The Books of the Bible (TNIV)

BooksofthebibleThe Books of the Bible is a fascinating project from International Bible Society, a new approach both to the design and organization of the biblical text. The emphasis is on better Bible reading. To that end, the designers have made a series of intriguing choices. Here’s a run-down from the project’s site:

* chapter and verse numbers are removed from the text (a chapter-and-verse range is at the bottom of each page)

* individual books are presented with the literary divisions that their authors have indicated

* footnotes, section headings and other supplementary materials have been removed from the text (translators’ notes are available at the back of each book)

* the books of the Bible have been placed in an order that provides more help in understanding, based on literary genre, historical circumstance and theological tradition

* single books that later translations or tradition divided into two or more books are made whole again
(example: Luke-Acts)

* single-column setting that clearly and naturally presents the literary forms of the Bible’s books

The project is styled as a “presentation” of the Bible, highlighting the novelty of the approach. The Books of the Bible is meant to encourage a new way of seeing. Instead of focusing on the verse or the chapter, the emphasis is on whole books. This is music to my ears, and it’s no surprise that since this project debuted, I’ve been getting lots of e-mails asking, “What do you think?”

After spending some time with the Books of the Bible, I’m ready to answer.

Conceptually, I love what I see. The thinking behind the formatting and organizational choices is made explicit on the Books of the Bible site, and I appreciate the way it’s positioned. This isn’t a Bible to replace all others. Instead, it’s a new way of approaching the text, stripping away some of the additions that have built up over time. A lot of people — myself included — complain about proof-texting and the tendency to read Scripture through a microscope, importing significance to the subtext and letting the text go unnoticed. But here’s an effort to do something about that. I admire the courage it takes to say, “Here. This is how the book is meant to be read.”

When I taught through the Pauline epistles chapter-by-chapter, I organized the books chronologically instead of following the traditional line-up. So the way the Books of the Bible re-arranges the material makes sense to me. Combining Luke and Acts? Great idea. The new sequence works, and for those of us familiar with the traditional order, it shakes up our set notions sufficiently to provoke a “second look” at what we thought we already knew. Dividing the Old Testament into Covenant History, Prophets, and Writings makes a similar sense.

I don’t want to exaggerate the gains these changes provide. Traditionally-formatted Bibles — even the old double-column, verse-per-line, self-pronouncing ones — are far from unreadable. You won’t open The Books of the Bible and be astonished. Typography and format are subtle influences, so the sea change is moderate, in some cases imperceptible.

The biggest shift, for readers already familiar with the Bible, is the removal of chapter and verse markers. No, I wouldn’t want this to become standard. We rely on these tools to much to abandon them. But spend some time with The Books of the Bible trying to locate familiar passages and you’ll find it isn’t too difficult. In fact, I found myself doing something interesting — something I suspect would please the folks at IBS immensely. Instead of hunting for passages using numeric tools, I had to rely on the logic of the passage.

To locate the stirring conclusion of Romans 8, for example, I had to flip through the book, read a few lines, and recall the structure of the argument in my mind to determine if I’d landed before or after the “verses” I was looking for. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”? Before. “It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descendants from Israel are Israel”? That’s the aftermath of what I’m looking for, the stillness after the rhetorical storm. To find the passage I wanted — “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” — I needed a new intellectual grid based not on number but ideas. I had to navigate the Bible the way I would another book, by knowing the content, not the references. Now that really could change the way you view Scripture. (There are chapter and verse ranges given at the bottom of each page, too, so finding an unfamiliar passage in a hurry isn’t as hard as you might think.)

I find the format useful and challenging. With the same challenge to meet, I might have made different choices, but The Books of the Bible impresses me as a concept that’s been thought through from the ground up. The decisions make sense.

The form of the book is pleasing, too. It’s a glued binding on inexpensive paper, and there’s a distracting amount of bleed-through, but this is a $9 paperback, after all. It opens flat and has a good heft. It measures 6 x 9 and it’s a little over 1.5 inches thick. A handful, yes, and since the cover offers no rigidity, it can be more than a handful when you’re stretched out on the couch trying to read. The size is a trade-off that earns you comfortably-sized type.

