Bibliotheca: A Bible to Read

bibliotheca

Despite the two-toned death knell that has been repeatedly sounded against reading in general and the Bible specifically, both have once again proven their resilience. From technological prophets like Steve Jobs, who said people don’t read anymore, to intellectual belligerents like Voltaire, who claimed in the 1700s that “100 years from today the Bible will be a forgotten book”, naysayers of all types have had to eat their words. And despite any temporary trends, reading, like art, will always remain of fundamental importance to humanity—both in its communicative primacy and its imaginative potency. The Bible too, for even greater reasons of universal significance—meaning, truth, values, salvation.

Over at Kickstarter, an unlikely project that combines the two—a project to produce a Bible designed and crafted around the reading experience—has just garnered over a million dollars of support.

A Bible to read?

A million dollar response?

Is all this a little silly? Over 14,000 people pledging over a million dollars to have the already most read, most published, and most translated book in the world made anew?

BIBLIOTHECA

Adam Lewis Greene, the creator of BIBLIOTHECA, believes that although the Bible may be read, it does not read well in its most common production format. Thin pages crowded with small text and dense blocks of information—a Bible can sometimes feel more like an urban metropolis than an expansive countryside. Too many signs, too much bustling cognitive traffic can stifle the act of exploration and discovery or fragmentize our sense of place as a whole.

And of course, to be balanced in our reading of the Bible we need BOTH. We need to spend time in the city, where others before us have built up magnificent structures of thought and insight. But we also need to spend time in the countryside, where before us there is nothing but open fields and a “dark thicket”[1] waiting to be explored. In the preface to his first edition of The Epistle to the Romans, Barth said that it was “written with a joyful sense of discovery.”[2] Modern American readers must bring that sense with them to the Bible.

We need a Bible with footnotes, cross-references, and outlines. But we also need a Bible with white space, aesthetic value, and uncluttered text.

Watchman Nee advocated this approach of using two Bibles, one for reading and one for studying.

It is best to have two Bibles… In one of them we can put marks and notes. The other should be left unmarked. By reading an unmarked Bible, we will not be affected by our previous readings, and every time we read a passage, it will be like reading it for the first time… For our daily spiritual nourishment, we can use the unmarked Bible. For research, we can use the marked Bible.[3]

A Bible designed for this type of reading may help.

Greene explains:

Book design is something that we don’t often think about. The book is actually doing work to eliminate distractions for the reader. And it’s doing its best to present the content in a way that’s beautiful, inviting, and makes the story the center of the reader’s experience.

Why is it that people love stories so much and yet they view reading the biblical literature as a chore? …Could it be that the encyclopedic nature of our contemporary Bibles is what’s driving this idea that the biblical literature is dry and boring?[4]

A Bible without Chapters or Verses

Greene wants to reconnect readers with the dramatic, moving, and engaging story of the Bible.

To this end he has stripped away even the most rudimentary analytical devices present in modern Bibles—chapters and verses. Although BIBLIOTHECA will be the first version I know of to fully do away with these conventions, it is by no means the pioneer in this approach.

Two notable versions that have minimized their presence are:

  1. Wuest’s The New Testament: An Expanded Translation, 1961
  2. Peterson’s The Message, 2002

Wuest’s version is really the forerunner here (as far as I know). Although he does supply chapter and verse numbers, they don’t punctuate the text at all. Verse numbers are pulled into the margins and chapter numbers are indicated only in the top corners of the page. The text itself is presented in paragraphs designed to “group together the larger units of thought.”[5] The Message, in its current version, adopts a similar approach—verse numbers appear in the margins but chapter divisions break up the text.

Both versions, however, leave room for improvement.

First off, Wuest’s format is not that readable. His paragraphs do not include line breaks or punctuation marks for dialogue, and there is hardly any visual beauty to the page. Second, Wuest only translated the New Testament, leaving out the part that is best read as story. Third, both versions are not standard translations. Wuest’s is an expanded translation, somewhat similar to the Amplified version (although I think Wuest’s is better in that regard), and Peterson’s is a paraphrase.

