[This is a guest post by Mark Ward, who received his Ph.D. in New Testament from Bob Jones University Seminary in 2012 and serves as part of the Bible Integration Team at BJU Press. Mark also has a ministry providing churches with beautiful and affordable websites.]
“New” in American culture means “good,” or at least “better.” It’s a moniker marketers never tire of using, because it works—and as long as it does, Tide detergent will reliably produce “new” formulations every so often.
But “new” is relative. The four brand new books I advertised in my title are startlingly new, but in at least two senses, they’re also quite old.
It’s time you were jolted typographically awake by four very new books rooted in very old traditions. I’m speaking of Bibliotheca, a Kickstarter (“crowdfunded“) project to produce a four-volume printing of the Bible in an innovative old way.
Designer Adam Greene, a young man steeped in the history of typography, is the force behind the project. The best way to communicate to you what’s new and old about his work is to show it to you.
First the outside:
Now the inside:
What do you see in this Bible? Or, rather, what do you not see?
You don’t see all the accoutrements you’ve come to view as normal, standard in a printing of the Bible. That’s what’s so new about Greene’s project.
And that’s what’s so old—you see, we all have historical myopia when it comes to Bible editions. We are accustomed to a two-column format in which every verse is a separate paragraph and in which each page is packed with verse numbers and multiple systems of superscript footnoting1 and2 cross-referencing.a b We forget, however, that things were not always so. Verse numbers are a comparatively recent addition to the Bible text. If the Bible were a 65-year-old man, verse numbers were added when he was 56 ½. They’ve been around for about a tenth of the Bible’s history.
What does the standard two-column layout do to meaning? Arguably, it does something very bad: it not-so-subtly leads readers to view the “verse,” whatever that is, as the fundamental unit of Bible statement. (Whenever they’re not viewing the word that way—see Barr quote here.) Making every verse a paragraph is an invitation to atomistic exegesis. It doesn’t help you read with sensitivity to the context.
You simply must try reading a Bible with no chapter and verse numbers at all. It is a beautiful and helpful experience—if initially jarring. I began creating this experience for myself using a Microsoft Word macro about ten years ago. And, providentially, a slow trickle of Bible editions began coming out which made that experience available in codex form. My favorite of the lot is the also-new ESV Reader’s Bible from Crossway (the ESV website also has this functionality), but the Bibliotheca project is even better—it just uses a translation I’m less excited about, the 1901 ASV. (And it would cost me 15 months of my recently reduced book budget…=)
If you’re not sold yet, watch the video. It’s brand new!