Come to the Bible Tech Conference

Mark Ward

I put in three talk proposals for the Bible Tech Conference, thinking that they’d accept one. They accepted all three. So I’ve been busy using precious free time (and, okay, a little work time around the edges!) in the last few months preparing those talks, and I hope you’ll come.

  • Visualizing Textual Critical Data for English-Speaking Laypersons: Lessons from I will officially launch the complete version of this site at this conference, along with a projected accompanying article at a big blog—I’m excited!
  • A Media Ecology of Bible Software. This has been the focus of my prep time, because I’ve been wanting to dig into this for a while, and BibleTech is the place to do it. I’m going to talk not only about what Bible software gives us—we all know that, and marketing departments everywhere are highly focused on communicating those benefits over and over; I’m also going to talk about what Bible software takes away from us. How do I, an employee of Faithlife, plan to do that? Treading carefully, I can tell you. And I’ll give a spoiler: in the end my point will be not that we should take a step back from Bible software (I won’t, and can’t) but that we should both design and use it with an awareness of what possibilities it precludes.
  • Tagging Meaning, Not Just Form. Logos does this so well, and yet it’s a bit hard to explain until you use it. I’ll talk about present realities and (hopefully) future possibilities in this space.

Before I came to Faithlife as an employee, before I even knew that was a possibility, I was asked to give my Why Bible Typography Matters lecture there in 2015. It really was great. I made one lasting friendship and several other professional connections. Come to the beautiful Cedarbrook lodge, and get ready for extreme Bible nerdiness.

Use the code FAITH and you’ll get a little discount, I’m told.

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“The Horse Is Dead, Sir.” “Well, Beat It Some More.”

Mark Ward

Faithlife just posted a blog interview they did with me about Authorized. Is there more to be said? Maybe a little! I got my first academic review of Authorized, and though I’m waiting to see if my response will be published in the same journal (the editor was amenable to this idea), I give a sneak peek of that response in this interview.

Check it out!

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Review: The ESV Preaching Bible

Mark Ward

The new ESV Preaching Bible is another win for Crossway. They gave me a copy to review (no strings attached, of course—well, actually, there were two ribbons in the Bible for bookmarking, but they weren’t attached to any stipulations from Crossway, just to the supple binding…) This new Bible represents a few little tweaks to the format I’ve been using myself for preaching for the last four years, and they are genuine helps.

Here’s what the Bible looks like on the inside. First prose:

Now poetry:

But to see what this Bible is really aiming at, you need to compare my existing Heirloom Single Column Legacy Bible (left) with the new Preacher’s Bible (right):

ESV Heirloom Legacy
ESV Preaching Bible

Here’s what you ought to notice:

  1. The text is a point bigger in the new Bible (10 vs. 9), which is good, because I’m nearing 40 and people have told me, peering over their bifocals, “Beware, you’re nearing 40.” The average pastor is over 40, too. Lexicon was made to work at smaller sizes, so, aesthetically, I still like my old Heirloom; but, practically, the Preacher’s Bible is better for what I actually use my physical ESV for, which is heralding the words of the living God to the gathered assembly.
  2. The margins are also bigger, without making the Bible feel (to me) like it’s a whole lot wider. But (I assume), to make up for the bigger type size, the bottom margin extends a little further down the page. I don’t mind this; I don’t write in my Bible anymore. I’m not against it; I just find I prefer electronic note-taking systems.
  3. The headings are included in the text in the Preaching Bible rather than in the margin as in the Heirloom. And I think the new Preaching Bible’s choice is indeed helpful for contextually careful reading—something I do while preaching, I do. I like having visual cues for where I’m at. (I like putting the headings in the margin, too—the text block is nice and compact that way. Each approach has its strengths.)
  4. The verse numbers are given a little extra kerning on each side so that they stand out more. They’re also a bit bigger. Apparently finding verse numbers in paragraphed text is a problem preachers have while preaching, though I can’t say I’ve faced it myself. But, as they say, “You’re nearing 40.”
  5. I don’t have access to the specs on the paper, GSM and all that. But the new Bible’s paper looks whiter to me (the Heirloom is slightly yellow, in a rich and not a sickly way), and the new Bible’s paper feels a little sturdier. The ghosting on the new Bible is not as bad as that on the older one I have. The line-matching in each helps with ghosting, of course.

Here are the specs on each back cover. First my old(ish) Heirloom:

Now the new ESV Preaching Bible:

The black goatskin cover I got on the Preaching Bible was incredible. It lies almost flat—flatter than my first-gen Heirloom Legacy.

