How the Christian Basics Bible came about
By Mike Beaumont, editor of the Christian Basics Bible
Penicillin, saccharine, Coca-Cola, the microwave oven and the pacemaker…all have one thing in common: they all came about by accident, discovered when someone found something that they weren’t originally looking for. And that’s how the Christian Basics Bible came about.
It all started with my being deported from India….
After more than 25 years of working with churches, leaders and seminaries in India, I landed at Chennai to find that I had been ‘red flagged’ and was promptly put back on the very plane from which I had just disembarked. Over those 25 years, I had made hundreds of friends – one of them, a seminary student from Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) with whom I had become particularly close when his father suddenly died and, as acting principal of his seminary at that time, was able to help him get back home to his family in that time of need. That moment forged a link between us that lasts to this day. When he graduated, he returned to Myanmar where he became a lecturer at a seminary in Yangon. After much pestering, he persuaded me to go there as a visiting professor – and so began my love for Myanmar and its many different peoples.
As it happens, my long-standing friend and co-author of Christian Basics Bible (CBB), Martin Manser, also has a link with Myanmar since he married a Burmese woman. And it was this love of Myanmar on both our parts that would lead to the production of CBB.
It was while Martin was in Yangon visiting his wife’s family on one occasion that he met the Director of Christian Literature Crusade Myanmar. Knowing Martin was an author and editor of many years’ experience, he shared with him his longing for some kind of Study Bible in the Burmese language, since there wasn’t a single one at that time, and wondered whether Martin might be able to help. Martin promised to give it some thought. And as he did, two things came to mind. First, he remembered that he had written some short introductions to the books of the Bible some years earlier, but nothing had come of the material. Second, he reflected on how he and I had collaborated on writing projects for over 20 years. Suddenly, the light went on. What if he put those two things together?
When he got back home, he contacted me, asking whether I would be interested in partnering with him in producing the first ever Study Bible in the Burmese language. As we prayed about it and discussed the idea further, we began to get really excited and felt this was something that God wanted us to do. For us in the West, where there is a plethora of Bible translations and editions, it’s hard to grasp what it is like for many Christians in the world where they often only have one basic translation, often without any notes or helps of any kind in it. This was certainly the case in Myanmar, where there was only one Bible text – the Judson Bible, produced in 1834 and without a single footnote or comment in it. Even worse, there had been no revisions of that 1834 text; so many of the words in it were now simply quite meaningless in modern Burmese. So CLC got to work slightly updating the Bible text, while Martin and I got to work at our end – Martin using his skills as an editor to plan and shape the material, me using my skills as a writer to start producing the content – introductions to each Bible book and notes on key themes every 6 or 7 chapters or so. The publisher had requested we keep the material simple and compact, yet comprehensive – quite a challenge! And, of course, it had to be culturally relevant for Myanmar where some issues arise that just aren’t tissues in the West. After lots of hard work, we are glad to say that the Myanmar Study Bible was finally in the hands of Christians there – the first Study Bible in the Burmese language.
But what, I hear you thinking, does all this have to do with Christian Basics Bible?
Because this is where the penicillin and saccharin and Coca-Cola come in. For it was while we were working on this project for Myanmar that the idea of CBB was born. One day, during a phone conversation about the project, Martin suddenly said to me, “You know, this material is really good. I’m sure there is potential for it being used much more widely.” And immediately, I knew that he was right. For there we were, trying to express what are often complex and profound spiritual truths in simple ways for Myanmar Christians, when many in the West were in need of exactly the same thing. In fact, I had been greatly exercised for a number of years as a pastor by the fact that more and more people in the West were becoming more and more ignorant of even the most basic Bible stories (let alone doctrines). And so when they became Christians, they brought very little, if any, of the Bible background that people of a generation ago would have brought, making the Bible so much harder to understand.
And so we began to dream. What if we were to produce an edition of the Bible that was especially written for people who came to faith with little or no Bible background? What if we were to write things in really simple way, avoiding ‘Christianese’ and technical language that those of us who have been Christians for many years so often take for granted and use without thinking? …
And so we began to draft an outline of what would become known as Christian Basics Bible. It would have some introductory essays on things like how to become a Christian and how to read the Bible; each Bible book would begin with a simple summary of what it was all about and what the reader should look for as they read it; there would be notes, but not too many so we didn’t overwhelm the reader, focusing on key ideas, people and events; it would have sections at the back, with a glossary to explain words whose meaning we often take for granted, and a section outlining some of the basic truths of the Bible, to help people know where to look when they were thinking about various issues. We then produced some sample material to show the kind of thing we were thinking of, and sent it off to Tyndale.
We can’t tell you how happy we were when we got an immediate positive response from them! (Any author will tell you they often expect at least ten rejections before any publisher even starts to show an interest.) Tyndale was excited by our concept and asked if we could meet senior staff members who were due to pass through London England soon. And so, over lunch in a London hotel, CBB was born. Like Coca-Cola, by accident.
Over the next couple of years, Martin and I devoted much of our time to the project, writing and re-writing until we got the tone that we wanted – pastorally warm; simple yet Biblically accurate; written in language for people who hadn’t been exposed to the Bible before; seeking to be as neutral as possible over issues over which equally-lovely Bible-believing Christians have genuine disagreements so that it could be used by the widest possible base; and, of course, based on the easy-to-read New Living Translation. Yes, I know some Christians don’t like this edition because they think it isn’t close enough to the original text. Well, it is close – it just uses a different translation principle: what is known as ‘dynamic equivalence’ rather than ‘word for word’. And since it is designed for people who have little or no Bible background, it is so much easier for them to read and understand in comparison to versions like KJV or NASB or even NIV.
As the final edited text started drawing to a conclusion, Tyndale’s design department got busy, producing some amazing info-graphics for the back of the Bible. Then they asked for our input on its cover. I said I didn’t really mind how it looked – providing it didn’t say ‘Holy Bible’ and have a cross on the front! If that shocks you, then please remember the purpose of CBB: to be an edition for new believers from little or no Christian background, not primarily for those who had been Christians for a long time for whom such things have become the norm. (And anyway, the original Bible texts didn’t say ‘Holy Bible’ and have a cross on them!). And so we came up with the idea of a cover with three building blocks, reflecting what had become something of a sub-title for CBB: Foundations of the faith for followers of Christ.
What a joy it was to hold my very first copy in my hands, some three years after that Coca-Cola moment!
Since its launch Christian Basics Bible has been well-received. Those who have recently become Christians and who come from little or no Christian background, have found it easy to read and understand. But also those who have been Christians for many years have find its approach and simplicity refreshing, commenting on how they have now understood things in the Bible that have passed them by for years.
So there it is: the Bible that came about ‘by accident’. But many of the things that come about ‘by accident’ prove to have enduring popularity. Our prayer is that this might be true of Christian Basics Bible.