The Downside of Bible Apps

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 simple plowboy would come to know the Scriptures better than a bishop. Although he was martyred for his efforts, Tyndale was successful in giving everyday Christians access to God’s Word.

I often wonder what Tyndale would think of our own day. Although it is tough times for professional plowboys, the Bible is now more readily accessible than at any other time in history.

On top of having easy access to Bibles in our churches, homes, and bookstores, we now have apps for our smartphones and tablets that make it so that we can read, study, and even listen to Scripture at any time.

Although we may not be disciplined enough to be reading the Psalms while in line at Walmart, Bible apps have become prevalent in our lives. A quick scan of most congregations on Sunday morning reveals that many people are using a tablet or smartphone to read Scripture as opposed to a physical Bible, and this is not uncommon from the pulpit either.

There is always a trade off when we use technology to replace a previous way of doing something. That doesn’t mean that technology is inherently bad, but that we should be deliberate and mindful when we make use of it.

So we should all ask ourselves an important question: is there a downside to making a Bible app your primary means of accessing God’s Word?

The difference between a Bible app and a printed Bible 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.

Here are 3 Reasons why a Bible app shouldn’t completely replace your physical Bible:

1. Print is Permanent

In today’s digital culture, technology is always changing and 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 as our primary means of accessing Scripture can obscure this timelessness. The Bible is so much more than our favorite app – it is the very 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. Whether you can browse years of cumulative notes and highlights, make use of a family Bible, or just hold a physical copy of the Scriptures you are reminded of the generations of believers who have come before you and accessed God’s Word in the very same way.

If we rarely use a printed Bible, Scripture can start to seem like just another app. This is especially true of our kids, who are digital natives growing up immersed in a sea of temporary pixels. Help them to see that while we are blessed to be able to access Scripture with an app, it is so much more than that.

(Additionally, there is great benefit in having our kids see us regularly reading Scripture. If you primarily use your phone, they won’t know if your reading theWord or checking the news.)

2. Digital Distractions

If Scripture is a goldmine of timeless wisdom and spiritual truth, a smartphone is a kitchen junk drawer 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, consider leaving your phone in your pocket and grabbing a print Bible instead. 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. Taking a break on Sunday morning will do you good.

(By the way, if this technological distraction sounds all too familiar and you’re looking for help in putting technology in its proper place, check out Andy Crouch’s book The Tech-Wise Family).

3. Resource Overload

It’s not only the junk that can distract us while reading Scripture. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of helpful resources for studying the Bible easily accesible on your device. That’s one of the major benefits of living in our digital age.

But even these can be a distraction during a church service, Bible study, or devotional time. 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 later.

In times of personal study, the abundance of resources available at our fingertips can begin to overshadow the 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.

But Don’t Ditch Technology Altogether

Prior to Tyndale’s work, 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. The abundance of access to the Bible and addtional stuy resources is a tremendous blessing.

I am in no way opposed to the use of Bible apps and other resources. In fact, here are a few that I’d recommend that you check out. We just shouldn’t go in without thinking carefully about how these digital resources may tend to distract us from reading the text itself.

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, your Bible doesn’t need Wi-Fi and won’t drain your battery.

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!

  1. I suppose I prefer wide margin print because I can take notes and see those notes again when I come back to that passage. I know there are apps, like You Version where you can take notes, but I don’t think I’ve ever come back to them. Also, I do recognize pixel vs. print as a topic based on personality more so than on which is more proper. And finally, I recently developed a love for print when I learned that scripture went from scroll form to codex (booklet) form to make it easier to cross reference! (Imagine trying to cross reference with a scroll!) And while it wasn’t Bible scholars who invented the codex form, they were probably the most prolific users of codex and probably influenced the form of books used today! So when I use my print Bible I am using scripture in the same form it was used “back in the day”!

  2. I have You Version on my mobile for easy access away from home but I do bible study from my print bible at home. It’s just better for me.

  3. Spot-on points herein. I am protective of my favourite Bible copy while at home, I enjoy studying it, and it’s almost all inked-up.

    But on Sundays, I carry my phone and access the sermon texts from bible gateway over Internet (I don’t have bible apps), because, my beloved bible is in tatters and the other copies I own are heavy to carry around.

    Last week, for our Wednesday and Sunday services, I did pick up one of the heavy bibles for church.

    Your 3 given points, deeply resonate with me. I’m grateful and gonna carry-on carrying my print bible to all church services.

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