Why Are Bibles Printed in Two Columns?

Yesterday this online article was the featured post on “Today I Found Out: Feed Your Brain.” I found it quite interesting, and thought it might be for you too.

The form in which books (the Bible being the most significant) are published is a fascinating history in itself. This article tells part of that story. I have posted it in its entirety. If you wish to view the source, go here.

Why is the Bible Printed in Two Columns?

The practice of using two columns with compact texts dates back to at least the fifteenth century, which in turn was just a continuation of an older tradition of narrow columns in horizontally opened scrolls. Both the Gutenberg Bible and the original King James Version (see: How the King James Bible Came About) used two columns, and many Bibles are still printed this way today. But why?

In part, this is simply tradition, as mentioned first being borrowed from the scrolls which the Biblical text was copied from. Today, many people have come to expect Bibles to have two columns and can’t imagine one with any other layout. But there’s a little more to this formatting choice than just tradition.

The decision of how to format a book depends highly on how that book is intended to be read. The single column format with larger fonts in a novel limits distractions and creates a good readable flow of text, allowing an individual to read a story from beginning to end with limited fatigue. On the other hand, reference books, such as dictionaries and encyclopedias, break up the text by using multiple columns and providing pictures, annotations, and a numbering structure that help improve efficiency when using a book for perusing various specific topics.

Clearly the standard two column layout of the Bible more closely resembles that of reference books than novels. One can see how this might have appealed to clergy who, historically, were the ones who actually read/studied the Bible, with many among the laity unable to read anyway, even if they had access to such a physical text. The two column approach allowed for more easily starting each numbered verse on a new line so it could be quickly referred to and identified. In addition, some Bibles also contain page by page reference guides, allowing readers to skip through the text to find similar passages that could potentially help them gain a deeper understanding of the original verse read.

But there are actually much more practical reasons reference books go with the two column approach, namely using as few pages as possible. The Bible is a massive text with, for instance, almost eight hundred thousand words in the standard King James Version. In order to reduce the number of pages used, a much smaller font is used than a typical novel would have.

While this does significantly reduce the number of pages that need to be bound in the book, it also makes it difficult to read.  With Bible font sizes often less than 10 pt, in a one column format this could mean as many as 16-20 words per line, rather than the more typical 9-12 that is generally considered approximately optimal for readability. To get around this problem, as with most reference books, the text is simply split into two columns, making it a little easier to read given the small font size. The net benefit of all this is a reduction of total pages by approximately 10%-25%, providing a significant cost savings in production, particularly historically.

Of course, today with production costs being much cheaper per page, some have begun to argue that treating the Bible like a reference work isn’t always appropriate, particularly when trying to get the general public to actually read it, since the information included in the scriptures is meant to be more than mere facts and historical references and more about gleaning spiritual insight into how to live one’s life in accord with scripture. If people aren’t bothering to read it at all because it reads a bit like a dictionary, it ends up not being that effective.  As J. Mark Bertrand of Bible Design notes,

“The reason why paragraphed texts are important, and why single column settings should be more widely available, is that they both encourage the proper way of reading the Bible. Rather than treating it like a pithy, cryptic phrasebook, these formatting options suggest contextual reading that focuses on the ideas behind the words rather than free-association based on a word here or there…

In the same way that a translator, to do good work, needs to consider both the source language and the one the audience speaks, a Bible designer has to do more than fit words on the page or figure out how to distinguish cross references from verse numbers. The designer has to think about the reading experience and avoid choices that might channel it into counterproductive paths. Sadly, other considerations have often predominated. As a result, it’s easy to find a Bible that looks like a dictionary — book for looking things up — and hard to find one that looks like it’s meant for reading.”

This idea has led to a relatively recent trend of publishing one column, larger font Bibles (like these ones) with significantly less ancillary markers and information crammed in. Essentially, many of these new one column versions format the Bible very much like a typical novel to make it much easier for people to read the scriptures from beginning to end. And for anyone who has read one of these, it certainly is surprisingly effective at its goal, though of course has the major drawback of being less functional as a reference text and in some cases, depending on exact formatting choices, requiring the complete Bible to be broken up into multiple physical books to keep the thickness and size to reasonable levels.

