My big-ass bibles.

by K.W. Leslie, 12 August

A few months ago, someone left a bible at my church. It’s one of those big, leather-clad bibles. It’s the size of a bible that really should be reserved for large-print bibles for the visually impaired. I tend to call them “big-ass bibles.” Though, when I do, I tend to get startled stares from Christians who can’t handle the word “ass.” Even though it’s in the biblein the KJV, anyway.

I have some big-ass bibles too. But I stopped carrying ’em to church when I was in seminary. Since I needed a bible for nearly every class, I bought a smaller-than-average edition of the NIV, which I always kept in the front pocket of my backpack, and that was my go-to bible for school, church, work, travel, anything and everything. Years later I upgraded to a NASB compact bible with a teal pleather snap cover. But soon thereafter (a few years before phones became smartphones), I bought a pocket computer, loaded bible software onto it, and that became my bible-on-the-go. Today that software’s on my phone.

The reason I own bibles of unusual size? They’re study bibles. They came with notes. Sometimes there’s more notes than scripture.

Remember this verse?—

Revelation 22.18-19 KWL
19 I testify to everyone hearing the prophetic words of this book: When anyone adds upon them,
God will add upon them—of the plagues recorded in this book.
20 When anyone subtracts from the words of this prophetic book,
God will subtract from their share—of the holy city’s tree of life, recorded in this book.

Too many Christians assume “of this book” refers to the whole bible, not just Revelation. It doesn’t—and good thing, too. Otherwise a whole lot of publishers are going to hell for overdoing it on the study notes.

I still have one of those monster bibles: The Renovaré Spiritual Formation Bible. Currently it’s published as The Life with God Bible, and comes in paperback. That’s probably better. I got the old hardcover edition. Sucker’s huge. After I jammed it into a barely-big-enough bible cover, then added pens and a notebook, it weighs about 4 kilos.

Now that’s one of those bibles you carry around to proclaim, “Look! I have a bible. And it’s much, much bigger than yours.” It’s a bible meant to inspire bible envy—a covetousness similar to penis envy, but more spiritual. (As if envy is ever an appropriate kind of spirituality.) Although you can get bigger bibles. Pulpit bibles, they’re called.

But I don’t carry the Renovaré bible around. I use it for private devotional time—in the five percent of the time I don’t use my computer bibles. It stays in my room, along with my other bibles.

My other big-ass bibles.

My first bible wasn’t all that big. It’s one of those KJV gift/award bibles. I achieved it when I was six years old, for knowing my memory verses every week for a significant number of weeks.

This sounds more impressive than it actually is. All you really needed was good Sunday school attendance. Which I had, ’cause Mom was a zealous new Christian, with all the devotion—and excellent attendance—of a zealous new Christian. She made quite sure we kids made it to Sunday school every week. We’d gather in the children’s church room, sing a few songs, then split up by age, and before the lesson my Sunday school teacher would test our memories: “Who knows last week’s memory verse?”

Well, nobody. But her own kid, who’d better know it, would raise his hand, she’d call on him, and he’d recite it. Then, miraculously, every hand went up. “I know it too!” And she’d call upon each of us, we’d recite the verse too—not perfectly, but well enough—and there ya go. Attend enough church services, and anyone could earn a bible.

Once I got that sucker, I proclaimed I was gonna read it cover to cover. And I did. Being a King James Version, I didn’t understand half of it, but I read it just the same. For weeks, all Mom ever saw was me poring through that bible. Then one day she noticed I was reading something else, and asked where my bible was. “Oh,” I shrugged, “I read it.” The whole thing? “Yep.” Guess what she’s been bragging about ever since.

I still have it. It’s a little beaten up, ’cause kids will really work a bible over. But as a gift/award bible, it has no study notes, and I kinda wanted a bible with notes like Mom’s. She had a Scofield Reference Bible, ’cause we went to a Darbyist church and Scofield’s bible (or a Ryrie Study Bible) was the one they recommended. True, the notes are full of Darbyist nonsense, but what did we know?

Someday, Mom said, she’d get me a study bible. But there was never the money for it. Meanwhile I’d borrow her bible from time to time and look at the notes.

Then, one Sunday when I was 12, Mom inadvertently left her Scofield bible on the roof of her car, and as she exited the church, the bible fell off. Presumed lost forever. So this meant a trip to Waldenbooks, and a quick search through the bible selection. Mom found an NIV edition of the Thompson Chain Reference Bible (and when she’s not using her bible software, she still tends to read her NASB edition). The whole back third of Thompson bibles are solid notes and articles, and every page has links to other verses with similar themes. I’d discovered a new bible to covet. But of course Mom bought this bible for herself; I was still gonna have to wait.

