Of course, I had heard of The Ryrie Study Bible, one of the best-selling study Bibles in America. I also knew the name from colleagues at the Dallas Theological Seminary, where professor Ryrie taught for many years. In my work as a librarian, I had come upon scores of his books, such as The Bible of the Middle Way, The Grace of God, and Neo-Orthodoxy, as well as works on topics as varied as social responsibility, biblical inerrancy, and the role of women in the church. The fame of Professor Ryrie made me a bit of shy about bothering him, but when I finally arranged a meeting, I found him to be the embodiment of Christian modesty and goodwill. What’s more, reports of his collection were not exaggerated.
During several early encounters, he treated me to showings of his books—a first edition of King James, the 1516 Genoa Psalter with its footnote about Christopher Columbus, Calvin’s Institutes, and so on—all very impressive items. Then, after we had become better friends, he brought out the really good stuff. I saw important early Greek manuscripts of the New Testament; I held in my hands one of the world’s few copies of Tyndale’s Pentateuch; I feasted my eyes upon Erasmus’s New Testament and Coverdale’s Bible; and I nearly swooned when handed an early edition of Luther’s hymnbook, with a sermon written on the fly-leaf in the hand of Luther’s best friend and fellow reformer, Philipp Melanchthon.
Now, after some persuading, Professor Ryrie has agreed to share part of his collection with a broader public in this exhibit. True to his scholar’s nature, however, this is not just an exhibition of bibliographic rarities. Instead, he has focused on the compelling idea that our engagement with the Word of God is, in many ways, influenced by its format, and that the history of biblical format warrants more study. It is intriguing to consider that a producer’s interpretation is often reflected in how the Bible text is presented. More important, how the Bible text is presented can have profound effect of the reader’s understanding of it.
We all know that the Bible has meant different things to different people at different times—regardless of what we might claim about its immutability. That is part of the beauty of the Bible. In this exhibition, we explore one deceptively simple, but often overlooked reason for differences in biblical interpretation: the impact of format. Have text-critical notes been added in the margins? Are there images entwined around initial letters? Is the poetry set off as verse? Do woodcuts tell the story in pictures? Is it printed on precious vellum, ordinary paper, or as pixels on a screen? Did the translator have an agenda or confessional bias? We have looked at these rare Bibles with questions of form and format in mind to try to understand both the motivation for production and the intended interpretation of the text.
The issue of format also pertains to the exhibition itself. To wander through Bridwell’s galleries is the best way to see and experience the nuances of formatting the Word of God. But exhibitions are temporary by nature, so we have produced this beautiful and traditional book as a lasting record. Not satisfied with only two formats, we added an electronic version of the text with additional images on CD-Rom (accompanying each catalog). And, to expand access to the electronic format, we have also made it available on the Internet at Bridwell Library’s website.
Professor Ryrie invited several friends to help him make connections between format and meaning. He and I would like to thank Duane Harbin, David Price, Page Thomas, Decherd Turner, and Eric White for their contributions to this catalog. Their descriptions offer copy-specific information, notes about the historical significance of the items, and insights into the ways in which format can influence our understanding of the Word of God. With this catalog they have made a significant contribution to biblical studies by describing and identifying the importance of the history of formatting the Bible.
I know I speak for all the contributors, however, when I say that it was a pleasure to work with Professor Ryrie and to get to know these wonderful books. We are grateful to you, Charles, for yet another Bible study lesson!
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