Review: Brand New CSB Reader’s Bible

I now own seven separate reader’s Bibles (not counting the many I can make digitally in Logos and other apps), and I wish for the world to know that I got on the reader’s Bible bandwagon before there was one, back in 2006 (?) when it was more like a soloist cart.

And the sad/funny thing was that until I received the CSB Reader’s Bible this very morning, the first reader’s Bible I ever got was the best. It was my TNIV Books of the Bible—despite its odd paperback covers and its odd typeface that couldn’t decide whether it wanted to be serif or sans—that I have always felt set the gold standard for how to lay out Bible type to assist readers in garnering meaning. Its progenitor, Christopher R. Smith, author of two books on Bible typography, did a simply excellent job

The ESV Reader’s Bible was too regimented: its line breaks and indents weren’t flexible enough; and I didn’t like its use of chapter numbers—I felt like someone forgot to tell them the whole point of a reader’s Bible. My NIV Books of the Bible was well done overall, but its faux-leather vinyl cover was so bad that it genuinely got in the way. My Holman KJV Reader’s Bible made the inexplicable decision to divide all proper names into syl´-la-bles (including “Je ´- sus”!). It’s ugly, needless, and inimical to the elegant reader’s Bible concept. A multi-volume reader’s Bible (such as the ESV and Bibliotheca) is cool to look at, but unwieldy: I’m too accustomed to having the whole Bible in my hand. I have a soft spot in my heart for the old New English Bible I somehow inherited; it was typographically elegant and managed to keep verse numbers off to the side. But the NEB translation is of comparably little utility for me. It’s too idiosyncratic for daily use.

CSB Reader’s Bible

A single-volume, single-column reader’s Bible which worked hard to use all the layout conventions available to it—that I hadn’t seen since 2006. But the CSB Reader’s Bible has done it. And with a much better typeface, a subtle and effective use of color, and a beautiful cloth-over-board construction.

The cloth over board is an apparent copycat move; the ESV Reader’s Bible pulled that one off successfully years ago. But the cloth-over-board slipcase is a nice touch. This is a nicely made Bible. The blue and gray is striking—along with the blue highlights in the interior.

And it’s that interior that has me most excited. The paper is bright, the reading is easy. The balance of white space and text block is right. Even without line-matching (more on that in a moment), any ghosting was not distracting for me.

What pleases me most about the interior is the number of conventions the layout pros took advantage of when constructing the reading experience. There are paragraph breaks, of course, but also subtle indents of various kinds that assist the reading of poetry. The use of these tools for conveying meaning is careful and beautiful—and helpful. That’s the point. And it works.

My wife noticed something while reading the Psalms that I thought was perceptive: the sparing use of indentation. She’s been reading the ESV Reader’s Bible for several years now, and she felt that the CSB’s practice of keeping poetic lines left-justified almost all the time was better than alternating the poetic lines like this:

Here is the first line of a parallel couplet
Here is the second line.
Here is the first line of another parallel couplet
Here is the second line of that second couplet.

She (and I) find that a bit jarring. This is nicer (though notice that the fifth line at the top of the righthand page is indented—so this convention can be used when necessary):

I also think the drop caps marking chapter divisions are a brilliant compromise with the reality of chapter divisions; I do find that it can be a bit overwhelming in my otherwise excellent TNIV to have so much text unbroken by visual ornamentation. The detriment of having a few bad chapter breaks is outweighed by the benefits of 1) breaking up the text on the page periodically with some kind of beachhead and 2) giving me some kind of visual foothold (mixed metaphor alert) for navigating the chapter divisions—I bring my reader’s Bible to church.

My only complaints

I have very few complaints.

  • In Proverbs, I still prefer the more subtle line breaks between couplets in my TNIV Books of the Bible to the full, empty lines in my new CSB. This is my biggest (and only significant) complaint. The TNIV managed to kept couplets (and triplets, etc.) together while still collecting those couplets together in bigger paragraphs. Look:

  • Line-matching on obverse and reverse sides of pages is absent. I had thought that was now standard, that Crossway would force everyone else to catch up. I’ve often felt, however, that line-matching runs counter to something more important in Bible design: the ability to vary the height of line breaks. My old TNIV, again, did this so well—especially in poetry.
  • I still prefer the elegance (I’m sorry for repeating this word; it must be done) of Lexicon to the typeface used in this edition. 2K/Denmark is awesome, but their Bible Serif feels too squeezed laterally to me. It enables them to get more text on the page, and the overall feel is still much superior to the Optima-like face used in that TNIV.
  • On balance, I prefer numbering the Psalms, as the ESV Reader’s Bible did. Paul did it (Acts 13:33). “Psalms” are not “chapters.”
  • I’m also ambivalent about the CSB’s overall practice (in every edition I’ve seen) of bolding Old Testament quotations in the New Testament. It actually works better in a reader’s Bible than in any other kind of edition, I think, because the bold isn’t as loud when it isn’t competing with other intrusions into the text block (chapter and verse numbers, superscript numerals and letters, footnotes, etc.).

