So, I was talking to someone recently about a previous mission trip he was on in communist countries (don’t remember which one). At the time, it was illegal to have a Bible; any found Bibles would be burned. So, at a hidden meeting, after reading a passage from his Bible, he casually put it behind him on a table. The locals were appalled by his actions, since the Bible was a rarity and deeply sought possession.
So, it got me thinking; do you think we have too many Bibles today? I live with my parents and 2 brothers. In our house, there are probably 15 Bibles, easily. Is there such a thing as too many Bibles?
‘Yes’, if we fetishize the Bible, concentrating on a physical book and not the Word of God, or if we begin to worship a book, per se.
‘Yes’, also, I’d say, if we’re talking about ‘special purpose’ Bibles that target this market segment or that market segment of Christians, and then add all sorts of things – commentary and such (that might not be beneficial) – to the Word of God.
‘No’, though, if having a number of Bibles means that there’s a better chance, in any given circumstance, that a person will open their Bible and encounter God in it.
I put maybe because the question for me goes further than how many copies of the printed word we have. If I have 2 Bibles in my house, but never read them or only read one, then I may have too many. But if I had 50 Bibles which were read or referred to, then I would not have too many (and would probably be a very serious scholar). The Bibles I have (paper, kindle and link on my computer) are all used at different times.
I think the situation you describe helps people realize the value of a Bible. In the US we have more access to Bibles and other Bible Study materials we can be almost overwhelmed. I figure it is just part of a capitalistic economic system. Each niche which a retailer can market to means more sales in a competitive environment. Therefore we get new translations and specialized translations for every possible group. The deeper I move into my faith the fewer I tend to use. The RSV-CE is probably my favorite with the New King James as runner up.
As others have said though, I have way too many and I try to give them away to others when possible.
When I was a protestant I probably owned 10 or more. Different translations-different types of study Bibles. Now I own 4 or 5 Catholic Bibles since I am Catholic. I sold some of my protestant Bibles to a used bookstore and gave one to a friend and one to my daughter-in-law. I have tried to convince her to become Catholic, but so far she says she is not intetested.
My own view is that it’s impossible to have too many Bibles. There are many places that can house the Bible. Having one handy is useful. You never know when you’ll want to give one away to someone for their journey to Christianity. Or to answer a question. Or for those JW or LDS visitors. Or to check different translations to clarify an understanding. Even something as subtle as different word size places the same passage in different spacial position and may occasionally force that new insight.
I have a few e versions on this tablet. Very worthwhile. Always looking for more.
I have 37 Catholic bibles. Of course some are similar (sametranslation) but they are different. Some are usefull in prayer, some in study. I also have a Jewish stidy bible. When doing my assignments i read the same assignment in at least two translations. Makes it easier to understand.
i have several electronic bibles including truth and life and Verbum. I dont find them usefull for prayer. I have THE IGANATIUS DIDACHE bible on the way to add to my collection. Kind of like Lays potatoe chips. To good to have just one.
I have many different translations, including a few ‘youth Bibles’, which are valuable when working with youngsters in the parish(!!!). One relatively recent purchase that’s been getting a lot of use lately is my ‘Navarre Bible’ - it contains the RSV and the New Vulgate…it’s nice to see the Latin again…
I’m reminded of this book I read a while back: Timothy Beal’s The Rise and Fall of the Bible. Slightly misleading title aside, the book really gave me a bit of insight into the modern-day Bible industry.
What I got from Beal is: many Christians buy Bibles (in fact, Bibles sell; Bible publishing is a very lucrative industry right now), but for some reason real biblical literacy is currently low among many Christians. In fact, many Christians seem to have difficulty reading the Bible. Beal attributes this to a disparity between popular imagination and reality: the popular concept of the Bible is an easy-to-understand, self-interpreting manual of answers that will magically solve every problem in society (a mentality originating from 19th-century Evangelicalism), but when people actually crack the covers and read it, they find it’s too different from what they expected: there’s ambiguity and discrepancies in the text. Readers feel they don’t get anything from it and become discouraged.
Now this is where Bible publishers come in. Beale argues that what they really sell is not so much ‘the Bible’ but the popular, iconic idea of the Bible: Bibles with added ‘extras’ or values (footnotes, etc.) that provides that ‘Bibleness’ so many seek but which are lacking or really hard to find in the scriptural text itself. (Often, Beale says, these ‘extras’ often drown out the Text itself: they become the center of attention. In other words, they claim to supplement the Text but end up supplanting it.)
