October 26, 2007

The Reader's Digest Condensed Version of the Bible

You've got to be kidding, right? A condensed version of the Bible??? I know, I know, there's something about the whole concept that just doesn't sit well with me. I'm wondering what "jot's and tittle's" are missing.

A conversation on another blog concerning modern translations of the bible led to my being chastised by "Peggy" for simply assuming this whole condensing thing was a bad idea without first checking it out. I responded by stating that I would secure a copy of the RDCV ASAP and offer up my thoughts. Consider this a first installment on my opinions.

I asked my masterful ministry assistant to secure a copy for me from a used book seller. Expecting a cheap paperback I was pleasantly surprised by what she procured. Pictured above is the beautiful edition that is now part of my collection.

The edition is worth the $7 (plus shipping and handling) paid for the artwork alone. (Watch Me Paint Carol, I immediately thought of you and how nice it would be to sit down and let you walk me through this art gallery!) My life has already been enriched by this particular volume and I have a greater appreciation for religious art (Isn't all art religious? Another topic for another day). Each book has a brief introduction in the tradition of most study bibles out there. However, these introductions are graced with dynamic original etchings. You will notice in the right hand margin a smaller picture which is a notable piece of artwork that has a relationship to the adjacent text. Almost every page has one or more of these contributions. This volume is a treasure trove of art history. Below is a sample of one of three full color sections. One section focuses on artwork inspired by the Old Testament, another on the New Testament, and the third offers some photos of the Holy Land. As I said, a bonanza of art history and a beautiful edition.

I could go on and on about the trimmings but I agreed to review the main course, the Scripture. Here are some initial observations. The introduction by Bruce Metzger, attempts to define the difference between a condensation and an abridgment and states, rather emphatically, that this (the RDCV) is not an abridged version. Metzger then goes on to describe how this version is approximately 40% shorter than its traditional counterparts through the condensation methods "perfected" by Reader's Digest through the years. Interestingly, a brief trip to your local dictionary reveals little, if any, difference between "condense" and "abridge". If you're having difficulty hearing my skepticism through these typed words let me say it clearly, I'm skeptical.

After reading the first three books (Genesis, Exodus, and Leviticus) I would call this an abridged version rather than a condensed version. Reading comparatively (RDCV side by side with my ESV) through Genesis sealed that observation for me. They have preserved the critical story line while sacrificing some marvelous stories that attend and illuminate the central story. I understand that something had to go in order to "condense" it and I am intensely interested about the process of elimination that was used in order to achieve this. By what criteria did a particular section get pink slipped? (There's a fun Bible Study idea for you...if you were "condensing" the Bible what would you leave out?).

Some things I like. I really like no chapter and verse references. (Footnote, Stephen Langton is reputed to have been the first to put the chapter divisions into a Vulgate edition of the Bible, in 1205. They were then inserted into Greek manuscripts of the New Testament in the 1400's . Robert Estienne (Robert Stephanus) was the first to number the verses within each chapter, his verse numbers entering printed editions in 1551 (New Testament) and 1571 (Hebrew Bible)) It is nice to read through a text without artificial divisions. I think this will make an even greater difference in reading the epistles (check back later).

As one who is acquainted with the general sweep of the scriptural story I like the job the editors have done of preserving the central story. It was nice to "get the point" of Leviticus without getting bogged down in the repetitive ritual instructions. (OK, by show of hands, how many of you have read every word of Leviticus without skimming?) That said, there is still a big part of me that cringes at portions of this lying on the cutting floor somewhere. Maybe I prefer to be my own editor...

I'm still wrestling with whether or not I can, in good conscience, recommend the RDCV to others. Maybe if it didn't proclaim itself as the BIBLE I would be a little more at ease with it. (But what would you call it?)

I will be back with other observations along the way. Today I'm reading Numbers and Deuteronomy.


Carol L. Douglas said...

A great idea, my friend. Write me at cdouglas@frontiernet.net and we'll work out the particulars... I am going to write briefly about a Biblical painting tonight anyway.

AbiSomeone said...

I was pleased to find the link to your start of this review process over at Brother Maynard's. I was even more pleased to see that your assistant was able to get the illustrated version. It truly is a beautiful piece of art/literature!

Hmmm...which parts would I leave out? I have been involved in this process as I have been reading through the entire Bible with my young sons. We did, by the way, read every single tedious word in Leviticus (and I have done so at least three times before)...and then I began to have to edit on the fly in order to keep their attention! ;^)

Since my "challenge" I have switched to making the RDCV the edition that I read to them at night...I guess there was one more level of Bible "story book" that I wanted to go through with the boys before sending them off to read through it by themselves. It particularly saved me from the whining of "didn't we already read this" as we moved into I Chronicles! ;^)

I guess, for me, the difference between a condensation and an abridgement is found in the second paragraph of the Preface: "...yet which retains all 66 books...." If you've ever read abridged books, they tend to leave out entire chapters that deal with story lines that they feel do not add that much value. And while I understand that the exclusion of any portion is scripture is not to be taken lightly, the point of this condensation is that each of the 66 books, and their essential message, are retained. None of them were removed as "redundant" or unimportant.

I'll look forward to following your journey.


John said...


Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment! (I stopped by your place but didn't say, "Hi!". Still learning my blog manners...

I understand the idea of not removing any of the "books" of the bible and therefore it may not meet the standard of abridgment, however, I tend to view the Bible as a whole. As one of my college prof's described it, "The Bible hangs together". So, removing any book would be a serious and unacceptable breach, I think the editors understood that concept and found other ways to achieve their condensation/abridgment.

What a wonderful discipline/journey in which you are involved with your boys. May your tribe increase! I can see where this particular rendering of the scripture would be beneficial in this setting. Reading to children would be a very good use of this version. Still holding out serious reservations about the whole process. Stay tuned.

I'll be dropping by your place again soon. I'll try and be civil and at least say, "Hi" next time.


AbiSomeone said...


You are welcome to "lurk" over at my place any time! And, if you have time, do say "hi"!

I was happy to see my comment get out of "comment purgatory" before the weekend...so many of us just don't get back to blog business until Monday!

Off to II Chronicles and the sad demise of Israel under Rehoboam....



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