The Preaching Edition lies almost flat (photo courtesy Crossway)

And it feels buttery-smoother than the Heirloom. Ooh, it’s so nice to touch! And it smells good, too! The Heirloom was a bit squeaky; not the Preaching Bible.

My only suggestion: so sue this almost-40-year-old, I like having words of Christ in red. It looks uh, cool—and I think it helps me find my place on the page while preaching. Concerns that it leads people to invest more authority in the red type than in the black are overblown, in my opinion. “Red-Letter Christians” (I don’t necessarily mean the specific group which uses that name, but the idea that Jesus’ words carry more authority than the rest of the Spirit’s words in Scripture) would be perpetrating their reductionist hermeneutics with or without typographical excuses. So can I have my red letters back?

I recently saw another new Bible in goatskin from another publisher who got input from a famous preacher on how to design the interior, and the Bible just didn’t come together well. It was really fat—too fat. (The Preaching Bible is fatter than the Heirloom, but it feels right—actually, the Heirloom feels a little too thin.) And the decision of this other publisher to start each verse on a new line, already risky, was handled poorly. In the one ESV edition I’ve seen which does this, Crossway still managed to make clear paragraph breaks. But this other preaching Bible (I’m being vague here so as not to disparage people I otherwise really like) tried the bolding-of-the-first-verse-number approach to paragraphing, which I think is unhelpful. The whole point of a paragraph division is that it’s visual and intuitive.

Crossway says they got input from 1,000 pastors on designing their new Preaching Bible, and apparently a thousand heads are better than one. But what I find interesting is that the resulting Bible is not really all that different from Crossway’s previous wins. Either they (rightly) disregarded some of the advice of these pastors, or those pastors, via the wisdom of the crowd, ended up merely making helpful little tweaks on an already beautiful and useful format.

Keep it up, Crossway.

We love you.


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The ESV Scripture Journal: Old Testament Set

Mark Ward

I was just at the Shepherds Conference representing Lexham Press; I stood all day in the book tent. I had many dozens of conversations with pastors from all over. I also saw/met dozens of graduates of my alma mater: my table was a bit of a pilgrimage site. (I also sold out of all 50 copies of Authorized, and received a great gift from the Lord: a number of stories about where my book has gone and what by God’s grace it has done.) I didn’t get to go to a single session, because the book tent was never empty. During any given service, a third of the attendees are asked to sit out, and many of them cycle through the tent.

(One quick note: the volunteers from Grace Community Church amazed me. Their happy smiles and generosity were in abundant evidence. And there were 900 of them. Thank you, brothers and sisters—you really encouraged me.)

The biggest and clearly the hottest book table was Crossway’s. They had a huge section dedicated to books, and a huge one dedicated to Bibles. What they are doing really is incredible. They just don’t make any significant missteps in those Bibles. The typography, the bindings, the formats—they’re all so well done. The NASB table was right across from us, and though they had an interesting new preacher’s Bible designed by MacArthur himself, the number and beauty of their editions was obviously far behind those of the ESV. (It is largely for this reason that I tend to use the ESV myself.)

And one of the newest treasures they had over at the Crossway Bibles table was the Scripture Journal. Crossway sent me an Old Testament set to review (naturally, they did not ask me to give a certain opinion).

The set comes in a beautiful box:

But you’re not supposed to just take Instagram photos of the slipcase. Crossway told me you’re supposed to take off the top and pull out the books inside. For note-taking. Huh.

This is what you’ll see:

Open one of the “books,” and you’ll get a beautiful, versified setting of whatever book you’re reading/studying, along with a full page of notes, lined and ready for your Pigma Micron Pen.

There’s really just nothing bad about this set. No, it’s not leather-bound—but would you want it to be? It would be double the width. And your point is not taking it to church (probably?) but working in your home study. The binding is a durable black paper instead.

Now, wait a minute… It wouldn’t be so bad if you did take a volume to church. If your pastor is going through Psalms, as mine recently was (excellent sermons!), or Isaiah, as my previous pastor did, and if he sticks close to the text (as both my pastors did!), then taking the right volume along for notes might be ideal. This set could bring lifelong value to you. Imagine page after page like this filled with good exegetical thoughts, applications, illustrations for future use…

I’ll be straightforward here and say that I am too tied to computerized notes for this beautiful set of Scripture journals to work for me. I made an abortive attempt just two months ago to take all the many sermon notes I’d taken on paper over the years (approx. 1997–2002) and digitize them. But it was a massive chore, and my app stumbled over the size of the resulting PDFs. I wasted an hour or two of work. It could seriously take me a week to do it right, and I’d still have images and not digital text when I got done.