Published in: on April 20, 2016 at 6:28 AM  Leave a Comment  

Reformed Marriage – April 15, 2016 “Standard Bearer”

The April 15, 2016 issue of the Standard Bearer is now out – a very special issue, we might add – this time on the subject of “Reformed (i.e., biblical) Marriage.”

The issue covers a variety of subjects, from dating and courtship to the meaning of marriage, and from the wedding ceremony to the wedding reception (cf. the cover below). The issue makes for timely and instructive reading for young people, young couples, and long-time married couples.


Editor-in-chief Prof.B. Gritters introduces the issue in these words:

     We have been planning a special issue on a Reformed Marriage for a long time now, and are very pleased to mail this issue to you this Spring.  We think you will be edified by it.
     You will notice immediately that most of the articles are co-authored, that is, written by husband and wife teams.  It was evident to us that when it comes to marriages and weddings, the women often have a great deal to say, and rightly so.  We take opportunity here to thank the women who participated, as well as the long-time elder and his wife for their contributions.
     The articles range from pre-marriage preparation by parents to the question that should be answered by couples before marriage:  what do they hope for with regard to having children?
      May our covenant God bless our marriages to His glory, and preserve them for the sake also of the “godly seed.”  We hope the marriage ceremonies and the celebrations that follow also bring Him due honor.
As a sample of the instruction given in this issue, we also give you an excerpt from the meditation by Rev. James Slopsema, “Two Become One:”

     The bond that God makes in marriage by gluing a man and women together makes the marriage bond a permanent relationship.  Were marriage a human invention and the bond of marriage only of man’s making, any marriage could be terminated at will.  However, when God glues two together, He does so for life. The only thing that dissolves the marriage relationship is death.  “For the woman which hath an husband is bound (tied, fastened) by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband.  So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.” (Romans 7:2-3)  Consequently when asked about divorce Jesus proclaimed “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.”  (Matthew 19:6)

Let every married couple or those contemplating marriage understand this. Take this perspective in marriage. Marriage is permanent. Should problems arise in your marriage, divorce is not an option except in the case of adultery.  But even then the marriage bond is not broken.  Only death breaks the marriage bond.  Let husbands and wives be committed to their marriages and in Christ work out any problems that may arise.  And let those dealing with what may seem insurmountable problems in their marriage remember, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” (Philippians 4:13)

If you are interested in this issue or in subscribing to the SB, contact the RFPA at the information on their website.

Islam Today – James Anderson

TT-April-2016As we noted last week, this month’s issue of Tabletalk addresses the significant subject of Islam. The second main article dealing with this growing and mysterious religion is by Dr. James Anderson. It’s title is “Islam Today” and in it Anderson points out the wide diversity within Islam, similar to what one finds also in Christianity.

His article is well worth reading, as it taught me a number of previously unknown things about Islam. Below are a few paragraphs; find the rest at the Ligonier link below.

Christians in the West tend to identify Islam with the fundamentalist Qur’an-based religion found in the Middle East, North Africa, and South and Southeast Asia—and with good reason. Even so, Islamic fundamentalism represents only one of several directions in which Islam is being driven today. The Islamic world has faced a crisis of confidence since the abolition of the Ottoman caliphate in 1924. Since that date, there has been no recognizable caliphate to which Muslims can look for leadership. The various Islamic dynasties that dominated much of the civilized world in previous centuries have fallen, and Muslims are consequently asking, “What went wrong, and how do we fix it?”

Broadly speaking, two very different reform movements have arisen in response to this crisis. The fundamentalist movement insists that Islam needs to return to its roots: Muslims today, including the leaders of Muslim-majority countries, are simply not Islamic enough. The proposed solution is a return to an uncompromising adherence to the Qur’an and Hadith (traditions about Muhammad and the early Muslim community). In contrast, the progressivist movement contends that Islam has stumbled because, unlike the Christian West, it has failed to come to terms with modernity. In this view, the way forward is to reform and contemporize Islam, accommodating it to the modern world. Clearly, this demands a more flexible and selective approach to the Islamic sources.