And that’s why Bibles sell right now: consumers have this idea in their heads about what the Bible should be like, they buy a Bible, feel this particular Bible doesn’t fit their expectations, they go off to buy another one, rinse and repeat. Bible publishers are meanwhile all too happy to respond to a felt need and provide the masses with different possibilities (to the point that they distract readers from authentic engagement with the Bible itself). And that’s why biblical literacy is in decline while Bible sales are on the rise: people read the value-added extras more than they do the Text, because these extras seem more ‘biblical’. You might even say Bible publishers dilute and devalue the Bible by continually reinventing it in a variety of ways and inundating the market with shelf-loads of editions and versions.
The other factor that explains the disparity between high Bible sales and low Biblical literacy is, just what you say, us living in a consumer society. There is such a thing as ‘biblical consumerism’. Another reason why people buy more Bibles is because in our consumer culture, we identify ourselves by what we buy and have. We consumers are also convinced that new is better, that buying new stuff is the shortest route to self-improvement, which gives rise to an endless cycle of buying. And that’s why Christians continually shop for Bibles: we want to identify ourselves as Christians, we want to grow in our faith, we believe in the Bible as the word of God. So we buy and then buy more.
Methinks it’s good that you at least your Bible; many people seem to just buy but not get around to actually read.
That makes a lot of sense. I know a lot of the protestant Bibles have a lot of extras and I do think that appeals to people.
We are an impatient culture also. We want the information quickly and reading the entire Bible is a slow process.
So let me say it again: Bible publishers are selling down the sacred capital of the Bible, inundating the market with a bewildering array of new editions and versions in an ever-growing array of new editions and versions in an ever-growing variety of translations, layouts, and material forms. To the point that you could be forgiven if, standing in the Bible section of your local bookstore, you were to cry out in despair, “Where is the Bible?” As publishers lean ever harder away from preservation and toward popularization, the Bible is losing its set-apartness. It is being washed away in a market flood of biblical proportions.
Contrast this situation with how the more narrowly defined sacred capital of scriptures in other religious traditions is accumulated and preserved. A good example from Judaism is the Sefer Torah, a Torah scroll that is meticulously hand-copied according to strict scribal regulations on particular kinds of parchment made from kosher animals. Lovingly housed in the aron kodesh, or holy ark, in the synagogue or temple, veiled by an embroidered curtain, and adorned with a crown, breastplate, and bells, it is taken out and carried through the congregation to be reverently touched and kissed by members before it is read by a cantor who uses a little hand-shaped pointer called a yad (“hand”) so that her or his finger doesn’t touch its parchment. Through these various highly regulated methods of production, care, and use, the Sefer Torah accumulates sacred capital as the center of Jewish religious belief and practice.
Similarly, in Eastern Orthodox churches, the four Gospels of the New Testament are set apart in a separate book, the Gospel Book. Made and decorated according to elaborate specifications, it is believed to be an icon of Christ and is treated with great reverence during the Divine Liturgy as well as in other liturgies. During the prayer of consecration for a new bishop, for example, the Gospel Book is opened and placed, face-down, on the back of his neck. When he dies, he will be buried with it resting on his chest.
In both of these examples, we can see how a scripture’s sacred capital resides in a particular, highly regulated and carefully preserved combination of word, thing, and idea. Sacred capital resides not only in the words on the page, the literary content, but also in the thing itself, made a certain way with certain materials, and in the idea of it, the shared perception of it. The various ritual practices and beliefs that surround it are forms of stewardship that build and maintain that trinity of word-thing-idea. If one element of that triad loses meaning, the whole thing suffers a loss of sacred capital. Within such a closely regulated religious context of belief and practice, it would be difficult to convert sacred capital into economic capital.
In the biblical consumerism of American popular culture, by contrast, sacred capital resides in an idea that is being attached to a wider and wider variety of words and things, with no regulations other than the free market and the consciences of bible publishers and consumers.
This situation is analogous to the phenomenon of “brand dilution.” The cultural icon of the Bible is similar to a brand. It enjoys wide cultural appreciation akin to brand recognition. Brand recognition is a measure of the value that potential consumers perceive in a brand – how much trust they have in its value. When a brand has high value or “brand equity,” a company may want to extend it into other areas and products. It may want to use a strong brand as a vehicle for new or modified products or services. For example, Nike or Puma moves into clothing. Or Honda moves into chain saws. Or Sony moves into moviemaking. That’s brand extension. But how far can you extend a brand? How many different products can you attach to a brand before it begins to lose its meaning? That’s brand dilution.
One major difference between the Bible and a brand is that the Bible is now owned or controlled by a company or institution. It can’t be trademarked or copyrighted (although proprietary translations can be). No one can restrict its extensions in the consumer world. The only check on what new and modified products get attached to it is the market. Its “brand extension,” if you will, is a matter of consumer vote. And so the extension continues ad infinitum, to the point of absolute brand dilution. Biblical liquidation.
