I am a sucker for reader’s Bibles, that is, Bibles without chapters and verses. As a lover of the English Standard Version, I regularly use the six-volume edition and the individual volumes of Psalms and Proverbs. But when Crossway (the publisher of the ESV) released a boxset of the four Gospels and a volume of Paul’s epistles, I began to realize that my love was not so much for the lack of chapters and verses but for treating the Bible like the library of books that it is. This was fully confirmed whenever Tiff bought me the journals that come with a blank page on the right and the text of Scripture on the left in individual books of the Bible. You see, as much as I long to be, I am not much of a journaler. Even so, over the course of studying a book of the Bible, I love carrying around those journals so that I can read the text over and over again and make whatever notes are necessary.
All of this is relevant because it was through searching for reader’s Bibles that I stumbled upon The Readable Bible. Although it comes in one full volume, it also comes in 27 volumes, which is what peaked my interest. Since I plan to be in Exodus both this year and the next, I grabbed that volume for myself and the community group leaders of our church to look over this new resource and to decide if it would be worth purchasing several copies for our members as we study the book of Exodus. Since this isn’t a novel, I will not keep you in tension: we did order more because we found The Readable Bible to be an excellent resource. While I have not yet read through other books of the Bible, Exodus contains a little bit of all the formats, making it a great sample of the whole of Scripture.
Rodney Laughlin came up with the idea for The Readable Bible simply enough:
One day I was standing in an airport bookstore looking for a book to read. I asked myself, “Why am I looking for something to read when I have a Bible in my briefcase?” I answered, “The Bible is hard to read. I want to read something easier.” Then I asked myself, “Why is it so hard to read? You’re a seminary graduate, a former pastor, a Bible teacher!” Thus began a quest that has led to The Readable Bible– the Bible as it would look if Moses, Joshua, Matthew, Mark, Paul, and the other writers had been sitting in front of a computer when God spoke through them.
It seems to me that the Bible is hard to read because all material is presented in sentence format. Today we use tables to present census information and charts for genealogies. When we want something built, we draw up a specification document. Law codes are organized in outline form. We use bullet points, bold text, and other aids to help us grasp information. Yet in today’s Bible, all the information is still presented in sentence format in plain text. Surely those men of old would have used modern formats if they had known about them when God spoke through them. Modern formatting does not change the information; it simply presents it in a way that makes it easier to grasp. The Readable Bible brings you the biblical text in modern formats.P. x
Practically, this means that it is not just poetry that is presented in a poetic format, as many recent translations have already begun to do. Genealogies are presented as family trees. As Laughlin noted, codes of law are presented as bullet-pointed outlines. In Exodus 20:22-23:19, the narrative breaks off to give a long series of legal codes, so The Readable Bible presents this section on a parchment background to emphasize that these laws are essentially “a book within the book of Exodus” (33). The specifications for the tabernacle and its various items are presented as illustrations with charts explaining how they were to be constructed. In addition, there are maps inserted to help understand the geography of what is being described.
All of this is incredibly useful, especially when it is presented alongside and within the text. As a pastor, I have many resources that can provide me with all this information, and there are also many study Bibles that do the same. Even so, there is something refreshing about the simplicity of this presentation that makes it an ideal resource to pass along to others.
The back matter is also a great help, especially for those just beginning their journey through the Bible. A glossary of terms is provided, as well as a list of familiar verses, a list of key persons, an explanation of weights and measurements, a subject index, translation notes, format notes, and charts for the festivals and Jewish calendar.
So, again, this is a great resource that I am excited to put into my congregation’s hands. However, I do have one caveat. You may notice that I repeatedly call this a resource. Well, I do so because it is just that: a resource. I do not see The Readable Bible becoming the new formatting pattern for Bibles in general, nor do I think it should be.
Laughlin makes the point that chapters, verses, and even vowels in Hebrew were not originally a part of Scripture, which is certainly true. Nevertheless, the addition of those things did not change the sentence structure of God’s Word. As helpful as the illustrations of the tabernacle are, it is the verbal description that is the inspired Word of God, and we must never forget that.
Also, consider the Passover regulations in Exodus 12:43-50 (see the image below). The Readable Bible helpfully organizes the regulations into three categories: who may participate, who may not participate, and how to keep the Passover. Under this format, the verses are then listed under the heading rather than in numerical order. While this presentation is certainly helpful for grasping the basics of the Passover, it is less than helpful for understanding why God spoke those regulations in that order. Throughout Scripture, we must remember that God very often uses the structure of what He says to emphasize the importance of what He says.
Again, all of this is tremendously helpful as a resource, but it ought not, I believe, replace the traditional sentence structure of the text. Instead, it should be used alongside it. I may have more to say about The Readable Bible in the future, but we will let this suffice for now. If you do grab a copy and I recommend you do, I would love to hear your thoughts as well.
Grace and peace.