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A Brief History of the Bible Verse (and Why We Developed the ESV Reader's Bible)

ANORIGINALNEWTESTAMENTMANUSCRIPTLOOKEDLIKETHIS—virtually no headings, chapter numbers, verse numbers, footnotes, spaces, or punctuation. Old Testament manuscripts in Hebrew had a similar structure, and even lacked vowels originally. Each book of Scripture was therefore viewed as a unified whole and often read that way. Ezra read the Law of Moses to a gathering of God’s people from early morning until midday (Neh. 8:3). First-century churches commonly read aloud an entire letter from Peter or John or Paul when assembled together for worship.

Structural components like headings, verse numbers, and footnotes were eventually added for ease of reading and navigation. They serve an important purpose and have become what we expect in every Bible, yet none of them played a role in the original documents included in the Bible.

A dilemma caused by these structural components is that they can hinder us from reading large portions of Scripture without interruption. The result is that we miss out on the flow of the argument, the arc of the story, and the broader context of individual verses.

To counter this challenge, the design of the ESV Reader’s Bible invites us to read the Bible as it was originally written. Its streamlined structure sweeps readers into the flow of the biblical text with as little distraction as possible. There are no headings, verse numbers, or footnotes. Small red numbers in the margins subtly denote chapter breaks.

This design is ancient in its similarity to the original manuscripts, yet familiar in its resemblance to the modern novel. So we hope readers are drawn into the most incredible Story–the Story of God’s redemption of humanity and all of creation through the death and resurrection of his Son.

For more insight into the project, watch the video above or read these reviews from J. Mark Bertrand and Mark Ward.

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