It was the spring of 2015. My wife and I had watched a video about typography and the Bible. Typography is simply the art of formatting words for reading, with consideration given to the layout and the typeface (font). The “layout” consists of many different elements, like how the letters should be spaced and aligned. The use of ligatures (letter pairs, as below, that are made into a single glyph where the normal pairings are awkward) is also a typographical consideration. In the picture, the first two ligatures are standard (common and considered more important), whereas the third would be considered discretionary.
At the same time, Kickstarter had funded Adam Greene’s Bibliotheca project, the first multi-volume reader’s Bible that we had seen or heard of. We bought it, with the expectation that it would ship in about six months. It took two years. But it finally came. I offered my review of that set previously. I loved it. It is a finely crafted Bible set with exquisite typography and build quality. I had only one complaint: the American Literary Version used as the Bibliotheca text, and done especially for Bibliotheca using the American Standard Version as its starting point, is too old fashioned and jarring for smooth, long, distraction-free reading. Sadly, this undermines the very thing the project sought to accomplish.
Fortunately, other Bible publishers got the message: the reader’s Bible format is a wonderful way to present God’s word. Crossway followed with their six-volume English Standard Version reader’s Bible set. That set, by all accounts, is also very well done. But those who have read my blog over the past year know that my real wish would have been for a similar set in the New International Version. In October of this year, Zondervan made my dream come true.
I give you the NIV Sola Scriptura project—a four-volume reader’s Bible set.
The Name: Sola Scriptura
There can be no doubt that the project’s title, “Sola Scriptura,” carries a double meaning. The set was released at the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, the seminal provocation that grew into the Protestant Reformation. The doctrine that the Bible alone, and not church tradition or papal authority, was the rule and standard for belief and practice was at the heart of the Reformation movement. This title celebrates that bedrock of the true Christian church. But I think there is something else. As a reader’s Bible, Sola Scriptura does away with all the verse numbers, cross references, study notes, textual notes, and section headings, leaving you with nothing but the scripture itself. It seems likely that this facet of the project is also alluded to in its name.
Sola Scriptura, as mentioned, breaks the text of the Bible, which is a book of books, into four volumes. The multi-volume format is used so that pages can be thicker (no more “Bible pages”), making the reading experience better. This is the case here, as we would expect, which eliminates the ghosting often seen in single volume Bibles. Each volume is a cloth-over-board hard cover book with a blue ribbon marker. Each volume contains a preface about the Sola Scriptura project and at the back, the NIV translation information.
The presentation of the content of the Bible does not exactly follow the traditional Western order. Rather, Sola Scriptura follows the NIV Books of the Bible in using a “fresh yet ancient presentation of Scripture” in which the books are presented as they were to the ancient readers of the Torah, or following a more logical, content-oriented sequence. For example, in Volume 4 (the New Testament), we are told that Sola Scriptura:
Expresses the ancient concept of the fourfold gospel in a fresh way. Here each gospel is placed at the beginning of a group of closely related books. In this way, the books can be seen as giving four witnesses to the one gospel of Jesus the Messiah.
The four volumes of the set are:
- The Torah and the Former Prophets
- The Latter Prophets
- The Writings
- The New Testament
But don’t worry. Together these volumes comprise the standard sixty-six books of the Bible, no more, no less.
A sweet surprise to me was the project’s use of classic marbled endpaper, that is, the inner lining of the book covers. I have seen this on many older books and to me this unexpected design choice gives the book a friendly feel.
The book spines are navy blue with a wheat-colored, well, wheat design, as seen in my previous photo. This too I like. Other reader’s Bibles sets had gone with the handsome but risk-averse minimalist approach to the spine design. Sola Scriptura tried something a little more eye-catching, and I think it succeeds.
The set comes in an elegant slipcase made of thick cardboard that also features the ear of wheat design. However, the slipcase leaves virtually no room to grip a book and pull it out. The books fit snuggly, too. This left me picking at the spines with a fingernail. To save the spines and my wits, I ended up putting a foam “stopper” inside the case so that the books stick out about an inch. Problem solved.
Randy Brown, another Bible reviewer, identifies the font as size 10.3 Karmina. It indeed appears to be Karmina, though I will defer as to the precise size. Suffice it to say, the text is large enough to be comfortable, as in an average book. Overall, the formatting is perfectly mundane and there is not much to say. However, typographical formatting is where Bibliotheca truly excels. I have a few minor scruples with the typography. First, I would have increased the space between lines of text just ever so slightly (this is called the leading).
Here I show Sola Scriptura on top and Bibliotheca on bottom for comparison. You can see that Bibliotheca has more space between lines for a less dense body of text and easier reading. The fact that while the volumes of each these sets are about the same width, the Bibliotheca volumes are about a centimeter taller may make the more spacious leading possible.
Also, if you look at the word fish/fishes in the text, you can see that Bibliotheca is making use of ligatures, while Sola Scriptura is not. This puzzles me, as Karmina supports ligatures and incorporating them should be as easy as checking the box in your publishing software. The only thing I can say is that the kerning(spacing between letters) in Sola Scriptura does seem wide, and the upper terminal of the “f” does not collide with the dot of the “i”. Expanding the kerning may have eliminated the aesthetic advantage of ligatures.
Third, in Bibliotheca, the text is left aligned and “jagged” on the right. I prefer this over the “justified” text in most books, which forces every full line of text to be the same length by adjusting the space between words.
Reader’s Bibles are a recent trend, but I hope they are here to stay. This set by Zondervan is a welcome addition to the library of available multi-volume reader’s Bibles, and I was personally very excited when it was released. It is reasonably priced, being listed at $99.99, but easy to find for closer to $70. If you are considering a reader’s Bible set, I can recommend this one without hesitation. If you are reluctant to spend the money and want to get your feet wet before diving in, the NIV Books of the Bible single volume Bible may be a good place to start.