Review of NKJV Unapologetic Study Bible

The NKJV Unapologetic Study Bible (subtitle: Confidence for Such a Time as This) is a fruit of the ministry of the Kairos Journal, a conservative evangelical publication dedicated to making timely application of the Bible to the cultural season in which we find ourselves in the Western world.

This edition features over two-hundred page-long article inserts drawn from Kairos on multiple topics, all of which are related somehow to the passages of Scripture near which they are inserted. The article inserts are well written and generally careful, though their connections to surrounding passages are not always equally obvious. The articles are not generally expositional: their purpose is not, like many (most?) study Bibles, to explicate the biblical text but to apply it to current issues. Quotations from prominent Christians (both historical and contemporary) also dot the text, including Ambrose of Milan, Frederica Matthewes-Green, John Adams, and Tertullian. Profiles of other prominent Christians are also included, including brief articles on Nell Bridges, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Justin Martyr and Jim Elliot.

The selection of current issues is indeed timely: “Family: Homosexuality and Transgenderism,” “Sanctity of Life: Euthanasia and Suicide,” “Government: Peace and War,” and “Education: Evolution and Intelligent Design” (though readers may wonder how much the Bible has to say specifically about “Economics: Taxation”—and explanatory notes in this study Bible acknowledge that indeed they are looking for principles more than explicit statements).

Brief introductions are provided for Bible books.


The above is what I wrote for the Christian Library Journal; they don’t like me to be too negative, and that’s fine. But I really have to say this somewhere, and my blog is apparently the place: I am stymied by this study Bible. Who thought this was a good idea? Every article insert I read was good: well written, responsible, interesting. But the pages inside the covers of a Bible are just not the place for a bunch of articles on topical issues. I don’t complain as much when such articles are placed in appendices before Genesis and after Revelation, as in the ESV Study Bible—particularly when the articles make an obvious effort to be exegetical and theological; that is, closely tied to the Bible text (even if they are topical). But profiles of famous Christians, though they have a definite place, should find that place outside the actual pages of a copy of Scripture.

Of the first ten pages of the Bible, starting with Genesis 1:1, six and a half of are taken up with articles, three and a half with Bible text. The ratio does not stay the same throughout this study Bible, but it is emblematic. I am all for anything that will get people studying the Bible and all for anything that will get them reading sound Christian writing. I just think the two things should be kept more distinct.

I would not recommend this study Bible, because it isn’t a “Study” “Bible.” It’s a Bible—the NKJV is a fine translation—with a bunch of articles stuck between its pages. Those articles do not tend to help people study the Bible. They stand at a remove or two away from it. That in itself is not wrong: we need to apply Scripture to current events and to learn church history. But when I see the Bible text sprinkled with hundreds of full-page articles, I get the implicit message that the Bible is boring and needs enlivening—or that some people with some nice things to say wanted to use the Bible as a platform to say those things.

I had a rather negative gut reaction to the NKJV Unapologetic Study Bible, though a genuinely positive impression of the work of the Kairos Journal. I’ll have to check them out again; it’s been quite a while since I’ve done so. A number of the names associated with it were familiar to me. There was a preponderance of Southern Baptist conservatives, and this is welcome. The biggest thing that encourages me about this Bible is that I see in it the fruits of the conservative resurgence thirty years on.

But spend your money on something else.

Review: Brand New CSB Reader’s Bible

I now own seven separate reader’s Bibles (not counting the many I can make digitally in Logos and other apps), and I wish for the world to know that I got on the reader’s Bible bandwagon before there was one, back in 2006 (?) when it was more like a soloist cart.

And the sad/funny thing was that until I received the CSB Reader’s Bible this very morning, the first reader’s Bible I ever got was the best. It was my TNIV Books of the Bible—despite its odd paperback covers and its odd typeface that couldn’t decide whether it wanted to be serif or sans—that I have always felt set the gold standard for how to lay out Bible type to assist readers in garnering meaning. Its progenitor, Christopher R. Smith, author of two books on Bible typography, did a simply excellent job

The ESV Reader’s Bible was too regimented: its line breaks and indents weren’t flexible enough; and I didn’t like its use of chapter numbers—I felt like someone forgot to tell them the whole point of a reader’s Bible. My NIV Books of the Bible was well done overall, but its faux-leather vinyl cover was so bad that it genuinely got in the way. My Holman KJV Reader’s Bible made the inexplicable decision to divide all proper names into syl´-la-bles (including “Je ´- sus”!). It’s ugly, needless, and inimical to the elegant reader’s Bible concept. A multi-volume reader’s Bible (such as the ESV and Bibliotheca) is cool to look at, but unwieldy: I’m too accustomed to having the whole Bible in my hand. I have a soft spot in my heart for the old New English Bible I somehow inherited; it was typographically elegant and managed to keep verse numbers off to the side. But the NEB translation is of comparably little utility for me. It’s too idiosyncratic for daily use.

CSB Reader’s Bible

A single-volume, single-column reader’s Bible which worked hard to use all the layout conventions available to it—that I hadn’t seen since 2006. But the CSB Reader’s Bible has done it. And with a much better typeface, a subtle and effective use of color, and a beautiful cloth-over-board construction.

The cloth over board is an apparent copycat move; the ESV Reader’s Bible pulled that one off successfully years ago. But the cloth-over-board slipcase is a nice touch. This is a nicely made Bible. The blue and gray is striking—along with the blue highlights in the interior.

