The time has almost arrived for Volume 2 of the Word on Fire Bible to be released. A year and a half ago, I reviewed the first volume which included the four gospels here. The second volume will include the rest of the New Testament, from the Acts of the Apostles to Revelation. The publication date is set for Monday, January 17th — five days from today! I’m grateful to Word on Fire for providing me with an advance copy of the leather edition for review, and I’ll cover the physical details and a basic overview in this first installment of my review.
Bible Translation, Layout, and Commentary
First of all, to address a question that has come up a few times recently: this volume uses the New Revised Standard Version — Catholic Edition (NRSV-CE) copyrighted in 1989 and 1993. The updated edition of the NRSV has not been used here. This is the same translation choice as volume 1, and it makes sense to keep the translation consistent. Here is a photo of the copyright page with details on the translation and other commentaries used in this volume:
The page layout inside Volume 2 follows an identical style to volume 1. The biblical text is printed in single-column format with a serif font and ample margins. Commentary by Bishop Barron is printed in double-column format with a sans-serif font, and commentary from theologians, fathers of the Church, ecumenical councils, and saints are printed with color backgrounds in single-column format. Here is an example page from the Acts of the Apostles:
At the top of the left-hand page, Bishop Barron’s comments are printed in double-column format. In the middle of the left page, a quote from St. John Chrysostom is highlighted with a color background, and at the bottom of the left page the biblical text is printed in single-column format.
Important or famous verses are occasionally highlighted with a special inset that reprints the verse in prominent, large font as shown above. Here is another example from Romans 6:23:
Volume 2 also continues the Via Pulchritudinis (Way of Beauty) inserts from Volume 1. These are two-page sections with high-quality color images of artwork and commentary by Michael Stevens on the symbolism and spiritual significance of the artwork. These features are interspersed throughout the text, and the artwork either depicts a scene directly from the biblical text, or it contains themes that are relevant to the text.
Bishop Barron has commented on the value of beauty for evangelization. Going all the way back to Plato and Aristotle, philosophers have written about the fundamental properties of Being. There are varying lists of these fundamental or “transcendental” properties (see a more thorough explanation from Fr. Robert Spitzer’s Magis Center here), but one of the commonly-used lists is: truth, goodness, and beauty. These transcendentals are universal values, and since God is Being itself, they are expressions of God. In the postmodern world, truth and goodness have been questioned repeatedly, and many people are skeptical of universal claims to truth or goodness. But beauty is something that can be immediately compelling and striking. It has a way of breaking through the defenses of the most ardent skeptic.
This is a guiding principle behind the design of the Word on Fire Bible project. The volumes are high-quality and constructed in a way that is befitting for a sacred book. The artwork provides an avenue for encountering God that is missing from many other Bibles.
On the other hand, I think it’s worth emphasizing that this Bible does not sacrifice truth and goodness in favor of beauty. Firstly, the text of Sacred Scripture is here, and the commentary continues in the tradition of Volume 1 — breaking open the meaning and significance of Scripture and presenting pointed, homiletic commentary to the reader on its relevance for living life. I’ll delve into the commentary in more depth in part 2 of my review.
Volume 2’s physical design is largely identical to Volume 1. There are no jarring design changes here. The quality of the leather cover is quite similar to Volume 1. In my previous review, I described Volume 1’s leather as similar to the French Morocco leather from Cambridge University Press. It is not as good as premium goatskin (like the Schuyler Quentel ESV or the Cambridge Reference NRSV), but it is nicer than the bonded leather on the Oxford NABRE Catholic Study Bible or the genuine leather cover on the Oxford Large-Print NABRE.
The gold gilding on the page edges is excellent. It is highly-reflective with an almost mirror-like quality. In appearance, this gilding is on-par with the Cambridge premium Reference NRSV.
Both volumes 1 and 2 feature a sewn binding with thick, semi-glossy paper. Ghosting of text from subsequent pages is minimal but not non-existent. It does not impact ease of reading. The semi-glossy pages occasionally reflect light in a way that makes it difficult to take good pictures. Here’s an example from a Via Pulchritudinis excerpt:
Overall, I have not noticed a problem with glare while reading. I’m currently reading through Paul’s letter to the Romans and haven’t experienced any annoyance or frustration. I normally do not read under a lamp, though, so some readers might experience more trouble with glare than I have.
It’s also worth mentioning that the thick paper is not very flexible compared to normal thin bible paper. This Bible does not lay flat easily, so it will be necessary to hold it open while reading.
Similar to Volume 1, there is one 1/4-inch double-sided ribbon marker.
Overall, I am still very impressed with the quality of materials here. In some ways, I wonder if this Bible is “too nice.” I worry that people will be so protective of it that they will not pull it off the shelf (or the coffee table) to absorb the excellent material this Bible offers. As Timothy has noted in his book and a post here, there is much to be said for having a Bible that you can “live in” and use until it’s worn out. Here’s hoping that Catholics and non-Catholics will not be afraid to wear out the Word on Fire Bible and learn and grow with it during their lives of faith.
Volume 2 will be available in paperback, hardcover, and genuine leather just like Volume 1. Here is a link to Word on Fire’s countdown webpage for Volume 2. Stay tuned for the second part, where I’ll delve into more detail on the commentary.