The first category started with Klopsch's New Testament in 1899 which identified the words of Christ by printing them in red. Most major Bible translations now have a red letter edition available. An example of a red letter New Testament can be read online here. The Bible Gateway supports viewing the red letter NT in several versions such as the CEB, ESV, HCSB, NASB, NIV, NKJV and the TNIV.
Red isn't the only color that has been used. An article at The International Society of Bible Collectors mentions one unsuccessful NT that had Christ's words in Green. The Woman's Bible available from the Adventist Book Center has Christ's words printed in gold.
Now that red lettering has become so common a new term has surfaced: "black letter Bibles." Some find the red print difficult to read. Others disagree with highlighting part of the New Testament over the rest. Some publishers now offer both red letter and black letter editions.
Others have expanded the speaker identification idea into the Old Testament. The King James Bible: Purple Letter Edition identifies the speaker by printing God's name, the Spirit's name and Jesus' name in purple. The Names of God Bible has God's names and Jesus' name in gold. The Holy Bible: King James Easy Reading Edition has God's spoken words in red print. The King James 2000 by Robert Couric also follows this convention.
Some Bibles use even more colors. The BRG Bible is one of these: It has the God's words in blue, Jesus' words in red, the name of the Holy Spirit in gold, words of angels in underlined blue and messianic prophecies in underlined red. A sample of this Bible is available on Google Books. It can also be read on Bible Gateway. The God Speaks Interactive Bible uses the following color scheme: God's words in purple, passages about God speaking in green, people speaking God's words in third person in brown, angels, visions and dreams in blue, Jesus' words in red and miracles and acts in gold. The Strand Study Bible uses blue for God the Father, red for God the Son, purple for God the Holy Spirit. Titles and pronouns of each are bold, upper case and colored, full color satellite maps are included right in the text, trinity passages have box around them (such as Colossians 2:9) and underlining indicates passages quoted (or that are quoted elsewhere). The Spoken Word, a Red Letter Project has God's words in red, people's words in blue, Satan's words in brown and people speaking words from God in purple.
The Sourceview Bible colorizes text according to the identity of the speaker. When I saw the name, I expected it to be similar to the Bible With Sources Revealed (see below). But in the free sample of Jonah (available on their preview page) God's words are in red, Jonah's are in blue, the ship's captain and crew are in green, the narrator is in black
The next category is Bibles that use coloring for topical reasons. For instance, The Green Bible has "Verses and passages that speak to God’s care for creation" in green print. Most of Genesis 1 and 2 are in green text. It is also printed on recycled paper, soy-based ink and water-based coating. The Financial Stewardship Bible has verses relating to finances highlighted in green. The Bible looks as though someone took a green highlighter and marked certain passages (e.g. Genesis 2:2-3). The Freedom Bible also uses the highlighter technique. In this one, passages relating to freedom are highlighted in blue (e.g. Mark 2:3-5). Another highlighter style Bible is the Poverty and Justice Bible. Here, scriptures dealing with poverty and justice issues are highlighted in brown (e.g. John 16:8-11).
Taking multicolored text even further is the Bible With Sources Revealed. It uses different colors to indicated the sources of the text according to the documentary theory (also known as the JEPD theory). Each source has a letter or letters, so the key looks like this:
- J - green
- E - green sans bold
- P - blue sans
- RJE - green with green background
- R - blue with blue background
- other independent texts - blue italic
- Genesis 14 - green italic
- Dtn - green sans italic
- Dtr1 - blue
- Dtr2 - blue bold
The New Marked Reference Bible colorized the text according to four major themes. Red was for salvation, green for the Holy Spirit, gold for temporal blessings and Blue for prophecy. The Standard Full Color Bible uses 12 different color highlights to identify Scriptural themes. I wasn't able to connect safely to their website, but there may be a sample of it available.
The final category is decorative coloring. The main reason for the colorized text in these Bibles is for appearance. For instance, the KJV Promise Bible for Women has nearly everything in purple. This includes the covers, the table of contents, introduction, essays, reading plan and even the lines on the notes pages. Can you guess the color of the ribbon? I was told that the Duck Commander Bible has headings in green and the text in tan. I wasn't able to verify that one. The My Beautiful Princess Bible has purple text. Some verses also have purple highlighting. You can view a sample here.
There are certainly many more Bibles to be found in each of these categories. By the time this article is finished, there will be even more. I don't intend to list all of them. But I hope this overview has given you an idea of the wide variety of coloring schemes.
The purpose of this article isn't to decide whether or not to colorize the text in Bibles. I have heard arguments on both sides. Love them or hate them, there are a lot of them out there.
I would like to thank several people in the Bible Versions Discussions/Dialogue group on Facebook including (but not limited to) Daniel, Joshua, Lance, Lawrence, Marika, Stephen, Steven and Timothy. If you are interested in the sort of thing I discuss on my sites, you might enjoy joining the group.
Whatever color text you choose, I certainly hope you are reading a Bible. That is my favorite color: read.