The question arises: Where do most Muslims today stand with respect to these conflicting reform movements? There’s no simple answer, but it’s fair to say that most Muslims find themselves torn between the two. The prospect of living under the strict interpretation of Sharia (Islamic law) advocated by the fundamentalists holds little appeal, and they’re disillusioned by the cycle of violence perpetuated by hardline Islamism. Yet they cannot shake the sense that when it comes to representing “true Islam” based on the Qur’an and Hadith, the fundamentalists have the better claim than the modernists.

Source: Islam Today by James Anderson | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org

J. Calvin on the Preaching of the Gospel: God’s “own mouth”

     Calvin has the highest regard for the preaching of the gospel by the human minister of the word. In and by the preaching, God himself speaks, thus working the salvation of his own children. In the preaching, by the ministry exercised by ‘a mortal and despised man, …God himself appears in our midst.’ God himself speaks in the preaching: ‘He deigns to consecrate to himself the mouths and tongues of men in order that his voice may resound in them.’ The preacher of the doctrine of salvation is ‘his [God’s] own mouth.’

…Because the preaching is the living voice of God in Jesus Christ, ‘the church is built up solely by outward preaching.’ ‘God breathes faith into us only by the instrument of his gospel, as Paul points out… [in] Romans 10:17.’ ‘The power to save…God…displays and unfolds…in the preaching of the gospel.’ Calvin appeals to Romans 1:16. In the preaching God himself ‘comes[s] down to us, in order to be near us…[and by this earthly means] to bear us up as if in chariots to his heavenly glory.’

…..Nothing is attributed to the human preacher, however, for it is God who freely joins his Spirit with the preaching, and he alone accomplishes all the salvation worked by the preaching. The same Paul who ‘boasted’ in I Corinthians 4:15 acknowledges in I Corinthians 15:10 that all his work was ‘the grace of God which was with me.’

reformedfaith-Calvin-DJETaken from The Reformed Faith of John Calvin: The Institutes in Summary by David J. Engelsma (Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2009), 312-13.

Windows on Earth

For our first Friday fun item we feature “Scott Kelly’s Amazing Earth” – Astronaut Scott Kelly tweeted 1,000 photos during his year in space. Explore them ALL here! Be sure to check out the different categories of images.

We might that this “amazing earth” Kelly photographed is not his but our God’s. While Kelly is obviously a skilled photographer, the world he pictures displays the handiwork and glory of our Creator. Psalm 19:1 – “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.”

Enjoy these amazing images!

Source: Windows on Earth

Published in: on April 15, 2016 at 6:29 AM  Comments (1)  

Special Visits from the Heritage Christian 4th Graders

Yesterday the second group of fourth graders from Heritage Christian School (Hudsonville, MI) visited the PRC Seminary, this class being that of Ms. Liz Van Drunen. Two weeks ago the class of Mrs. Jane Woudenberg made their annual visit – always a highlight on our calendar.

These are wonderful opportunities for the young students to see and learn about the PRC Seminary, and it seems they are just as excited to be there as we are to have them there. We thank the two teachers for taking the time to bring the children here and to have them appreciate what it takes to train ministers of the gospel (Can you remember those classes with difficult names that the students here are required to take, students? What is Homiletics?! Poimenics?!).

And we pray that some small seeds were sown in the hearts of some of the young boys, so that someday they receive that special call to serve the Lord and His church in this way. Perhaps in another ten years some of you will walk through those doors again.:)

After Prof. R.Cammenga’s introduction to the Seminary, the student’s are given a tour of the building. Usually that includes just the main part of the Seminary – the upstairs. But when some of our Seminary students make mention of the ping-pong tables in the basement, the HCS students eyes light up – can we see that too?