Conclusion

Get this Bible. The CSB is an excellent translation, and this is the best way to experience it. I’m reading through the CSB this year (just reached Zephaniah), and I’m thrilled to use this physical edition rather than my (also very nice) Logos app on the iPad.


Disclosure of material connection: I read a free review copy; but I hope anyone who reads this review can tell that there were no strings attached. I like this Bible a great deal but would change some things if I could.

Author: Mark Ward

PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.

7 thoughts on “Review: Brand New CSB Reader’s Bible”

  1. Question. You mention the use of drop caps at chapter breaks. Does that mean that they use drop caps at Genesis 2:1 and Genesis 12:1 for example? That would be a deal-breaker for me. In my mind one of the points of a Reader’s Bible is to get rid of bad chapter breaks.

    I also thought it odd that the Psalms are divided but not labeled. Dropping chapters is a good idea, but I’m happy to have the Psalms labeled. These are ancient divisions, and they differ from chapter breaks.

    Regarding CSB as a translation, I regularly used the HCSB as my second Bible. The ESV is my default translation, but I would quote the HCSB regularly at places where I thought it had the superior translation. For instance, the HCSB has the best translation of Gen. 2:5-6. The NIV2011 is close, but it translates erets “earth” instead of “land” in v. 5. The HCSB also has the best translation of Proverbs 8:22-31. I also liked the use of “languages” to translate glossa. “Tongues” is an archaic word for “languages,” and why are 21st century Bible translations needlessly using archaic language? Sadly, in my view, the CSB replaced theses well-chosen alternatives with more standard but, in my mind, less accurate renderings.

    Regarding the multivolume ESV Readers Bible, I don’t mind the multi-volume aspect. When I want a Readers Bible, I’m typically at home in my comfortable chair and wanting to do some extended reading. I’ve been reading the Gospels recently, and I find the size of that volume just right. My only complaint about the multivolume ESV Reader’s Bible is that in poetry they made the margins too wide, resulting in a bunch of orphan words. It’s really inconceivable that they let that happen.

  2. Brian, I cheated and incorporated a few of your concerns back into the review. Note particularly my comments on your first paragraph:

    I also think the drop caps marking chapter divisions are a brilliant compromise with the reality of chapter divisions; I do find that it can be a bit overwhelming in my otherwise excellent TNIV to have so much text unbroken by visual ornamentation. The detriment of having a few bad chapter breaks is outweighed by the benefits of 1) breaking up the text on the page periodically with some kind of beachhead and 2) giving me some kind of visual foothold (mixed metaphor alert) for navigating the chapter divisions—I bring my reader’s Bible to church.

    I found that the drop-caps aren’t as insistent as chapter numbers. They don’t demand that I see a break; they suggest it.

  3. Agreed. Though I find Bibliotheca to be a bit too spare, too austere in its pursuit of typographical perfection! It’s still an amazing project that I value highly; don’t get me wrong.

  4. I’m actually not that happy about the strict left-justified lines of poetry (though of course, I could live with it).

    My impression has been that the indentations in the Psalms indicates which stichs form the second line in a doublet (and in a triplet, second and third stichs). And this convention isn’t restricted to the ESV, I’ve seen this in most of the other modern English versions, including the NKJV and NIV.

    I’d say that level of interpretive whitespace is what I want in a reader’s edition… it helps to show the underlying Hebrew parallelism, which isn’t always obvious in translation. Most translations aren’t rendering the Psalms into poems that follow English poetic conventions, although it’s not always obvious in English how the Hebrew conventions are in play.

  5. I’ve been enjoying my copy. I like that the text column is narrower than the ESV reader’s bible.
    However, I do find the book block is a bit too tall. I think the ESV Reader’s Bible nailed the dimensions of a book that is nice to hold and read.

    And I’m mystified by the decision to left-align prose sections rather than justify. Yuck.

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