3:16 Bible Texts Illuminated

by Donald E. Knuth (Madison, Wisconsin: A-R Editions, 1990), iii+268pp.
ISBN 0-89579-252-4

The text found in chapter 3, verse 16, of most books in the Bible is a typical verse with no special distinction. But when Knuth examined what leading scholars throughout the centuries have written about those verses, he found that there is a fascinating story to be learned in every case, full of historical and spiritual insights. This book presents jargon-free introductions to each book of the Bible and in-depth analyses of what people from many different religious persuasions have said about the texts found in chapter 3, verse 16, together with 60 original illustrations by many of the world’s leading calligraphers.

The result is a grand tour of the Bible -- from Genesis 3:16 to Revelation 3:16 -- a treat for the mind, the eyes, and the spirit.

French translation by Denis Serre, Bible 3.16 en lumière (Paris: Bayard Editions, 2017), 416 pages, ISBN 9782227491687.

Some have called Knuth’s approach “the way of the cross section.”

Available from the publisher, A-R Editions, Inc. (phone 608-836-9000). Don't believe anybody who tells you the book is out of print. A 22x38-inch poster containing all of the artwork is also available from the publisher; this poster was designed by Hermann Zapf.

“This book is ingenious, provocative, and wonderfully informative. A more imaginative and effective passageway into the Bible I have yet to see. Jews and Christians of all stripes --- in fact, nonbelievers too --- will read 3:16 with profit and delight.” --William Sloane Coffin, Minister Emeritus, Riverside Church, New York City
“It is difficult to think that a totally new approach to the Bible could be found --- at least one that is sane. Donald Knuth has found one, and produced a book that is physically beautiful and intellectually and spiritually stimulating.” --Raymond E. Brown, Professor Emeritus, Union Theological Seminary
“Around fifty-nine 3:16 verses that provide Donald Knuth with a whimsical sampling of the Bible’s fifty-nine books, he has woven an elaborate tapestry of biblical commentary. Whether you are a Christian or a non-Christian, this commentary, drawing on Knuth’s astonishing knowledge of biblical history and criticism, is sure to enrich your understanding of both testaments.” --Martin Gardner


