Note: I have more to say about the PCUSA issues, but am away speaking at a conference right now. So I’ll put up an interesting interview I recently did with Chris Smith. I’ll get back to the PCUSA soon.
Today is the third part of my interview with Chris Smith. We’re focusing on his recent project, The Books of the Bible, an exciting new way to help folks get into the biblical text and story.
Mark: Chris, when we left off yesterday, you were saying that the traditional order of the biblical books can confuse us about the literary genre of certain biblical writings. Would you give us an example of what you mean?
Chris: Sure. The book of James actually has strong affinities to wisdom collections such as Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. But its placement at the head of a group of “general epistles” encourages us to read it as a letter instead. We will be disappointed and confused if we expect James to develop systematically like an epistle.
Mark: Maybe that’s why Martin Luther didn’t like James! Anyway, you didn’t do what Luther once recommended, did you, and take away James or some other books from the Bible?
Chris: No. All the books are there, I promise. The Books of The Bible presents all of the biblical books in a new order that we believe is better attuned to their historical and literary character. The First Testament has three main groups: the “Covenant History” (the continuous historical narrative that runs from Genesis through Kings); the Prophets, major and minor together, in their likely historical order; and the Writings, grouped by genre: poetry, wisdom, history and apocalypse. In the New Testament we have created four groups, each containing a gospel followed by related works. The gospel and letters of John, for example, are grouped together. Luke-Acts is paired with Paul’s letters, since Paul and Luke were co-workers in the Gentile mission. As we write in our preface, through such groupings we hope to “express the ancient concept of the fourfold gospel in a fresh way.”
Mark: Fascinating. I’ve sometimes thought it would be interesting to create a version of the New Testament that put the books in the order in which they were written chronologically. Most folks would be surprised to find the letters of Paul at the very beginning, with the gospels later (though Mark may have been written while Paul was still composing his letters). Anyway, enough of my wild ideas. How have people been responding to this very different way of presenting the Scriptures?
Chris: Really enthusiastically. Even when we circulated a preview edition of the format as it was being developed, people began to tell us what a difference it made. One person explained, “I have been a reader of the Bible for all my life. But after reading just a few pages (literally), I was amazed at what I had been missing all of these years.” Since The Books of The Bible was published last summer, we’ve been getting lots more feedback like this.
Mark: Have you had responses from any bloggers? We bloggers can be a mean, critical bunch, you know?
Chris: In fact people have been out there blogging about their experiences with The Books of The Bible. One guy has given himself the goal of reading through the Bible in a year, and he reports that he’s way ahead of schedule. As he was going through the Pentateuch he wrote, “I’m surprised when I finish a book! Normally chapter numbers chart my progress for me whether I want them to or not. And, let’s admit it, many of us find ourselves wondering how much longer Leviticus is going to last. With The Books of the Bible, I reached the end without ever thinking that.” We’re delighted to hear that people are reading the Scriptures so eagerly.
Mark: Well, if you can get me to read through Leviticus without wishing for the end, that’s quite an accomplishment. So where can people get more information about The Books of The Bible, and how can they get a copy?
Chris: There’s an informational web site and blog at www.thebooksofthebible.info. There’s a Facebook group called De-versify. I’ve also written a companion volume to the new edition entitled The Beauty Behind the Mask: Rediscovering the Books of the Bible. It goes into much more detail about everything we’ve been talking about here. (Photo: The Beauty Behind the Mask by Christopher R. Smith.)
The Books of The Bible can be ordered for $8.99 plus shipping from the International Bible Society at (800) 524-1588 or at this website. Unfortunately it’s not available right now in bookstores. (IBS is a non-profit organization that supplies churches and other ministries, and distributes to the public only by direct order.) However, the New Testament can be ordered on amazon.com for the Kindle reader, in four installments priced at 99¢ each. And commercial publishers may produce editions of the Scriptures in this format for sale in bookstores at some point in the future.
Mark: Hah! I’ve been waiting for a good reason to get a Kindle! Now I’ve got one. So if I could only come up with an extra $359, I’d be all set.