Sure, I told them. But then you also have to see the PRC archives room, something few will see. And inside they came, where Mr. Bob Drnek was at work, who also explained the PRYP’s Convention ribbon display to them. So they got a little PRC history lesson too.



Thanks for coming! And don’t forget to pray for us! We pray for you daily.

Postscript: I must give my sincere apologies to Mrs.Woudenberg and her class for not taking any pictures of their visit. I was occupied with other things that morning and never gave my camera a thought until after they left. I regret that. I will try and do better next year. Forgive me.

Published in: on April 14, 2016 at 6:38 AM  Comments (2)  

National Library Week 2016


Even though we are mid-way through the week, it is not too late to inform you that this week (April 10-16) is National Library Week. Surely an event to note and to celebrate, also at the PRC Seminary library!

The American Library Association (ALA) has a special page of information and promotion, all centered on the theme “Libraries Transform.” So does their “I Love Libraries” website.

I was also informed by email from the Association of Christian Librarians that they too are marking the event. In keeping with their Christian theme, the ACL sent out this note on Monday:

Happy National Library Week 2016!

Please pray today, Monday, for our brother and sister colleagues in ACL, for this community of believing librarians. The official theme for this year’s National
Library Week is “Libraries Transform”—and that’s absolutely true.  May our manifest faith in Jesus Christ also work to transform our own hearts and the hearts of those around us.  Please pray for:

  • Those who are facing challenging physical or spiritual needs, or who carry responsibility for a family member who is in ill health;
  • Librarians who have lost loved ones in recent months, or since the last conference, and are in need of comfort;
  • Those working as solo librarians, or with very small staffs, and need an extra measure of strength and encouragement;
  • Librarians carrying large workloads and needing wisdom in their use of time and energy;
  • Those working in institutions facing difficult challenges due to financial hardship;
  • Our newest members, that they may find a home in ACL;
  • Long-standing members, with our gratitude for their years of service;
  • Those who are potential members, that they will hear our collective voice.


How will you celebrate National Library Week? How about a trip to your local library with your children or grandchildren? How about visiting a special library in your region? Why not make a stop at the PRC Seminary library and check out what we have to offer?

However you mark the event, remember that libraries transform – everyday! Keep reading! Reading more and reading better!

Published in: on April 13, 2016 at 6:40 AM  Comments (2)  

The Bible as Literature – L.Ryken

GuidetoClassics-LRykenAs we continue to examine Leland Ryken’s recent publication A Christian Guide to the Classics (Crossway, 2015), we have moved into chapter 4, where Ryken treats the greatest classic of literature, the Bible.

Previously, we looked at what this means in general. Today we can go on to consider the Bible itself as literature, which is what Ryken emphasizes in the next section. Here are some of his thoughts on this:

But is the Bible a literary classic (the subject of this book)? Yes, it is. It meets all the criteria that make a text literary. For at least a century it has been common to designate this aspect of the Bible with the formula ‘the Bible as literature.’

Before I confirm the accuracy of that label, I want to dispel four misconceptions that might be obstacles to accepting the literary nature of the Bible. [Here I will edit and abbreviate where necessary.]

  1. To view the Bible as literature is not a modern idea, nor does it need to imply theological liberalism. The idea of the Bible as literature began with the writers of the Bible, who display literary qualities in their writings and who refer with technical precision to a wide range of literary genres such as psalm, proverb, parable, and apocalypse.
  2. Although fictionality is a common trait of literature, it is not an essential feature of it.A work of literature can be replete with literary technique and artifice while remaining historically factual.
  3. To approach the Bible as literature need not entail viewing it only as literature, any more than reading it as history requires us to see only the history of the Bible.
  4. When we see literary qualities in the Bible we are not attempting to bring the Bible down to the level of ordinary literature; it is simply an objective statement about the inherent nature of the Bible. The bible can be trusted to reveal its extraordinary qualities if we approach it with ordinary methods of literary analysis (pp.37-38).

Those are good things to bear in mind when we consider the Bible as a classic of literature. I hope Ryken’s thoughts put to rest any fears you may have about viewing the Bible this way.

