TNIV Reference Bible: Thy Cup Runneth Over!

tnivrefgen1_page_03.gifI was wandering around on Zondervan’s website and decided to revisit the TNIV Reference Bible page to see if there was anything new. I may have missed it before, but the publishers have posted the first nine pages of Genesis (1:1-10:20) in PDF format. Rick Mansfield had previously posted some comp pages from John, but these presumably represent the final form of this highly anticipated release.

In light of my recent addition of the NRSV Cross-Reference Bible from Oxford and my long-time use of the NASB Reference Bible, I was especially curious to compare the reference citations.

The first impression is a mighty gulp — there are nearly four dozen references listed for Genesis 1:1 alone, taking almost 1/4 of the page height! That’s 4x the number of references that the NASB includes. While this verse may prove to be the exception rather than the rule, it’s notable that of the nine sample pages provided, four have so many references that they spill onto the bottom of the page, underneath the translation notes and above the topical links. Two other pages are full from top to bottom. From the text on the product box, Zondervan claims that there are over 100,000 references.

One wonders exactly what to think about this embarrassment of riches. I feel guilty sounding any negative note on such an important edition of the afore-neglected TNIV, but my first reaction was that the sheer volume of references is physically distracting to the text in a way that I’ve never noticed with the NASB or even the NRSV, which claims to have almost 100,000 references (although that includes Apocrypha cross references). I’m sure that the imposing appearance of the references will be become second-nature with time; and, in fact, even holding the PDF printouts at a comfortable reading distance is somewhat more manageable than sitting hunched over peering at the small numbers.

The table of contents notes that the TNIV Reference Bible includes a 69-page concordance – I half jokingly ask, why? What more will the concordance have that’s not covered by 46 references in Genesis 1:1?

Perhaps the more realistic question is, would the aesthetics of this Bible have been improved if, say, half of those references had been moved to the concordance and a little more white space had been alloted to the side column? When Rick previously posted the pages from John, I had remarked that Zondervan should have vertically justified the citations, inserting white space between each verseful of references, rather than aligning the solid block to the middle of the page. In general, white space is a good thing and very helpful for preventing eye fatigue, especially with the smaller font size of so many references.

In the end, I know that these criticisms are gnats on an elephant’s backside to the many people who have been waiting a long time for this type of TNIV resource. However, layout aesthetics are part of my professional job and I can’t help but comment on where I see room for improvement. So, for now, thank you Zondervan. That said, whenever you decide to print the wide-margin TNIV that we also crave, perhaps you can cut the number of references by a few 10,000 and move them to the inside margin?

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3 Comments

  1. Posted August 7, 2007 at 10:09 PM | Permalink

    Yes – you are so correct about the layout of the TNIV reference. Too much.
    Leave off most of the references and you have a nice wide margin (just put it in calfskin).

  2. Woody
    Posted August 14, 2007 at 8:26 AM | Permalink

    I can’t wait for the TNIV Reference Bible. I will finally have a Bible that I can transfer all of my NAS notes into and have all the references I want. Maybe we should ask Zondervan to publish one for both of you. With fewer references and in calfskin. Can you imagine the finance department at Zondervan banging their heads against the wall? Seriously, what’s next? The left handed plumbers Bible? Non red letter, reference-lite, no maps in goatskin? Sounds like a good idea!

  3. Posted August 14, 2007 at 11:00 AM | Permalink

    I will finally have a Bible that I can transfer all of my NAS notes into and have all the references I want.

    Really? The sample pages didn’t strike me as having a lot of extra room for notes – definitely not a wide margin edition.

    Sorry if you didn’t feel my notes were warranted. I’m not asking for a custom version. I have a particular aesthetic in my mind of what an effective Bible should look like; this blog is my opportunity to comment from that point of view. My ideal Bible is single-column black letter text with cross references that fit on the inside margin and a wide margin on the top, bottom and outside of the page for notes. So far, my NASB cross-reference Bible comes closest. And that’s what I use.

    Can you imagine the finance department at Zondervan banging their heads against the wall?

    I’ve spent some time recently looking at NIV reference bibles and it’s clear that Zondervan simply adapted the reference notes that appear in those versions for the TNIV. Which I can’t blame them for – it’s definitely more cost effective than creating a new reference system or even trimming an existing one. But economics don’t excuse a poorly designed Bible, which this one borders on, in my opinion. Hopefully it’ll sell despite whatever flaws it has and Zondervan will be encouraged to publish more “serious” editions of the TNIV.

    All that said, in the end, it’s the Word that matters, not the wrapper.

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