We’re still addressing Josh’s question about what Bible is better — a paper one or a digital one. Last time, you made a case for caution when using digital Bibles in church, but also said it’s an inevitable trend in the church. So, what about in our personal devotional reading? What Bible is best: ink and paper, or digital pixels?
The main point I made last time when we were talking about digital reading of the Bible is that the word of God is not identical with the ink and the paper, but the words themselves and their grammatical context. And therefore, it is not of the essence whether we read on paper or read on a screen. And what matters is that we read it, understand it, memorize it for our souls and for our ministry and that we love and worship the God it reveals, and obey it.
Benefits to Reading Digitally
So here are the upsides to digital reading of the Bible in private — I didn’t get to say anything about that. We talked about public use of it, but there are upsides and downsides to it:
1. It’s always with you.
It is easy to have with you everywhere you go. This is wonderful for reading for our own souls, for review and memory work, and for having it there to talk with anybody about the Bible. How many times in previous eras did we get into a conversation and wish we could just show them what we are trying to quote from the Bible? And now we can just reach into our pocket and do it. So that is one. Access is everywhere.
2. Bible study tools abound.
It is easy to have several versions at your disposal as well as a Bible dictionary or a commentary. The YouVersion Bible App is a stunning success all over the world. Logos Bible software is a bottomless ocean, it seems to me, of resources for the Bible. I have found that Olive Tree is really accessible for handheld devices.
I have done all my reading — my Bible reading, my devotional reading — on an iPad for several years now, and it is wonderful to have the Greek right there with one button click away at the bottom of the screen. The Hebrew is there. One tap away is a commentary from Calvin or Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, or quick insights from others. So the digital word has made the Bible more accessible, and it has made helps easier to use. Those are some of the upsides.
Downsides to Digital Bibles
1. Notes are difficult to retain.
Now here are some downsides. Maybe I should have put it in the benefit column. So far, I am not sure. I want to see the highlighting passages and underlining and notetaking with a digital Bible as more secure and more permanent. When I have a paper Bible in front of me, I can be underlining it, taking notes in the margin, and that Bible can go on a shelf and forty years later — which is what I do with my King James Bible from when I was fifteen years old (so fifty years later) — I can take that down and look at what God was doing, at what he was showing me. And I just have the sneaking suspicion that as I am reading these digital Bibles, that is not happening.
What I would like to see — and maybe it exists and I just don’t know about it — is a Bible reading software that takes that really seriously and says at the end of this year or at any given time you may save this entire Bible, put it in a file and have all your notes, all your underlining, all your highlighting there forever just like you left it, and now you go on to another Bible. Or you can keep the same one — another version of that Bible the next year, and see what God shows you that year. So a downside is the fear of lack of permanence in what you are marking, and what you are underlining, and what you are noting.
2. Distractions abound.
And here is another one: distraction. I know this, because I experience it every day. I am tempted to quickly look at an email or a message or a blog right in the middle of my Bible reading, and I must preach to myself, “Hey, stop. Do you realize who you are talking to, and who is talking to you right now? The God of the universe is speaking to you, and you are listening to him. How do you think he feels about that?”
And what I find is, if I don’t really work at this, Bible reading can take on a kind of mechanical feel or functional feel and you are just jumping from thing to thing, in and out, instead of realizing, Look, real change happens in the human soul when God almighty shows up in his almighty, authoritative word and works on you. And that is just diminished when we are jumping around looking at other things. That is a pretty serious downside. And if people can’t overcome that, I would say that it might be better not to even put yourself at risk in that regard.
So to sum it up, I think the digital revolution is inevitable and, therefore, it is not mainly to be resisted, but managed with spiritual wisdom and discipline. And the main thing is, Are we reading the Bible? Are we memorizing the Bible for our souls, for our ministry? Do we love the God of the Bible? Are we worshipping the God of the Bible as we read the Bible? Is he working on us, changing us, deepening us, sweetening us, tenderizing us, causing us to obey?