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Archive for March, 2006

Origin of Red-Letter Bibles

In keeping with yesterday’s post about the history of Bible printing, today we offer the following history of Bibles with the words of Christ printed in red (i.e., red-letter Bibles).

Red-letter Bibles have become so common that it’s easy to assume they have been around for as long as Bibles have been printed. Not so! The first red-letter New Testament was published in 1899, and the first red-letter Bible followed two years later.

The idea of printing the words of Christ in red originated with Lous Klopsch, editor of Christian Herald magazine. Klopsch was a close friend of such contemporaries as T. DeWitt Talmage, D.L. Moody, and Ira Sankey. Klopsch was an early supporter of Moody’s Bible Institute in Chicago, rallying Christian Herald readers to send in contributions for the financially strapped school. In his eighteen years as proprietor of Christian Herald, Klopsch raised more than three billion dollars for relief work throughout the world.[1]

No cause was dearer to Klopsch’s heart, however, than that of Scripture distribution and reading. Through Christian Herald Klopsch published more than 60,000 Bibles and Testaments annually during much of his tenure.[2] But he wanted to do more than get the Bible into people’s hands. He wanted people to read the Bible and understand it—particularly what it says about Jesus Christ.

Klopsch conceived the idea of printing some of the biblical text with red ink. When reading Jesus’ words, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you” (Luke 22:20), he thought of printing all of Jesus’ words in red, the color of his blood.[3]

“Modern Christianity,” Klopsch wrote in an explanatory note in his red-letter Bible, “is striving zealously to draw nearer to the great Founder of the Faith. Setting aside mere human doctrines and theories regarding Him, it presses close to the Divine Presence, to gather from His own lips the definition of His mission to the world and His own revelation of the Father… The Red Letter Bible has been prepared and issued in the full conviction that it will meet the needs of the student, the worker, and the searchers after truth everywhere.”[4]

In the first red-letter Bible, the words “universally accepted as the utterances of our Lord and Saviour” were printed in red.[5] So were Old Testament passages that Jesus quoted or that were directly related to incidents to which he referred (with the relevant cross reference also printed in red). Old Testament verses containing prophetic references to Christ were identified with red stars.

Though an ardent student of Scripture, Klopsch did not attempt to produce the red-letter Bible single-handedly. According to his biographer, Charles M. Pepper, he enlisted many scholars to assist him: “…he engaged the services of a number of distinguished Bible scholars, including several leading college professors in this country and abroad. To each of these he wrote explaining the nature of the work, and giving to each a certain part of the books of the Old and New Testaments to mark for the ‘Red Letter’ edition. When the entire Bible was finished, the separate books were then interchanged among these workers, so that each eminent scholar practically went over the entire Bible and annotated the work already done by others. Many months were occupied in this interchange, but at last the task was accomplished.”[6]

While Klopsch did not, in the red-letter Bible itself, supply the names of the scholars who had assisted him, he did state eloquently the case for such an edition: “Here the actual words, quotations, references and allusions of Christ, not separated from their context, nor in a fragmentary or disconnected form, but in their own proper place, as an integral part of the Sacred Record, stand out vividly conspicuous in the distinction of color. The plan also possesses the advantage of showing how frequently and how extensively, on the Authority of Christ himself, the authenticity of the Old Testament is confirmed, thus greatly facilitating comparison and verification, and enabling the student to trace the connection between the Old and the New, link by link, passage by passage.”[7]

“In the Red Letter Bible, more clearly than in any other edition of the Holy Scriptures,” continues Klopsch, “it becomes plain that from beginning to end, the central figure upon which all lines of law, history, poetry and prophecy converge is Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world. He expounded in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself and the Divine plan for man’s redemption, and the Red Letter Bible indicates and emphasizes this Divine exposition and personal revelation at each successive stage, making them so clear that even the simplest may understand. It sheds a new radiance upon the sacred pages, by which the reader is enabled to trace unerringly the scarlet thread of prophecy from Genesis to Malachi. Like the Star which led the Magi to Bethlehem, this light, shining through the entire Word, leads straight to the person of the Divine Messiah, as the fulfillment of the promise of all the ages.”[8]

Klopsch’s red-letter New Testament bore this title: The New Testament… With All the Words Recorded Therein, as Having Been Spoken by Our Lord, Printed in Color. According to Pepper this innovative New Testament met with “instant success.”[9] Klopsch himself proceeded to produce, as we have seen, a red-letter Bible. It was released in 1901 under the title The Holy Bible: Red Letter Edition. Both the New Testament and the Bible were printed by the Christian Herald’s own presses and bore the magazine publisher’s imprint:

