A couple of days ago I posted an article outlining why physical Bibles must not fizzle out in our reading and sharing of God’s Word. I have been blessed by the interaction which this has prompted, and it has been interesting to read the varied reactions to what was shared. In the interests of balance, this article will list some of the key benefits which technology brings to our reading of the Bible, offered with the desire to complement rather than contradict what was shared in the earlier article.
Bible apps and ebooks have much to offer in our engagement with Scripture, but here is a selection of just six benefits they bring:
1. Portability – some of us can remember when computers were horrendously unwieldy and importable items. Films from the 1970s and 1980s realistically show computer systems occupying entire rooms, and even the early laptops and mobile phones had the ergonomics of breeze-blocks and bricks respectively.
Thankfully, all of that has changed with the advent of personal devices. It should be a sustained marvel to us that the power of our pocket devices and tablets far outweighs those laboratory consuming computers of a generation ago. This portability can be a curse in that it privatises one’s interaction with the world and can serve to reinforce what philosopher Charles Taylor terms the ‘buffered’ self. In terms of Bible reading, however, the benefits are enormous. We can now carry in our pocket, handbag, or satchel (that’s how I describe my use of the now unpopular ‘man-bag’) the entirety of the Scriptures, a range of devotional/theological texts, and access to some of the most helpful preaching in the world. That has got to be seen as a benefit in terms of the potential that it carries to meet God regularly in irregular places.
In the early 2000s, The Good Book Company produced a series of paperback booklets entitled ‘The Daily Reading Bible’. The USP of these books was that they carried sections of Scripture in a small format so that one could read them easily when out and about – the advertising was clever in that it showed some circumstances in which carrying a full Bible would be impossible, but where a smaller section would be helpful. The entire premise for that product has now been demolished by the ubiquity of Bibles on our devices. Christians can easily read on the train in the morning, at the canteen table, when at the Dante-like world of ‘soft play’ etc. The Bible is now available everywhere.
2. Accessibility – not only can Christians carry the Bible everywhere because of technology, but apps and ebooks facilitate Bible reading for everyone, regardless of circumstance. If you go back to the original post arguing for physical Bibles, you’ll be able to read a comment from my friend John. As a result of some health challenges the advent of Bible delivered via technology has been a real providence for him, allowing him to engage with Scripture with greater ease than a hard copy affords. This is a wonderful benefit.
Accessibility also stretches to the mission field. Ebook and app Bibles which can be loaded on to cheap and small micro SD cards can now be shipped across the world for next to nothing. This is a particularly meaningful feature in terms of getting the Scriptures into areas where persecution is a reality.
3. Affordability – it is possible to spend up when it comes to Bibles online, but it is by no means necessary. Many Bible publishers make their non hard copy Bible available free of charge. This means that more people can have more contact with Scripture, and it also means that honest enquirers need not run the gauntlet of entering the unfamiliar territory of a Christian bookshop to secure their own copy of the Bible. Economic factors are irrelevant to people’s engagement with Scripture – Tyndale’s ploughboy would rejoice, and so should we.
4. Note-ability – some of us feel a little leery about writing notes on any books, least of all our Bibles. Online text (and the advent of items like Apple Pencil) mean that we can highlight and annotate in the happy knowledge that no books were harmed in the making of our devotions.
5. Comparability – the anglophone world is profoundly blessed in having a wide variety of good Bible translations to choose from. While choosing, using, and settling for one version is probably best in terms of getting used to, and memorising, text, it is amazing to be able to carry and consult a wide variety of Bibles.
6. Transferability – this last point is related to note taking. One of the beauties of cloud storage is that notes and highlights in the iPad at home are carried across to one’s phone or personal computer. This is a tremendous bonus for personal study, and incentivises careful and close study on an online platform.
This article and its stablemate hopefully make the case for an approach to physical and technological Bibles that is not ‘either/or’ but ‘and’. A hybrid of apps and hard copy is probably the best way of reading, studying and enjoying God’s Word, depending on context.