You knew this was coming, didn’t you? As much as I like the concept behind The Books of the Bible, there are a few things I really wish they’d done differently. They’re minor enough to go unnoticed by a lot of people, so I don’t think they destroy the project or anything melodramatic like that. But they prevent this from being the “go-to” edition when I want to approach Scripture as a reader.

BookintroIt all comes down to type. As I said, the type size is generous. But the type choice is egregious. The biblical text is set in a somewhat scripty font, with little calligraphic serifs. Maybe egregious is too strong a word. Using a cursive type would be egregious. This is just … mildly disappointing. The book introductions (pictured at right) appear to be set in Garamond, and they look quite nice apart from the HTML-ish double-spacing between paragraphs. I wish they’d chosen to use the same type for the text — or flip-flopped the two. As it is, the typographer in me can’t help grinding his teeth a bit.

Another unfortunate drawback is the lack of margin near the spine. As you can see in the photograph above, the inside edges of the text disappear into the gutter. This is a common problem, but alleviating it would also solve an issue with the single-column text setting — namely, that it’s a bit too wide. On a 6 x 9 page, a comfortable width of a single column of text is about 4.5 inches. I measured a sampling of 6 x 9 trade paperbacks and found that to be roughly standard. The Books of the Bible stretches its column to 5 inches. In a context where readability is the goal, a lack of proportion on such a fundamental level is a real disappointment. There are always trade-offs in design, but in this case I think I’d have settled for a thicker book with a layout better proportioned to the page.

Having said that, I hope you won’t let the shortcomings outweigh the benefits. One of my passions is to see more Bibles for reading rather than reference, and The Books of the Bible is clearly a great example. It’s bold in conception and stumbles slightly in execution, but overall, I am pleased with what I see. This is a Bible designed to introduce new readers to Scripture, and to teach those already familiar with it a new way of reading. I hope what the IBS has done here will serve as an example to others. If we really are dissatisfied with the way Scripture has been read (and not read) in the past, we have to do more about it than simply lament. The Books of the Bible shows that format and design — often dismissed as aesthetic irrelevance — have a contribution to make in the quest.

The Books of the Bible Site

29 Comments on “The Books of the Bible (TNIV)

  1. Why do we assume that the best way to get the Bible’s big picture is to read it in any printed format at all? For most of history, more people have been listening to the Bible than reading it. And the best translations are often those prepared with the listener in mind (This is probably what was meant by the KJV frontispiece ‘Appointed to be read in churches’.)With the advent of mp3 players, it is easy and affordable to have a listening Bible. I would encourage people to consider a mp3-format Bible as an alternative to ‘The Books of the Bible’. The TNIV dramatised ‘Bible Experience’ (now with OT as well as NT), is excellent. Other options are the ESV ‘Listener’s Bible’ (Max McClean) or the NLT ‘Holy Santuary’. Easy and light to carry too!

  2. I love the idea of this Bible. Now I hope they produce one in a version I don’t find personally reprehensible…
    Do you hear my Crossway?

    • 🙂 Doug, better late than never–ESV 6-volume reader’s set Oct. 2016!

  3. I must admit, I would much rather read this font than that stupid looking non-serif font that has plagued the majority of TNIV printings.

  4. I didn’t look close enough. That is the stupid font. What a waste of trees.

  5. It’s not of major importance but what about the cover color? Is the Sage color more on the greenish side or the grayish side?

  6. Can someone tell me what the major difference is between this and F. LaGard Smith’s chronological Bible?

  7. David — I’ll have to post something about audio recordings of the Bible. After hearing Kenneth Branagh’s reading of Samual Pepys’ Diary, I really wish he’d do one of the KJV. I’m not a big fan of dramatized readings with S/FX and everything, and I’ve never really warmed to the way Max McLean reads, which seems a bit portentious. In a word, I’m hard to satisfy on the audio front, just like I am in print! But your point is well taken. Audio Bibles are a great resource, especially in our iPod-toting age.
    John — I made the same discovery you did after writing the review. The font seems to be something IBS inherited from TNIV design in general. Too bad.
    BL — The sage is definitely pale green rather than gray.
    Brandon — I’m sorry, but I’m not familiar with the work you mentioned. If it’s a chronological Bible, then I’d say this is very much in that spirit, though the particulars no doubt vary.

