The ‘Minimalist’, ‘Hypebeast’, and ‘Emoji Bibles’: Modern Visuals Bring People Closer to Faith
A “millennial” redesign of the Bible had been making waves through the efforts of two young people who believe in the value of beauty — and want to integrate it with modern faith.
In 2019, Brian Chung (30) and Bryan Ye-Chung (25), two friends who met during their university years, founded Alabaster Co.: a company that publishes the books of the Bible with fresh and modern visuals.
“We live in a visual culture. Everyone makes images and we are shaped by what we see,” the brand story reads. “We value bringing this visual reality to a faith-based context.”
Chung and Ye-Chung met during a religious school event in 2012 at the University of Southern California. They were able to connect through their shared Christian faith and an unequally unwavering passion for design. Both founders had art-related backgrounds: Chung studied graphic design, and Ye-Chung studied animation.
“The great thing about art is it makes you think and respond in some way, and that’s our main focus,” Ye-Chung told Deseret News. “How we can create imagery that’s going to make you think deeper and respond emotionally and spiritually.”
Eventually, the idea for Alabaster came to life. The mission was to reconnect more young people with the Bible by giving it a more modern twist.
But of course, aestheticism is not all there is to the challenge — the messages of the sacred text must remain just as striking to the viewer.
“We’re trying to create images that aren’t necessarily literal. You’re not going to see ancient images or shepherds in our books,” said Ye-Chung. “It’s really meant to make you think.”
But Chung and Ye-Chung are not the only ones who see the value of modern beauty in faith. From the limited edition ‘Hypebeast-inspired’ Bible to an ‘emoji version’ of the King James Bible, more and more people have begun to adopt creative ways in reconnecting the modern world with the Christian faith.
Modernizing the Material
Good Publishing Co. (GPC) is another company born from the mission to re-contextualize the Bible according to contemporary tastes. They describe their $300 limited-edition product as “an art-inspired, purpose-driven Bible designed to serve and share God's Holy Word by bridging the gap between the sacred and secular.”
GPC describes the sacred text “as unchangeable and timeless as it is restorative and renewing.” This is a view that’s shared by all these other publishing companies — the dynamism of something as complex as faith cannot be denied.
The ignorance of this dynamism was a budding problem, and Chung realized this when he saw the disinterest of students who were handed out copies of the New Testament.
“That experience reminded me of getting my first Bible and finding the book to be really intimidating,” the Alabaster co-founder told Vox. Chung recalled seeing the thick pages of the book, with minuscule typeface and archaic language — and hardly any imagery to accompany the tediousness of it all. “I thought there must be a better way.”
Aside from aesthetics, Alabaster also made sure that readability and accessibility are present in the material. The publishing house uses the New Living Translation of the Bible because, as Chung said: “A big part of faith is in the language.”
Unlike its predecessors, the New Living Translation uses “clear, contemporary” English without compromising the original meanings of the text. The edition came out only in 1996, which makes it one of the most recent ones to date. “I opened this book and it was comforting to be able to look at a passage and say, ‘Yes, I understand,’” a reviewer from the site had written.
Some even take it a step further, combining the visual culture with other modern communication styles. One uncanny “translation” was the so-called Emoji Bible, which makes use of emojis in the text of the King James Bible.
The 3,000-page e-book — which had also been dubbed as ‘Scripture 4 Millennials’ — retails for USD 2.99.
The person who translated the text preferred to keep themselves anonymous, named only by The Guardian as a guy-wearing-sunglasses emoji. They also refused to disclose their religious affiliation.
However, the mission remained just as straightforward: “The book has a lot of human history in it,” they told Huffington Post. “I hope it helps everyone on both sides of the argument to see it for what it is.”
Despite facing backlash, the translator still seemed to be genuinely pleased with their work. “I thought if we fast-forwarded 100 years in the future, an Emoji Bible would exist,” they told the press. “I hope that they view it as fun. I hope that it has people on both sides go and maybe look for themselves and what’s in the Bible and what it says.”
‘Beauty Matters in Understanding God’
While many of these projects draw praise, they are still susceptible to criticism. Some have particularly called them “marketing schemes,” saying that capitalizing on religion is a problem in itself.
“There have been plenty of times where Christian publishers have crafted oddly specific marketing schemes to get the Word of God off the shelf and into a target demographics’ hands,” wrote Tyler Huckabee, Senior Editor for Relevant Magazine, regarding the GPC Bible.
“If this gets someone to take a new interest in spiritual teaching, that’s great. But you can only squeeze so much justification out of a campaign before these Bibles become consumer products first and Holy Writ second,” said Huckabee.
But the mission remains clear and steadfast, and these publishing companies stay grounded in them. It is still true that many people find leverage in more tangible contexts — and integrating modern, familiar visuals may be one of the ways that people can connect with the source material better.
“Beauty matters in our understanding of who God is,” Alabaster’s brand story reads. “This means beauty isn't just an aesthetic — it’s a way of going through the world. To live beautifully is to live a life that contributes to human flourishing — in our work, in our relationships, in our communities.”
And this is certainly a feat being accomplished by these visually updated sacred texts. At the very least, they are meeting another goal here, which is to open new approaches to faith and religious practices. In the words of GPC: “By engaging contemporary artists, thought leaders and designers, our desire is to provoke new conversations around faith and culture.”