Title page of the first complete Bible published with the words of Christ in red

The novelty and success of the red-letter editions of Scripture did not go unnoticed in the competitive world of Bible publishing. At least three major publishers of Bibles quickly added such editions to their lists: A.J. Holman, Thomas Nelson and Sons, and John C. Winston. Holman, a Philadelphia house, had released The Holman New Self-Pronouncing Sunday-School Teacher’s Bible around 1898. Soon after Klopsch published his red-letter New Testament, Holman issued a separate edition of the New Testament portion of its New Self-Pronouncing Bible in which the sayings of Christ were printed in red.[10] Nelson, a New York publisher, was the first to provide an entire Bible to compete with Klopsch’s. Printed by Berwick and Smith Company in Norwood, Massachusetts, it was titled The Red-Letter Edition of the Holy Bible… Showing the Whole of Our Lord’s Words in Red.[11] Winston, another Philadelphia company, followed suit with The Red Letter Holy Bible, in which “the words spoken by Jesus” and “the prophetic types and prophecies in the Old Testament referring to Christ” are printed in red.[12] All three of these editions were published during the first decade of the twentieth century.

Red-letter Bibles went on to establish themselves in many quarters as the preferred form of the printed Bible. Louis Klopsch, who died in 1910, would undoubtedly take pride in the endurance of the innovation he introduced into Bible publishing.


  1. Hugh A. Moran, “Louis Klopsch,” in Dictionary of American Biography, ed. Dumas Malone (New York: Scribner’s, 1933), 10:447; Charles M. Pepper, Life-Work of Louis Klopsch (New York: Christian Herald, 1910), pp. 314-316.
  2. Pepper, Louis Klopsch, p. 325.
  3. Robert W. Funk, Roy W. Hoover, et al., The Five Gospels (New York: Macmillan, 1993), p. 37; Philip Sellew, “Red Letter Bible,” in The Oxford Companion to the Bible, ed. Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan (New York: Oxford University, 1993), p. 619. Sellew’s source was Funk and Hoover, and their source was Laurence S. Heely, Jr., publisher of Christian Herald. Philip Sellew to Allan Fisher, 20 June 1994.
  4. Louis Klopsch, “Explanatory Note,” in The Holy Bible: Red Letter Edition (New York: Christian Herald, 1901), p. xvi.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Pepper, Louis Klopsch, pp. 324-25.
  7. Klopsch, “Explanatory Note,” p. xvi.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Pepper, Louis Klopsch, p. 325.
  10. Maragret T. Hills, ed., The English Bible in America (New York: American Bible Society, 1962), p. 326.
  11. Ibid., p. 329.
  12. Ibid., p. 342.


Funk, Robert W., Roy W. Hoover, et al. The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus. New York: Macmillan, 1993

Hills, Margaret T., ed. The English Bible in America: A Bibliography of Editions of the Bible and the New Testament Published in America, 1777-1957. New York: American Bible Society and New York Public Library, 1962.

The Holy Bible: Red Letter Edition: Containing the Old and New Testaments, Translated out of the Original Tongues… New York: Christian Herald, 1901.

Moran, Hugh A. “Klopsch, Louis.” In Dictionary of American Biography. Edited by Dumas Malone. New York: Scribner’s, 1933. 10:447-48

Pepper, Charles M. Life-Work of Louis Klopsch: Romance of a Modern Knight of Mercy. New York: Christian Herald, 1910.

Sellew, Philip. “Red Letter Bible.” The Oxford Companion to the Bible. Edited by Bruce M. Metzger and Michaeld D. Coogan. New York: Oxford University, 1993. Page 619.

—By Allan Fisher (1994). Used with permission.

March 23, 2006 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Bible Study,Church History,Life / Doctrine,The Christian Life | Author: Crossway Staff @ 10:01 am | (8) Comments »

Celebrating the Printed Bible

March 22, 1457—549 years ago today—is the usual (if inaccurate) date given for the printing of the first book using movable type: the Gutenberg Bible. We thought we’d share a brief tour of major landmarks in Bible printing, starting with the Gutenberg Bible itself:

Gutenberg Bible
Photo Credit: Library of Congress

Learn more about Gutenberg at Wikipedia.

Tyndale New Testament (1526)

John 1
Photo credit: British Library Board.

