Saturday, April 3, 2010

ESV Pew Bible: Highlighting and "Connecting the Dots"

My newest Bible reading project started when the English Standard Version Pew and Worship Bible I ordered arrived in the mail. This cheap hardcover Bible far exceeded my expectations.

I chose the ESV pew Bible because I already had a project in mind. For a year or two now I have been highlighting my Bible with multiple colors, each keyed to a different topic. Pew Bibles have thicker pages, which allows less bleed through when highlighting and writing. This Bible cost between $10 and $15, but still has a quality binding, lovely text block and attractive cover.

Contrary to notebooks etc. thick Bible paper is much cheaper than thin paper. Though for most of my purposes thick paper is preferable due to the amount of writing and highlighting I like to inflict upon the pages.  The text block of the pew Bible is paragraphed with double columns, and allows some margin space at the bottom for brief notes, when the translation notes don't interfere. The spine, though glued, seems quite durable and shows no sign of buckling, and it allows the Bible to lay flat on a table, always important. My only disappointment is the lack of concordance, which makes this Bible less than ideal for study and reference work, but with Biblegateway on the web, I shouldn't be lost for long.

The ESV is without a doubt my favorite modern translation and may be my favorite translation of the Hebrew or Old Testament. I lean towards more literal, word for word translations and the ESV's connection to the King James is attractive to me. It is also apparent that Crossway (the ESV's publisher) has made a number of good publishing decisions and continues to produce quality editions. Many of my Bible projects involve the ESV, the chart below from Evangelical Bible shows the ESV's place amongst the translations.

You can find out more about the ESV at

This specific project involves highlighting individual verses according to Holiness, Prayer/Intercession, Humility/Weakness, Love and Special Interest, as well as underlining and connecting key words, phrases or concepts.

As you can see the beginning of the Gospel of John has been highlighted in blue because I consider it one of the most powerful and beautiful passages in all of scripture. Verse 5 "The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not over come it," is surrounded in orange because the verse continues a dichotomy between light and darkness that began with God's creation of light in Genesis 1. Genesis 1:4 states, "And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness." This separation immediately reveals the holiness of God and His continuing action, which separates light from darkness not only in the physical sense but also in our lives as He separates us from Spiritual darkness and brings us into the light. Our Father separates us from the darkness of sin and the world to make us a unique, peculiar and holy people set apart for Him.

As you can see, I have also used a small plastic ruler to under line and box in the word "light," connecting the phrases through the passage and tracing the image through the text because I am also using this project to trace the dichotomy and separation of light and darkness and its relation to the gospel message.

Now, some of you Bible aficionados may be enraged, as you see how I have disgraced the page with wet highlighters and a cruel ballpoint pen, and I admit that I showed little mercy in applying my classifications to the page, but let's take a look at the back of this page and see exactly what damage was done.

That's right, the underlining is virtually invisible from the back of the page and the highlighter barely gives a colored shadow to the text. How did this miracle happen? I insist I used nothing but ordinary Bic Brite Liners and a Bic Round Stic ballpoint pen. The pages are just that good, and with a gentle touch, this Bible is not ruined, wrinkled or damaged in any way. And if you think my method is ugly take a look at the comparison to my Amplified Bible (which I have read and highlighted cover-to-cover and will probably be an upcoming post.)

Highlighting creates a colorful, perhaps gaudy text reminiscent of the Rainbow Bibles that are sometimes sold. My method is very much like creating your own Rainbow Bible. The act of identifying and classifying certain passages with themes and topics engages your analytical brain. Trust me, you'll find yourself realizing things about passages you never did before, such as how Phinehas's execution of the fornicators in Numbers 25 actually relates to intercession.

All you need for this project is a Bible (preferably a pew Bible or a cheap version with thick pages) five color highlighters a pen and a small plastic ruler. This project simply consists of reading the entire Bible cover to cover with those five concepts in mind, stopping along the way to underline, connect words and phrases and perhaps jot notes regarding new insights. This helps trace subjects through the Bible and give a holistic sense of a concept like holiness.

I originally started this project to focus on humility. "God opposes the proud but gives graces to the humble" (Prov 3:34 and James 4:6). Humility is the key to recieving grace, only the weak and humble will find Christ's grace truly sufficient in all areas of their lives. I found myself surrounded by failure and besetting sin, until I began to truly humble myself before the Lord. I continue to humble myself and confess my weakness daily, and I hope to keep humility in focus as I study the Word.


  1. Jonathan,

    Fantastic post! After a few years of very little marking in my Bibles, you've given me the courage to get back to underlining and yes, highlighting.

    I own the newest ESV Pew Bible (with the Lexicon typeface, not the older Berkeley typeface) and agree with you 100% about the paper quality. It's a shame Crossway couldn't use THIS thick paper in ALL their editions. ;)

    By the way, keep up the insightful posts. VERY interesting to us lovers of the exterior and interior of Bibles.

  2. Thank you Jonathan, I have been blessed today to learn a better way to read and study my Bible and to use Scripture to pray. Thank you very much for sharing your blessings. Shalom.

  3. Hi Jonathan. Highlighting is an awesome idea. I did that to one of my bibles according to various topics like you did. I believe this is great for when you want to review certain subjects and add to them.

    Unfortunately, I lost that bible. :( Oh well, I am believing that someone benefitted from it. Thank you for encouraging others on this method of study.



  4. love your ruler :) i HAVE to mark in my Bibles, it helps me engage the text. and after years of doing this is still surprises me that i saw something years before that didn't come to mind the next time i read it, so it's priceless for study!