Why Bible Typography Matters

by Feb 2, 2015Bible Typography26 comments



Reader’s Editions

The NIV Books of the Bible edition is the best reader’s Bible available, typographically speaking. The binding, the typeface, and tiny details of the layout could all be improved, but the basic idea is unsurpassed. This is what a Bible should look like. Narrative looks like narrative, epistle like epistle, poetry like (Hebrew parallel) poetry.

The ESV Reader’s Bible is a fairly close second. I prefer the ESV over the NIV for most (not all) uses, and this Bible’s typeface and layout make up for what The Books of the Bible edition lacks. However, this edition retains numbered chapter divisions, a mistake in my opinion. Leave those in study editions.

The Bibliotheca project is fascinating, and may prove to be the best available reader’s edition when it comes out this summer. The translation is a bit of a question mark—the progenitor of this edition, a dedicated and passionate book designer, is spearheading some revisions to the 1901 ASV text. I can’t make a judgment on those revisions until I see them.


Check out my discussion with gracious pastor Kevin Boling on his call-in radio program, Knowing the Truth:

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  1. mitrellim

    Do you know if the “no verse/chapter” option available in Logos 5? I have not updated to 6, and I think the option is not present for 5.
    Tim Miller

    • Mark Ward

      I’m afraid I don’t know off hand; I think you’re right. If it’s there, it may be tied to specific versions, and it will be found under “visual filters.”

  2. Duncan Johnson

    Thanks for sharing this, Mark. I just sent this on to a friend of mine here.

  3. mitrellim

    By the way, I intend to use your idea of creating paragraphing as an assignment for my students in the future. That is a great way to help them engage with the text.
    Tim Miller

  4. Mark Ward

    Excellent, Tim. I should have thought of that, too. It’s a simple matter to write a macro to strip out verse numbers and then reduce multiple spaces to one space. Or you can go to a new site someone just told me about, http://esv.literalword.com/, and just grab the text. Or export it from Logos with the Copy Bible Verses feature.

  5. Elijah Wilcott

    I’m not sure if this has been mentioned anywhere, but Accordance 10 allows verse and chapter numbers to be turned off as well.

    In the iOS App, it’s possible to make the references the same color as the background, but it leaves a pretty obvious gap. I haven’t seen any way around that.

  6. Dave

    Great lesson. Thanks, Mark.

  7. Thomas Silkjær

    Thank you for uploading this!

    I completely agree on several of your points, and I too believe there are plenty room for specific reader’s editions. A reader’s edition does not have to be an “extra” Bible translation, but could simply be a supplemental version to your “usual” Bible in the same translation. It will be the same text, but reading it, it will sound differently

    As a professional Bible typographer, it is always interesting to hear what Bible users actually want. Usually we are commissioned work from various Bible publishers, and do not have free hands to do exactly what we want, but we always aim to craft the best possible design within the limitations we are given – page extent, “feature” requirements as e.g. center column references, page format etc.

    Typography matters, not only in a reader’s edition, but also in all other settings. A Study Bible can quickly be less “disturbing” and clumsy, if proper typefaces are selected and kerning, leading, margins etc. are carefully considered. Take a look at what we did for Oxford University Press in their New Oxford Annotated Bible 4th edition (http://www.amazon.com/The-Oxford-Annotated-Bible-Apocrypha/dp/0195289609 – use the “Look Inside” feature).

    We just started publishing some of our articles on Medium that, if you are interested, can be found on https://medium.com/2k-stories/

    • Mark Ward

      Wow! I consider it an honor that you’d watch my presentation and comment on my humble blog! And thanks so much for those links. That New Oxford Annotated Bible is genuinely beautiful, and a quick skim of your Medium articles suggests I have some reading pleasure ahead of me. I saved several articles in Readability for future perusal.

      This presentation has generated far more buzz than anything I’ve ever written or said—and it’s all been encouraging to me, because it shows people are interested in the Bible, and in reading it better.

  8. Paul

    I have the ESV Reader’s Bible, but it still has chapter and paragraph divisions. The paragraphs are not so objectionable, but I wish they had omitted the chapter divisions and numbers. The new Bible from Adam Greene was ordered last year, but I think that’s a lightly updated version of the ASV. I’m looking forward to it.

  9. Mark Ward

    Agreed about the chapter divisions. The paragraph divisions are what I want in the first place—I don’t want the Bible text in one big block. =)

  10. Elijah Wilcott

    Personally, I think getting rid of the chapter divisions would be more helpful than getting rid of little verse numbers within a paragraph. For the last few years I’ve been writing my own paragraph-by-paragraph summary of the Bible, so I’m used to viewing the text’s meaning from a paragraph’s context. However, those chapter divisions are, in my thinking, deep and permanent dividers across which nothing may pass. So I probably won’t dive into the ESV until those are gone.

    • Mark Ward

      I would probably call chapter divisions and verse divisions (even if the latter are within a paragraph) equally objectionable for a reader’s edition.

  11. bethyada

    Apologies as I have yet to view the video.

    I don’t really mind the verse numbers, but it seems like the publishers (or typesetters) can’t escape emphasising the chapter divisions. My solution (which I have never seen) is to shrink the chapter number down to the same font size as the text, bold face it but use a grey colour lighter than the text, and shift it left outside the textblock. It will still be helpful for reference purposes but not obvious and not be seen to split up the text.

  12. Mark Ward

    You need to watch the video!

  13. David McKay

    The Books of the Bible eats the others! Really enjoyed your vid.
    BOTB is an enjoyable read. I read it through once in TNIV version and once in NIV2011

  14. bethyada

    I did watch it Mark, shortly after I commented. I have come across most of what you covered and enjoyed the talk. I found the n-dash comment amusing—I have memorised the shorthand codes for the n- and m-dash for use in writing!

    I stand by my chapter notation idea above. I agree the ESV reader failed in keeping the division without the number. I my mind they would have been better to keep the number and not emphasised the division but use normal paragraphing.

    • Mark Ward

      And I still say, give me a reader’s edition with no chapter numbers (save at the bottom of the page, perhaps, as The Books of the Bible editions do, giving the reference ranges covered on each page), and give me a study edition with chapter and verse numbers.

  15. Elijah Wilcott

    Hear, hear!

  16. David

    I’m considering ordering that pretty 4/5 volume set. Only thing putting me off is the ASV element – I’m not sure I’d enjoy reading the older styled language as freely as with the NASB or ESV, even with their chapter and verse numbers. It sure looks lovely though.

  17. James Cornell

    I found a NASB edition without chapter and verse numbers in a Kindle version on the Amazon site. $4.99

  18. James

    Delightful! I discovered this via http://evangelicaltextualcriticism.blogspot.com/. I fell in love with what you were saying as soon as you mentioned endashes and serifs and…a regular geekfest : )

    For what it’s worth, I got saved through reading the Good News New Testament. It was in paragraphs and flowed—I would wear out a copy ever year from reading it so much. The format made you want to read it. I would read through the NT every month—did that for about 3–4 years before moving to a different translation…with the text broken out verse-by-verse. A step backward, to my way of thinking.

    By the way, Accordance also allows you to turn off verse numbers, etc. (as another commenter mentioned). I wish BibleWorks did…

    Grace & peace,

    • Mark Ward

      Thanks for the good word. One thing I’ve always envied about people converted as adults is their commonly reported compulsion to read the Bible. Having grown up with it, my compulsion grew gradually. I fight daily the tendency to take Scripture for granted. Buying new editions has been one way I’m jumpstarted my Bible reading at various times over the years.

    • Mark Ward

      Thanks, James!


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