Crossway's $500 ESV and Rupert Murdoch...

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For me, it's been a long love affair with Online Bible for the Mac (OLB) and I'm happy to announce that it no longer crashes under Apple's Sierra OS—if, that is, you're enrolled in Apple's beta program and running 10.12.2. (See announcement at bottom of page.)

I started using OLB back in the eighties when it was shareware, but they had no shareware fee. They didn't require money, but only that you give away several copies of the program in your first month of use. The coders said their software was the first "Bible software based on the principle of grace rather than greed."

Online Bible for the Mac had modules for most Bible versions, but never the American text of the New International Version. Why not?

Zondervan owned the NIV and they published a Bible program for the Macintosh called MacBible, so they refused to allow OLB to use their NIV text. It didn't matter to them how many people were using OLB and wanted they NIV. Zondervan was determined to leverage the NIV in order to recover their investment in their dog of a Bible program.

This history will help readers understand the massive amount of money at stake in marketing the Bible today. It is a hugely profitable business.

Foundations associated with Tyndale House (New Living Translation) and Lockman (New American Standard Bible) give away portions of their corporation's profits. Depending upon what non-profit businesses they choose to put their money into, this can be bad or good for the Kingdom of God. Regardless of whether the Bible-marketing corporation keeps all its profits or gives a portion away, though, every publishing corporation would kill to get a popular Bible version to sell.

Bible products are the cash cows of the Christian publishing business, providing great name recognition and dependable cash flow.

Indicative of the sort of money people are willing to spend on Bible products, back in 2014, one of the top ten Kickstarter campaigns raised $1.4 million and Christianity Today ran an article on the campaign under this headline:

Introducing the Bible! Now with Less!
Delete the chapter and verse numbers. Kill all the notes. Make it one column. Make a million bucks.

Calling itself Bibliotheca, the Bible is now available in paperback for $159. If you'd like, you may order a $119 solid walnut slipcase to keep your hardback version in when it's setting on the shelf.

After Bibliotheca's success, Crossway—the Wheaton publishing corporation that owns the copyright to the English Standard Version—decided to get in on the action and they've just released their own very special leather-bound reader's version offered at the price point of $499. Tim Challies says it's great:

The ESV Reader’s Bible, Six-Volume Set is an outstanding product, one to treasure, perhaps even for a lifetime. In its text it is the words of God. In its form it is very nearly a work of art. It is beautiful. It is simple. It is beautifully simple and simply beautiful.

With this kind of money being made, it's not surprising almost all Bible publishers have now been taken over by publicly traded companies. For instance, the gender-neutered New International Version (2011), New King James Version, New Century Version, International Children’s Bible, Expanded Bible, and The Voice are published by Zondervan and Thomas Nelson, and both of these publishers are now owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.

What else does Rupert Murdoch own?

Here is the final sentence from the 500-word copyright demands Crossway makes of those who want to quote from their English Standard Version:

Permission requests for use [of the ESV] within the UK and EU that exceed [500 words print, 250 words audio] must be directed to HarperCollins Religious, 77-85 Fulham Place Road, Hammersmith, London, W6 8JB, England.

So in addition to all the Bible copyrights Murdoch controls here in these United States, he also controls the text of the NIV, the NKJV, and the ESV in the United Kingdom and the European Union.

Does it matter?

Think about this: the year of the gender-neutral Bible battle, I was at meetings with these Bible publishers and their translators and was told part of the reason Zondervan made a promise (they were quick to break) that they wouldn't proceed with plans to neuter their NIV was that their Bible division had been the only division (of 7) to turn a profit that year. I was also told Rupert Murdoch bent the ear of Zondervan's CEO over the controversy.

You do want to think your Bible is under church authority. It's not. Bibles aren't God's Word written any more. They're a multiplicity of styles of translation based upon your cultural sensibilities concerning anti-Semitism, inclusive language, LGBTQ hate speech, etc. Bibles have become religious fashion statements. Think of them as Apple Watches with everyone getting to choose their own preference in metal, wallpaper, color, and wristband.

On the other hand, it's possible the man who spends $500 on a Bible will feel like, to justify the expenditure, he'll have to read it.

If you go into a house where Crossway's $500 set is on display, you can easily tell whether it's ever read. Just slip one of the volumes out of the case and see if the edges of the pages are soiled or clean.

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and big lots of grandchildren.

Want to get in touch? Send Tim an email!