  8. Great review. I have had my copy for about two months and have enjoyed the ease of reading provided by the new layout. I am a fan of the single column setting and in the past have bought a few different translations in this format. I also prefer a clean design with as few headings, footnotes, and marginal notes as possible. With its removal of chapter and verse numbers, this new effort from IBS meets my desire for a bible where the text is pre-eminent and the distractions are kept to a minimum. I agree with you that the printing suffers from excessive bleed-through and that the margins are too narrow, but I am puzzled by your dislike of the type. When I first saw this style of type in a TNIV by Zondervan, I thought it was a great choice. To my eye it is a very clean, modern style with a minimum of distracting elements. I find it to be refreshing and easy to read. I am interested in hearing what elements of the type you dislike.
    Thanks for your thoughts.

  9. I too am very fussy about who reads an audio bible. I have the Max McLean ones (KJV,NIV,ESV) but I don’t really like them. Stephen Johnson is my least favorite who also happens to do the most versions.
    The only voice I ever really liked reading the bible was Mike Kellogg unfortunately he only has done the NLT.
    Samples here.
    I also quite enjoyed Johnny Cash Reading the NKJV New Testament.
    Some people Like James Earl Jones reading the KJV New Testament.
    I am always on the Lookout for a quality Audio bible though.
    I doubt I will ever find the “Allan” of audio bibles.

    • Dear Mr. Bertrand, The images on this blogpost do not appear. Perhaps the host-server is out of business? Could you kindly take a look at this? I’d love to see the pictures.

  10. A bit of a technicality to be sure, but hopefully a helpful one nevertheless: Luke-Acts wasn’t (and isn’t) a “single book” that “translations or tradition divided.” While I appreciate TBoTB’s placing them sequentially, they aren’t perhaps the best example of that particular bullet point.

  11. I ordered some of these recently and although I am very tolerant of “bleedthough” issues, the copies I got display this problem to the extent that you can almost read the text on the other side of the page. It makes what should be an unusually easy reading experience very difficult. I think it’d be better to increase the price a bit and use better paper for what is a great concept.

  12. Can you help me find a copy of the Books of the Bible leather bound?

  13. I’d like to offer several observations and questions – a little give and take.
    First, the review of TBoB expresses my personal feelings very well. I have owned one for over a year, and I like it very much. After the initial rush of enthusiasm, however, I confess that I am far more impressed by the vision than I am the execution. The grouping of thoughts not only facilitates, but in some instances alters prior understanding. But the page lay-out renders reading more difficult than you might imagine. The text is distractingly close to the gutter, causing lines to curve into shadows. The comment about line-length is especially valid. I often read aloud for my wife and myself. The lines are fatiguingly long and do not facilitate easy reading. The lack of decent margins is a serious deterrent to note-inscribing. Inspired concept; careless execution.
    I do like TBoB well enough to have asked the publisher if it is available in a hard-bound edition. I was told that the paperback is the only current edition, but my suggestion would be passed on to the product development department. So, if you want a Bible unencumbered by verse and chapter numbers, this is the only option of which I am aware.
    To answer another poster – TBoB is nothing like F. Lagard Smith’s edition of the Bible. TBoB preserves all of the books as discreet entities.
    My question: Ideally I would like a text-only, single-column, wide-margin, red-letter, quality, preferably NASB, ESV, NKJV or TNIV. Can anybody help me?

  14. For those of you bothered about the text disappearing into the gutter, try breaking in the binding a lot harder than you might feel comfortable with. I have found the glued binding particularly tough. Don’t break it back all at once, but gradually going from front to back, 50 pages at a time, force it open more and more. The black and orange are only $6 each so what are you worried about? After about an hour of man-handling, you’ll be surprised to just what degree of Bible yoga you can achieve with this glued-only binding. Makes it considerably easier to read.
    I have the orange model (the color grows on you) and I’ve found a nice coat of carnauba wax makes the cover feel nicer to the touch and it resists soiling.