Even though Wuest breaks up his text similar to Greene’s, his intention is not readability; it is to “bring out the richness, force, and clarity of the Greek text.”[6] So Wuest really wants to zoom in on the text. Even though Peterson wants readers to be freshly enthralled by the story of the Bible, he rewords that story too liberally. Peterson really wants to zoom out on the grand narrative of Scripture, but he often sacrifices the integrity of the text when telling that drama.

BIBLIOTHECA seems like a good fit to fill this gap. It has all the potential to be visually attractive so that reading is pleasurable and experiencing the story afresh is easy, AND it renders the text in the ASV to preserve the integrity of the story and yet also capture the grand language of classic literature.


 

1. Augustine, Confessions, 12.28.38
2. Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans, p. 2
3. Watchman Nee, CWWN 54:98
4. http://vimeo.com/99418117
5. Kenneth Wuest, The New Testament: An Expanded Translation, p. xvi
6. Kenneth Wuest, The New Testament: An Expanded Translation, p. vii

Related Articles:
  1. The Bible’s a Mess, but a Designer is Fixing It

Conversant Faith

For the last two months I’ve taken a break from blogging. I pulled the whole thing down, let it go dark, and spent sometime to reflect on what I’m trying to accomplish in my writing. I’ve always heard that those who believe in the God of resurrection shouldn’t be afraid to let things fall into the ground and die. In fact, Jesus invites us to follow Him precisely there (John 12:24-26). I don’t want to be overly dramatic but these last 2 months were somewhat an experiment in burial. During this time I had some good conversations with the Lord and also some affirming conversations with some brothers in the Lord whom I respect. All in all, I’m happy it happened, but I’m also happy to be back.

What’s in a Name?

I’ve changed my blog’s name from “life and building” to “conversant faith”, and despite being a little harder to say, I think it better captures what my blog is about.

Let me explain.

Conversant means:

  1. familiar or knowledgeable, as by study or experience: conversant with medieval history
  2. able to converse knowledgeably
  3. Archaic. having regular or frequent conversation

So conversant basically has the twofold sense of familiar with and able to talk about. There is an underlying thought with both definitions. The word “conversant” derives from the Latin word conversari,  which means “to live with, keep company with,” literally “turn about with,” from Latin con- “with” + versare, frequentative of vertere- “to turn”. It has the same Latin root as convert.

With this short and basic etymology let me list a few things that I’m intending “conversant faith” to mean.

1. A conversant faith is a faith that is familiar to and intimately known by the one who believes

We need to become thoroughly familiar with the object of our faith by turning to it (Him) again and again. This happens concretely in the pages of the Bible where we encounter the living Word of God and are converted afresh as we become familiar with His voice.

Diligent and consistent reading creates familiarity with the world of the Bible… We cannot venture into the Bible as tourists; we must become inhabitants of the land. We need to retrace our steps, stop and reflect at each site in order to explore it in depth. To become part of this world we must enter it, immerse ourselves in it in order to be absorbed by it.[1]

—Mariano Magrassi

The more I explore the Bible and become familiar with the content of the faith, the more I echo Augustine:

What wonderful profundity there is in your utterances! The surface meaning lies open before us and charms beginners. Yet the depth is amazing, my God, the depth is amazing.[2]

This blog attempts to bring out the amazing depths of God’s word and to help others become inhabitants of the land. The Lord Himself commands us to rise up and walk through the land (Gen. 13:17; Josh 1:3) in order to possess it.

