The Pay-Off of a New Bible Format

The point of my somewhat tongue-in-cheek “Bible Typography Manifesto” is to encourage better and more healthy Bible reading practices by rethinking the format in which we encounter God’s word.

To that end, I’m reading a book by Christopher Smith called After Chapters and Verses. Smith was the main biblical scholar on the team of consultants who put together The Books of the Bible, a printing of Scripture that includes no extraneous typographical elements. No chapter numbers, no verse numbers, just single-column paragraphed text. (Incidentally, I got my copy of that Bible the very month this blog began.)

Smith has made many insightful points about evangelical Bible reading practices. Here’s one that really struck me:

Three people who began reading right at the start of The Books of the Bible each reported how long it took them to finish the book of Genesis. One said four days; another, three; another, one. When we consider that reading Genesis takes three weeks if a person follows a typical read-through-the-Bible plan, we see how readily people will adopt new reading practices, and have a much more fulfilling experience with God’s word, as soon as they have resources that give them implicit permission to do so. (131)

Implicit permission. That’s a helpful concept to apply to Bible typography. When your Bible puts a big chapter break in the middle of a section, it can become a voice saying, “You’ve reached a good stopping point!” What if we silence that unnecessary voice?

Smith actually argues that good reading doesn’t tend to happen a little at a time each day. It happens in bursts. He’s not trying to do away with daily devotions; he’s only suggesting that one day might be dedicated to such a Bible-burst and others might be spent reflecting on (or journaling, or lyricizing) what you read. A provocative idea.

I myself am attempting this year to read through the new NIV (2011) Books of the Bible. I’m not yet sure I’ll take his advice; I’m considering it.

Mark Ward

PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.


  1. Nicolas Alford on January 19, 2013 at 2:48 am

    Hi Dr. Ward

    After reading this, I’m excited to order The Books of the Bible, and to check out the Smith book. I have had an old Anglican translation from the 1950s in paragraph form with no chapter or verse breaks that I’ve used off and on for devotions over the years, but I’m excited to hear about this in a newer translation. This has long been a minor obsession of mine as well. I’d say exactly what the old Anglican version was, but it’s currently packed away in a moving box.

    By the way, we met at the Reformed Baptist Seminary module for which you served as a guest lecturer. I was the Motorola toting plebe you used as an example of a… Motorola toting plebe. Even still, I very much benefited from your lectures and have recommended them widely to others.

    Grace and Peace,
    Nick Alford

  2. The Pay-Off of a New Bible Format on January 19, 2013 at 7:13 am

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  3. Mark L Ward Jr on January 30, 2013 at 9:56 am

    So great to hear from you, Nick. I remember you well. That was a special time at RBS. Grace and peace to you as well!

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