Since 2002 or so, since I got my amazing, beloved Palm IIIxe (later supplanted by an iPod, then an iPhone and iPad), I have been a rigorous taker of electronic notes. For my calling and gifts and bents, digital is better. *

But if that’s not you, if you’re like one of the many pastors at the Lexham booth at Shepherds Conference who told me, “I’m a paper guy,” then you just cannot go wrong with the ESV Scripture Journal: Old Testament Set. Bravo, yet again, Crossway. Keep up the fantastic work!

* FWIW, I use the lean and mean NVAlt for my Bible notes (originally taken in BibleWorks—I’ve been too busy to move them to Logos’ new system). I use the amazing Ulysses not just for all my writing but for all my book notes—I harvest highlights from all Logos and Kindle books.

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Cheapening the Western Musical Tradition: Some Thoughts Inspired by Theodore Gioia and Andy Crouch

Mark Ward

Theodore Gioia in the L.A. Review of Books:

In the mass-media era, the general public primarily experiences classical music through detached snippets of larger pieces extracted to lend their symbolic power to a commercial agenda. Artists and advertisers dissect classical works into short melodies — quotable passages severed from their original context — assembling a menu of musical leitmotifs to bolster their message with a desired tone, mood, or association. Like artificial flavoring for the ear, these symphonic excerpts infuse scenes with the synthetic emotion of choice. Need a touch of European elegance? Mozart will make that minivan commercial suddenly suave. Concerned a slow sequence leaves your audience snoozing? Wake them up with the “William Tell Overture” for instant adrenaline. Does your pancake promo lack punch? Reroute Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” from Valhalla to the International House of Pancakes.

The artistic consequences of such practices are devastating. Conscripting Wagner’s Valkyries as pancake saleswomen necessarily lowers their impact at the opera house. Some pieces are quoted so often that their secondary associations overtake and cheapen the original music. Carmina Burana exists as a permanent musical cliché. Orff’s “O Fortuna” evokes only kitsch; under which circumstances can a listener now have an authentic encounter with that choral-chanting calamity?

Such a sound-bite culture negates the definitive value of classical composition: the extended development of complex musical themes. Extended musical forms allow the listener to appreciate the subtle interplay of motif and movement — and it is exactly this nuanced appreciation that quote-clipping nullifies. There is a two-part mechanism to extract and transplant a tune: detach a 15-second theme from a 45-minute symphony (where it functioned as an integrated part in an organic whole) and attach it to an alien subject. Uproot “O Fortuna” from a Latin cantata, so it can be grafted onto a Domino’s Super Bowl spot. These transplants produce jarring mashups that trigger another insidious side effect: by always quoting works out of the context the public forgets that they have a context. The spectator forgets that “O Fortuna” could be glorious in its original context because it’s absurd hyping Domino’s Pizza. In sum, in the remix media ecosystem, famous compositions degenerate from serious music into decorative sound, applied like wallpaper to lay a poignant surface over banal intentions.

Sometimes I marvel that the Western classical tradition lives on at all. But it does. There are people—I think and hope there will always be people—who feed on that tradition, who look to it for aesthetic nourishment. I have been working for years to be one of those people; I wouldn’t say it has come naturally.

Andy Crouch, in his excellent book, Culture Making, ties the Western classical tradition to the creation blessing/mandate of Genesis 1. I think he is right: the tradition we have been handed is the result of God’s blessing humanity with the impulse to take the raw elements of creation and make them into something refined, something that makes life better for humanity. I love the way he puts it in his sequel book, Playing God:

Thousands of years after Genesis was written, we can see in a way its first readers could never have imagined just how much capacity these human image bearers had to fill the earth—just how much power was ultimately available to them, coiled in the physical elements’ chemical and nuclear bonds, and emerging from the incredible complexity of the human mind and the fecundity of human culture.

The comparatively unrefined musical traditions out there, such as folk music or (dare I say) the musics of other cultures, may certainly have their place. They uncoil certain pleasing elements of God’s creation. But it would be a deeply, deeply impoverished West, a West we wouldn’t recognize, that had never reached the level of refinement seen in what we call “classical” music. Higher doesn’t mean better in some universal sense. It is “better” to play folk music at a folk festival. But it is still “better” for a culture to have a refined, high level of art than for it not to. Because of the creation/cultural blessing/mandate (!). Let us not squander our tradition. Let us, as Crouch urges, conserve it and build upon it.

