William Tyndale was the first to translate the Bible into English from the original languages. When he began this long and difficult task, he stated that it was his desire that a plowboy could know the Scriptures better than a bishop. Although he was martyred for it, he was successful in giving common believers access to God’s Word.
I wonder what Tyndale would think of our own day. Though it is tough times for professional plowboys, the Bible is more available than at any other time in history. On top of Bibles in our churches, homes, and bookstores, we have apps for our smart phones and tablets that make it so that we can read, study, and even listen to Scripture at all times.
Though we may not be disciplined enough to be reading the Psalms while in line at the drive-thru, Bible apps are becoming more prevalent in our lives. A quick scan of the congregation on Sunday morning reveals that some people have begun to use devices as their primary means of reading Scripture.
There isn’t anything inherently bad about using digital Bibles as opposed to printed ones. I personally use my tablet all the time. However, we shouldn’t rely on them as our exclusive means of reading Scripture.
The difference between a digital Bible and a printed one extends beyond the difference between pixels and ink. As much as they are a help to us, we lose something when we rely solely on a Bible app instead of a “real” Bible.
3 Reasons Why a Digital App Shouldn’t Replace Your Physical Bible
1. Print is Permanent.
In today’s digital culture, technology is always changing and the old is tossed aside. We are quick to ditch the barely old in favor of the slightly new. Our favorite apps are constantly updating and upgrading, and our homes are filled with temporary technology.
Meanwhile, God’s Word is eternal and unchanging. Having an app be our primary means of accessing Scripture robs us of its weightiness. The Bible is so much more than our favorite app – it is the Word of God.
Yes, Scripture is still Scripture regardless of format. But a printed Bible allows us to better recognize this sense of permanence than an app does. If we rarely use a printed Bible, Scripture can start to seem like just another app – especially to our kids.
2. Digital Distractions
While Scripture is a goldmine of timeless wisdom and spiritual truth, our smart phones are kitchen junk drawers of random odds and ends. When you’re on a device, it’s all too easy to bounce from Ephesians to email and from Titus to Twitter.
App notifications, text messages, and phone calls can be constant distractions when attempting to study the Word on a digital device. The important things in life are constantly being crowded out by the inconsequential, and our phones and tablets are a huge factor in this reality.
So the next time you’re headed into church, leave your phone in your pocket and grab an actual Bible. You may be surprised at how much more you get out of the sermon. Besides, we spend enough time staring at glowing rectangles throughout the day.
3. Resource Overload
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of helpful resources for studying Scripture on your device. But even these can be a distraction during a church service or Bible study. We’d be better off focusing our attention on the message and the text and leaving the exploration of parallel verses, maps, and commentaries for after lunch.
In times of personal study the abundance of resources available at our fingertips can begin to overshadow the biblical text. If we are not careful, we will spend all of our time reading what others have found helpful in a particular passage rather than studying it ourselves. Yes, this can happen with a printed study Bible as well, but it is not likely that you will have access to dozens of commentators and hundreds of years of commentary on the page in front of you like you do on a tablet.
Try reading only the text for the majority of your time in the Word. Think through what the passage tells us about our Redeemer and what it means for us as His redeemed. You’ll get more from your study and better familiarize yourself with Scripture.
Don’t Ditch Technology Altogether
I am in no way opposed to the use of digital Bibles and other resources. In fact, here are 16 apps that I’d recommend that you add to your iPad right now. We just shouldn’t let these digital resources distract us from reading the text itself.
In Tyndale’s day even having the Bible in your native language was impossible, so we should be especially thankful for the ability to carry Scripture with us in our pocket. But if you’ve found yourself using a phone or tablet as your primary means of reading the Bible, consider the points above.
Try putting away your device and see if you’re able to dig deeper into the text when the text is all that is in front of you. Besides, you won’t need wi-fi and you’ll never run out of batteries.
What Do You Think?
Where do you stand in the ‘print vs. pixels’ debate? Leave a comment with which format you prefer for Bible study and why. I look forward to reading them and interacting with your thoughts!
Clayton Kraby is a husband, father, and an M.Div. Student at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, FL. He writes at Reasonable Theology, which helps believers think about and apply sound theology to their everyday lives. Follow him at @ClayKraby.