We only want features that are helpful to us in overcoming our deficiencies, not any implied (deliberately or not) deficiencies in the Bible itself.
This last Saturday, I was browsing the Bible section in Mardel Christian Bookstore. I picked up a hardcover NIV Study Bible and was struck funny by a gold, circular call-out declaring “COLOR on EVERY PAGE”. I thought, “Does that really need to be a key marketing point for Bibles now?” Does that really need to be a key design point for Bible design committees now, because “plain” black-and-white Bibles won’t do anymore? Do we now need to dress up the Bible, reaching a point when the Word of God is not enough of an attraction without colorful accents and accessories? These questions are not as much for those designing and selling Bibles as they are for us buying and reading Bibles.
Now, I don’t want to come across as being opposed to making Bibles visually engaging, because I’m not. I think that Bible text should be formatted to ease eye strain, assist memorization, and streamline the flow of reading (the designers of the Holman Christian Standard Bible have done a great job with this). I also think that Bible helps should be excellently designed with all the details necessary for them to accomplish their purpose: insets should be attractive and not interruptive; pictures and maps should pop off the page with colorful, clarifying detail; study notes should be easy to track by text and topic (the HCSB and ESV study Bibles are unsurpassed in these regards).
However, even while acknowledging all of those legitimate considerations, I am concerned about the general idea that we need to splash some color on the pages of the Bible for no other purpose than page dressing to make it more appealing to the eye. Our first attraction to any Bible should be the words on its pages, not its colorful accents. We should be exercising our imaginations to come alive with the vivid, colorful details in its black-lettered words. We Bible readers should be very careful to ask ourselves what is drawing us to the Bibles we paid for and hopefully pray over: Is it the nice bundle of our preferred binding, paper, and ink, or, is it the living, life-giving, soul-restoring and sustaining Word of God? We need to be careful to remember the difference between the craving of our eyes and the craving of our souls - between the habit of holding a book in our hands for particular periods of time and the habit of taking God’s Word into our hearts during purposeful times in prayer.
I have a nice Bible. I shopped for it and paid for it, because I wanted it instead of the others I saw next to it. It has nice features, but I can honestly say that I chose it for its features that are most useful to me, rather than the most aesthetic to me. Now, I did pick my particular Bible over identical Bibles, because I like its cover better, but that was after my other priorities were covered: translation, features, and then appearance.
If you are shopping for a Bible, choose a Bible that most helps you get into God’s Word to get God’s Word into you. Think about what features are helpful to you versus what features are distracting to you - what features help you engage God’s Word versus what features disengage you from God’s Word. An extensive study Bible is the right choice for some, while a text-only Bible is the right choice for others (and there are variances between).
Our ultimate concern here is this: As Bible consumers, we need to tell Bible suppliers that our first priority is to consume God’s Word, not their products. We don’t want them to dress up the Bible with COLOR on EVERY PAGE, because the Bible doesn't need it (and they need to think carefully about what kind of message they are sending with marketing points like that one). We only want them to offer us features that are helpful to us in overcoming our deficiencies, not any implied (deliberately or not) deficiencies in the Bible itself.
Let us aspire to understand the times and know what we
(1 Chronicles 12:32)