Emailer Larry sends along a link to a review of a UK edition of the ESV from 2003. The review provides a good, short overview of the ESV and its translation philosophy.
Reader Jim asks via email why most Bibles have two columns, unlike the single column of most other printed books. The answer has three parts: economics, readability, and history.
The Bible is a large book; most double-column ESVs run somewhere between 1,000 and 1,300 pages. Moving to a single column increases the page count 10% to 25%: less text fits on a page.
Double columns substantially reduce the space required for poetry because many lines of poetry fit on a single, shorter line; a single-column typesetting means a lot of empty space on a page filled with poetry. Poetry comprises about 25% of the Bible, so you can imagine the amount of space saved with two columns.
Fewer pages mean lower printing costs, lower manufacturing costs, and a more affordable Bible.
Most Bibles use ten-point or smaller type to minimize the page count. A single-column typesetting works out to 16-20 words per line, well above the 9-12 words per line recommended for optimal readability. Combine long lines with relatively small type and often-lengthy paragraphs, and you have a typesetting that presents unnecessary obstacles for both silent and public reading.
The Bible, in terms of heft, is comparable to printed reference works such as textbooks and dictionaries. Books that need to convey a lot of information in a limited number of pages will almost always employ two or more columns to use space more efficiently.
Take a look at our Celebrating the Printed Bible post. Both the Gutenberg Bible and the original King James Bible come in two-column typesettings.
The Gutenberg Bible “was expressly designed to look like a manuscript book produced in Northern Europe in the mid-fifteenth century…. Gutenberg’s set of type includes the same ligatures (linked letters) and special scribal abbreviations, designed to save space and speed copying, characteristic of medieval manuscripts” (cite).
In short, printed Bibles continued the ancient scribal tradition of using narrow columns and compact letterforms. Bible publishers maintain this tradition by typesetting Bibles in two columns. In turn, many Bible readers have come to expect Bibles in two-column, fully justified typesettings.
Given the above reasons, will there ever be a single-column edition of the ESV? Yes, there will definitely be one, and maybe sooner than you think. That’s all we can say for now. We might have less vague news for you in six months or so.
Crossway has announced that the ESV Daily Reading Bible will be available this fall. Here’s their description:
The Daily Reading Bible offers maximum flexibility and convenience for reading through the Bible in a year. Each date of the year, along with its respective reading, is listed chronologically in the margins. This guides the reader through a yearlong plan of reading the Old Testament once, the Psalms twice, and the New Testament twice. Because the actual text of the Bible is not rearranged, this edition can also be used for regular church, study, or personal devotional use. Included in the Bible is a removable reading calendar so that readings can be marked off as they are read. In this way, the Daily Reading Bible is an edition that can be used day after day and year after year.
- 9.5-point type
- Size: 5.5″ x 8.5″
- Words of Christ in black
- Two columns (same as Classic Thinline editions)
- Free CD-ROM request card included
- Not thumb-indexed
- Hardcover edition has three ribbon markers
We don’t have a full-page mockup available, but we can give you a hint of what the text looks like. It uses the thinline typesetting as a foundation.
Crossway will publish both a hardcover and paperback edition this fall. Learn more at their website.
Andy at Why He Died posts a short review of the ESV.
He lists as weaknesses the “literary beauty” of the ESV (which he sees as sometimes pretentious) and its relative dearth of resources (commentaries, etc.) compared to older translations.
He focuses on the ESV’s readability, trustworthiness, and heritage as its strong points.
The ESV’s “literary beauty,” including words like behold, comes largely from its Tyndale-King James heritage, which Andy lists as a strength. The ESV translators chose to use these words not for elitist reasons but in part because the English-speaking church has used them successfully for centuries.
In the end, he recommends the ESV: “I love the ESV. I hope everyone will start using it. And I hope they’ll cut out the pompous ‘literary beauty’ words.”
Jeff VanGoethem at East White Oak Bible Church tells why he plans to switch to the ESV in his “preaching and teaching:”
1. A Sound Philosophy of Translation. The ESV seeks to be as literal as possible in translating the original. It avoids wordy and interpretive translations like many of the other “thought- for-thought” translations.
2. A Sound Use of Original Manuscripts. The translators of the ESV took pains to use the best possible manuscript evidence in wrestling with the various textual traditions.
3. A Sound grasp of English Equivalents. This translation seeks to use the best, plain, modern English terms which grasp the doctrinal ideas and terms of the Bible. This protects the meaning of the Bible. It does not engage in “gender neutral” efforts. It does not try to be political[ly] correct. The English is just very clear and plain throughout the translation, reflective of the intent of the original. It is also very readable.
4. A Sound Bible for Reading and Studying. Because the word order is as close to the original as possible, one can read and study this Bible with the sense that the author’s words, purposes and style is preserved. It seeks to retain the grammatical markers and breaks of the original composition. It is therefore highly commended for studying and interpreting the Bible.
Via Jason Woolever (at Post-Methodist), who just made the switch (or possibly not) himself: “I have decided to make it ‘my Bible.’ If you are looking for a new Bible, I would recommend this version. It’s reliable, readable, and very close to the actual Greek and Hebrew.”