Monday, June 28, 2010

Computer Bibles

I have been using computer Bibles for many years now. A good computer Bible provides all kinds of resources for Bible study. The ability to search for certain words or phrases has made concordances all but obsolete. Along with the computer Bible (including original language and multiplied translations) I have various coordinated computerized aids including commentaries, lexicons, maps, parallels, etc.

A good computerized Bible speeds up Bible study and broadens Bible study. I can search the Bible instantly and consult various commentaries and resources in a fraction of the time it would take to get down the various volumes from my study shelves.

But I think there are dangers in the computer Bible.

For one thing, the computer Bible makes it so easy to find a passage based on few remembered words that I am tempted to give less effort to remembering the references. Why memorize what I can easily look up? Because it is I who needs to know the Bible, not the computer. For preaching and teaching and personal conversations I need to know the references and the verses so I can retrieve them at the speed of thought without even turning on the computer.

For another thing, the Bible has a certain geography that can become unfamiliar when you use a computer Bible too much and a paper Bible too little. When you are leafing through a paper Bible you move from front to back, from beginning to end, from top to bottom. As you look at the open book before you, you see more than just the verses you are looking for. You see the surrounding verses and paragraphs and may be reminded of contextual elements that might not have become apparent in your use of the computer Bible. It is possible to do a word search and see the results a long list of single verses, each of which contain that word. Such lists can be misleading and weaken our understanding of the scriptures. Even when you are looking at a passage of scripture on your computer, you are limited to a window with a few verses at a time. But I can't see the whole page or two pages at a time to discern the "geography" at a glance.

Finally, I think that paper Bibles have more gravitas than computer Bibles when used in interpersonal settings. I have some powerful computer Bibles on my smart-phone. They are great for studying when I am away from home - or have something to look up quickly. But when I am studying the Bible with someone, I think it is more powerful to show them the book. They don't need instructions on how to use it. They know what the book is - and are not suspicious that I've just pulled these verses out of thin air.

I am in favor of computer Bibles. They are a great tool and a blessing. But watch out for the temptation to become lazy and let the computer do all the work. We should work hard to know the Bible through and through - from cover to cover - every page should be familiar to us.


Bobbi said...

Wow...I must say I'm really convicted about the whole "Why memorize what I can easily look up?" You're so right...I need to be able to pull it up in my own little brain computer just as quickly.
I you think that the gravitas issue will last much longer? I mean, public schools are steering totally from books and handwriting to computers. Actually, I wonder if young people wouldn't be more reachable via a computer because it soon will be all they know. Hmmm.

Pastor D said...

It is hard to say about the "gravitas issue." One the one hand, kids might not be prejudiced FOR books over computers... but seeing the whole book in front of them might give them some sense that this is not just a blip - but part of a substantial whole.

I am more afraid that kids coming up might not give weight to ANYTHING. Everything will have equal weight - namely - it is good if you like it.