One more thought: Camille Paglia, that feistiest of writers, has said that it’s not hard to determine the “canon” of Western art: just look at who was the most influential. Surely some quality works were overlooked, and indeed some classical composers such as Vaughan Williams have taken folk melodies and built them into beautiful symphonies. But we should not be on a perpetual quest to find the overlooked pieces of musical or literary or visual art if that quest makes us devalue and ignore the mainstream of the Western tradition, those works that have released the most fruitfulness in others.

The fall is woven throughout all traditions: influence does not equal virtue (Playboy has been influential). But by God’s common grace, cargo-truck loads of beauty are available in the Western tradition, and I’m grateful.

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Wisdom from Peter Williams on Textual Criticism

Mark Ward

Peter Williams is a treasure. These lectures contain some absolute gold, and they give me that lovely feeling of being right, of being validated by someone smarter than oneself. Indeed, some of his key points are things I have come to realize on my own—though he states them so much better, and he bases them on greater quantities of nerdy gumshoeing in primary sources. (For example, he went digging in Erasmus’ Annotations in order to show that he was aware of a huge number of textual variants that we know about.)

Here is a point that I have made, and one Randy Leedy has kind of made, too:

I would say, when we’re involved in the Greek New Testament at Tyndale House, we’re only editors. My job is not to restore a Greek text that God hasn’t chosen to give us. My job is to use the manuscripts that God has given us to do the best job of presenting [a printed text] to people. But when I present it to people, I say, “This is my editorial decision; I’m not saying that I’m infallible at this point.” And if you’re a translator or an interpreter, you’re explaining the Bible to people, it’s exactly the same. That’s all you are: your job is to do what a scribe does. A scribe tries to pass on as well he can; your job is to pass on as well as you can.

Here’s the related point Leedy made:

My own weaknesses as a reader expose me to far more significant misunderstanding than the manuscript differences do, so by far the greatest problems that God must overcome in order to talk to me are within me, not within the transmission process.

This is all a corollary of the overall viewpoint of those who use the critical text: the differences between the major options out there are not nearly as significant, doctrinally speaking (actually, they’re not doctrinally significant), as the fallenness and finiteness of interpreters. Leedy makes a positive point: Christians of every conceivable theological perspective write theological books in which they cite Scripture texts (John 3:16; Rom 5:8) without specifying which translation or text readers should look it up in. I could say it negatively: there were plenty of theological problems before 1881, the year of the release of the first critical text.

Williams then makes another comment that draws together threads in my own thinking. I’ve seen this, too:

It’s an interesting thing that people nowadays have more doubts about the text of the New Testament than they’ve ever had. And yet the gap between our earliest New Testament manuscripts and the time of writing is getting smaller and smaller. So, in other words, the amount of doubt is inversely proportionate to the amount of evidence!…

He makes then a wise comment that I hadn’t thought of, surrounding a thought I did have. What I did realize some time ago is that challenges to the Greek New Testament which claim that it suppressed other variants that didn’t support the “orthodox” party are asking today’s orthodox to prove a universal negative. There is simply no evidence that substantially different versions of the Greek New Testament ever existed. Check out how Williams responds to unbelieving critics. I found this very helpful:

There’s always going to be a gap. Even if I had a photo of Moses coming down the mountain with the tablets from God, you could always say, “What did he do before he came around the corner?” There’s always a gap. People can always say, “What happened before the earliest thing?” But what I want to say is, “Look, I cannot prove that there’s been no change. I don’t need to prove that there’s been no change, because that’s a proving a negative, and you can’t prove a negative like that. I can say that there’s absolutely no reason to believe that there has been change. And I can also say that based on everything we know about transmission, if we extrapolate that back—rather than say, “Before our earliest witnesses, everything was very different”—we see a huge amount of stability. What skeptics want us to do is say, “You’ve got all that evidence for centuries of stability, but just before your earliest witness, someone did something really mischievous.” And the thing about that is that they’d have to be really clever and really well financed in order to do something so mischievous that they could mess things up for future generations.

That last one is something I’ve thought, too—how exactly is someone supposed to change the Greek New Testament without leaving any evidence that another version existed? This party would have to have utterly immense money and power—and the faith of every last professing Christian who had any part of the Greek New Testament in his or her possession. Observe how angrily the ancient congregation responded when a Latin translation changed the word for “gourd.” There’s no way you could get away with large-scale changes of a sacred text used by people spread over a huge geographical area.

Listen for yourself.

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