‘ESV Reader’s Bible, Six-Volume Set’: A Conversation with the Creators
The Word of God, an Immeasurable Gift
The Reader's Bible, Six-Volume Edition was created with a deep conviction that the Word of God is an immeasurable gift, meant to be savored. Each detail of the production process was thoughtfully considered by Crossway's Bible Production team, as outlined here in an interview with four key figures involved in the edition's creation.
Where did the idea for this Bible originate?
Don Jones (Vice President of Bible Publishing): The Reader's Bible, Six-Volume Set is the culmination of much of the design, typesetting, and production work that we have been doing for the past several years.
In 2014, we published the Reader’s Bible—a one-volume Bible without verse numbers, cross-references, and footnotes. In the same year we also released The Psalms—a high-quality edition produced in a novel-like format, with book-quality paper, generous margins, and a beautiful, highly readable font. The Reader's Bible, Six-Volume Set combines the simplicity of the Reader’s Bible layout with the book-like production quality of The Psalms. For many years we have been pursuing improved readability, simplicity, and beauty. The Reader's Bible, Six-Volume Set is a culmination of that trajectory.
What are some common obstacles you think readers encounter when reading God's Word? How do you see the ESV Reader's Bible, Six-Volume Set helping people overcome of those obstacles?
Don Jones: The English Bible contains over 750,000 words. That’s a huge amount of content to fit within one volume. Because of this, producing a Bible in a beautiful and readable format is extremely difficult.
Generally, Bible publishers are forced to prioritize design efficiency: compact fonts, tight margins, close line spacing, etc. The Reader's Bible, Six-Volume Set overcomes these obstacles by breaking the Bible into multiple volumes. This gives the text space to breath and allows it be formatted like a beautifully produced novel, with generous margins, ample line spacing, an elegant font, and high-quality book paper.
If it's true that the structure of a page tells us how to read, what kind of reading experience were you looking to create by removing headings along with verse and chapter numbers in this Bible?
Don Jones: We were aiming to create an inviting, calming, distraction-free reading experience. We’ve removed all possible distractions in order to encourage readers to become immersed in the storyline of the Bible.
Our hope is that readers will slow down and read the Bible in longer portions. All of our design and production decisions—including the decision to remove headings and numbers—revolved around the goal of facilitating clutter-free, immersive interaction with God’s Word.
What was the hardest thing about creating this Bible?
Brian Martin (Bible Production Manager): The hardest part of creating this Bible came in slowly sorting through the myriad of options during each part of the production process. We wanted the Bible to feel good in your hands, to open easily and have the pages turn well. We wanted readers to be drawn into its contents, and there were dozens of decisions we had to make in order to accomplish that.
We had to consider typesetting—weighing the options related to the page structure, font, leading, margins, colors, and headings. We had to choose the right physical materials from various cloths, leathers, papers, endsheets, hubs, foils, ribbons, and slipcases. We then had to select a printer, considering quality, price, trust, and schedule. We also had to work on a design for the spine, slipcase, cartons, and supplemental materials. Lastly, we had to make manufacturing decisions, including trim size, binding, glue, and ink.
How did you choose a specific typeface for this edition? What were the characteristics you were looking for?
AJ Penney (Bible Typesetting Manager): Trinité was a natural fit for this project. Designed by the same world-class type designer that developed Lexicon (Crossway’s go-to Bible font), Trinité has an elegant, human feel and is designed to maximize the visual harmony and readability of the typeset page. It's a longtime favorite for some of us in the office, but its flourishes do not perform as well in the cramped conditions of a normal Bible typesetting. When we pitched the idea of a Bible typeset like a normal book, Trinité was our first choice.
How did you choose L.E.G.O. as the exclusive printer for this edition? What did they bring to the table?
Don Jones: L.E.G.O is a family owned, world-class printer that has been in business for over 100 years. Over the decades, they have honed their craft to near perfection. In addition to high-quality manufacturing, L.E.G.O. is excellent at staying on top of the many details of complex projects as well as hitting established deadlines.
What's one thing that Bible readers might not realize about what it takes to produce an edition like the ESV Reader's Bible, Six-Volume Set?
Don Jones: People might be surprised to discover how much thought and care is required for each individual production decision. For example, Crossway’s Director of Design produced 70 variations of the cover spine layout before settling on the final design. As another example, our production team spent time at a local library reviewing high-quality novels in order to determine the ideal tooth (i.e., texture) for the paper. We wanted the paper to be attractive and opaque, but we also wanted it to feel nice to the touch.
AJ Penney: One of the design decisions that may be confusing to some readers is the addition of the thematic section headers interspersed throughout the edition. The original concept of the project was to remove all of the usual clutter of the typical Bible page and create as undistracted a reading experience as possible.
While it might seem odd to then add in new section breaks, these have been specifically chosen to help place the reader in the larger narrative structure of each book. Instead of requiring you to navigate the entire book of Jeremiah without any signposts, there are a number of headings dividing up the book to help the reader understand how each section fits into the broader literary context. For the New Testament epistles and other shorter books that can easily be read end to end, there are no breaks.
What are some different ways you could see people using this edition?
Dane Ortlund (Executive Vice President of Bible Publishing and Bible Publisher): The presentation encourages deep reading of long portions of Scripture, so reading the Bible in less than a year could be done fairly easily. One fruitful approach would be to attempt to read one Bible book a day, breaking up the longer books into several days as needed. That way the reader absorbs that book as it was meant to be read, and sees connections and resonances that become difficult to discern when reading the Bible a few verses at a time.
The Bible is not meant merely to be “applied to my life.” It is meant to become the new mental universe in which we live and move and think throughout the day. Only deep reading—the absorption of Scripture at length—accomplishes this. This edition uniquely facilitates that process.
What is the purpose of the six-volume Reader’s edition? What is it trying to do?
Dane Ortlund: At Crossway, we love the Word of God. Second only to the Word incarnate, the Word inscripturated is God’s greatest earthly gift to the world. The Bible is a message of beauty and of grace, of sinful humanity becoming redignified, regaining their lost glory (Rom. 3:23; 8:30).
Our question, then, was what kind of Bible edition could we prepare at Crossway for the church that would reflect that? How can we publish the Bible in a way that immediately reflects the elegance and beauty of its contents? We wanted this edition's very presentation to communicate something of the Bible's riches.