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?
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” 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.” 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.
A Bible designed for this type of reading may help.
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?
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:
- Wuest’s The New Testament: An Expanded Translation, 1961
- 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.” 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.” 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
5. Kenneth Wuest, The New Testament: An Expanded Translation, p. xvi
6. Kenneth Wuest, The New Testament: An Expanded Translation, p. vii