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Local pastor produces Bible aimed at helping laymen understand Word

by Caitlan Butler | March 24, 2023 at 12:00 a.m.
Jane and Scott Johnson recently received copies of their self-published BRG edition of the King James Version Bible. Scott Johnson is the pastor at East Faulkner Church of Christ. (Courtesy of Scott Johnson/Special to the News-Times)

In 2010, Scott and Jane Johnson were sitting together in their living room, Jane reading her Bible as Scott reflected on the couple's recent trip to Israel.

"She was reading her Bible that very week about the Jordan River experience, when Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River. She was reading that in the living room of our house and she had a red letter Bible," Scott Johnson recalled. "There's a voice from Heaven saying, 'This is my son in whom I am well pleased.' When she read that, she said, 'Hon, why didn't God get a color?'

That question led Scott to research the red letter Bible, which he found was conceived in 1899 by Louis Klopsch, who thought red – the color of blood – would help highlight the words of Jesus Christ for readers.

The first red letter Bible was published that same year, and, according to The Oregonian newspaper, the first 60,000 copies sold out quickly. Red letter bibles have been published widely ever since.

Scott Johnson went to bed thinking he'd learned something new about the Bible and that would be the end of it. But when he woke up in the middle of the night, he had an idea for another way to emphasize important words in the Bible.

"I don't know if God told me, an angel told me, the Spirit told me, but I said, 'He does have a color. He will have a color from this point on, and it's blue,'" he recalled. "Why blue? That's the color that came to my mind when I was sleeping, and it fits because the sky is blue, and that's where Heaven is."

The Holy Spirit should also be highlighted, he realized, in gold to symbolize the fire often associated with the Spirit. Jesus's words would remain in red.

Thus, the BRG – blue, red, gold -- Bible was conceived.

And now, 13 years later, the first widely-available copies have been published, printed and delivered.

Starting the process

Johnson has had a few copies of the BRG Bible before. In 2013, he printed on-demand copies as requested for readers, but at $40-50 per copy, the cost was prohibitive for wide distribution.

Around the same time, the Johnsons partnered with the e-Sword Bible app, where they presented a digital version of the BRG Bible for free download. Two years later, Bible Gateway, another Christian website and app, asked to digitally publish copies of the BRG Bible as well.

To date, BRG editions have been downloaded approximately 50 million times by people all over the world, including in Spanish.

About three years ago, the Johnsons decided to give printing the BRG edition another try.

"The color printing process has improved. You'll see, there's no bleeding of the colors through the thin Bible pages. To do three colors had never been one before, but this printer called Worldwide Printing said they could do it, and technology since the pandemic has improved," Scott Johnson said. "It took about three years to get it all together."

The BRG Bible in circulation now uses the King James Version of the Bible. In addition to the blue words of God and the gold names of the Holy Spirit, messages from angels or other heavenly beings are underlined in blue, and messianic prophesies are underlined in red. Those are the only changes, Scott said; the words are all the same.

The first step in the printing process was having the BRG edition type-set. The couple partnered with a Minneapolis firm for that, and Scott noted that the owner of the firm took ill during the typesetting process, and had to have an assistant in Argentina do some of the work.

From there, the printable PDF version was forwarded to an editor in Nashville.

Meanwhile, Scott and Jane searched for a printer that could handle the three colors on thin Bible pages.

"We met World Wide Printing at a convention in Atlanta, Georgia, and met with a Chinese printer as well. They both wanted to do it, but we decided to deal with Worldwide because they have a headquarters office in Dallas," he said.

Once the new version was edited, it was sent to Minsk, Belarus, where World Wide's printing presses are located. The presses started running in September, and on Dec. 28, 2,000 copies of the KJV BRG edition were shipped out of Minsk.

The pallet of Bibles travelled through the Ukrainian warzone to the Port of Odessa, where they were shipped to New York City. They arrived there on Feb. 20, got tied up in customs for nearly a month, and were then shipped to El Dorado, where they arrived on Monday.

"Clean Harbors delivered the pallet to the little East Faulkner church at noon on the spring equinox," Scott Johnson noted. "I think that's significant, because spiritually, it marks the separation of light and darkness. It's also historically attributed to be the day Gabriel spoke to Mary – the conception was on the equinox."

Next steps

Copies of the BRG Bible are available for sale for $10 at East Faulkner Church of Christ, which Scott Johnson pastors. The church isn't manned 24/7, so Johnson said those interested can also reach out to him at [email protected] for more information about the BRG edition.

Scott Johnson said he thinks the BRG edition might help layman parse the Bible.

"I think that's exactly what it does, because it captures the dialogue with a color so it draws the eyes of the reader down to those specifics, so they know who is doing what," he said. "We know the Bible is an inspired book and the Spirit is involved in the writing of all of it, but when you get to a specific sentence spoken by Christ in red, it highlights that. Now you know God the Father is speaking those words."

For other pastors, the BRG edition might help them gain a deeper understanding of the Word, Johnson said.

"I believe it gives the teacher a deeper rendering of the message," he said.

He noted that blue, red and gold (yellow) are the primary colors of light, another symbol, as God is often compared to light itself.

Currently, only the New Testament has been printed in the BRG edition. Scott Johnson said he hopes to find a publisher that could finance a printing of the Old Testament in a BRG edition.

He and Jane are currently working with the licenser of the New International Version (NIV) to produce it in a digital BRG edition as well, he said.

"Since we got the first one done, it's done nothing but grow," he said. "I think this is a change for the Bible, without it being a change of the Bible. It's very slight, a kindergarten effort; I just got two more Crayolas."

photo Jane Johnson shows the cover page of the KJV Bible, BRG edition. The words of Jesus are in red; God, in blue; and the name of the Holy Spirit are in gold. (Courtesy of Scott Johnson/Special to the News-Times)
photo Clean Harbors delivered the pallet of BRG Bibles to the East Faulkner Church of Christ, where Scott Johnson pastors, on Monday, March 20. (Courtesy of Scott Johnson/Special to the News-Times)
photo East Faulkner Church of Christ Deacons Doyle Stegall, left, and Ronnie Gulledge look at new copies of the KJV Bible, BRG edition. (Courtesy of Scott Johnson/Special to the News-Times)

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