Bible Typography Question
It’s a question of meaning. What would taking out all modern typographic conventions mean? It would mean miscommunication. Our conventions simply can’t be ignored. They are a necessary part of our written language. They are, therefore, just as much a part of the translation process as the words and sentences are. If we fail to use contemporary typographical conventions like paragraphs, spaces, quotation marks, question marks, and dashes we will be saying something the text of Scripture doesn’t say.
This fact does require translators to make some interpretive decisions. One of the more controversial and obvious examples is 1 Corinthians 7:1. Is Paul quoting the Corinthians when he says, “It is good for a man not to touch a woman”? Several modern translations think so, so they add in quotation marks.
Translators can’t not make this interpretive decision. They can’t say, “Paul didn’t put in quotation marks, so we aren’t going to.” Paul didn’t have the option to use those marks, of course. And we don’t have the option to ignore them. Either way you go—quotation marks or no—you’re going to be telling readers something about Paul’s authorial intention. You can’t be neutral. Modern typographic conventions are demanding that way.
The same is true for paragraph breaks. If you abuse them, making every verse a paragraph (like most of the Bible editions I grew up with), you’re not-so-subtly communicating that every verse is a more-or-less self-contained thought. That’s murderously bad for Bible interpretation. It’s a big invitation for King James Only defenders to ignore the context of Psalm 12:6–7; it’s an invitation to Bible readers to turn God’s Word into a fortune cookie database (see Prov. 24:16 example here).
If, on the other hand, you refuse to use paragraph breaks, you’re also communicating something that the authors of the Bible text didn’t intend. You’re saying, “This is a dense block of continuous prose on the same topic.” And/or you’re saying, “This writer didn’t know how to structure his writing to make it readable.” You don’t want to say those things, do you? Then you need paragraph divisions.
Bible compositors at publishing houses can’t avoid communicating something about the biblical authors’ intentions by their use of typographical conventions. And you as a reader can’t avoid the issue, either. Your Bible edition is either going to help you read like the author intended or it’s going to impede you.
*Few Christians today would think to say, “Since we’ve added chapter and verse numbers into the Bible text…” People assume that the way things are is the way they always have been. But if the Bible were a 65-year-old man, verse numbers would have been added when he was 56 ½.