For many students of the Bible, learning the Bible languages is an unfortunate trial on the way to a degree. But a few of us take seriously Luther’s claim that
“we shall not long preserve the Gospel without languages. Languages are the sheath in which this sword of the Spirit is contained. They are the case in which we carry this jewel. They are the vessel in which we hold this wine. They are the larder in which this food is stored. And, as the Gospel itself says, they are the baskets in which we bear these loaves and fishes and fragments.”1
Yet, once it is conceded that learning Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic is important, the task of doing so is a weighty one. Thankfully, God has provided many top-notch resources for language students to use in their learning. One of the pre-eminent tools, especially for vocabulary acquisition, is a “Reader’s Bible.” A reader’s bible provides the original language text with footnotes explaining rare vocabulary and sometimes parsing data on difficult words. A reader’s Bible is a tremendous resource for the student of the Languages to move from translating to actually reading the languages. There are many options to choose from now, yet not all are created equal. In this review, I want to consider the reader’s Bibles I have used. We will consider Hebrew Bibles, Greek Bibles, and complete Reader’s Bibles. All these Bibles include a lexicon at the back with glosses for words that are not glossed in the footnotes.
Hebrew Reader’s Bible (HRB)
Zondervan’s A Reader’s Hebrew Bible
The first HRB I used was published by Zondervan. At 46 USD, it is quite expensive. It is based on the MT text as found in the Leningrad Codex, printed in Imitation leather (Italian duo-tone). It is more attractive than a hardcover book, yet the quality of the binding feels quite cheap. The paper is very thin, and the font is a dark black, juxtaposing harshly with the bright white of the paper. The glosses themselves are helpful and plentiful, providing footnotes on all words appearing 100 times or less (25 or less for Aramaic) and shading proper names that appear 100 times or less. It also has a table at the back comparing the printed text to the BHS. Overall it is not a bad work, though 46 USD is a steep price given its quality.
BHS Reader’s Edition
I have been aware of the BHS Reader’s Edition hardcover for some time, having recommended it to students during my time as a Hebrew TA at Regent College. Only recently have I started using the imitation leather edition published by Hendrickson. I have only read a couple of books so far, but I am very pleased with this edition.
The paper is a thick cream, with an attractive Hebrew text. The text is broken into paragraphs for narrative and prose and into lines for the poetic text. The imitation leather is firm, and the binding appears durable. This is book is much large than Zondervan’s, but it pays off in its quality. The glosses are also high quality, though it uses a coded system for parsing that takes some getting used to (an insert is provided that gives the key to this system). The leather edition is pricier than Zondervan’s, at $57 USD, but I think the quality of this work is deserving of the price tag. Hendrickson also offers a cheaper hardcover edition ($45 USD).
Greek Reader’s Bible (GRB)
Reader’s Greek New Testament (Zondervan)
Similar to the Hebrew version, the Zondervan GRB is made from imitation leather with a cheap binding—though you would not notice on this book, for it is so thin. The paper is thin, white bible paper with a dark black text. The font here is also not that attractive, so the overall reading experience is subpar. The textual basis is the Greek text behind the NIV, though the UBS text is given in footnotes, which gives this edition some independent value beyond its value as a reader’s Bible. Every word occurring less than 30 times is included. At $29 USD, it is not a bad value.
The Greek New Testament, Reader’s Edition (Crossway)
This is the newest Reader’s Greek Bible, based on the new Tyndale Greek New Testament. It comes in both hardcover and leather-bound (several options here). The Top Grain Leather version I purchased from Crossway is of superb quality. The font is attractive, on cream paper. This edition is ordered differently than regular Greek New Testaments, with the catholic epistles coming before Paul’s epistles. The glosses in the footnotes have proved helpful so far. This edition of the GNT also follows the most ancient manuscripts in paragraph breaks and punctuation, providing a helpful tool in study (the way it indents paragraphs also follows the convention of some Greek manuscripts, printing the first line flush with the margin and indenting the rest of the paragraph). So far, I have been very pleased with the printing quality and reading experience of this Reader’s Bible. The leather version is quite expensive (133 USD), but the hardcover is more affordable.
The UBS Greek New Testament, Reader’s Edition (Crossway, United Bible Society)
Crossway has discontinued their version of this Bible, though if you can still find it, it is a great buy. Crossway’s leather-bound UBS Greek New Testament is made from a firm, high-quality leather with cream paper and attractive font. It also has limited textual notes that increase the value of this work. The Hardcover is still available, published by the German Bible Society ($36 USD). The notes are high quality, though I observed a couple dozen instances where definitions were missing and a couple of other footnote errors when I read through this one.
Hebrew & Greek Reader’s Bible
Zondervan is the only publisher so far to publish a combined Old and New Testament original language Bible. For this reason, this is a great book. However, it shares in all the weaknesses of the individual Zondervan Greek & Hebrew Bibles. It has the same glosses, textual basis, paper, and fonts of those two. The cover is claimed to be real leather but is tough and cheap feeling (some websites identify it as imitation leather). The binding on my first one fell apart after regular use. At $63 USD (91 CAD), it is a good value compared to any two of the other reader Bible’s; yet given its quality, this is a steep price to pay.
1From Luther’s letter, “To the Councilmen of All Cities in Germany, 1524”