The Green-Letter Bible
Is a green-letter Bible the answer to our environmental crisis?

Late yesterday afternoon, I received a copy of The Green Bible (HarperOne), and I'm not sure what to make of it.

The Bible is "green" in composition, which I appreciate. Its pages are made of 10 percent post-consumer recycled paper, the words are printed with soy-based ink, and the binding is 100 percent cotton/linen. It is certainly a good-looking book (that marketing sleeve comes off). And it smells nice. I wouldn't mind if my bookshelves were lined with cotton covers.

But to put things in perspective, Thomas Nelson released a "green" Bible printed on recycled paper - the first of its kind - almost a year ago. So it's not the composition but the content of HarperOne's ecologically friendly canon that makes it unique.

Before they make it to Genesis, Green Bible readers encounter an impressive roll of contributors, each offering a sermon or article on some aspect of creation care: "Reading the Bible through a Green Lens" and "Knowing Our Place on Earth: Learning Environmental Responsibility from the Old Testament" for example. There's a foreword by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, an introduction by Matthew Sleeth, poems by Francis of Assisi and Wendell Berry, and articles (mostly reprinted) by Brian McLaren, Barbara Brown Taylor, N. T. Wright, and the late Pope John Paul II, among others.

But what truly sets The Green Bible apart is that it's a "green-letter edition." It's akin to the New Testaments in which the words of Jesus are printed in red. Except in this case, "over a thousand references to the earth and caring for creation" appear in green ink. While there are certainly more instances besides the highlighted ones that would have applied, the editors tell us in the prefatory material, they have chosen only those "speaking directly to the project's core mission."

To meet their criteria for what makes it in green, a given biblical text must address:

? how God and Jesus interact with, care for, and are intimately involved with all of creation.

? how all the elements of creation - land, water, air, plants, animals, humans - are interdependent.

? how nature responds to God.

? how we are called to care for creation.

These criteria yield some obvious results. All of Genesis 1 and most of Genesis 2 is green-lettered, as is Romans 8:22: "We know that the whole of creation has been groaning in labor pains until now?" But there are some puzzling passages that make the cut. There's the final sentence of Revelation 19:20, for example: "These two [beasts] were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur." And Jesus' cursing of the fig tree is not green, even though it seems to describe "how God and Jesus interact with?all of creation."

September 24, 2008

Displaying 1–10 of 28 comments


September 07, 2011  9:58am

A young boy and his dad went out fishing one nice morning. After a few quiet hours out in the boat, the boy became curious about the world around him. He looked up at his dad and asked "How do fish breath under water?" His dad thought about it for a moment, then answered "I really don't know, son." The boy sat quietly from another moment, then asked his father again, "How does our boat float on the water?" Once again his father answered, "Don't know, son." Pondering his thoughts again, a little while later, the boy asks "Why is the sky blue?" Again, his dad replied, "Don't know, son." The inquiring boy, worried he was disturbing his dad, asks this time "Dad, do you mind that I'm asking you all of these questions?" "Of course not son", replied his dad, "How else are you ever going to learn anything?" Don't you feel that some posts and even whole sites are much alike this story?

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Joe Foss

February 11, 2009  10:26pm

Christians do have a responsibility to care for the earth and the people who depend on it. The poor are particularly harmed from toxic waste in their communities, global climate disruption, urban air and water pollution. The Old Testament celebrates the act of creation in Genesis and the need to care for the land in later chapters. The Jewish people were an agrarian people who depended on the earth's productivity. Jesus warned against hoarding wealth. Many of our environmental problems derive from modern consumerism. We need to open our ears to the cry of the poor and our hearts to the species that are being lost because of our greed and indifference. It is not about being politically correct or marketing, it is about caring for the least of these and opening up to the wonders of creation. If this book inspires any reflection and action, I applaud the editors.

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November 19, 2008  3:07pm

Cj, maybe the word "crisis" isn't appropriate, the word can be defined in many ways. But your response seems to another way of saying this isn't something we should care about. Maybe that is the only goal of this bible. To increase awareness amongst the Christian community that the environment isn't a social issue that only the far left be concerned with. Whether or not it is a "crisis" is still to be determined, but you can not ignore the pollutants in China, India, in major metropolitan areas of America. People are getting sick. Those are the facts. This is His creation, we are His creation. These things aren't exclusive issues.

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Renee Smith

October 15, 2008  4:27pm

My concern is that the focus of this bible is on the the creation and not the Creator. I know we need to be good stewards of the earth and what God created, however I think this is a little to out there.

