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.