I've spent a lot of time with reader's texts, and I even helped publish one. I wanted to share the journey and what I think about this way of reading.
In the Beginning
My journey began in 2008, when the first edition of the UBS Greek New Testament Reader's Edition was hot off the the press. I loved it because it's typographically easy on the eyes — so much better than the Zondervan edition available at the time — and it also includes parsing information for more difficult forms. The parsing information allowed me to stay in the text; it eliminated the need to open a computer program to check the parsing of irregular forms. I was one year into Greek and could not wait to start reading.
Reading through the UBS GNT laid a solid foundation of vocabulary knowledge that made reading the text more enjoyable and beneficial. I've never done this for the Hebrew Bible, and sometimes I wonder if this might be why I am drawn to reading Greek so much more than Hebrew.
Zondervan released individually bound reader’s texts, as well. In fact, they got the ball rolling. The first edtion of their Reader’s Greek New Testament was incredibly thin and portable. I didn’t begin using it until it was released in a second corrected edition; it’s now in a third.
I bought Zondervan’s Reader’s Hebrew Bible shortly after it was released in 2008 and used it some, but I never really liked it. The font is too large, the word spacing seems weird, and there is no parsing help.
After the UBS Greek New Testament, the next edition I spent significant time with was Zondervan's Reader's Hebrew and Greek Bible. For several months this was my go-to text. Unfortunately, the GNT has typography issues, too, and when you bind both of these together the issues are even more pronounced. The Greek is too small and light, while the Hebrew is too big and very bold. It is so convenient, though, to have a reader’s GNT and Hebrew Bible bound together that I was willing to overlook the poor formatting. This is the Bible I would take to church, and no matter what the sermon was on, I had a text ready to roll.
I gave away both individually bound Zondervan volumes — the Reader’s Greek New Testament and the Reader’s Hebrew Bible — but I still occasionally use the Reader’s Hebrew and Greek Bible.
I also ocassionally use the third edition of the Reader’s Greek New Testament for a few reasons. The third edition is as slim as ever, and the font has been updated to the Zondervan Greek font you find in their most recent publications. In our Greek 3 NT Readings class at HLS, we use the Zondervan’s third edition and this 2011 edition of the UBS Greek New Testament Reader’s Edition, which we bought really cheap shortly after the UBS5 reader’s text was released.
In 2014 and 2015 Hendrickson and the Bible Society released Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia A Reader's Edition and the UBS5 Greek New Testament Reader's Edition. Both are beautiful. The black Flexisoft versions look and feel very similar.
The GNT is updated in at least four ways:
- The text is updated from UBS4 to UBS5, changing in 33 places.
- The dictionary in the back has been updated to reflect the 2010 version of Barclay Newman's Concise Dictionary of the New Testament.
- The cover has a soft back leather-like feel.
- The font is a bit more clearly rendered.
The BHS Reader's Edition is a first edtion, and it is remarkably better than the Zondervan version in several ways:
- The font is SBL Hebrew.
- The text is laid out in a more natural way.
- The footnotes include a concise parsing code.
- All Hebrew verb paradigms, strong and weak, are listed in the back just before the dictionary of more common forms.
- The pages are thick, like the UBS5 GNT, which means there is hardly any bleed through. The pages are a pleasure to flip through.
The parsing code comes with a learning curve, but it didn't take but a day or two to get the hang of it.
I use these reader's editions from time to time and love them. Just this evening, I was letting my kiddos run in the back yard before bedtime. I couldn't go into a full blown text-lexicon-notebook type reading mode. That would have required more focus than I could give. Had to keep an eye on my little trampoline-bouncing acrobats. I was, however, able to comfortably read through a chapter of Genesis with just the BHS Reader’s Edition, even while refereeing various disputes and tragedies such as the time when Peppa Pig was trapped under the car. I could sit with one book in my lap, be immersed in the text, and glance down to the bottom of the page for whatever vocab or parsing I wanted to check.
Benefit at Your Own Risk
Reader's texts aren't for every situation. You can catch some serious judgment if you're caught with one of these things in certain academic environments. Some think that everyone toting a reader's text is a cheater, a lazy person who doesn’t have what it takes to really learn the languages.
I emphatically disagree. I know how much it helped me to read through the GNT for the first time with a reader’s text, and I know that I don’t lean on these things as crutches. I have notebook upon notebook, physical and digital, full of voab and grammar notes that testify to my willingness to “do it the hard way.” But as I described above, there are times when a reader’s text is just helpful given your circumstances. Sometime you just want to sit down and read. The name of this type of Bible is quite fitting — reader’s.
This judgment issue is part of the reason I’m writing these posts on different ways of reading. I’m stuck at a bit of a crossroads concerning how to move forward so I’m writing about it. I’ll continue to read in all the ways I describe. Maybe I’ll settle in to one way for a year, but experience tells me that it won’t last forever.
Read however the mood strikes you. Just read.