Published in: on April 12, 2016 at 6:35 AM  Leave a Comment  

A History of Islam – Dr. Ryan Reeves

TT-April-2016With the arrival of April, it is time to introduce the latest issue of Tabletalk and its content.

This month’s issue is focused on the subject of Islam and the need Muslims have for the gospel of grace in Jesus Christ. This is a timely and bold subject to address, and this issue covers it well, with subjects on the history and teachings of Islam as well as on how to share the gospel with Muslims.

Editor Burk Parsons introduces this subject with an editorial titled “Muslims Need Christ.” In this post I point you to the first featured main article, “A History of Islam,” which provides us with a fascinating and informative overview of the clash between Islam and Christianity throughout history.

You would do well to read the entire article by Dr.Reeves, but here is a portion of it to get you started. Follow the link below to find the rest.

Unmoved by the setback in France, the early Islamic kingdoms worked double time to conquer Christian lands under the rule of the Byzantine Empire. Westerners should remember that the lands of Asia Minor, Egypt, and North Africa at this time were majority Christian, with a lineage of Christian theology and church life that extended centuries into the past. (Augustine was from North Africa, and the great ecumenical creeds were written mostly in Asia Minor.) The situation was bleak for Christians in these lands, due in large part to the rise of perhaps the most influential and important kingdom in the history of Islam: the Abbasid caliphate. The Abbasid house assumed control early in Islamic history and then established the city of Baghdad as its capital. From 750 to 1517—the year Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses—Islamic culture experienced a golden age under the Abbasid dynasty. Many of the stories of advanced Islamic civilization, philosophy, architecture, and the sciences originate from this period under Abbasid rule.

The earliest history of Islam, therefore, was marked both by its conquest by the sword and the thickening of its cultural heritage that would shape the religion until today. Many of the lands Islam conquered remained religiously the same for centuries—though Christians, Jews, or pagans in these cities immediately found their world awash in Arabic names, while mosques quickly began to dot the cityscape. However, during the medieval period, the non-Islamic faiths in the conquered lands, especially Christianity, eventually became the minority.

Christians who witnessed the fall of these lands to Islam longed for an eventual response by Christian armies to retake these lands and free their brethren. In the end, the Crusades were launched.

Source: A History of Islam by Ryan Reeves | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org

Prayers of the Reformers (14)

prayersofreformers-manschreckFor this second Lord’s Day in April we post another prayer from the book Prayers of the Reformers (compiled by Clyde Manschreck; Muhlenberg Press, 1958).

This prayer is taken from the section “Prayers in Time of Affliction and Suffering” and, as you will see, is fitting for us as we gather with God’s people in worship today.

The editor gives it the German title “Wenn wir in hochsten Nothen sein,” (from Paul Eber, 1566 based on a text from Joachim Camerarius, 1546) while the prayer itself is in English arranged in poem form thus:

When in the hour of utmost need
We know not where to look for aid,
When days and nights of anxious thought
Nor help nor counsel yet have brought.

Then this our comfort is alone,
That we may meet before Thy throne,
And cry, O faithful God, to Thee
For rescue from our misery.

To Thee may raise our hearts and eyes,
Repenting sore with bitter sighs,
And seek Thy pardon for our sin
And respite from our griefs within.

For Thou hast promised graciously
To hear all those who cry to Thee
Thro’ Him whose name alone is great,
Our Savior and our advocate.

And thus we come, O God, today
And all our woes before Thee lay;
For sorely tried, cast down, we stand,
Perplexed by fears on every hand.

O hide not for our sins Thy face,
Absolve us through Thy boundless grace,
Be with us in our anguish still,
Free us at last from every ill.

That so with all our hearts we may
Once more our glad thanksgivings pay,
And walk obedient to Thy Word,
And now and ever praise the Lord.

An Internet search reveals that this is a hymn set to music under the title “When in the Hour of Utmost Need, ” arranged by Louis Burgeois (c.1510-1559), as part of the Genevan tunes.


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