Page 12, bottom line
for “13:8” read “26:17”
Page 21, line 2
change '160–161' to '161–163'
Page 21, line 9 from the bottom
for “blood, pork” read “pork”
Page 32, line 5
for “13:18” read “14:21”
Page 36, line 7
for “700 Benjaminite” read “700 left-handed Benjaminite”
page 44, line 9 from the bottom
change 'Exodus 27:21' to 'Exodus 30:8'
page 46, line 4 from the bottom
for “4:4” read “4:5”
page 49, line 13
for “KAW” read “KHOH
Page 66, lines 15 and 16
change semicolon to comma (four times)
Page 68, line 5
for “3:19” read “3:17–19”
Page 70, line 3 from the bottom
for “makes sense” read “make sense”
Page 71, illustration
the desired background texture does not show up in the cream color
Page 74, line 10
for “people held responsible” read “people had risen to responsible”
Page 80, the Bible verse
for “stillborn;” read “stillborn,”
Page 81, line 11
for “this is accounts” read “this accounts”
Page 84, line 11 from the bottom
for “yachad” read “yachdāv
Page 85, lines 7 and 8
for 'During ... Augsburg' read 'At the time of the Augsburg conference”
Page 85, line 22
for “trombones” read “pipes”
Page 85, line 10 from the bottom
for “Job 11:19” read “Leviticus 26:6; Job 11:19; Proverbs 3:24”
Page 92, line 8 from the bottom
for "2 Chronicles 19:6" read "2 Chronicles 19:7"
Page 94, line 14
for “our language to” read “our language, to”
Page 100, second line of Isaiah 3:16
for “women in” read “women of”
Page 100, bottom line
change 'appears only here and in verse 18; it almost' to 'found only here and verse 18 and in Proverbs 7:22 (where it means “fetters”), almost
Page 108, in the Bible verse
for “on gravel” read “in gravel”
Page 110, line 5 from the bottom
for “using the name ‘Son of man’.” read “using the name ‘Son of man’, i.e., ‘Mortal’.”
page 112, line 19
for “(Jeremiah 1:6)” read “(Jeremiah 1:6), as well as Jonah’s flight (Jonah 1:3)”
Page 134, line 12
for “prophesies” read “prophecies”
Page 134, line 20
(the typesetter slipped in this line)
Page 145, line 17
for “referencees” read “references”
Page 150, line 21
(the typesetter slipped in this line)
Page 154, line 13 from the bottom
for “2--15” read “2--5”
Page 160, line 11
for “rightousness” read “righteousness”
Page 161, line 13 from the bottom
for “as they do” read “as they did”
Page 169, line 9
for “might share a common origin with” read “has a curious similarity to”
Page 169, line 19
for “2:26, 3:22, and 4:1” read “2:26 and 3:22”
Page 184, line 6
for “Roman historian Pausanius” read “Mediterranean traveler Pausanias”
Page 197, line 10 from the bottom
for “—-” read “—”
Page 208, line 13 from the bottom
(the typesetter slipped in this line)
Page 209, line 6
for “says in 4:7” read “says in 4:6”
Page 211, artist’s name
for “Zapf - von Hesse” read “Zapf von Hesse”
Page 213, line 15
for “—-” read “—”
Page 215, illustration
replace the image by a corrected version
Page 225, line 10 from the bottom
for “Iésoús” read “Iēsoús
Page 228, line 12 from the bottom
for “8:2.6” read “1302b4”
Page 232, line 12 from the bottom
for “Once Peter had” read “Peter had once”
Page 242, line 19
for “Everything is” read “Everything in”
Page 244, line 22
for ‘themselves (verse 17),” read “themselves,”
Page 244, line 23
for “(verse 18)” read “(verse 17)”
Page 250, line 7 from the bottom
for “1,854” read “1,861'
Page 254, column 1, line 9
for "19:6" read "19:7"
Page 257, left column
delete the reference to Luke 4:1
page 260, right column, line 18 from the bottom
for “169 189” read “169, 189”
Page 261, left column, line 8
for “1174” read “174”
Page 262, right column, line 4
for “Frederick” read “Frideric”
Page 263, right column
for “Marciano, Rocky” read “Marchegiano, Rocco Francis”
Page 264, left column, line 24
for “42. 60. 153” read “42, 60, 153”
Page 264, right column
for “Pausanius” read “Pausanias”
Page 265, right column
for “Schroeder, Walter Adolph” read “Schroeder, Walter Adolph George”
Page 267, right column
for “Zapf - von Hesse” read “Zapf von Hesse”
back cover, line 16
for “turn out be” read “turn out to be”

If you are the first person to report any further error, I will gladly deposit a “finder’s fee” of 0x$3.00 (i.e., 3 dollars in base 16) into your account at the Bank of San Serriffe. Please send suggested corrections to knuth-bug@cs.stanford.edu, or send snail mail to

Prof. D. Knuth
Computer Science Department
Gates Building 1B
Stanford University
Stanford, CA 94305-9015 USA.


The artwork for this book became the basis of a traveling exhibition of calligraphy, supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts. The exhibit was shown at 26 sites in America and Europe during 1990--1995, ranging from the University of Alberta in Edmonton and the National Cathedral in Washington DC to the Guinness Hop Store in Dublin and the Museo della Stampa in Torino. It is now permanently housed in the Harrison Collection of Calligraphy at San Francisco Public Library.

After further study, I realized that my published translation of John 3:16 was not the best possible, so I prepared a new translation that reflects more accurately the conventions and style of the original author. Hermann Zapf presented me with a calligraphic rendition of the new translation for display in my home, on my birthday in 1996. I am pleased to share this artwork by making the PostScript file john316.eps.gz (75140 bytes) freely available. (Also in Acrobat form.) Laserprinted output cannot compare with the beauty and sparkle of Hermann’s original, of course, but it helps the viewer to imagine what the original might be like.

Note to book binders: I have a nearly complete set of unbound signatures of this book (unfortunately lacking pages 125--140), for somebody who wants to make a handbound copy. Please let me know if you want further details.

Ida de Boer’s quilt project based on this book

Don Knuth’s home page

MIT lectures on science and religion

Don Knuth’s other books

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