Social media has been buzzing about this new Bible for several days, and I finally got my hands on it Wednesday.
The first thing you need to know about the first volume of The Word on Fire Bible: The Gospels is that it smells incredible.
The book is bound in real leather, and as soon as I opened the box I felt like I was in a saddle shop. Or an old library, where real books have real aromas, and the scent that you get keep getting again and again is the whiff of history. First impressions matter, and my first impression of this impressive book is that is made for the ages. It’s built to last. This isn’t something you’ll use to prop up a sagging end table in your den. This is a book you will go to often, and pass on to friends and children, like an heirloom. It’s a book to cherish.
You’ll cherish it for a lot of reasons, above and beyond the extraordinary craftsmanship — the gilt-edged pages, hefty paper, gorgeous typesetting (complete with a font “Angelico,” which the publishers tell us was “drawn especially for this Bible.” You’ll cherish it because this is that rarity today: a thoughtfully produced, written and designed book that is meant to be held, touched, absorbed, revisited. It’s not a product of pixels and laser screens. It’s a work of love, made by people who love books, real books, and who love this singular book in particular, the Word of God.
That it is a product of the media wizards at Word on Fire should surprise no one; these people care about things like art and craft. And I don’t think it would be blasphemy to say, paraphrasing Alicia Keys, this Word is on fire. This first volume of what is conceived to be a multi-volume set has the heat of something vital and fresh, sparked by real passion for the material.
And why not? The material is nothing less than the Word of God.
You need to see it for yourself to really appreciate this effort, but here are a few quick takeaways:
1.This isn’t your grandmother’s Bible. While it completely respects history and tradition — the translation, by the way, is the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, which bears the imprimatur of the USCCB — it is laid out and executed more like a modern magazine. There are sidebars and pictures — incredible pictures, by the way, beautifully reproduced — and eloquent introductions to each Gospel by the likes of Brandon Vogt and Elizabeth Scalia. It’s easy on the eyes. It’s designed with taste and tact, and with a contemporary sensibility. As a media guy, I loved that.
2. This is a goldmine for preachers. Priests and deacons should love this. There are rich and engaging commentaries from not only Bishop Robert Barron (duh, of course), but also Fulton Sheen (duh, of course), St. John Chrysostom, G.K. Chesterton, St. Augustine and Joseph Ratzinger, among others. If you are looking for exceptional homily material, or ideas to spark your imagination, look no further.
3.This is a thing of beauty. You want to connect art and the Word of God? Boom. It’s here. I don’t know of any other volume that includes not only the text of the scriptures, but also insightful commentary and, as an added bonus, reflections on how classic works of art, from Carravagio to Monet, capture and animate the Gospels. Where else you can find a Bible with an intriguing reflection on the spiritual aspects found in the pointillist work of Georges Seurat?
4.This is a book for giving. It ain’t cheap. (I believe they plan to sell it retail for $59). But this would make a superb gift for a newly ordained priest or deacon, or for someone in RCIA — or just to give yourself as a reward for surviving the pandemic with your sanity and faith intact.
Finally, I have to give a shout-out here to the creative and editorial team that pulled this together: Brandon Vogt, Rozann Lee, Matthew Becko, Bert Ghezzi, Nicolas Frederickson and Michael Stevens. And, of course, Bishop Robert Barron. This whole project is something of a landmark for religious publishing, and I can’t wait to see what they come up with next.
This Gospel volume will be available for sale in mid-June — you can visit the Word on Fire website for details and to be alerted when it goes on sale.
Meantime, check out the video below for another glimpse at this book.
This Bible project is something new and important — and I’m so glad there are people around like those at Word on Fire making this happen.