Didn’t wait long. Someone at church found Mom’s mangled Scofield bible in the road, and returned it to her, and she presented it to me. I put a bible cover on it to cover up the mangling.

Still, I saw the Thompson notes as way more practical than the Scofield notes, so once I finally scraped $60 together, I bought one for myself. No, Mom’s bible didn’t cost that much, but I bought a fancy bible—with the leather cover and the gilded edges. No bible tabs, ’cause I knew the book order. But I’ve since come to the conclusion bible tabs are awesome. Why page through when you can just flip to the tab?

Yes, $60 was a lot of money back in the 1980s. Especially to a teenager whose parents didn’t believe in allowances. I delivered a whole lot of newspapers to afford that bible. But I felt, at the time, it was worth every cent. It’s an investment, right? …Pity I spent the rest of the decade being a hypocrite, but at least I had a really awesome bible to take to church with me.

I gotta side-rant for a moment: What’s with the leather they use to bind bibles? The purpose of a leather cover is supposed to be to protect the book, and make it more durable. You could drop it, trip over it, fling it down, ding the edges, thump it while you preach; leather should be able to hold up to all this wear and tear. But bible leather nowadays is ridiculous. It’s a thin layer of wrinkled skin, and underneath that it’s cardboard. You actually have to buy a separate bible cover to protect it! It’s definitely not worth the money.

Neither, for that matter, is gilding. Use your bible regularly enough, and the gilding will flake away. Anyway, I learned my lesson, and haven’t bought a leather-covered gilded bible since.

After seminary I got an NRSV Oxford Annotated Bible. I got it in a trade: I was the editor of a weekly paper, and we traded advertising for books with the bookstore next door. I think the owner assumed I’d just help him get rid of his used-book inventory, but I kept making special orders, like for that Oxford bible. The arrangement—and the number of expensive books I kept ordering—grew to make him nervous. Or maybe it was his cocaine habit; I’m not sure.

Anyway, the Oxford bible was my first bible which included apocrypha. I still have fun with people when I tell ’em, “Turn in your bibles to Judith, chapter 2… What do you mean, you don’t have Judith in your bible? It’s in my bible.” If they’re not familiar with the books of the bible, it throws ’em into a panic. And if they are (and they’re of the anti-Catholic persuasion), it throws ’em into a different sort of panic.

I sold the Oxford bible some years ago, after I got the Renovaré bible. I’m not selling the others though. Partly for sentimental reasons, partly ’cause I still use the Thompson bible every so often… and partly because I don’t want anyone else led astray by the Scofield bible.

Digital bibles.

Currently, my go-to bible isn’t any of those big-ass bibles. It’s Accordance, the bible software on my Apple devices and Androids. I have loads of study bibles, references, and commentaries on there. I went on a bit of a binge, and replaced many of my print books with digital ones. Instead of a whole extra bookshelf—probably two!—they’re all in the computer.

So when I’m shlepping around my laptop, that is my big-ass bible.

Before I bought Accordance, I collected bible translations. Had a shelf full of different translations of the bible, which I could use for comparison. Now they’re on Accordance, and if I want still more—or the newest translations—of course there’s Bible Gateway. I gave most of those other bibles away. Kept a few. (Not sure who I could safely give my Jehovah’s Witnesses translation to.)

For most folks I know, the bible they bring to church with ’em is on their phone. Most of ’em went with YouVersion. Which I tried, but if you don’t have constant internet access—and sometimes I don’t—that’s a problem. Too often I’ve watched people whip out their phones to check a bible verse, only to discover the wifi’s not working. I wanted the bible physically on the phone, so I went with Olive Tree’s bible app. Yeah, storing a few translations of the bible takes up memory, but I consider it worth it.

But there are a few holdouts from technology, who still cart around their hefty print bibles proudly. (Or as humbly as they can.) And I won’t knock ’em for it. They brought a bible. The important thing is they use it, and if they went to all the trouble to drag a 10-pound bible with them, they usually do. Too often those folks on their phones who are “looking up bible verses” are really on Twitter. (I know, ’cause sometimes I’m on Twitter.) Again, the important thing is to read, use, and study the bible, and it makes no difference how. Just do.