Before I purchased my NRSV, I had been using a hardcover Ignatius Bible. With its bright red cover and gold icons of Christ the Teacher and the Four Evangelists, it was pretty hard to miss. When I pulled it out in class one day, a friend look over and asked, “That’s a Bible?” In the world of Bibles, the Ignatius Bible is a little “odd.” Still, his response has always stuck with me, and prompted me to wonder, “So what is it exactly that makes a Bible?”
Is it the outside? Close your eyes right now, and picture a Bible. Yes, I know you were just staring at that picture of mine, but try to clear your head and think. What do you see when you think of a Bible? My guess is something with a leather-like cover, gilded page edges, and “Holy Bible” stamped across the front. Maybe it even has ribbons, a thumb-index, or other features. Why is it that when we picture a Bible, we picture these things?
Is it the inside? Perhaps your imaginary Bible, like most, has two columns. Does it also contain references or study helps? Footnotes? We all do it, don’t we? Close your eyes and think of the first page of Luke. What does it say? “The Gospel According to Luke?” Probably in all caps, with “Luke” just a little larger, right? What about the pages? Are they very thin and a little see-through? How do the chapter and verse numbers look? I think we all have expectations about what a Bible is, don’t we? And it’s not just limited to the inside, either.
Is it something else? You know you’ve met that person—they carry around a beat-up, dog-eared Bible everywhere they go. We think, “Wow, they’re reading their Bible!” Perhaps, like my grandma, they’ve stuck tabs on. Or maybe they underline, highlight, and circle things as they read. In each circumstance, we get the feeling they’re actually using their Bible, right?
By now you’re wondering, “When will this lady stop asking hypothetical questions?” She’s going to stop after this: “Do our expectations about a Bible’s appearance matter? Okay, maybe that wasn’t hypothetical, but think about it. Do any of these things really matter at all? My friend’s reaction to the Ignatius Bible got me thinking, because I realized how much the “standard” Bible look affects us. Even as I went searching for a new Bible this year, I found myself thinking, “I want something that looks like a real Bible.”
But none of these aesthetic things can tell us about a person. A “worn” Bible doesn’t have to be well-read—I have a paperback NT and Psalms that looked beat to death after only two weeks of light use. Conversely, when a person doesn’t mark in their Bible or have a “worn” copy, that doesn’t mean they don’t read it. A Bible doesn’t have to say “Holy Bible” on the front to be a “real” Bible—look at the many journaling Bibles available today. That same classmate I mentioned owns one, and he loves that it “doesn’t look like a Bible.”
In my quest for the perfect edition of Scripture, I often get caught up in aesthetics. In some ways, I think we all do. No matter what it is we’re searching for, we want something nice, whether it be a new Bible or a new pair of shoes. But shoes aren’t worth anything if you don’t wear them, and that Bible isn’t worth anything if you don’t read it. Maybe it’s not perfect, but if you’re reading it, that Bible is perfect, even more than the one covered in purple leather you’ve had your eye on for ages.
Perhaps we don’t mean to, but I think we end up worrying about how people will view us. It’s a part of our fallen nature to judge, to maybe look at that person with a “new” Bible and think, “Well they aren’t reading anything at all.” I know it’s a sin I struggle with often. I’m going back to school tomorrow, and each of you is probably heading back to your own obligations. Let’s remember to assume the best in others and pray for them, rather than judge them. Let’s pray also that we would not only read but live the message of Scripture each day. May Our Lord bless you, and His Mother and all the Saints support you in your journey.
I’m curious. What is it that you like about your Bible? What feature most appeals to you? Why is this particular Bible your favorite? What translation do you use?
In His Sacred Heart,