2. A conversant faith is a faith that is able to speak knowledgeably

One of the greatest tragedies of American Christianity is that though many people believe, many believers are mute. Faith has made it to their heart, but not to their mouth. God moves by speaking, God works through our words, and God builds the church through our prophesying. However, many Christians can’t speak much more than “Jesus loves us and we should love others”. Some don’t think there is a need to speak, because, hey, that’s what pastors are for. And some are afraid to speak or hesitant to speak, because they relegate faith to the private sphere of life—it isn’t PC to speak of matters of belief. Where these conditions prevail, Barth was afraid that the church would become “the fellowship of the quiet” or worse, “a community of dumb dogs”.[3]

The more we become conversant (familiar) with the faith, both in its objective content and its subjective experience, the more we will desire to become conversant (able to talk knowledgeably) in the faith.

Both the Old Testament and New Testament people of God experienced a divine inability to refrain from speaking God’s word.

But if I say, I will not mention Him or speak any more in His name, then it is in my heart like a burning fire, shut up in my bones, and I am weary of holding it in, nor can I. –Jeremiah 20:9

For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard. –Acts 4:20

Barth would answer the mute:

Do they not perceive that there are documents, such as the books of the New Testament, which compel men to speak at whatever cost, because they find in them that which urgently and finally concerns the very marrow of human civilization?[4]

This blog is an endeavor on my part not to remain mute. I talked about this in my very first blog post. The internet provides an unprecedented megaphone for the gospel where even the softest spoken Christian voice can reach the ends of the inhabited earth.

3. A conversant faith, a faith that speaks, presupposes a partner in conversation

Embedded in the etymology of conversation is the thought of repeatedly turning to another, to keep company with. This repeated turning to becomes a manner of life among others. It is this literal, archaic sense of the word that the King James translators had in mind when they translated 1 Peter 3:1,

Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives.

Conversation here means manner of life. The King James translators have preserved here an older meaning of the word conversation.

So in this sense, a conversant faith would be a faith that frequently turns to others. Christians are to engage the world with the message of the gospel. However, to engage in meaningful conversation there needs to be familiarity with the other view or perspective. Paul is the paragon of this in Acts 17 when he engages the Stoic and Epicurean philosophers on the Areopagus. He remarks that he has carefully observed the objects of their worship and then quotes two pagan poets to support his gospel message. Our faith (belief) itself must be conversant otherwise how can we engage other worldviews?

Faith should not end with inward, personal assurance; it should lead to engaging others in a conversation that is both affirming and clarifying for those in the faith (intramural) and confronting and challenging for those outside the faith (extramural).

Even among fellow Christians there needs to be constant conversation about the divine revelation until we all arrive at the unity of the faith (Eph. 4:13).

To this end, I often try to engage various perspectives on this blog, such as Hans Küng, Karl Barth, Thomas Nagel, Mariano Magrassi. This doesn’t mean that I fully endorse their work. I believe it’s possible to appreciate a work, even greatly benefit from it, and yet maintain a critical distance from it. I feel this way about Küng’s work.

4. A conversant faith always maintains faith

It’s important to remember that in all the conversations, faith is not compromised. I am not talking about seeking faith in syncretism. A conversant faith above all is faith, belief. It is not a search for faith. Faith itself presupposes content, something we believe in. In his Dogmatics in Outline, Barth has three chapters entitled “Faith as Trust”, “Faith as Knowledge”, and “Faith as Confession”. I think these are three good points to emphasize.

5. Finally, a conversant faith should ultimately lead to conversion

Here is where the fact that converse and convert have the same root comes into play. The goal of being conversant is not just to thoroughly know or to endlessly talk. All our turning towards others is ultimately to bring them to turn towards the faith. However, it should be kept in mind that conversion is not proselytizing. All our conversation is carried out in sincerity, love, and respect.

To open their eyes, to turn them from darkness to light and from the authority of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me. –Acts 26:18


 

1. Mariano Magrassi, Praying the Bible, p. 68
2. Augustine, Confessions 12.14.17
3. Karl Barth, Dogmatics in Outline, p. 31
4. Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans, 6 ed., p. 9