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Proof of what is unseen

Review: The ESV Preaching Bible

The new ESV Preaching Bible is another win for Crossway. They gave me a copy to review (no strings attached, of course—well, actually, there were two ribbons in the Bible for bookmarking, but they weren’t attached to any stipulations from Crossway, just to the supple binding…) This new Bible represents a few little tweaks to the format I’ve been using myself for preaching for the last four years, and they are genuine helps.

Here’s what the Bible looks like on the inside. First prose:

Now poetry:

But to see what this Bible is really aiming at, you need to compare my existing Heirloom Single Column Legacy Bible (left) with the new Preacher’s Bible (right):

ESV Heirloom Legacy
ESV Preaching Bible

Here’s what you ought to notice:

  1. The text is a point bigger in the new Bible (10 vs. 9), which is good, because I’m nearing 40 and people have told me, peering over their bifocals, “Beware, you’re nearing 40.” The average pastor is over 40, too. Lexicon was made to work at smaller sizes, so, aesthetically, I still like my old Heirloom; but, practically, the Preacher’s Bible is better for what I actually use my physical ESV for, which is heralding the words of the living God to the gathered assembly.
  2. The margins are also bigger, without making the Bible feel (to me) like it’s a whole lot wider. But (I assume), to make up for the bigger type size, the bottom margin extends a little further down the page. I don’t mind this; I don’t write in my Bible anymore. I’m not against it; I just find I prefer electronic note-taking systems.
  3. The headings are included in the text in the Preaching Bible rather than in the margin as in the Heirloom. And I think the new Preaching Bible’s choice is indeed helpful for contextually careful reading—something I do while preaching, I do. I like having visual cues for where I’m at. (I like putting the headings in the margin, too—the text block is nice and compact that way. Each approach has its strengths.)
  4. The verse numbers are given a little extra kerning on each side so that they stand out more. They’re also a bit bigger. Apparently finding verse numbers in paragraphed text is a problem preachers have while preaching, though I can’t say I’ve faced it myself. But, as they say, “You’re nearing 40.”
  5. I don’t have access to the specs on the paper, GSM and all that. But the new Bible’s paper looks whiter to me (the Heirloom is slightly yellow, in a rich and not a sickly way), and the new Bible’s paper feels a little sturdier. The ghosting on the new Bible is not as bad as that on the older one I have. The line-matching in each helps with ghosting, of course.

Here are the specs on each back cover. First my old(ish) Heirloom:

Now the new ESV Preaching Bible:

The black goatskin cover I got on the Preaching Bible was incredible. It lies almost flat—flatter than my first-gen Heirloom Legacy.

The Preaching Edition lies almost flat (photo courtesy Crossway)

And it feels buttery-smoother than the Heirloom. Ooh, it’s so nice to touch! And it smells good, too! The Heirloom was a bit squeaky; not the Preaching Bible.

My only suggestion: so sue this almost-40-year-old, I like having words of Christ in red. It looks uh, cool—and I think it helps me find my place on the page while preaching. Concerns that it leads people to invest more authority in the red type than in the black are overblown, in my opinion. “Red-Letter Christians” (I don’t necessarily mean the specific group which uses that name, but the idea that Jesus’ words carry more authority than the rest of the Spirit’s words in Scripture) would be perpetrating their reductionist hermeneutics with or without typographical excuses. So can I have my red letters back?

I recently saw another new Bible in goatskin from another publisher who got input from a famous preacher on how to design the interior, and the Bible just didn’t come together well. It was really fat—too fat. (The Preaching Bible is fatter than the Heirloom, but it feels right—actually, the Heirloom feels a little too thin.) And the decision of this other publisher to start each verse on a new line, already risky, was handled poorly. In the one ESV edition I’ve seen which does this, Crossway still managed to make clear paragraph breaks. But this other preaching Bible (I’m being vague here so as not to disparage people I otherwise really like) tried the bolding-of-the-first-verse-number approach to paragraphing, which I think is unhelpful. The whole point of a paragraph division is that it’s visual and intuitive.

Crossway says they got input from 1,000 pastors on designing their new Preaching Bible, and apparently a thousand heads are better than one. But what I find interesting is that the resulting Bible is not really all that different from Crossway’s previous wins. Either they (rightly) disregarded some of the advice of these pastors, or those pastors, via the wisdom of the crowd, ended up merely making helpful little tweaks on an already beautiful and useful format.

Keep it up, Crossway.

We love you.

XOXO

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.

5 Comments

  1. Layton Talbert on March 21, 2019 at 5:50 am

    I confess to being a techno-heretic. Because I manuscript everything, including the texts I’m going to use (which means I know exactly how to say what I want to say and how long it will take), I almost never preach out of a physical Bible (apart from the ones on my study desk, of course). My main comment, however, is on a passing and peripheral comment you made, distinguishing the group known as “Red-Letter Christians” from those who think the words of Christ actually carry more authority than, say, the words of Paul or the OT. But that’s exactly what the RLC group argues. In Christian Today (no, not Christianity Today), Tony Campolo explicitly admitted that “the red letters of the Bible [are] superior to the black letters” (Feb. 3, 2009). That may not be what they emphasize all the time, but apparently that’s at the root of what they believe. Just a passing observation.



  2. Andy Efting on March 22, 2019 at 3:53 am

    Similar to what Dr. Talbert said, I hardly ever read directly from my Bible when I am teaching. I bring my Bible with me, in case I want to look up something and read on the fly, but that doesn’t happen very often. I teach from an iPad and have all the verses I plan to read printed within my notes for me. If I was looking for a specific verse to read from my physical Bible, I think I’d rather have the verses printed on new lines to make them easier for me to find. For regular Bible study and reading I like the paragraph format of the Preacher’s Bible, but when I’m up in front of people and under pressure, I like the verses to stand out a bit more. Still looks like a great Bible, though. I’ve been using a large-print (I’m on the wrong side of 40) wide-margin Bible as my take-to-church, and study Bible, but it’s a bit thick. This might be a better option.



  3. dcsj on March 24, 2019 at 4:31 pm

    I’m with Andy. I’m noticing that I put most of my passages that I want to call our attention to in Powerpoint. So no more rustling pages. I’m not sure if that is better or worse. There may be some effect on Biblical literacy. However, I find I can’t get away from PPT now, my wife says she likes it and those who are taking notes like it. Perhaps she can understand me better by seeing my outline???

    In any case, I do have a Bible in the pulpit, it is NASB, verse by verse, larger print… but I think I need a new prescription because I have to lift it closer to read it.

    Aging is a thing

    Maranatha!
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3



  4. Mark on November 12, 2019 at 6:47 pm

    Do you happen to know where the ESV Preaching Bible is made? I’ve read that the ESV Heirloom Single Column Legacy Bible has a Dutch binding, so I am curious about the ESV Preaching Bible as well.



  5. Mark Ward on November 12, 2019 at 11:21 pm

    I simply do not know. This exceeds my nerdiness level (though it doesn’t always—I have been following the Bible typography work of 2K/Denmark). Anybody know?

    I can find out if this is important!



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