#7. Single column text, normal paragraph formatting/layout and, dare I say it, removing verse numbering from our Bibles will go a long way toward helping people to read the Bible as if it were actually a real book!
Truth be told, I have already written a fair amount on this topic previously on this blog, for example here. But we are actually beginning to see some movement among Bible publishers in this direction and it gives me great hope.
Chapter and verse numbering was added to the Bible around the early 13th century. And while we all understanding the convenience that it gives in locating any given passage, and when citing or referencing a particular quote from the text, we pay a high price for that convenience. In many cases, the chapter divisions follow along reasonably well with the author’s thought. In other cases, it seems quite arbitrary at best, and butchering at worst.
Verse numbering is simply a distraction from reading the text in a natural way (remember – no other normal book we read is formatted like this). The real travesty of verse numbering is when the publisher puts a carriage return at the end of each verse, as if each verse were an independent thought (kinda like in a good PowerPoint briefing). You’ll see this single verse format especially in older KJV Bibles. Sure, a well formatted Bible will use lots more carriage returns in sections of poetry (or musical lyrics, like in the Psalms) where this makes perfect sense. But when the genre is narrative, the formatting of the text should be in paragraphs (this is just common sense – right?) The Bible is not a book of magic where the verses are the spells we cast to get God to do what we want!
These formatting blunders just feed/encourage/enable all of the things I’ve been previously ranting about in this series:
- The Manual Approach – let’s make it easy grab those verses to build our case for a Biblical method for weather prediction!
- Proof texting – ah the joy of grabbing verses out of context to support my point(s) that I’m trying to make!
- Radical Biblicism – which verse should I choose to beat this person over the head with as I guilt them into submission.
- Topical Teaching – a little Leviticus here, a little Revelation there.
You get my point. We need to read the Bible as the Literature that it actually is!
Now double column text presumably came to us as an innocent attempt at saving space. Anyone who has ever lugged an ESV Study Bible back and forth to church, say, with a baby in the other arm (and has had to have shoulder surgery as a result) knows that the Bible is a big book! Double column text minimizes the (wasted) white space at the end of each line, and OK, fair enough, results in fewer total pages in an already really long book. But, again no other book (except the newspaper) is formatted in this way. It’s just not conducive to the natural way that we are accustomed to reading literature. As can be seen in the photo to the right, single column text (free from chapter and verse numbers) makes it look and feel like you’re reading a real book (like a story)!
So what the heck am I supposed to do, Brad? Well, if you haven’t seen it already, click here, to see my top three recommendations for Bibles with improved formatting and improve your reading experience within 5-10 business days (for shipping). Or just pick up a copy of the ESV Study Bible if you want to get all hardcore academic on me. And remember, I am neither an employee, not stockholder in Crossway, Biblica or Zondervan – so I’m totally impartial (just an avid Bible reader and passionate lover of God’s written word)! You can even get The Books of the Bible – NT (NIV) for free on the YouVersion App (if you want to take it for a test drive before you buy).
I understand, you’re still going to need a chapter/verse Bible to bring to church (unless your Pastor has seen the light too), to Bible Studies, and to look up references to make sure that some crackpot blogger like me isn’t quoting verses out of context. But for personal reading, to get a better sense of the story of scripture, and for general enjoyment of the Bible in it’s literary form as God originally gave it to us – for the love of the text – please give single column, paragraph format (and hopefully also chapter/verse free) Bible reading a try.
Until next time, my friends, when we’ll talk about the ongoing battle between those dreaded enemies: Christian Academia and the Evangelical Church!
Charis & Shalom!