A question which has plagued reviewers of bibles is that, if one describes a bible as a good book rather than as The Good Book, is one committing a form of blasphemy? Still, while all bibles have (more or less) the same general content, the Old and the New Testaments, there are many qualities that vary from one version to the next, which consumers take into account when deciding on the best for their own purposes. With The Bible, Penguin Classics take on the greatest bestseller of all time (in your face, Harry Potter!), edited by David Norton, and the classic question arises yet again. Just how well does this edition match up against others?
Who says you can’t judge a book by its cover? This edition is paperback. The binding of a bible is a major consideration for some people. Genuine leather, though much more expensive, is a selling point for those who are looking for a bible to hand down through the generations, or merely like it for the look, the subtle feel, and the smell of leather. But, on the other hand, a paperback bible can be quite adequate for everyday hard usage, not to mention being more affordable. Also, if an accident occurs and something spills on it, it’s not a major expense to replace one in comparison. I’m a person who prefers a leather-bound Bible, but I feel a paperback is fine for daily use, so the binding is not really much of a drawback to me.
Besides being a King James version of the Bible, complete with old-fashioned English words such as “ye” and “smite,” the text is also that of The New Cambridge Paragraph Bible (2005). The text has been placed into paragraphs, rather than in the format many people are accustomed to: two side-by-side columns. Norton’s argument for this approach is that using two columns goes against what the great Bible translator William Tyndale wanted readers to perceive: “the process, order, and meaning” of the text. The paragraphing format takes some getting used to, but it’s not the form of the text that’s the most important element to a bible, but the meaning contained in the words. The two column approach is my favorite, but the paragraphing format is sort of growing on me.
People look for other features in a bible: footnotes, cross-references, maps, dictionaries of terms/words used, an index, pronunciation guides, notes in general, reading/study guides, daily devotionals. This a pretty bare-bones version; it’s the Bible, unvarnished, unblemished; and, unfortunately, to my point of view, lacking in most of these areas. Of the items mentioned above, The Bible edited by David Norton has only some sparse notes over each book of the Bible toward the back, and six pages of black-and white maps. It’s true that Norton makes no claims that this version is a study type of bible; still, it does not have many features that attract people to buying a bible.
Here’s a quote from the New Testament - Matthew 5:38-39 - to give some of the flavor of the King James version: ‘Ye have heard that it hath been said, “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth”: but I say unto you, that ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.’ There are poetic qualities to King James editions that are hard to beat; however, there are people who find the archaic English off-putting and somewhat difficult to understand. Thus, while the basic meanings of the words in various versions are pretty much the same, the language used can vary fairly widely.
The Bible should, in my opinion, sing to the heart and soul of a person, so I don’t mind archaic, poetic language. I do have a preference for American Standard Revised Bibles with many, if not all, of the features I mentioned above. Still, while David Norton’s edition of The Bible does not contain many of these items, it is good for everyday usage and should prove adequate enough for the uses of most people who may be concerned more with owning an inexpensive edition of the Bible rather than with ease of usage. If only it could have an index and cross-references. With these, the usage value of any bible is markedly improved. Maybe in a future edition....