Romans. In Chinese. No Verses.

“Wow. Now I’m really tired.”

That’s what’s in my head every time I finally reach a period while reading Chinese. Making sense of each individual sentence is exhausting.

If I’m trying to read more than one sentence, this is a bit of a problem. It’s even worse if I’m trying to work my way through a book as large as, say, the Chinese Bible. Or even just one book of the Bible. Like Romans.

Speaking of which, my church recently asked me to start speaking from the book of Romans—in Chinese—later this year, and one of my first thoughts was, “I need to get my own wide-margin reader’s edition ready.”

I first heard about reader’s editions of the Bible from a Kickstarter Campaign, and then in great detail through a Sunday school class at my church. My wife leaned over to me near the end of that session and said, “I wish there was a Chinese edition. I think I would have started reading the Bible earlier than I did.”

She remembers seeing a Bible for the first time as a college freshman, and being overwhelmed by the encyclopedic appearance of every page. All the numbers and notes and clutter communicated something to her: “This book is too complicated for you.” So she set it aside for a couple of years.

From my own experience, I’ve since discovered that, as a reader of Chinese as a foreign language, I was silently picking up the same message—some of my fatigue was coming from the small font, crowded type, and intimidatingly over-cluttered page. I’ve noticed some of the same phenomenon to a lesser degree with English reader’s Bibles, but with Chinese the difference is night and day.

For English, I’ve been hunting for an ideal ESV for a long time, and finally settled on the ESV Reader’s Bible. Though, honestly, it’s not so much because it’s a “reader’s edition” as it’s the only ESV I’ve found that simultaneously solves two problems: there are almost no hanging indents in the poetry sections, and the prose columns aren’t too wide. As I’ve been using this beautiful edition, I’ve been writing verse numbers on the inside margin as needed.

For Chinese, I’ve put a lot of effort into creating resources of my own. When I put a reader’s edition of the Books of John on my phone, I found myself going through much of the Gospel of John without realizing it. Without the tempting stop signs and cramped pages, all those intimidating Chinese characters were just a little less intimidating.

Of course, there is no printed Chinese reader’s edition of the Bible, so with some help from Adobe InDesign, I dabbled with making one of my own. Of course, it’s only a Gospel of John at this point (with some punctuation problems, which I’ve learned how to fix), but I have styled Word documents of the entire New Testament (CUV—Chinese Union Version), and have all the files for the Old Testament ready to be edited. In order to get the entire Bible onto Blurb, all I need is help from a committed native-speaking (or equivalent) Chinese speaker with InDesign skills.

Since I don’t have that, I put together this edition of Romans for myself. I’ve already memorized the first page as part of my preparation, and discovered that the lack of verse numbers is helping me: Instead of memorizing one verse at a time, I memorize a line and a half at a time. That keeps me from getting lazy when there’s a short verse, and defeated when there’s a long one. Memorizing Chinese can be overwhelmingly discouraging, and one long verse could be enough to completely take the wind out of my sails.

Later this year, I’ll be in a rotation with two other speakers, and they’ve actually already started chapter 1. I plan to hop in around chapter 3 or 4. (They’re native speakers, so they don’t need the enormous running start that I do.)

A couple of weeks ago, I gave a copy of my DIY wide-margin reader’s edition to one of my co-speakers. He has been a long-time supporter of this little project of mine. This morning he excitedly told me, right before preaching to us from Romans 1:2-7, that he has dived into studying this book with a conscious effort to see the flow of thought rather than chapters and verses.

Even if this project goes no further, it’s made an impact on our little Chinese congregation here in South Carolina.

If you’re interested in helping with this project, feel free to email me at elijah.wilcott@gmail.com.

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