When I lead a Bible study group or preach and ask for the Bible to be opened, there is no longer the flurry of pages being flipped to find the right passage. Sure, some traditionalists still like using real Bibles printed on real paper, but the electronic versions dominate. Most people now have changed to using Bibles on their devices, whether smartphones or tablets or e-readers, and will never go back.
But have we stopped to actually think through this change? Tim Challies, among others, urges Christians to think through the advantages and disadvantages of technology, whatever new advance we have before us. But with the Bible being electronic for many of us, how does this change anything?
Let’s start by considering the good things, before we think through the possible drawbacks.
What are the benefits of having an electronic Bible? Well, there are many, but let’s just consider a few of them here:
• When I go to visit someone now I don’t need to bring an extra book; I always have a copy of the Bible with me. It is more portable.
• Finding passages is simpler. You don’t need to go through the books of the Bible song in your head to find the right minor prophet; you can simply go to Obadiah with no problems. This is great especially for those investigating Christianity or who are newer to the faith.
• You can search for words much more easily. Without needing extensive Bible knowledge, locating the times the phrase “new covenant” turns up is a breeze.
To be fair, these are some pretty useful benefits. So don’t read this blog post as meaning that we shouldn’t use Bibles electronically! I do! But make sure you consider a few potential drawbacks to having a Bible electronically:
• It is easy to be distracted when reading the Word of God. Yes, I know, our sinful minds tend to wander easily. But add a tablet or smartphone to the mix and you can be distracted by so much more and so much more easily. With a few presses you can check Facebook, email, the internet, other ebooks, and much more. And you might be ‘notified’ of incoming messages in the middle of reading. If this is a book we want to concentrate on, it takes more self-control to not be distracted. Personally, I use a paper Bible for personal devotional use for this reason.
• We can be lulled into thinking that our Bible knowledge is better than it really is. When the Reformers wrote their works they had no concordances; their knowledge of the Bible was so good they simply knew where key passages and word use occurred. In our age of Google knowing all things we can be content in our ignorance, simply relying on the electronic tool to do the job. But we can miss important things like context, Biblical theology and the like which impact how we read a particular passage.
• It might encourage piecemeal reading rather than systematic reading through the Bible. When you skip to the passage you want to read, you are not reminded that it is part of a larger book. There is perhaps a bigger temptation to not read the Old Testament, especially the parts that we find difficult.
None of these potential drawbacks is a deal-breaker. Electronic Bibles are not less holy than paper Bibles! But use the technology well, being aware of the good and bad. Whatever form you possess the Bible in, make sure you read it!