And it’s that interior that has me most excited. The paper is bright, the reading is easy. The balance of white space and text block is right. Even without line-matching (more on that in a moment), any ghosting was not distracting for me.

What pleases me most about the interior is the number of conventions the layout pros took advantage of when constructing the reading experience. There are paragraph breaks, of course, but also subtle indents of various kinds that assist the reading of poetry. The use of these tools for conveying meaning is careful and beautiful—and helpful. That’s the point. And it works.

My wife noticed something while reading the Psalms that I thought was perceptive: the sparing use of indentation. She’s been reading the ESV Reader’s Bible for several years now, and she felt that the CSB’s practice of keeping poetic lines left-justified almost all the time was better than alternating the poetic lines like this:

Here is the first line of a parallel couplet
Here is the second line.
Here is the first line of another parallel couplet
Here is the second line of that second couplet.

She (and I) find that a bit jarring. This is nicer (though notice that the fifth line at the top of the righthand page is indented—so this convention can be used when necessary):

I also think the drop caps marking chapter divisions are a brilliant compromise with the reality of chapter divisions; I do find that it can be a bit overwhelming in my otherwise excellent TNIV to have so much text unbroken by visual ornamentation. The detriment of having a few bad chapter breaks is outweighed by the benefits of 1) breaking up the text on the page periodically with some kind of beachhead and 2) giving me some kind of visual foothold (mixed metaphor alert) for navigating the chapter divisions—I bring my reader’s Bible to church.

My only complaints

I have very few complaints.

  • In Proverbs, I still prefer the more subtle line breaks between couplets in my TNIV Books of the Bible to the full, empty lines in my new CSB. This is my biggest (and only significant) complaint. The TNIV managed to kept couplets (and triplets, etc.) together while still collecting those couplets together in bigger paragraphs. Look:

  • Line-matching on obverse and reverse sides of pages is absent. I had thought that was now standard, that Crossway would force everyone else to catch up. I’ve often felt, however, that line-matching runs counter to something more important in Bible design: the ability to vary the height of line breaks. My old TNIV, again, did this so well—especially in poetry.
  • I still prefer the elegance (I’m sorry for repeating this word; it must be done) of Lexicon to the typeface used in this edition. 2K/Denmark is awesome, but their Bible Serif feels too squeezed laterally to me. It enables them to get more text on the page, and the overall feel is still much superior to the Optima-like face used in that TNIV.
  • On balance, I prefer numbering the Psalms, as the ESV Reader’s Bible did. Paul did it (Acts 13:33). “Psalms” are not “chapters.”
  • I’m also ambivalent about the CSB’s overall practice (in every edition I’ve seen) of bolding Old Testament quotations in the New Testament. It actually works better in a reader’s Bible than in any other kind of edition, I think, because the bold isn’t as loud when it isn’t competing with other intrusions into the text block (chapter and verse numbers, superscript numerals and letters, footnotes, etc.).

Conclusion

Get this Bible. The CSB is an excellent translation, and this is the best way to experience it. I’m reading through the CSB this year (just reached Zephaniah), and I’m thrilled to use this physical edition rather than my (also very nice) Logos app on the iPad.


Disclosure of material connection: I read a free review copy; but I hope anyone who reads this review can tell that there were no strings attached. I like this Bible a great deal but would change some things if I could.

Four Major Layout Options for New Foreign Language Bible Translations

I’ve recently done a little volunteer consulting work for a Bible translation organization. Volunteer, as in I’m not sure they wanted it or will do anything with it but they don’t yet have a “no unsolicited opinions” sign up and I couldn’t help myself… Here’s what I sent them. It’s a suggestion for four Bible typography options that might be presented to national church leaders as they prepare to print their new Bible.


I think at least four major options need to be made available to national church leaders, with explanations of pros and cons. More explanation under each point could be given, but below are the basics.

1. Double-column, every verse a paragraph

double-column-every-verse-a-paragraph

  • Pros: This format looks like what most Christians around the world, as I gather from talking to translation consultants, expect a Bible to look like. This is important for successful mass adoption, particularly in places which have had other Bibles (perhaps in colonial or majority languages).
  • Cons: This format is not conducive to good Bible reading; it invites misunderstandings, such as the tendency to lift Proverbs 24:16 out of context.

2. Double-column, verses collected into paragraphs

double-column

  • Pros: Uses page space (and therefore paper) economically; collects verses into meaningful units, aiding smooth reading.
  • Cons: Makes best practices for laying out poetic portions of Scripture convoluted, because hanging indents don’t work well on narrow lines; makes it difficult to lay out languages with long words in an aesthetically pleasing way.

3. Single-column, verses collected into paragraphs

single-column-paragraphed-verses

  • Pros: This balances smooth reading and ease of reference.
  • Cons: “Wastes” paper, particularly in the Psalms and other poetic sections of Scripture.

4. Single-column, verses collected into paragraphs but without verse divisions

single-column-paragraphed-verses

  • Pros: This is the set of conventions Westerners have arrived at over the centuries which, in the collective judgment of compositors everyhwere, is most conducive to good reading. Verse divisions are a comparatively late addition to Bible publishing, and increasingly people around the world can use their phones if they need to know verse references.
  • Cons: No national church that I know of in the world has gone without verse references in their Bibles in living memory.

On balance, I think I’d find myself recommending option 3 most often—because it would take bold leadership and a unique situation to make option 4 possible. I’d love to see what a church might do with option 4, however. And I wouldn’t push a group of national leaders who wanted option 2. Or even option 1. As long as they had a chance to go through the options in this post.