CHICAGO (BP) – When Jan Gibbs began proofreading Bibles 14 years ago for Peachtree Publishing Services, which celebrated in December the distribution of a billion copies of its works, she first had to learn to draw lines.
In the Bible’s poetry books in particular, primary, secondary and tertiary vertical lines designate the indentation for each horizontal line of text. Line placement must match the translators’ desires to a tee.
Mastering poetry alignment, she moved to proofreading running heads to conform to each publisher’s order. Then footnotes. Then word breaks.
Cumbersome to many, to Gibbs it’s mother’s milk.
“I find it fascinating,” said Gibbs, who today is Peachtree’s vice president of Bible proofreading. “My husband said that this would absolutely drive him insane.”
When proofreading God’s inerrant Word, there’s no room for error.
Peachtree proofreads 80 percent of the English Protestant Bibles in the U.S., proofreads many Catholic Bibles and serves publishers worldwide, Peachtree President Chris Hudson told Baptist Press.
“We are making sure everything is as perfect as can be,” he said. “We want people to find God when they read the Bible, not find a mistake.”
But surely, with so many details in play, someone must have made an error somewhere in Peachtree’s history, one could presume.
“We don’t get a lot of feedback of mistakes. Mostly we’re catching lots of mistakes before it’s printed,” Hudson said. “Every step along the way gets looked at at least twice by different people. Through our electronic and our people checks we’re catching most things. But we are human, so occasionally we’ll get (feedback) that we missed a spelling of a word here or there, but it’s not very often.”
Preserving God’s inerrant Word in perfect text is Peachtree’s key theological motivation.
“We have the Bible He wants us to have, and therefore we want to preserve it exactly as God intended. It’s why our people work for us,” Hudson said. “We could all be making more money doing something else, but we’re driven to protect and advance God’s Word and help people engage the Bible. It’s that genuine theological drive that motivates us.”
An evangelistic heart to spread God’s Word at home and globally inspires Peachtree’s team of “introverted people” to sit at their desks and check text for hours. In 2023, Peachtree proofread Bibles in 12 languages with a capacity to reach 94 countries.
Among Peachtree’s more than 45 clients are B&H Publishing, Harvest Ministries, Thomas Nelson, Zondervan, the Museum of the Bible, the American Bible Society and Moody Publishing, as well as Catholic Bible publishers.
Gibbs recalls an error being made on a project she oversaw. One of the scanners on her team missed a detail in a portion of the red-letter text. The publisher spotted the error during printing. A couple of pages would have to be pulled and the correct pages inserted. It was expensive.
“I was just devastated,” Gibbs said. “It was like at the end of a red-letter section. I want to say it was like the ending punctuation was missed. It was something like that. On some red letters, you’ll have a red single quote that ends a section, then the double quote next to it would need to be black. But it was just horrible.”
Peachtree had to recheck the entire red-letter section with no additional compensation before the publisher finalized the print.
“Needless to say, ever since then,” she said, “I almost always go through and check red letter sections for jobs I’m in charge of. We are humans and we do miss things sometimes. It’s crushing when we do, because it’s such an important book.”
Peachtree checks more than 300,000 details on any given Bible before publication, including the biblical text, supplemental material, study and devotional content, cross-reference systems, concordances and indexes. About 20 fulltime workers and additional contract employees do the work, all remotely since the COVID-19 pandemic. Hundreds of hours are poured into each project, usually spanning as much as three months, Hudson said.
Peachtree has its roots in the 1960s work of Mildred and Frederick Tripp. Mildred, a solo proofreader, gained clients after she developed a unique method of proofreading at Oxford University Press, according to Peachtree’s website. Doug and June Gunden purchased the concept from the Tripps and formed Peachtree Editorial Services in 1981, refining the method to include a systematic team approach to proofreading.
Hudson has incorporated software tools to work in concert with the human hand, which he describes as merging the best of both worlds. It’s not artificial intelligence, he said, but he speculates that AI might be used in the future to improve the software programs in use.
The proofreading process has changed since Gibbs began at Peachtree, but she’s as motivated as ever.
“I’ve spent the last 13 years learning it, and I still love it,” she told Baptist Press. “I still love the work I do.”