  15. Well I didn’t buy a premium edition, but I did pick up a “The Books of the Bible New Testament”, Biblica item 1801, which has the same cover style, so I’m assuming it has basically the same features as the Premium.
    I was hoping it would be, like many NTs, a larger print version of the entire TBOTB, which I should have been able to figure out from the dimensions and the page count, was not going to be the case. So I was sort of set up for some disappointment anyway. In addition, the paper in the NT turns out to be off-white, which goes nicely with the brown cover, but is actually harder to read than the white paper of the early editions of the TBOTB that Mark has pictured at the top of this page. Additionally, this new paper has more of a newsprint feel to it, so if that’s a feature of the “premium edition”, it ain’t very premium.
    Again, assuming the Premium is like this NT, the binding is identical, still just a perfect-bind, i.e. tear-out scratch-pad binding. The cover is a glossy finish, less resistant to smudging than the old models, which was Skivertex, or something like that. (This is assuming you didn’t use my carnauba wax trick posted above.) And to my neurons, the old cover just had a nicer tactile feel to it than this glossy stuff. So if you don’t have a TBOTB, I’d sure urge you to get one before they possibly sell out of the old “nice white paper” editions. The orange one (#822) is a particularly good bargain right now at $4.50–just the cost of a visit to St. Arbuck’s.
    If you’ve never read from a Bible without versification or even chapter numbers please consider getting one of these. It’s a wonderful reading experience. And I’ve grown to really dig their book ordering as well. Try it.
    If only they had a truly premium edition! In the same order, I picked up one of Biblica’s #802 TNIV Thinlines for the princely sum of $5. What an incredibly nice Bible for under $15, let alone $5! Smyth-sewn signatures, relatively luxurious TruTone-style cover in an elegant maroon…nice hinge… I tell ya’ it breaks in nicer than a $50 Crossway ESV–all that’s missing is page gilding. So why can’t they bind the TBOTB like this???

  16. I just bought one of these and am very happy with it–it is so much easier to just sit down and read the Bible without verse numbers, footnotes, cross-references, and all that clutter. The newest version of this Bible is using the NIV 2011 rather than the TNIV, and while it is difficult to get a good look at the type in your picture, I think the newer ones might be using a different font. At least, comparing the samples given on Biblica’s website, the newer ones seem to look better to me. This edition is being released as four volumes: Law, Prophets, Writing, and New Testament; only the New Testament is currently available.

  17. @BobZ, although as a translation I find NIV11 pretty indistinguishable from TNIV, I agree the new setting is much more attractive. The font has more “serifs” and puts more ink on the page. Plus, comparing the two examples you allude to:
    shows there’s ~20% fewer words per line which I find considerably helps readability. Of course that means there’s 20% more pages, 480 in the NT instead of the original 400, but if the newest Biblica approach is a 4-volume set, no one should complain of individual volume bulk.
    It appears Zondervan will be releasing TruTone bindings of these (complete 66-book NIV11 canons) in early September as ISBNs 978-0310402466 and 978-0310402077. They’re being advertised with 5% more pages (not 20%) than the blued paperbacks we’re both used to, so the layout may not quite track the Biblica pdf above. However I’m hoping they’ll be sewn as most of Zondervan’s latest editions have been. Zondervan’s implying they’re the same “creative” book ordering as the Biblica originals, which I think is a huge marketing blunder, but I admire the adventurous spirit. I guess we’ll see. Just hope the paper’s not too thin or transparent.
    If anyone can provide more details on the TBOTB project, either at Biblica or Zondervan, I’d love to hear more.

  18. make that “glued” paperback
    I have an orange and a black paperback, but not a blue one.

  19. Biblica’s halfway through the 4-volume set so it appears the project is going ahead. Both the NT (Vol 4) and OT History (Vol 1) are now out in NIV11 with what I consider improved typesetting. (Wish the margins were just a little larger.)
    Zondervan’s single-volume editions (ISBNs given in my 3/4 email) have now been delayed to Nov 6 per Amazon. The stated dimensions given there are weird to say the least. CBD shows an August 17 release; I’ve requested clarification.

  20. Biblica’s halfway through the 4-volume set so it appears the project is going ahead. Both the NT (Vol 4) and OT History (Vol 1) are now out in NIV11 with what I consider improved typesetting. (Wish the margins were just a little larger.)
    Zondervan’s single-volume editions (ISBNs given in my 3/4 email) have now been delayed to Nov 6 per Amazon. The stated dimensions given there are weird to say the least. CBD shows an August 17 release; I’ve requested clarification.

