When the Bible is No Longer a Book

Stephen Woodworth

Stephen Woodworth
March 7, 2017

While digital Bibles offer advantages, they also significantly change our relationship to the text.

[email protected]
March 7, 2017

Great article! Remember as well that the Bible wasn't always a book. It was handed down via oral tradition. The medium will never destroy God's Word to his people.

Craig Spofford
March 7, 2017

I preach from my iPad typically. I used to go back and forth to my Bible, but generally now my text is in my notes - on my iPad. I have had no outward feedback about this.

Thanks for the challenges though. It is important that I remind people of the fact that the text is a part of a whole book sometimes.

We also still work on the Books of the Bible with kids to help them build this skill.

Steven Priebe
March 7, 2017

Very good point, pastordrew! The world where every Christian has a Bible in his hand has only existed in our minds since books became cheap enough for everyone to own them...say, 300 years at most. And that world simply doesn't exist in other cultures, where owning a Bible may be an unaffordable luxury or a mortal risk.

In these cases, the Christian church falls back to its practice for 1800 years: preaching and memorization.

But I have found that having access to the Bible as an ebook has made it more accessible to me. I have been able to see the "overarching metanarrative" more clearly. I can carry a dozen translations in my pocket. I can research the Greek and Hebrew texts. I can read commentaries from theologians across 21 centuries. I can listen to it as an audiobook, read it in chronological order, or set up a word study in SECONDS. The best minds of the church throughout the ages are in the palm of my hand. Am I supposed to think this is a BAD thing? Hardly.

As you say, "The medium will never destroy God’s Word to his people." AMEN!

Kris Jacobs
March 7, 2017

I hope every pastor or priest has a technical error when they're preaching...I was so happy when I visited a new church and the pastor had an iPad and it broke and he had to go to THE BOOK!!!!!!! Amen amen amen - I love to hold my book and the lights from surrounding PHONES are annoying to me...I'm old school and love writing in my bible keeping notes as to the day we were reading each verse - it's an historical account as well as the message.

S.L. Woodworth
March 8, 2017

To each of you, thank you for reading and responding. Your ongoing dialogue around these issues is what make the writing worth it! Obviously a piece of this length requires community discussion to fully engage any topic and each of your points are excellent contributions to the debate. I particularly appreciate your passion for the Word of God (digital or otherwise) and the power of God to communicate through any medium, the Truth of his counsel. One of the distinct features of the Christian faith is our reverence for the Word that maintains a healthy balance between its sacredness without it becoming an object of worship itself (such as the Koran). The Bible is the vessel of God's timeless truths, not God himself, and the distinction is important. God's revelation of himself comes in a myriad of forms, but the Bible alone is the specific revelation (versus nature, which provides general revelation) that God chose to reveal himself through to the world. The interaction with God through his timeless counsel contains the power, not the pages (or screens) they are read from. Again, thanks for taking some precious time to reflect and respond in this space.

March 8, 2017

The timing of this particular reflection, Stephen, is so awesome, because literally the same day I read your words above, I saw this announcement come across my email:


Turns out that the FaithLife Study Bible--which originated as a digital app--is now releasing its first full-color print edition. Gotta love God's sense of humor. :-)

March 9, 2017

Digital texts in general are great blessing for blind and visually impaired people. Bible in Braille has 70+ very thick volumes, which makes it impossible for such people to carry Bible with them - unless it's stored in their devices, such as smartphones, tablets or laptops. That makes Bible very accessible for such people.

Tyler Stafford
March 10, 2017

Very interesting article. I think technology can have a very useful place in the modern church, but we have to be very careful to use it appropriately. As the article mentioned the primary focus of church should be God and deepening our relationship with him. If technology is used to illustrate and enhance the message of the Bible and the pastor's sermon it can be a benefit to the congregation. If the sole purpose of using technology is to keep people entertained it should be purged. We as Christians need to make sure we are doing what is right to keep God as our central focus. Outside of the church service I think that having an app on your phone or referencing Christian content on the internet (such as this website) is good. It keeps the Bible and related topics in our daily lives, and it encourages healthy debate about points of theology. I agree that technology should be neither totally banned nor totally embraced. As a community of Christians we need to tread carefully into the digital age recognizing it as a good means for building community and educating ourselves and others.Overall a great article.

Julia Kessel
March 16, 2017

Many things came to my mind while reading this article, the first being somewhat negative. I have grown up in a very traditional Lutheran family, and my parents would certainly disagree with the idea of having an iPad on while in the sanctuary.They would say that iPads are a form of entertainment, and we are not in the sanctuary to entertain ourselves. As a result, the traditional Lutheran in me thinks that this idea is absolutely outrageous. But the other half of me was struck with the idea that the Bible wasn't always a book. It started out on scrolls that were handwritten, then it was printed in a book, and now it is on the internet. Maybe we all need to face the reality that today's "version" of the Bible might be on an App, but is that really a bad thing?

Grant Konyndyk
March 16, 2017

A few things came to my mind when I was reading this article, one of which did not totally agree to what you were saying. All my life I have been told not to use your Ipad as a bible during church because it is deemed distracting. My parents would have told me this is not the place nor time to use an IPad. As I thought more about it the bible was not always a book as Julia said. As technology changes we need to adapt too, I am almost positive that there was some controversy when they changed the scrolls into the bible. Since the times are changing maybe we should be open different things such as the bible on an Ipad.

Brad B
March 17, 2017

Pretty good article. I think that the bible started off as a book and I think it should stay a book. I think that technology interferes church and distracts people from learning the message.

Steven Priebe
March 21, 2017

"...technology interferes with church and distracts people from learning the message."

Which technology? Sound amplification? Central heating and air conditioning? Electric lighting? Synthetic fibers in the carpeting and pew upholstery? Synthetic dyes in the stained glass? The machines used to produce the wooden pews? Mechanically reproduced hymnbooks? Synthesized "organs"?

Everything more complicated than a rock is technology. We use what is useful; I find having the Bible on my tablet to be useful. No one says EVERYBODY has to do it. It's just cheaper to reproduce and easier to distribute, which is why we have mechanically-printed books instead of hand-written scrolls in the first place.

Add your comment to join the discussion!