I don’t think I have too many, although I do have quite a few between study, readers, different sizes etc.
I DO feel that Christians have far too many translations however. It would be great if we could at least decide on one common translation that all agreed was the true standard. Even the Catholic Church has too many as you traverse the globe. I’ve had friends from other religions ask in casual conversation why we as Christians can’t decide which one is right. Heck, we can’t even agree on which books should be included!
Honestly, as far the Catholic Church, I think they should have stuck with the DR as the “standard” world wide.
I have long argued that the modern idea of what the Bible is, or what makes up a good Bible, is really a marketing invention.
Footnotes, essays, cross references, commentaries by noted apologists and maps are not the Bible. Even the words “The Gospel of Jesus Christ according to St. John” is not the Bible. The Bible is the inspired word of God, the sacred texts themselves. Maps and footnotes are not the inspired word of God.
The early desert fathers walked off into the wilderness with copies of the sacred texts and lived lives of great holiness. I know monks who practice lectio - prayerful reading of scripture - for up to two hours per day and their Bibles are loose leaf binders containing nothing but the sacred texts.
I just gave away my Ignatius New Testament Study Bible. Something is wrong when we open the pages of a “Bible” and 75% of the page is covered by something other than the word of God.
I agree with you about the distractions in many modern study Bibles. I think for me when I am using my Bible for prayerful reading I choose a Bible with no notes present on the page with the scripture text. But if I am doing a Bible study of some kind, then I like the commentary notes on the same page, maps and a glossary, etc., then I will choose a modern study Bible. So for me it isn’t either/ or, but both.
The irony is, that the modern Bible publishing industry has its roots in the 19th century Evangelical ideal of printing and distributing Bibles “without note or comment” (so the American Bible Society’s manifesto). Quite ironic that many modern Bible publishers end up doing the opposite of said ideal, really.
The popular idea of the Bible modern Bible publishers perpetuate (the Bible as self-interpreting manual of answers and solution for every problem), in turn, derives from the tenet of sola scriptura combined with 19th-century ‘Puritanic Biblicism’, with its romantic idealization of and nostalgia for 16th- and 17th-century Puritan piety. The two ideas go hand in hand, really: Puritanic Biblicism believed the Bible to be the infallible divine manual that would heal all ills (personal, social, familial, you name it), so their solution to problems facing modern society? Distribute and sell Bibles.
It is a primary maxim with Puritanism, that the Bible alone is the rule and ground of all religion, of all that men are required to believe or do in the service of God. In this sacred volume, we are told, God has been pleased to place his word in full, by special inspiration, as a supernatural directory for the use of the world to the end of time; for the very purpose of providing a sufficient authority for faith, that might be independent of all human judgment and will … The great matter accordingly is to place the bible in every man’s hands, and to have him able to read it, that he may then follow it in his own way. The idea seems to be, that the bible was published in the first place as a sort of divine formulary or text book for the world to follow in matters of religion, and that the church rested on no other ground in the beginning for its practices or doctrines, appealing to it and building upon it in a perfectly free and original way after the fashion of our modern sects; in which view it is to be counted still the foundation and pillar of truth, so that the dissemination of its printed text throughout the world, without note or comment, is the one thing specially needful and specially to be relied upon for the full victory of Christianity, from sea to sea and from the river to the ends of the earth.
So Nevin summarizes Puritanism’s belief. (On the very next page, in fact, Nevin expressed his disagreements with said view, remarking: “To place a divine text at the mercy of private judgment, looks very much like making it a mere nose of wax.”)
19th-century American Puritanism really gave birth to a lot of things: Bible societies, the Bible publishing industry, the fundamentalist movement, the concept of Bible study, neo-evangelicalism (stuff like Billy Graham, Youth for Christ, Campus Crusade for Christ, etc.), to name a few.
They all go together: Fundamentalism emerged as a reaction against the rise of evolutionary theory and biblical higher criticism - both of which were perceived to challenge Puritanism’s understanding of the Bible as literal and ‘infallible’ word of God; neo-evangelicalism in turn arose as a reaction against fundamentalism’s increasing separatist stance and withdrawal from modern society. Bible studies brought together fundamentalism’s commitment to biblical inerrancy and Revivalism’s emphasis on personal piety; the idea behind this, again, being that the Bible, as literal and infallible word of God, spoke in clear, unambiguous terms that any plain man can understand and apply to his life. Bible societies and the Bible publishing industry, as mentioned are the result of this same idea.