  21. I just received a Zondervan brown TruTone, ISBN-13 = 978-0310402077 and am very pleasantly surprised. IT IS A SEWN BINDING. Not Layflat glued technology. It has a single ribbon marker but no page gilding. However the page corners are liberally rounded, which is a must in a durable volume. The inside cover pages are thin, cheap, construction paper, although a good coat of carnauba wax can strengthen these quite a bit. And I suspect the Trutone was the cheapest non-paper cover they could use. But the Chinese build quality is excellent. The puckering of the “hide” cover at the corners is absolute uniform and perfect. The stitching on the cover edges is perfectly straight and uniform.
    I’m not a fan of TruTone. But this one has an interesting feature. Instead of being “buttery soft”, it has an almost microscopic surface texturing that gives it an almost incredible non-slip sense in the hand when reading. I suspect it will not glide on and off a bookshelf very well either but I think this one’s going to be out on the coffee table most of its life. (Hopefully it won’t strip the varnish–I worry about that a bit with TruTone.)
    And the paper is simply incredible by today’s standards. It has the feel of old India rag paper. Incredibly thin, nearly 2000 pages (1000 sheets) in a 1-1/8″ thick text block. Yeah, there’s some bleed-through, but it’s better than the Italian textblock in my Crossway Legacy, which has thicker paper to boot so should be expected to be more opaque.
    Compared to the paperback TBOBs, this one has a more traditional serifs font so is even easier on the eyes. It’s NIV-11, which is pretty much the same as the original TNIV version. If you like the original, but want an even better product, get the Zondervan TruTone.

  22. I recently purchased the most recent 2011 NIV hardcover edition and I’ve been really enjoying reading this bible. With the absence of the verse and chapter numbers I’ve noticed that I tend to draw more out of the text. I also like the idea of the different book order and the 10 pt. font is also a plus. The introductions/invitations to each book of the bible I find sets the stage nicely by providing key information. My biggest and only complaint is the paper; the ghosting for me is tolerable and I would very much like to see this improved in the near future. The size of this bible is identical to the ESV Legacy, although in my opinion The Books of the Bible makes better use of the page space, which allows for a larger font. Many editions are marketed as a reader’s edition, but other than the ghosting issue The Books of the Bible better suits my idea of an actual Reader’s bible. If given the opportunity I would be happy to buy an edition with heavier paper, even if it was two inches thick. The approximate size of the text block in the hardcover edition is 9” x 6” x 1-3/8” at 1900 pages.

  23. Norm and I both compared new Zondervan TBOB textblocks with a Crossway Legacy and had somewhat opposite reactions to the paper quality. So there may be some variation out there from lot-to-lot, paper roll to paper roll. There’s a lot to be said for brick and mortar stores where you can try before you buy.

    • Bill,
      I would actually like to amend one of the statements that I had made earlier about ghosting. I’ve been using this bible for over a month now as my daily reader and at times my eyes were having a difficult time focusing on the text. I mistakenly contributed this issue with ghosting, but in all reality when the line matching is consistent the ghosting is really not that bad. Although, throughout the bible on numerous pages where the line matching is not consistent, I noticed that the text is actually staggered, which contributed to the lack of readability. I think the issue for me would be improved if the print was a little darker and the issue with the inconsistency of the line matching was corrected. Also, I find that I tend to miss the chapter and verse numbers, the only exception is the book of Psalms, which the chapter numbers are printed out in a very faint light gray print. So, I got to thinking, if Zondervan included the chapter and verse numbers in the same faint print, would it really be too much of a distraction?

  24. I just received the brown Duo-Tone edition and like others have mentioned I was very pleasantly surprised. I think the paper quality is excellent. The ghosting is not bad at all and does not distract from the reading experience. I really like the 10 point font and font style.

    It’s difficult to explain some of the subtle touches to the text. For example, books that are grouped together will appear together as a title on each page, with the current book in bold font. You really have to see it to appreciate it.

    Within each book, the section spacing, rather than chapter numbers, is very well executed. And the very faint chapter references on the bottom of each page are nicely done.

    I stumbled upon information about this edition at the Biblica website and purchased the duo-tone edition at CBD (I don’t think it is available on Biblica’s store website). And then read the review here. I’m surprised that this edition of the NIV is not more popular. I had a somewhat hard time finding it.

    Highly recommend. I hope these reader-type editions continue to grow in popularity.

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