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September 29, 2008  11:46am

"Is a green-letter Bible the answer to our environmental crisis?" There is NO crisis!! Say it with me, "there is NO crisis!"

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Parker Fitzgerald

September 28, 2008  9:29pm

There is so much that I can say about what I think of this - a good portion of which you've summed up very very nicely - but I think I will just come out and say that I think something like this is just plain heresy if there ever were such a thing. It's one thing to highlight the words of Christ - he is, after all, the basis for the Christian religion - but to start willy nilly adding color to a particular pet issue of the publisher? False. It seems that these people need to stop and ask themselves: "Am I aligning myself with God, or am I trying to force God to align with me?"

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September 26, 2008  12:26pm

Oh, for mike's sake.... Marketing. Sheer marketing. If being green weren't the next 'cool' thing for these urbanites living in the surburbs, drinking free-trade coffee from Starbucks (which tastes like distilled mud) in disposable cups with plastic lids and trekking their two point seven-five children around to their seven activities a day, shilling out thousands a month to a private evangelical school... we wouldn't have such tripe. It's not easy being green. Why didn't we have a recycled Bible to begin with? Or vegan (that is 'animal-product-free')? We already have paper covers, metal covers, woven covers, plastic covers, fake and real leather, manga (I'm sure it's out there), DVD, NT only, family Bibles, illustrated, baby-versions for children too young to read when the rest of the world doesn't even had one... Why are we always late – decades late – to the party? And when we show up, we have to wear a freaking chandelier to prove we give a flip? We were charged from the beginning to look over the earth. And the helpless. And the orphans. And the widows. Now we need some book to do this? That we buy at our local xtian bookstore? Puhleeze. If we give a rip about what we are supposed to, it is not earth-worship, it is conservation. Environmentalism and conservation are VERY different. It all goes back to Who Is Your G-d? Even if you put people before G-d, you are breaking a commandment. Just goes to show, they will buy. This shows conscience, now. We are dividing into the Political Camps and this is part of it. They will know we are Christians by our accessories.... Materialism. Yeech. And amen to Jarrod, Martin, Nate, Allen, Travis... oh, anyone cynical enough to see though this for what it is. And keep your sense of humor. (So, if you burn the optional hemp cover, can you see the matrix? Nah, we all know that hemp is just rope.)

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September 26, 2008  11:30am

thanks for writing this, brandon. i saw a full-page ad for this Bible and was intrigued by it. my instant reaction was that it was a cool idea and i especially liked the eco-friendliness of the book itself, but i, too, wasn't sure about the "theology" of the thing. the more i thought about it, the more i remembered all sorts of editorial liberties and marketing ploys that have been used to sell and embellish the original text over the years... for me, "women's bibles" come to my mind as especially dubious. this one, at least, is promoting a cause that i'm happy to see getting some attention. ultimately, if the passages in green accurately reflect God's messages of creation care (perhaps a big "if"), i don't think the mere color would be distracting enough for people to lose the other meanings of the text. so for me, if i "had" to buy a Bible that was anything other than plain text with nothing in the margins, it might very well be this one.

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September 25, 2008  3:38pm

With the rise of electronic Bibles, I think what would be really cool is to have an e-Bible that you had a drop-down menu that would highlight the appropriate verses in a coordinated color corresponding to whatever particular lens you wanted to read the Bible through: green, Republican or Democrat (thanks Caleb), men's, women's, children's, complementarian, egalitarian, prosperity,liberation, worship, prayer, fasting, social justice, care for the poor, purpose-driven, emergent, Reformed, Arminian, revolutionary, charismatic, non-charismatic, dispensational, amillenial, post-millenial, ... That, I might buy. Or maybe I'll just stick with mine that has God's words in black. Oh, and if somebody uses my idea, I want my share of the profits. :-)

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September 25, 2008  3:20pm

"As you comment, I'll be curious to hear what you all think about the idea of highlighting themes in general (not necessarily environmentalism). Good idea? Bad idea?" Um personally, I would rather highlight my own bible, thank you very much. The reason being that highlighting indicates a noteable passage that some may disagree on it's noteability. But as I think about it...I guess some highlighting is okay namely because of the popularity of the often used, oh... John 11:35 "Jesus wept" Or John 3:16, "For G-d so loved the world..." which are common enough in our lexicon. But I think it should be minimized to prevent introducing biases that may lead impressionable individuals, to create a tangent that evolves into a heretical theology. That would be my concern.

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