The Evolution of the Way We Read the Bible

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When I was putting together some graphics to go along with this second iteration of Year in the Bible, I came up with a simple image of a book with a bookmark pulled down through the middle. Year in the Bible is a guided reading plan, so I thought a book with a bookmark fit that pretty well. The logo for Year in the Bible looks like a square and a triangle and is supposed to evoke the shape of an open book, too. I also have made bookmarks for this 1 Corinthians plan to tuck in your Bible. This all makes sense because books and reading go and in hand.

Except that is now changing.

When we kicked this off in June, I remember another pastor here mentioning the bookmarks and how you might need to take it and tape it to the back of your phone, if that’s where you read. What was meant as a joke had a lot of truth in it. For more and more people, reading the Bible doesn’t mean opening a book, but instead pulling out a phone.

What does it mean if reading the Bible now looks more like this?

What does it mean if reading the Bible now looks more like this?

So, I’ve been mulling that over for a while. Are there any implications for the way we engage with God’s word when we do so via a screen instead of a page? Do we lose something? Do we gain something? I certainly don’t have any conclusive remarks on this, especially since we’re just in the middle of what seems to be this great change in the way we read.

One worry for me is that I lose a bit of the uniqueness of the Bible when it is just another item for me to read on my phone. It doesn’t stand apart. I don’t have to make the deliberate choice I once did to carry a Bible with me. There is no sacrifice of space in my bag or the added weight to my shoulders. Also, if I went away to rid myself of distractions and to-do lists and emails and sat with my Bible, nothing else competed for my attention. With a phone or tablet, it is very easy to stop reading to quickly do something else. The temptation to multitask is great. For these reasons, and a few more, I’m not ready yet to part with my dead-tree Bibles.

Searching the Bible has never been easier. (Pictured is the ESV Bible App)

Searching the Bible has never been easier. (Pictured is the ESV Bible App)

But on the other hand, I now always have the Bible with me. And not only one translation, but many. My paper Bibles have nice concordances, but with the technology we have now, I can search through the entire Bible in a moment. I can follow cross-references all around Scripture, and do so with ease. Reading like this on a phone or a website has really encouraged not only the reading, but study. I am no expert scholar in Biblical languages, but I’ve got tools that help me with Greek and Hebrew that fit in my pocket. With that sort of ability it is not an usual feeling for me to think that I am living in the future.

Imagine carrying these books in your bag, let alone your pocket.

Imagine carrying these books in your bag, let alone your pocket.

There are sites and apps that can bring a communal aspect into your personal readings. You can tap on a verse and find out what comments others had contributed in regards to it. Have questions about what Paul meant in a certain passage? Maybe someone had the same question, too, and maybe someone else has a pretty good answer. There’s another program that provides fantastic illustrations and interactive graphics to help you feel like you’re in ancient Jerusalem, so as you read through the gospels you can see what it was like. As I’ve mentioned before, we can listen to the audio of the Bible and there can be real value in hearing and listening, as well as reading. Who knows what else may be offered in five or ten years?

Community notes in the Youversion Bible app

Community notes in the Youversion Bible app

About five hundred years ago the Bible was a book that resided in the hands of a select few. It wasn’t for the masses. But things change. Perhaps some of the reverence was lost when the Bible slowly became common. Would you feel the same way about the Bible if you only saw it richly ornamented and embellished in a church instead of in every hotel room drawer? Probably not. Yet the gain outweighed what was lost. God’s word is for the people of God, and when the printing press started a revolution and the texts were being translated into the vernacular, it had a great impact.

Illuminated manuscript of the Bible

Illuminated manuscript of the Bible

I don’t know all the implications of the technology many are now using to read the Bible, but we can at least rejoice as more people are given access to God’s word around the world. The tools are being spread and men and women are engaging with the Bible in new ways and the more we can draw attention–not to the technology–but to the content, the better it will be, for our focus can then be drawn to the Word of God, Jesus Christ.

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