Home Pastors Pastor Blogs Illumined by The Illuminator: A Ten-Part Series on The Four Holy Gospels

Illumined by The Illuminator: A Ten-Part Series on The Four Holy Gospels

by Makoto Fujimura

Tim Keller, at the inaugural exhibit celebrating The Four Holy Gospels at New York City’s Dillon Gallery

I’m so grateful for a new illuminated Bible. . . According to Christian theology, the Illuminator is the Holy Spirit, and therefore I believe from what I can see that the Illuminator has illumined the illuminator of the Illuminated Bible, and will continue to illuminate through both the images and the words.

The Project’s Beginning

In 2009 Lane Dennis, president of Crossway publishing, inquired about a commission celebrating the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible. When he initially proposed The Four Holy Gospels, an exquisitely designed and produced edition of the four canonical Gospels in the English Standard Version, I was surprised by the project’s depth and ambition. Until recently, it’s usually the artist, not the publisher, proposing such a project, only to see it scaled back. If the project originates with the publisher, the artist thinks of everything that can go wrong. 

Subsequently, I’ve learned to distrust commitments publishers make to a project’s aesthetic standards. No matter what they promise in the beginning, inevitably the project gets diluted by pragmatism. Usually the aesthetic decisions are made by people whose job commoditizes the art and writing. Artists rarely have the last word.

Complete Artistic Freedom

“You will have complete artistic freedom,” Lane told me. He assured me of his commitment to the highest standard of excellence, using the best paper and six color printing process. He had been following my work for a while, and I was impressed with his understanding about contemporary art. 

I thought I was speaking with a publisher; it became clear that I was speaking to a visionary and artist himself. This was Lane’s dream: merging contemporary art with the Bible.

Francis Schaeffer’s Influence

I later discovered that Lane was a direct student of Francis Schaeffer, who integrated his theology with cultural engagement, enabling young creatives to live out their calling in the arts. While still a graduate student, Lane co-wrote Schaeffer’s last book. Since then, Lane has been carrying forth cultural engagement as a Christian scholar, developing his own synthesis. This project became a culmination of a lifetime of commitment to the pursuit of excellence in the scholarship of Scripture translation.

Over 400 Years Since an Illumination of the Four Gospels

As I further considered The Four Holy Gospels, it dawned on me how truly ambitious (crazy?) it was. I had only nine months to complete five major paintings, over 80 chapter-heading letters, and 140-plus pages of embellishments.

I discovered that my knowledge was so limited that I could not begin the project without first examining the medieval illumined traditions. The Morgan Library and Museum (five blocks from my studio) became my touchpoint for many illuminated manuscripts. 

No illumination of the four Gospels has been done by a single artist for over 400 years. During the last century, artists avoided the text in general, let alone the Biblical text. Therefore, there is no visual language in recent times to follow and learn from. How was I to do justice to this enormous commission, and complete it in time?

Ten-Part Blog Series on The Four Holy Gospels

In the following ten-part series for Desiring God, I’ll reveal some steps I took to complete The Four Holy Gospels. Along the way I’ll address some of the aesthetic, theological, and day-to-day decisions, while also reflecting on my theological and spiritual journey.

This has been a healing journey. As I illumined the Biblical text, I was being illumined, and healed, by the divine Healer. God was showing me that despite what I experienced in the past, and despite my lack, a noble vision of a publisher can become a reality.

Download a PDF excerpt of the The Four Holy Gospels.

Purchase The Four Holy Gospels, available in cloth-over-board and leather editions.

Makoto Fujimura is an artist, writer, and founder of International Arts Movement. He has had over 100 exhibits worldwide, and from 2003-2009 was Presidentially appointed to the National Council on the Arts. An ordained elder (on sabbatical) at Redeemer Presbyterian Church, Mako and his wife, Judy, raised their three children in lower Manhattan.

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