Perhaps you are like me and have long felt like paying attention and retaining what you read is particularly hard when it comes to reading the Bible. I can’t count how many times I have finished reading a section of the Bible and wondered “What did I just read?” I think there a lot of reasons for this—not the least of which is that the Enemy does not want us to hear God’s word. The Scriptures are truth. They wash over us like cleansing water. The simple reality is that we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against powers and principalities. Rather than discourage us from reading the Bible, that should convince us all the more of just how important it is.
Having said that, I also believe that there are practical impediments to hearing and retaining what we read in our personal devotional times. Most modern Bibles are filled with various apparatus helps. There are study notes, cross references and verse numbers. None of these are original, but have been added to help us in our study of the Bible. Each can be helpful if used well. However, they also have liabilities. Because these are technically not a part of the Bible, when we are just reading, we know that we need to ignore them. So our minds subconsciously filter them out. However, that takes energy and comes at a cost. Perhaps the best analogy is attempting to carry on a conversation with someone in a loud room. In order to give your attention to the person speaking, you need to filter out all the background noise. You can do this, but after a while you notice that you are simply exhausted. That is because it takes energy to filter out everything that isn’t important in order to focus on that which is. That is what is taking place when you filter out section headings, study notes, cross references and, yes, verse numbers.
In recent years, in order to address this, there has been a growing interest in what are known as Reader’s Bibles. These are Bible that take out most or all of those distracting study apparatuses. They present the biblical text in simple, uncluttered paragraph format. Some include chapter markers so that you have some idea where you are at, others do not. While these are not helpful for group study or for bringing to worship, I have found them to be truly revolutionary for my personal reading. For the past few years I have been using Crossway’s Reader’s ESV. Their hardback edition is quite inexpensive and the Kindle edition is even less. They also have a True Tone edition that is quite attractive. A few weeks ago I received my copy of Bibliotheca, which is a four volume edition of the Bible. What sets Bibliotheca apart is that it uses nice thick paper, which makes reading more pleasant and removes “bleed-through” of the text. It also retains the Divine Name (YHWH) rather than the common use of LORD. I personally think this is quite helpful in reading the Bible. Finally, Bibliotheca uses the Hebrew order of the Bible, rather than the Greek order of the Old Testament. It uses a revised version of the ASV (American Standard Version), which is quite pleasant to read. While it is nicer in many ways than the ESV Reader’s Bible, it also costs more. If you would like a multi-volume edition that is similar, but uses the ESV text, Crossway has recently come out with a Hardback edition as well as a leather edition. They are nice, but cost more.
Over the past few years I have become a devoted user of Reader’s Bibles and I cannot recommend them highly enough. Not only have I noticed my retention going way up, but I have talked to numerous other people who have noticed the same benefits. I encourage you to do yourself a favor and get one. I don’t think you will be disappointed.