Tyndale’s famous opening from John 1 continues almost unchanged to the ESV: “In the begynnynge was that worde, and that worde was with God; and God was thatt worde.” The 1526 edition was the first Bible published in English.

Learn more about Tyndale at Desiring God.

King James Version (1611)

Genesis 1
Photo credit: The Manhattan Rare Book Company

You can already see the use of marginal notes for cross references.

The First Complete Bible Printed in America (1663)

Exodus 5-6
Photo credit: Library of Congress.

Note in particular how little has changed since 1611: marginal notes and running heads both look similar.

First Edition with the Words of Christ in Red (1899)

Title page of the first complete Bible published with the words of Christ in red (1901)

See our post about the origin of red-letter editions for more background.

Twenty-First Century

Today, print is only one of several media in which Bibles are available. Much of the innovation taking place in Bible presentation occurs in the digital world.

Thus, for maximum flexibility, Crossway stores the ESV files digitally. The master XML files that make up the official ESV text look like the following. (You can access a version of these XML files through our web service.)

XML version of part of 1 John (ESV)

Technology hasn’t quite progressed to the point where we can convert these XML files into a printed Bible with only a few hand adjustments, but new software comes along every year to expedite the process. Using XML does allow the ESV’s many electronic licensees to include the ESV in their software relatively easily.

We’ve mentioned before that each typesetting of the ESV costs about $50,000 to produce. As that cost comes down through increased automation, Crossway and other Bible publishers will hopefully be able to offer a wider selection of editions.

Some have likened the advent of the Internet to the invention of the printing press. In some ways, the comparison is apt: both allowed the sharing of information on an unprecedented scale. We don’t expect printed Bibles to go away anytime soon. But as new opportunities and media arise to share the Word of God, we want to be there.

The history of Bible printing correlates closely with the history of the printed word; we hope to continue that history with the ESV.


See the American Bible Society website for more pictures of earlier and later editions of the Bible.

March 22, 2006 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Bible Study,Church History,Life / Doctrine,The Christian Life | Author: Crossway Staff @ 10:04 am | (8) Comments »

New Testament Citations of the Old Testament

At the Logos Bible Software blog, they’ve been discussing power-law relationships of biblical citations. (In other words, the number of verse citations generally follows a smooth curve. See their post for more background.)

One of the commenters asked for data about how many citations of the Old Testament appear in the New Testament. Here it is:

New Testament Citations of Old Testament Books

In absolute terms, the New Testament writers cited Psalms and Isaiah most often.

Graph showing the absolute numbers. Psalms and Isaiah lead the way, followed by Deuteronomy and Exodus.

New Testament Citations of Old Testament Books When Controlling for Book Length

The above chart promotes long books over short books. (The Psalms gets cited more often in part because it’s a much longer book.) The below chart shows the number of New Testament citations per verse in the Old Testament book, giving you a different picture. Proportionally, Malachi and Habakkuk are cited most often.

Graph showing the absolute numbers. Malachi and Habakkuk lead the way, followed by Isaiah and Deuteronomy.

New Testament Citations of Old Testament Books Matrix

The below table shows how many times each New Testament book cites each Old Testament book. Books that aren’t listed don’t have any citations.

Book Matt Mark Luke John Acts Rom 1 Cor 2 Cor Gal Eph 1 Tim Heb Jas 1 Pet Total
Gen 1 3     3 7 2   3 1   3 1   24
Ex 7 4 3 1 4 4 1 1   1   3 2   31
Lev 3 1 2     1   1 2       1 1 12
Num       1                     1
Deut 8 2 5   4 6 1   2   1 3     32
Josh                       1     1
1 Sam         1                   1
2 Sam           1           1     2
1 Kgs           3                 3
Neh       1                     1
Job             1               1
Ps 7 3 5 6 8 14 3 2   1   18   2 69
Prov           3           1 1   5
Isa 8 3 5 4 5 13 5 2 1     1   4 51
Jer 1                     3     4
Hos 3         2                 5
Joel         1 1                 2
Amos         2                   2
Mic 1                           1
Hab         1 1     1     1     4
Hag                       1     1
Zech 3 1   2                     6
Mal 1 1 1     1                 4
Total 43 18 21 15 29 57 13 6 9 3 1 36 5 7 263
March 17, 2006 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Bible Study,Biblical Studies,Life / Doctrine,The Christian Life | Author: Crossway Staff @ 1:44 pm | (14) Comments »