It’s not often that I carry a book around to show people. Usually I simply tell them about the book – “I loved the characters;” or “The plot is great;” or “it was hysterical” (mostly I say that third one about Anne Lamott) – but this book Bible Illuminated: The Book – New Testament is worthy of toting, and not simply because it’s the Bible (although of course I believe any Bible is worthy of carrying around). This version, however, lends itself to visual sharing in a way that most versions of the Bible, except perhaps those children’s Bibles with great illustrations, do not.

The Bible Illuminated is shaped like a high-gloss magazine, Vogue gone spiritual if you will. And inside, you’ll find a translation of the New Testament that is both close enough to our traditional translations (KJV and NIV) and fresh enough to appeal to both regular Bible readers like myself and to those for whom the Bible might seem stodgy and out of date. Then, next to that great text, you see these spectacular pictures. Take, for example, this spread that juxtaposes this image with a selection from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians: [my image function is not working fully, but check back for an update this afternoon]

The Book is filled with just such provocative ideas – images of burning protesters and New Orleans after Katrina fill out the book of Revelation; Mohamad Ali and Ghandi appear in the book of Mark. This is a Bible for people who believe the Bible, as God’s word, is meant to be an agent of change. I love it.

There are some odd choices in this translation – take for example the image above – here the designers (for this was surely a carefully designed book) chose to highlight the verse about wives submitting to their husbands, but they did highlight the verses about husbands caring for their wives that follow immediately after. I don’t really like that – but then I don’t really like this section of Paul’s writing at all; it clashes with my 21st century feminism. That issue, however, is larger than this one book – it’s an issue for the Church to keep hashing out.

Many, many people have reviewed this book – just Google “bible illuminated review” – and there seems to be a stark divide between the people who think it’s a great thing because it will bring new people to the Bible and the people who think the Bible should not be commodified and flashy. I certainly see these two points of view, but I would contend that this Book is simply a part of the Bible’s own call to be “in the world but not of it.” Sometimes, we must use the world’s methods – with decorum and wisdom, of course – to reach into the world. And I think The Book does a fair job of that.

I also think that this Book appeals to people, like me, who are tired of seeing the Bible sold – for the way Bibles are sold now is surely still a commodity with its careful leather binding and embossed lettering – as something antiquated and irrelevant, a book you carry to church and park carefully on a table. I think a Bible should be toted about, shown off, shared. It’s a powerful book, whether or not you believe the theology around it, and thus, it should be read – and whatever gets people to read it or see it afresh – I will never again read Philippians 3, my favorite passage in the Bible, without thinking of the image set beside it here: a cat before a threadbare Christmas tree, the verse “See to it, then, that no one enslaves you by means of the worthless deceit of human wisdom, which comes from the teachings handed down by human and beings and from the ruling spirits of the universe, and not from Christ.” Christmas will never be the same either.

Changing, challenging perspectives, pushing boundaries, causing a little dissonance – isn’t that what Jesus was about? If so, the Bible Illuminated certainly fulfills his mission.

Cover of The Book