A podcast listener named Matt was one of several listeners who emailed us to ask about a new Bible trending online. Matt asks, “Pastor John, what are your thoughts about the new four-volume Bibliotheca Bible that costs $75? Do we need aesthetically and artistically pleasing Bibles? What are the benefits or drawbacks?”
I think the most important thing for me to say is that I love the Bible. Under God, it is the most precious possession that we have in the world — yes, even more precious than other people. And therefore, I support its distribution everywhere and by every means that preserves its accurate meaning and does not sin in the construction or the distribution of it. That is my overarching passion: yes, get the Bible into as many hands in this world as possible, in a faithful translation, in as many forms that will be helpful to people, and won’t undermine the meaning or the truth of the Bible.
Fresh Encounter with Scripture
Now this project, Bibliotheca Bible, is a project to put the Bible into four volumes, with no verse or chapter numbers, on beautiful paper, in beautiful bindings, with the ASV, the American Standard Version translation, which was published in 1901, and is characterized, everybody knows, by a very formal literalism. I say literalism because it is pretty wooden. It is going to have the thees and thous taken out with the corresponding verbs updated. The copyright has expired on that text, so it is in the public domain, which is what makes this project financially feasible, I presume.
And the aim, as I understand it after watching the video that has been made available, is to make a version of the Bible — a form, a packaging of the Bible — that is “elegant, simple and pure” and to enable readers to read it “with a fresh set of eyes” and to “experience it anew.” Now I pray that will happen. I think that is a laudable goal: to want a fresh set of eyes to be created by a fresh presentation.
The reason I don’t protest the expense of the Bible is because, as far as I can tell, there is no intent on the part of the publisher to make this normative, as if to say that this is the way all Bibles should be: $75 and in beautiful bindings. I don’t think that is the mindset at all. The publishers aren’t saying, as far as I know, that all Bibles should be printed this way and be this expensive. And of course, it is nothing new, right? I own a $200 Bible with a lambskin cover because it was given to me. I mean, there are Bibles of every price imaginable, ranging from fifty cents to hundreds and hundreds of dollars, based largely on the nature of the cover and the binding and mass production and all that. So I am happy to have the Bible available in another format with enough formatting differences to draw people into it in a fresh encounter with the word of God.
Six Reasons We Need Traditional Bible Formats
“Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). You can’t bind the word of God. It is running free and doing its work wherever you faithfully present it. But it might be helpful to hear just a few reasons why I think this Bible won’t replace traditional Bible formats. I mean, for all the good things you can say about taking out verse divisions and chapter divisions for the sake of freshness, there are some really good reasons why this will not do away with — and should not do away with — our traditional Bibles printed with verse divisions and chapter divisions. So here are several reasons.
1. We love to share our discoveries.
We love to share our discoveries, and the greater the discoveries are, the more we want to share them. And verses make it possible for us to share something we saw because we can tell people, “It is at chapter such and such and verse such and such.” And they could just find it and share it.
2. We need to find our way around for serious study.
We love to study our Bibles and see what the Bible says about all kinds of topics, and how one part of the Bible sheds light on another part of the Bible. Which means that we need to find our way around in five or ten or twenty places in the Bible that speak about something. And it is very hard to do that if you can’t jump around with the help of verses and chapters.
3. We need to find context to aid memorization.
We love to memorize precious sentences in the Bible, but we know the danger of taking them out of context. With verse and chapter divisions, we can find our way right back to the context where we are learning and see what it says in the surrounding verses.
4. We need to be on the same page in groups.
We love to teach groups of people what the Bible says, and in a group, it is very helpful to direct all the eyes to the same place, and we can do that way more easily if we can point to verse such and such and chapter such and such.
5. We need to consider economy, not just beauty.
This is a comment about the beauty aspect of the Bibliotheca Bible. I love beauty. However, we are not only citizens of this world who savor the beauty around us, including book bindings and layouts. I am reading a book right now about George Herbert. And it is simply beautiful. The paper is beautiful. The cover is beautiful. The writing is beautiful. I love just holding the book. So I resonate with what’s behind this. We are that kind of human being. We are not animals. We love beauty, and the Bible ought to be at times presented in that kind of way.
But we are also pilgrims who are aliens here and who travel lightly on their way to heaven and are striving to get the Bible — its message and its truth — into as many hands as we can, which means simplicity and economy become, in some contexts at least, just as important as elegance. A bible that costs $1 — and there are Bibles that cost $1 — can be put in the hands of many people more easily than a Bible that costs $75. And so that pilgrim principle, I think, drives us to economy, as well as beauty in different settings.
6. We need readable translations.
The ASV will never replace the more readable contemporary versions. It is literal, and I love that. But it is also wooden, and, in some places, so structurally foreign to our way of writing that there are greater barriers than these and thous that people are going to run into.
So the last thing I would say is: God bless the project. God bless it, and may thousands of people not just encounter the text in a fresh way, but may God himself make his way through this new version into people’s lives.