder how it has affected the way we read the Bible.

For many the Bible has become little more than a collection of inspirational quotes and “pick-me-ups” that are applicable to certain situations or circumstances I find myself in. Many of our Bibles even list specific verses we should turn to when we are “Feeling Depressed” or “Feeling Ashamed” or “Feeling Tired.” And again, don’t get me wrong, I would rather folks turn to the Bible in these times than anywhere else. But don’t these systems, along with other resources that guide us in daily devotionals based on single verses, contribute to our misunderstanding of the structure of the biblical text? Remember the original authors did not write the books of the Bible with these chapter and verse numbers in mind (they never conceived of them). Their intent was not that we would pluck one individual verse or chapter from their book that speaks to me in a certain situation, but that we would read the Bible in a manner similar to the way we read other literature.

The problem we face today with reading the Bible as it was meant to be read is that when we open our Bibles it looks much more like an encyclopedia, or a dictionary, or some other technical reference manual than it does that copy of classic literature you have on your shelf. For example, when is the last time you picked up a novel, something that is meant to be read as an unbroken narrative, and found each page divided into two columns with with superscripted letters and numbers strewn throughout the text? My guess would be never. All of that extra stuff, though with regard to Bibles is certainly helpful for study, distracts readers from closely following the narrative. And whether we realize it or not, these divisions and the way we discuss them and reference them, communicates something about Scripture that was absolutely foreign in the minds of the original writers.

Now what am I getting at with all of this? Really all I want to do is encourage you to consider picking up a copy of something like the ESV Reader’s Bible and plopping down in your favorite chair and reading it like you would any good book. There is certainly a time and place for detailed Bible study, and no one is a bigger proponent of that than me. But there is also a time to sit down and enjoy Scripture for what it is—namely a story about God’s plan of redemption and restoration of all that he created in the beginning. I am convinced when we read the Bible this way, it will not seem like a chore or a task to be marked off on our daily to-do list, but it will be more like reading any other book that we love. And the ESV Reader’s Bible contributes to this type of reading experience by designing and formatting the book like all those novels we love to get lost within. The text is in a single column and there are no verse numbers. The chapter breaks are included, but they are subtly tucked away in the margin to minimize distracting the reader from the flow of the story.

After a couple of weeks with the ESV Reader’s Bible, I have found myself kicking my feet up in a chair and reading for longer periods of time not so concerned about grasping some nugget of truth I can use to make it through the day or to use in my sermon prep, but reading for the sake of enjoyment alone. I have no doubt that a statement like that makes some recoil in horror that I would approach the Bible in that sort of way, but that’s okay. I am not suggesting we neglect to study our Bibles nor to meditate on Scripture deeply, but maybe we should consider picking our Bibles up and enjoying them for what they are—a really good story!

For those interested in the ESV Reader’s Bible, check out the video below. I purchased the cloth over board version (shown in the video) because it feels like a good old-fashioned novel. But they also have TruTone editions as well. And if this is something you are really interested in, I would encourage you to check out the Kickstarter project called Bibliotheca which takes this whole concept to another level (see the second video below). And one last thing: Please don’t throw away your study bibles!

ESV Reader’s Bible Video

Bibliotheca Video

You can also check out this additional links about both of these projects on the wonderfully written Bible Design Blog (he says all of this much better than I have).

Crossway ESV Reader’s Bible (Cloth Bound Hardcover)

ESV Reader’s Bible: Some Notes on Daily Use

Bibliotheca: A Multi-Volume Reader’s Bible on Kickstarter

Interview with Bibliotheca’s Adam Lewis Greene: Part 1

Interview with Bibliotheca’s Adam Lewis Greene: Part 2

Bibliotheca, the ESV Reader’s Bible, and the Future of Printed Bibles

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