Dr. John B. MacDonald
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Glenn R. Paauw, Saving the Bible from Ourselves: Learning to Read and Live the Bible Well (InterVarsity Press, 2016).

 

You probably don’t give much thought to the format of the Bible. This book tells us how it got that way, what differences it makes, and how it can be saved from what’s been done to it.

Glenn R. Paauw is vice president, global Bible engagement, at Biblica (International Bible Society) and a senior fellow at the Institute for Bible Reading.

Despite the plethora of well-translated Bibles in existence, Paauw’s concern is that the Bible is not being read, or shaping lives, as it should.

The Bible has become so encrusted with, among other things, chapter and verse divisions, subheadings, double columns, and notes, that it has been reduced to a theological reference book rather than a book to be read, and engaged with, on its own terms.

Quoting Philip Yancey, the author asserts we have rendered the Bible into “Scripture McNuggets” and pretend they are nutritious. In Paauw’s words there are “over thirty-thousand truthlets [verses] available to be mined and mixed into an inestimable number of new combinations” (162).

What can be done to reverse this; to save the Bible from ourselves?

Following the Introduction, the book is arranged in seven sections of thirteen chapters. Each of these sections identifies a problem, then proposes substantive remedies.

These sections are:

  • The elegant Bible in which Paauw argues for eliminating the complications of chapter and verse divisions, notes and double-columns, thereby allowing the Bible to return to being an elegant Bible for big reading (i.e., whole books of the Bible);
  • The feasting Bible in place of snacking on “Scripture McNuggets”;
  • The historical Bible rather than one disconnected from “real” history;
  • The storiented Bible which is the heart of this project (more below);
  • The earthly Bible, not something read to encourage us to escape from earth, but one in which we realize our present and future hopes our connected to earth;
  • The synagogue Bible for community engagement rather than an individualized possession for private purposes – “a commodity” (164); and,
  • The iconic Bible which manifests not only truth, but also beauty.

The “storiented” Bible is the heart or climax of Paauw’s thesis, which he describes as “the restoration of the Bible as the story above all stories, a drama that we are invited to play a role in” (20, 130). In answer to post-modern distain for meta-narrative, the author incorporates a cogent statement by Richard Bauckham that “the goal is not an abstract universal but the gathering of all particulars in the one kingdom of the one God.”

I have a few niggling reservations or cautions about some secondary issues. Here are two.

First, after advocating for the elimination of chapter and verse divisions, columns, and notes, Paauw then recommends new modifications to the format of the Bible. He writes that, “our Bibles should be formatted to help readers recognize literary forms” such as poetry and lyrics.

As valuable as it is to recognize and appreciate different literary genres, should this not be a function of teaching done in community, rather than a decision of editors and publishers? Indeed, competent teaching is needed to realize much of Paauw’s project.

Second, is the author’s recommendation that Bibles – large Bibles – be beautified as works of art. I sympathize with the desire to engage the arts in biblical life, and to ensure that Bibles are well-bound, easily read, and attractive. But should they be works of art? Would this not threaten to reduce such Bibles to the level of museum pieces, statues, paintings, and (shudder) vases of flowers?

Again, these are secondary concerns and do not detract from the author’s solid thesis, arguments, and other recommendations.

Paauw believes “that if we would embrace this sevenfold restoration project, our collected Scriptures could be substantially healed – their errand in our lives and in our world enhanced” (213). I agree.

This book should be read by as many as possible of those who value the Bible and desire its impact to be enhanced.

 

Disclosure: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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